I usually take trigger warnings in a post seriously while scrolling through social media platforms. But recently, I unwisely ignored it on a post shared by a woman, published in a private group on Facebook. She had shared how a man she had met over a date, had overlooked her objection against unprotected penetrative sex and blatantly continued the act. She added how she threw him out of her house and later schooled him in consent over text messages, of which she had shared numerous screenshots.
The post inadvertently brought back flashes of horrendous experiences of sexual abuse, harassment and assault I had faced in my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The flashes of men leching in public. A distant relative using his strength over my petite body for at least half a decade of my adolescent years. That construction worker who tricked the five-year-old me and took me to a dark and dingy room in order to show me a kite but instead threatened me to pull down my pants or risk being thrown off the building. The man who was thrilled about lifting my top in the middle of the road as he rode away on his motorbike, when I was 16.
The memories of these incidents brought with them an insane amount of guilt about having failed to find the courage to confront my tormentors. Not just those who exploited me in my adolescence but those who had flouted consent in my adult relationships too. On one hand, I admired the strength of the woman from the Facebook post for having held her own but on the other, the turmoil of personally never even coming close to this kind of bravado spiralled. My childhood and teenage years were scarred by the sexually aggressive behaviour of men around me.
It's ironic that the society managed to make me believe subconsciously that I was responsible for all these awful, gut-wrenching incidents. Growing up, I never told anyone about the abuse for the shame it would bring me, possibly the wrath of my parents and an unfair amount of restrictions.
But I remember the first time I discussed this with one of my friends at school. I must have been 13 or 14 . When I spoke about it, I felt lighter, like a heavy load had been lifted off my chest. And so, for over the next decade, I exchanged my numerous incidents of sexual harassment and exploitation with almost everyone I knew, including my family and also with strangers. Every time I talked about it I felt like I was losing my shame and proximity to those incidents. All this while, sexual harassment continued to happen at various turns in life. But while I lost the shame of talking about it, the guilt of never confronting the abusers and submitting to the culture of sexual abuse persisted.
The deep-seated shame was also for my own body. I can hardly recount ever having a passing look at my own bosom or my vagina. I hated them. Anything sexual was just frightening. How I overcame it is a story for another time, maybe? I am not still not at a point in my life to reveal it but just know that I did overcome the shame against my body.
More importantly, my equations with men too took a huge toll, and continue to do so even today. Trusting a man, his intentions and emotions continue to be an exhausting struggle. I didn’t enter any romantic relationships with men all through my school and college years. I would freeze with so much as a brush against a man up until I was in my early 20s. My first ever sexual intercourse with a man didn’t help either. On the contrary, it scarred me further. While I was romantically involved with him, he primarily looked for physical pleasure. It made me feel so naive.
My current relationship is the longest I’ve had of my very few romantic relationships. In the beginning, as we were trying to find our comfort zone physically, on many occasions I would find myself dazed. I’d stop him mid-caress as if I came out of a trance and would force him to leave me alone. Frantically, I would go to the washroom and try to wash my hands vigorously as if I had committed a sin.
It happened so many times that I was scared I would frighten him away but he persisted. He would try to calm me down but in the end, exhausted, he would have to leave me alone as I’d coil up in my own anxiety.
In fact, through the initial year or two, my biggest dilemma still was wondering if what we had was just physical. It was important for me to know the real truth. So I took a break from him for a few months and he had no choice but to relent. But the fact that we are still together is testimony that it was beyond physical gratification. My partner, of course, played a major role; he never judged me for my anxieties which many would call tantrums.
After a lot of time, effort, moments of feeling like a failure, self-destruction and oodles of positive influences from the handful of kind people who never gave up on me, I finally overcame my anxieties and angst. Or so I thought.
After reading the post described above, I stood again face-to-face with all the diabolical memories. I felt like I had been bitten by a snake in a game of Snakes and Ladders, and was compelled to be whorled back to square 10 if not one. It disrupted the psychological stability that I thought I had achieved. But, as it turns out, I, just like millions of women, haven’t healed.
I live with my family and have barely spent a night with my boyfriend in the last four months as the pandemic hit the world. And now, I feel scared and beaten up to even think of anything sexual. It is frustrating, to say the least. What’s more agitating is that today when I am aware enough to go for therapy, I can’t because of the fear of coronavirus and my numerous failed attempts at finding a virtual therapist because of the sheer waitlist and trust factor. I’m once again consumed by this guilt of not confronting my abusers and a pressing desire to undo all the wrongs so that I can finally enjoy little joys of life and love without any fear.
It must have been close to a fortnight since I spiralled. Outside, I look all fine, I smile and laugh and work. But even a slightly discomforting thought throws me off the edge. Over the past few days, I’ve spent a generous amount of time thinking about the trauma of sexual abuse in my childhood. I poured my heart out in this piece of writing to scrutinise my trauma inch by inch from my childhood to what shape it has taken now. And since the coronavirus has isolated us all, this is my way of sharing my pain and trying to find some reason in it until I find a therapist who can help me heal holistically.