Content Warning: This essay deals with issues around sexual assault and triggers.
I didn’t have an answer for her.
Instead of repeating the question, we sat together in awkward silence. It was probably only uncomfortable for me though. She was used to it. Years of training had taught her to be patient and wait for the client to speak.
“I don’t want them to ever know I was a victim.”
I wanted to tell her I was embarrassed. I knew that I didn’t need to be. I knew deep down that it wasn’t my fault. Unfortunately, it still didn’t stop me from feeling shameful.
* * *
I didn’t have children at that point in my life.
I had only been attending counselling for a few weeks, and would only stay for a couple of months, but back then I talked about everything in my life apart from the rape. The only time it was mentioned was when we spoke about my future offspring and how it would affect them. Even then, all that time ago, the thought of having children and them knowing that their mother had been sexually assaulted weighed heavily on my shoulders.
She told me I had nothing to feel ashamed about; I was a survivor. She also told me that even though she could help me, she would never be able to make me forget, no matter how much I wanted to. It was at that moment I knew counselling wasn’t right for me right then.
Now, a few years on, I have managed to cool my anger over that. I can live with the fact I have to live with it. I do feel like a survivor. I survive every day.
But I still don’t know how I will ever tell my three boys.
Sometimes it’s difficult putting a brave face on things. My husband knows my triggers, the things and mannerisms which freeze me to the spot, but my boys don’t yet. They are too young to explain it to. A word, a colour, a place, a behaviour; four specific things which are meaningless to you, have so much power over me. Sometimes its crippling, sometimes a deep breath will see me through.
Today, they wanted to watch a video on YouTube. Thomas the Tank Engine graced the screen for the millionth time this week. Who knew that the very word which makes me feel sick to my stomach would be repeated in this particular clip, over and over again?
I had options. I could turn it off, but then I would have to deal with confusion and tantrums that ultimately would remind me of why I had to turn it off in the first place. I could lie, say the TV was broken. I could explain that sometimes certain things make Mummy feel uncomfortable. Then my five-year-old would make me explain it multiple times so I wouldn’t be able to escape from it anyway.
Instead, I left the room and busied myself with something in the kitchen.
I don’t know if there is a right way to tell your child. Maybe my husband will give them the heads up when they are older. Maybe I will be able to use my platform as a writer to find the strength to speak out more.
What I do know now though is that I want them to grow up knowing that their Mummy is a survivor.