CONTENT WARNING: SUBSTANCE ABUSE + SEXUAL ASSAULT
Outside...always outside, 11 x 8.5 inches, watercolor. 1990
Here’s the thing about being a survivor of childhood and sexual abuse: There is no finish line for recovery. For years, I thought the day would come where I would be fully healed. I would be that open, smiling, and trusting person I had always dreamed of being. I would no longer be “triggered.” I would no longer plunge to almost suicidal depths because of things most people shrug off with enviable ease. I could live up to all of my physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual potential.
Age 5 in b+w and 7 in color. Before and after my mother married my abuser. I often wonder what life what have been
like if that open-faced, smiling girl had not been soul murdered. The girl in the color photo makes me want to weep.
"FAMILY MEMBERS WHO DO NOT BELIEVE YOU OR MINIMIZE YOUR TRAUMA CAUSE ALMOST MORE PAIN THAN THE ABUSER...EVEN CURRENT EVENTS CAN BRING IT ALL BACK UP TO THE SURFACE.”
That day has yet to arrive and, at 55, I have to accept that it never will. Has it gotten better? Sometimes. It is like having a constant, low-grade fever that can spike at any time. It is compounded by having to try to explain what you often do not understand yourself to people around you.
Secondary injury is almost as damaging as the original abuse. Family members who do not believe you or minimize your trauma cause almost more pain than the abuser. Lovers and friends who don’t understand or accept the wreckage of childhood abuse deepen the wounds so many of us carry. Even current events can bring it all back up to the surface. Last November, all over the media, I saw someone very much like my abuser not only evade consequences for his horrendous behavior, but get elevated and lauded in spite of it. I felt like half of my country had spit in my face.
And then he ate up all the light, 8.5 x 11 inches, watercolor. 1990
Self Rescue, 11 x 8.5 inches, watercolor. 1990
I have worked hard in therapy and in twelve-step groups, and highly recommend both. But I have found it essential to grieve the life and person I might have been if my childhood had not been brutalized. I would have had a different life had I not spent so much of this one mired in despair, self-loathing, and PTSD. Some days, knowing that pisses me the fuck off. Part of moving forward has been acknowledging the loss. I believe in healing, but accept that I will always have some scars in this life.
The mask comes off... 11 x 8.5 inches, watercolor. 1990
“PART OF MOVING FORWARD HAS BEEN ACKNOWLEDGING THE LOSS. I BELIEVE IN HEALING BUT ACCEPT I WILL ALWAYS HAVE SOME SCARS IN THIS LIFE.”
If I could offer any advice and solace to fellow travelers on this path, it would be to get the professional help you need. Also, it's widely understood that you should seek professional treatment for serious illnesses. Don’t attempt to treat the emotional and spiritual equivalent on your own. And remember, you are not the abuse, even though at times it might feel that way. In the twelve-step groups, we say, “One day at a time,” and, “This too shall pass.” Please don’t let despair lead you to actions you can’t undo—the way you feel at any given moment can change quicker than you would believe. I am glad I am still here. You are and have always been worthy. I wish you all the strength and love you need for your journey.
Monster in my house..., 8.5 x 11 inches, watercolor. 1990
Shelly Kohli was born and raised in Florida and currently lives in South Carolina.