What it is like to survive sexual abuse

I don’t even know where to begin. I have edited and rewritten this article 43 times. I’ve walked away from this post to breathe, remember where I am today, and relax. This was the hardest article to write.

Lately, I have been bombarded by articles of teens and young women who have been raped. Most of us have been discussing the Stanford student who raped a young woman. We all know that this horrible abuse exists, but I don’t feel like we know how prevalent sexual abuse towards women is in our society. I also don’t think we understand the long-lasting effects of sexual abuse. We squirm at the thought and would rather ignore it. In reality, we need to stand up and say, “This has to end”.

The last article I read made me furious to the point I knew that I had to finally share my own story. To share what it is really like to survive sexual abuse in today’s society.

I too had been sexually abused during my childhood. It wasn’t until I was 20, years after the abuse ended that I was able to get help and enter recovery.

Up to that point, I hid my body behind layers of clothes, layers of fat, or an emaciated frame. I kept myself meek looking because I didn’t want attention. I made the biggest effort to have everyone like me because I didn’t think I could handle being hurt or betrayed by one more person. In the same breath, I kept people far enough away. I was so scared of people seeing what had happened to me. As if I was the one at fault. I pushed, and pushed, and pushed down the memories with a packed schedule, food obsessions, and over-achieving goals.

When I finally broke and couldn’t push away the memories, when all my tricks to numb out the pain failed, I spiraled into a complete hysterical depression. I was 20 years old with a scholarship to my first pick college, part of an amazing sorority, held positions within the community, up for Sophomore homecoming queen, yet all I could think about was slamming my car into a brick wall as fast as I could. I no longer wanted to live this life. The only, ONLY reason why I am still alive today is because I had one last sensible thought to call my mom and ask for help. I am so glad I did.

I entered a rehab facility for depression. I had never sipped a drop of alcohol or even smoked a cigarette, yet there I was in a lock down facility in the middle of Arizona. I had my phone, razors, and hair straightener confiscated, ever action monitored, and in the middle of the night check by a nurse to make sure I was still in my bed. Why? Did I commit a crime? No. But because a crime was committed against me, I had to live with the ramifications. I had to put my life on hold. I had to look like the crazy one.

After 30 days, I was sent to an after care for an eating disorder. I had several forms of eating disorders as it was my way of coping with what was happening to my body. I hated my body. I thought is was disgusting, a hideous monster. I would brutally pick at my body because in my eyes all I could see what the abuse. In my eyes, all I could see were past scars of being taken advantage. When in reality I should have been placing those thoughts onto my abuser. As survivors, we often hold our abusers’ shame, guilt, and pain as our own. In recovery, I learned how to let that go.

I was also quickly diagnosed with Chronic/Complex PTSD from the trauma. The same diagnosis as many Prisoner of War camps recieves. That is how severe of an impact sexual abuse has on an individual.

I met a therapist named Grace. Grace was the first person who believed me and what had happened to me as a child. As she said, “It is very textbook all your symptoms, I was just waiting for you to feel safe enough to tell me what had happened.”

Unfortunately, leaving after care and returning to the real world, it was not as forgiving nor understanding.

When I first began sharing my story, I had a therapist tell me I was too much for her to handle. I had a friend pull me aside and tell me to stop sharing what is going on because it is too upsetting. I had a psychiatrist wanting to load me up with as many prescription pills he could prescribe. And a University that told me I couldn’t return because they didn’t want “this” on their hands.

This is the reality of what it is like to live as a victim of sexual abuse. People don’t want to hear it, people don’t want to believe it, and they don’t know how to handle it.

About a few months into my recovery, I had a friend who had been sexually abused die tragically. It was the first person who I related to and could talk about what happened. She became my best friend in recovery. We would laugh and sing and saved each other seats during group therapy. When we couldn’t sleep at night, we would go out onto the patio look up at the stars and wondered what this whole thing was about. But just like I had felt four months prior, she couldn’t handle the pain. She could no longer stand being in her own skin, remembering and feeling the events from her past.

When I found out she had died, my heart broke into pieces. I push the door open to go outside and ran down a flight of stairs crying the hardest I have ever cried. To the point my knees buckled and I fell to the ground. I was hyperventilating so intensely that my face turned numb. I didn’t understand what was going on. I still don’t know whose hands were on my back trying to help me up. I will forever remember that day when I was told she died in a “car accident”.

Suicide is far too common amongst sexually abused victims. Please, if you feel suicidal call 1-800-273-8255, or text GO to 741-741 to receive immediate help. You will get through the pain, You will feel normal again, I promise you.

Somewhere somehow, with the absolute little bit of energy I had left to fight for life, I became fucking pissed. With every rejection, I became more determine to get help. With each person who told me to shut up, I started speaking louder. With each psychiatrist who didn’t know what to do with me or whose only solution was to load me up with pills, I stood up and walked out of the room. I think a certain part of me realized I am not doing this for myself anymore, but for others who have been sexually abused and needed help.

I eventually found a therapist who truly saved my life. I worked with her one on one for 2 years. In the beginning, I went twice a week because I was a shell of a person barely making it through the day. It hurt to breathe, my eyes were foggy, I cried nonstop. I had flashbacks, body memories (where you feel like the abuse is happening all over again). At night, I slept three hours only to be jolted awake by night terrors that left me drenched in sweat. My anxiety was through the roof that I started chain-smoking. While recovering from the trauma of being sexually abused I was recovering from bulimia, extreme restriction, exercise bulimia, and compulsive eating. Basically, I was learning every part of who I am and how to live all over again with the help of very kind strangers.

But I became stronger each day and each year in recovery. I began making real relationships. I started to love myself and not worry about what others thought. I began leading recovery groups. I shared my story in different group settings around New York and LA. I even spoke on the panel for NEDA (national eating disorder association). I have helped countless of sexual abuse survivors begin their own journey towards healing. I am currently in my 9th year of recovery, and it is night and day from where I started.

I have no clue why this had to happen to me as a child. But I do know I can help others who have gone through what I had. I promise, you will stop crying, you will stop feeling the pain of the abuse. You will laugh again and love for the first time. You will be safe and secure. You have every ability to live YOUR life and conquer YOUR dreams. Don’t give up on yourself, no matter where you are in the process of healing.

For those who do not know, statistically one in five girls will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen. In just one year, 63,000 children are sexually abused and 284,000 Americans are sexually abused from the age of 12 years and older (RAINN.org).  Making my story incredibly relatable and unfortunately not unique. This can change the more we talk about the reality of sexual abuse.

If you have been sexually abused you may experience these effects:

  • The believe that self-worth comes from what you can give to other people, not because you are a good lovable person
  • Constantly anxious or afraid of being attacked, or hurt –even subconsciously
  • Physical body memories of being molested, as if it were happening again.
  • Flashbacks of the event that haunt you during the day and night terrors that haunt you in your sleep
  • Not being able to trust people fully
  • Constantly alert
  • Horrendous hate for your body
  • Feeling less than and undeserving of things
  • Unwilling to open up with men (or women) and have them close
  • Become nonsexual or promiscuous. Each person has a different reaction to the trauma.
  • Some sort of addiction to cope with the trauma
  • Inability to handle feelings well, especially anger
  • Have no/ low self-esteem and gratefully accepted crumbs (of love, money, things).
  • Intense shame for what happened though it was not your fault

There is hope

I know it doesn’t seem fair, but when we work hard on our recovery, put it first place, there is healing. I have found many incredible supporters and a team who helped me in my recovery. Today I no longer hurt myself through eating disorders (and haven’t for 7 years), nor with low paying jobs, or other self-demeaning ways. Was recovery easy? No. But it will turn around. You will see one really good day amongst the hardship. You will begin experiencing things you have always craved to have yet had no idea you were longing for it.

I am sharing this today with the intention to show how prevalent sexual abuse is in our culture. Secondly, to really share what happens when a person is abused in such a horrific way. I am showing where we need to change as a society to help heal those who have been raped or molested. I am sharing to give hope and strength to those who have faced what I have faced that you can get through it. And lastly to hopefully provide courage for anyone else to share their story as well. This must end! No one should be raped, no one should be sexually abused. When we all start sharing loud enough, we can create a change in our society and in this world.

Additional Resources for help:

RAINN– Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network

Suicide Prevention Hotline– 24/7 help

Not Alone– find resources in your area.

Victim of Crime– find your rights and ways to rebuild your life

The Advocacy Center– for child sexual abuse

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13 comments

  1. So amazed at your voice!

    The timing of your post is something!

    The student teaching the teacher…full circle.

  2. I am a girl you went to HS with. In reality, like you mentioned above, it doesn’t matter who I am because “my story [is] incredibly relatable and unfortunately not unique.” But I do want to say that every story counts and is significant. Thank you for sharing. I regret not reporting or doing something more after my encounter with campus sexual assault, and I am not as brave as you are to publish my story. Today, we just work on healing. Everyone faces these traumas differently. I am happy to say that I too am recovering in my own way. It is amazing how the support of family (your mother in your case, my husband and daughter in mine) can serve as solid foundations for surviving and building ourselves back up. Sending love from a former friend. Thank you again for being brave and sharing.

  3. Wow Ellese. Extremely well written. your feelings are overwhelming. I don’t know how you did got through all of this. And your friend passing. overwhelming. Powerful article. I don’t know how you survived, so glad you did. I like the fighter instinct.

  4. Ellese, you are an inspiration. I was very emotional reading your story. You are such a brave woman. I am so happy to have connected with you and that I was able to read this amazing post.

  5. This was such a powerful and moving post. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your stories. It is so entirely unacceptable that people and institutions are unwilling to handle the aftermath of what comes when a woman is sexually assaulting and downright deplorable. I am so glad that you have fought your way out of the fog and are able to use your experience to help others.

    Rae Love from Berlin

  6. Ellese I have admired you from day one and my admiration for you grows. Thank you for being strong and for giving us hope. Love, Nallely.

  7. Wow Ellese, thank you for your honesty. I’m so sorry you had to go through something so terrible, but thank you for being strong for all women. I’ve been keeping up with the Stanford rape case and am absolutely disgusted with the law system, but it is because of strong women like you and the victim that the issue gets the attention it deserves.
    xo
    Siffat
    http://icingandglitter.com

  8. omg, baby I’m so sorry to hear it and amazed that you shared your story. Thank you for sharing it and share what you went through. Younger women need to hear and being shared to be careful and that there are always help and be heard! I’m glad that everything is good with you today and your family supported you. I’m pretty sure that so many girl would be happy to share their stories, but under some non-confidence they try to hide it and later they have so many life disasters.Really admire you for honesty!

    http://www.queenhorsfall.com/

  9. Hi Ellese,

    You are a very brave woman and I salute you for this.. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am touched and I’m really glad I’m able to know a person like you. I’ve shared this article across all of my personal accounts in hopes that somewhere out there, women with problems such as this will know that they are not alone in their journey. I wish you all the best life has to offer and God bless!
    x Louise

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