Remember that 80s song 'and I ran, I ran so far away,' from A Flock of Seagulls? If you lived through the 80s, you couldn’t get away from it. I loved that song, even when I couldn’t stand it anymore. It resonated with me on a deep level, one I wouldn’t understand for many, many years. Decades, even.
Because I ran. Because I run. Because I still run. Let me explain.
When I was eleven, a neighbor dad sexually abused me and a few other neighbor girls. He was in the Army. It happened more than once, and I didn’t understand what it was or why this thing, this monster, wanted me. Eventually, all our experiences with him came to light, and I testified against him in both civil and military trials. He got two years, lost his pension, then moved back home.
My family didn’t move away, so I lived with what happened for the next eight years until I moved away for college. I didn’t receive therapy, and my family just kind of swept it under the rug. I lived with his kids’ accusatory stares every day as I hurried to and from the same school as if I were the one who had committed the crime. I lived with their rumors, gossip, and bullying as I rushed through my school activities, busy with busy-ness, terrified my friends would find out if I came to a standstill for even a moment.
So I ran. I ran from the shame.
I never shared my story publicly until I wrote about it in my bestselling third book, Broken Pieces, in 2012, and my fourth book, Broken Places (Lisa Hagan Books). These are heavy books, filled with essays and poetry that discuss what it’s like to live with the effects of being a survivor, as well as love and loss.
One of those effects is that I run — not the literal ‘put on your shoes and go for a run’ — which I did for a long time until my knees gave out. No, this is a different kind of running. The kind that happens when I find myself in an emotionally overwhelming situation. I cut and run. I leave the room, and if I can’t leave, I clam up. I’m Baby in the corner.
I didn’t know, until recently, that this is very common for survivors of sexual abuse, and yet, it’s not a bad thing. It seems like it would be, right? But it’s not. You know why? Because it’s a way for us to take back our power. It’s okay to run, or really, to remove ourselves from a situation we are uncomfortable with because we weren’t able to do this when the abuse happened — as long as we are able to come back and resolve the issue at some point.
See, that’s the ticket, right there: it’s okay to run, as long as we come back to form a resolution.
Running from difficult situations has caused problems in my personal relationships, I won’t lie. I’m currently going through a divorce, and the man I’m seeing now gets very frustrated when I walk away from confrontation. He’s a Scorpio — he loves to dig in and get things resolved right then and there. I’m the complete opposite anyway (Capricorn, introvert), but add the past abuse, and it’s a minefield. We’re working through it, and his love and compassion for me helps immensely. So does this realization about running.
See, you have to understand something: I’m not a doormat or a victim. I speak my mind. I’m a strong woman, a feminist, and an advocate for women and children, particularly survivors of sexual abuse. But that doesn’t mean I’m infallible.
For a long time, I, like my family, minimized what happened. They believed me — how could they not? I testified in court — twice. I helped put the beast away. But the minimization was brutal. ‘Rachel’s abuse wasn’t as bad as the others,’ became the family mantra. I can’t even get my mind around that to this day.
I became the good girl, the cheerleader, the overachiever who graduated early, who got every award and promotion, who moved across the country to get that home office job — who ran, exhausted and panting for air, but who kept running, because that’s what I did. That’s what I knew. That became my normal.
Until it all crashed down when I had my first baby — postpartum depression and terrifying anxiety. How could I ever let her out of my sight? This precious life that depended on me to keep her safe — what if I failed her? I finally started therapy and medication. Everything, all my freak-outs and missteps and fears — started to make sense.
Our past doesn’t just fall away, no matter how deeply we bury it.
I don’t use my past as an excuse, but it helps me to understand much more about my own behaviors, and why I subconsciously react to situations the way I do. Becoming aware of the subconscious helps me deal with all of it in a more conscious way if that makes sense. Writing about the abuse so openly has been a wonderful way to connect with other survivors as well, to comprehend so much about what eluded me.
I started #SexAbuseChat on Twitter (every Tuesday at 6pm PST) last year with my cohost, certified therapist/incest survivor and author Bobbi Parish, to help remove the stigma and shame survivors feel about our past. Any survivor or family member is welcome to join — just use the hashtag to join in the chat.
My final point is this: survivors, just like anyone, need to set boundaries. If putting the brakes on an emotionally difficult situation helps you, then do it. Just being aware of that is a big step. We often have to define, or redefine, what normal is because what’s normal to us and normal to well, someone who is truly normal (is anyone truly normal?), is completely different. Everyone is just a little fucked up.
Run if you have to. And it’s okay.
But be sure to come back to those people who mean something in your life, because if you don’t, you’ll have nothing, and maybe no one, to run back to.
“Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
This post originally appears on HastyWords.com