Healing from Abuse and Reclaiming My Dreams

TRIGGER WARNING: This post mentions sexual abuse and may be triggering to some people.

“Along the way I stopped into a coffee shop. All around me normal, everyday city types were going about their normal, everyday affairs…In spite of which—or, rather, all the more because— here I was, sitting in this coffee shop, drinking my coffee, feeling a desperate loneliness. I alone was the outsider. I had no place here… Here I had no ties to anyone. Fact is, I’d come to reclaim myself.” ~Haruki Murakami

“You don’t have any goals.”

“I wondered why someone your age and with your qualifications hasn’t done more.”

Easy statements to make for those who have not led my life. Twelve years of childhood sexual abuse, being silenced, struggling to stop it, people I trusted denying it had happened. Thirty-three long years of battling depression, failing, and constantly taking the easy way out by giving up on myself, my dreams, and my life.

And yet I kept on moving on, pushing through the bouts of depression. I had lost all sense of a childhood, as I had experienced something traumatic at a very young age.

I forced myself to have crushes on boys at school so as to feel normal, but I didn’t really feel anything. I couldn’t fall in love like my friends did at university; I tried to like men, but I withdrew from a mere touch.

In my late thirties when I woke up to a life I had managed to carve out for myself, I dated erratically, thinking I had found love in a six-month relationship. Ten years later I am still alone, and all I can hear is little girl crying as she tries to find her childhood and her lost youth. A woman who hopes to find love but has been held back by self-doubt.

Some days are better than others, when I think of how much I have achieved in my career despite my handicap, but on other days there is only the loneliness. Even with therapy, Buddhism, a PhD, a well-rounded career, and a family that loves me, sans admittance of the biggest truth in my life.

Some say there is not much to complain about, and that it’s cultural and generational that my family doesn’t understand. Others get worried when I am in one of my “low moods” and ask me to get help.

It’s not help I seek, nor attention nor approval—all of which I’ve sought for before. All I want is to have a life in which I can find love. But I think love wants me to find myself first.

If you, like me, are searching for yourself and/or for love, perhaps what I’ve shared below might help.

Don’t shy away from your feelings.

They will come in waves, and they will leave you weak and crying. Let yourself cry. Your tears are precious, as they express what you feel without words, without judgment. Your pain, your grief, is yours; don’t turn your back on it. Hear it, listen to it.

I have spent, and still do spend, countless hours crying, as the anger, the disbelief that this was my life, and now the grief of having had a tough childhood, makes me weep. I cry for my five-year-old self—the little girl with eyes that said a lot, but which no one paid attention to; the kid whose feelings were labelled as a tantrum and ignored.

Don’t ignore your tears, or anyone else’s.

Never silence your thoughts.

Your thoughts can be both your strength and your weakness. Just like your feelings, don’t judge them. Find a way to express yourself.

I write, as a researcher and as a means of expressing myself. It was my writing that helped me past a crippling stage of depression in my life. My words written on paper brought many hidden, silenced aspects of my abuse to light for me. I was able to write down things I couldn’t talk about, which helped me make peace with them.

Get it all out, whether you share it with someone else or keep it to yourself. Release the shame by sharing your story.

Many people have patronized me or felt sorry for me when I’ve told them about my past. I appreciate them hearing me out, but I don’t open up because I want pity. I do it for me—because talking about my past gives me strength.

Don’t give up hope.

I sit here crying while writing this, and I don’t feel that I have any hope in me, but life, our breath, is resilient. And even though my mind tries to convince me that I’m without hope, I know that as long as I’m still breathing, there is always hope. The same is true for you.

Turn your gratitude inward.

There is a higher sense of gratitude beyond what we feel for our friends, family, having a good stable job or a house: a sense of gratitude toward ourselves, for having come so far in our life journey, for having pushed through so much pain that we are able to look ourselves in the eye in the mirror and say, “I deserve love.”

Reaffirm that you deserve love and so much more.

I have compared my life to others and gone through phases of feeling like I was short-changed in life and others have it all. We all know that we should not compare ourselves to others, but it’s not the comparison that hurts; it’s the fear that we can’t get what other people have.

We lack faith and trust because years of abuse led to low self-worth and self-doubt. The best way out and back to ourselves is accepting ourselves just as we are, irrespective and inclusive of our past, our grief, the years we have lost, our tears. It all forms who we are, and it’s built us into strong people who deserve love and respect.

Have dreams.

I am not giving up on finding love. My abuse took from me the typical trajectory of life, but over the last ten years I have been reconnecting with different parts and sides of myself—for example, my teenage self, the young, depressed girl who wanted to fall in love, but was scared to trust.

My career took precedent during my twenties and most of my thirties, as work was a safe place. But I now realize love doesn’t have to be unsafe, so I daydream about finding love someday—of having a family and a dog.

It’s not just my youth that was taken away, but also my dreams, since I didn’t believe I was worthy of love, or that I could ever find it. For everyone who feels as I do, I have only one thing to say: reach out and reclaim those dreams.

Get your life back because it’s precious and you deserve to live a life full of hopes and dreams.

About Vidhu Gandhi

Vidhu Gandhi is a heritage practitioner, researcher, and an academic. She works on projects and teaches about histories, heritage, cultures, and places that bridge the old and the new. Spirituality and a sense of connectedness with others are integral parts of her ethos. She hopes to enable others, especially young people, to move beyond the silence of their pain and suffering, toward ways of empathy and compassion.

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