When the Past Caught Up

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ID Check Leela Ginelle web imageBy Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
My first memory of having been sexually abused by my father arrived about four years ago in a nightmare. I awoke from it piecing together the grotesque images and disturbing emotions, processing the new truth about my life. The dream was like a drop of rain preceding a deluge. The memories became more and more visceral, as though my body had stored everything that had happened to me. For a period of approximately two months, I would spend hours a day purging these memories of torture and violation. I had no real framework for the grief I was experiencing and proceeded on a strong faith in my intuition—a trust that the more I expunged the events I'd been subjected to, the freer I would be in my day to day life. My mindset at the time, in an echo of my state when the abuses occurred, was one of overwhelmed isolation. It seemed the memories just "happened," like the violations had—and it was my task to withstand them. One day, internally, I broke and—as I recall it—turned off the spigot. Looking back, I don't know if such a thing is possible, but it's how it felt at the time. A few months later, I took an intense but delightful impromptu trip to Disneyland. Wandering the park lost in thought, I tried to figure out what I needed to heal. It was there that I, tentatively, embraced my gender fully, committed to enter counseling, ended my far too intense relationship with a patriarchal God, and, after a long hiatus, resumed my love affair with writing. The first year or so of transitioning, gender and the fears that attended it—regarding social rejection, unemployment and financial insecurity—seemed to take all my mental energy. My sexual abuse history dogged me like a storm cloud until I regarded the pessimism and shame I associated with it as a permanent part of my outlook. This fatalism held for some time, until, upon joining a support group, I reengaged with the trauma I still carried. Ambivalent at first, I soon committed to fully acknowledging what had happened. This meant, specifically, no longer slipping in and out of awareness about my past, denial feeling like a betrayal to the younger part of me that had suffered so spectacularly. The recommitment occasioned a second wave of overwhelming memories, this time accompanied by visual information regarding locations and time periods. Daily, a stream of incidents unfurled, none of which, were they recounted in words, would be considered appropriate in any imaginable social setting. My life felt bifurcated, as I conducted my daily responsibilities as best I could, while simultaneously attempting to comfort myself around the nearly incomprehensible atrocities I was remembering. This burden, suffering privately in excruciating agony wounds that had been administered decades before, by one who would never be held officially accountable—and which had hobbled my life since in untold ways—felt magnificently unjust. Though in the midst of this period its end seemed literally unreachable, after three to four weeks the memories ceased. As the months passed my life felt appreciably better. A lifelong sufferer of low self esteem, I began for the first time to identify with the word confident. Little by little I divorced my mind from the idea of family. My childhood home became, in my mind, the place where "that" had happened. It was a tool to remember that "that" had happened there and nowhere else, allowing me to articulate the distance between myself and the horror I was processing. Before, I had reflexively thought of my body as the location of those crimes. That association, together with gender dysphoria, had created a lifelong practice of dissociating physically from myself. Almost imperceptibly, and through the last four years' labor, I've come to inhabit myself, perhaps for the first time.  This last month I had one more bout of memories, these ones so bleak, I momentarily doubted my ability to endure them. What bubbled up after having been buried for decades was the knowledge that I was living with a monster I couldn't defeat; that the horrors I was enduring were unstoppable, and that my only choice for survival was to turn away from hope, to numbly divorce myself from reality. No one can tell me that our society, based on a sickening piety surrounding family, addresses the needs of abused children adequately. Abused children, like LGBTQ ones raised in intolerant households, survive. Our rights, to basic security and humanity, in such situations, do not exist. With our only tool being denial, we lose ourselves, recovering, if we're lucky, at some later date, when pain drives us to seek help. Our pasts having caught up, we then live them again, paying twice, cruelly, for our corrupt guardians' crimes.