HANNAH

 

The reason I’ve waited so long to tell my story is partially because of fear—I was afraid that if I talked, I’d have to suffer through the embarrassment of a trial and what I thought would be my abuser’s inevitable acquittal. But my decision to remain silent was also driven by the belief that what happened to me wasn’t “bad enough.” After all, there are other men, women, and children who have endured far worse things than I have. Some have survived particularly violent attacks by strangers; some have been brutally hurt by someone they know at a party, by the significant other sharing the backseat of their car, or in the house of a person they thought they could trust. Some even endure years, even decades, of molestation. But me? I just experienced one instance of abuse—and a particularly short instance, at that. From start to finish, I’d estimate the entire encounter lasted about two minutes; then everything calmed down, returned to normal. In short, it wasn’t really what I would’ve labeled as “trauma.”

Actually, I’ve often been unsure if what happened to me was genuine abuse, my mind plagued with doubts and the desire to pretend as though nothing happened. Of course, I knew what had happened: my driving instructor had placed his hand on my breast as I practiced backing up in an alley, holding it there for about two minutes. But what I was never really sure about—what filled me with the most doubt—was whether or not he had, in fact, intentionally touched my breast. At the time, I thought it was entirely possible that he just hadn’t realized where his hand was, that he was touching me by mistake. After all, he’d seemed more focused on making sure I didn’t bump into anything than he was on me; he’d probably just done it absentmindedly, not giving thought to what he was doing. The fact that we were alone in the car, or that his “accidental” touch lasted a few minutes—long after most people would realize their hand had inadvertently touched someone else—just wasn’t something I factored in.

But my refusal to acknowledge the abuse—to call it what it was—didn’t mean I wasn’t affected by it. For the rest of that day, I fought back tears, from the time my mom picked me up to when I chatting with my friends before Bible study. The only time I let myself break down that day was after the lesson was over, making it seem to everyone else that the lesson was somehow responsible for my tears—but even then, I didn’t cry for long. By the time my mom’s friend was there to pick me up, any sign that I been crying, or even upset, was erased. All my parents saw, or ever would see, was their daughter carrying on with life as usual; they never suspected anything was up. They even sent me to the same driving instructor the next day, and the next, and the next, until I had completed the driving program.

Unlike some survivors, I didn’t spiral dramatically into some sort endless depression. I just felt…low. Down-in-the-dumps. Of course, there were days that were worse than others, days where I tried to cut or made sure my caloric intake was under seven hundred. There were even times when I wondered, despite everything my parents and my church had told me about abuse only being the fault of the abuser, if I had somehow caused him to touch me. But most days I just pushed it out of my mind, convinced that even if what had happened was abuse, it wasn’t really that bad. I should just deal with it, and get on with my life. The people who’ve actually been traumatized, who have been molested for months or years, should be the ones getting the real help and sympathy.

Honestly, I’ve kind of felt like a baby all these years, suffering because of something I deemed to be “not that bad.” As a result, I haven’t really allowed myself to feel any sort of pain because if I do, I start feeling guilty. Start feeling like the whiny kid who cries when she’s stubbed her toe, even though there’s a girl right next to her who’s missing an arm. Even now, posting my story to your site, I feel bad about it, as if my story is somehow too “tame” to be shared. And maybe in comparison to some of the other truths here, it isn’t that bad—but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad for me. It also doesn't mean that I don’t have the right to my pain, or to healing. I can cry and get angry as much as I want without feeling guilty or weak; I can take all the time I need to heal, to empathize with myself, to seek comfort. And when all of that is over, and I feel like I’ve given myself enough time and love, I deserve as much as any other survivor to live the rest of my life without fear, shame, or regret.

Right now, though, I’m just going to take it one step at a time. I’m going to let myself admit what happened to me was wrong, and I’m going to cry or scream or do whatever the heck I need to in order to keep my head above water. Then I’m going to start telling my story to people I feel like I can trust—and if they don’t believe me or think I’m being overly-dramatic, then too bad for them. And soon, I’m going to marry a man who loves me like I deserve to be loved—a man who believed my story and didn’t think I was being whiny or dramatic, even though he’s suffered sexual violence that’s worse than anything I can even comprehend.

I guess if there was one thing I hope you take out of my truth, it would be to stop comparing your story with other’s. Pain is pain, regardless of how big or small it seems. Just because things could’ve been worse, because your truth pales in comparison to someone else’s experience, doesn’t disqualify you from feeling whatever it is that you feel. You have a right to your feelings. Even more importantly, you have a right to your healing—and all the amazingly awesome things that follow.

Love you all,

Hannah H.