Before and After: A Life Shaped by Abuse
I started therapy in 2012 for…well, for a lot of things. For those of you new to the blog (welcome!), please feel free to peruse the site for the backstory. The major turning point in my ability, or rather lack of ability, to function was my rape as a 17-year-old. In order to determine the best approach for my treatment, my therapist and I began taking an inventory of my life before and after said rape to determine which of my issues might be directly related to that specific trauma and which might be more “trait” characteristics—something I was born with or had a genetic predisposition to.
It didn’t take long for me to break down and acknowledge, for the first time, that I was sexually abused as a child, beginning as early as two-and-a-half years old. There was no “before.”
The idea of a “Before Apryl” began to haunt me, as I ruminated on who I would have been had I not been abused so early in development. Would I still have ended up a lesbian? Ended up with generalized anxiety? Had issues with rage? Would I still have been a socially awkward kid? Been so uncomfortable in and scared of my body that I had to starve it? Would I still have lost ten years of my life to alcohol and drugs? Would I have even been raped in high school and again in college, or would a non-abused alarm system in my brain have allowed me to fight or flee instead of freeze? Or would I have even been able to recognize the red flags of those situations and get out, had my stress response system not been damaged so early in life? Maybe that early life stress just made me a vulnerable target for a rapist? Victims of childhood sexual abuse are 2-3 times more likely to experience sexual assault as adults than those who don’t have a history of childhood sexual abuse, and I felt as if everything that I hated about myself was a result of this early abuse. My goal in recovery was to transform myself into the person who I would have been had I not been abused.
Despite the fact that this was an insurmountable task, it only fed my belief that my abuse had made me dirty and unworthy and something I needed to cleanse myself of it if anyone was ever going to love me. It fed my self-loathing for being gay, and I thought that if I could erase this abuse from my body, I could be straight, normal.
It wasn’t until I accepted that the “After Apryl” was worthy that I began to heal. I certainly needed to work on healthy ways to cope with stress and trauma-specific therapy to address my PTSD, but I didn’t need to erase what had happened to me. While I’m reluctant to say that my abuse defines me, it did shape who I became, and who I became is a compassionate person dedicated to making the world a better place. I became sympathetic to other people’s struggles because I know how what life hands you can sometimes break you. But I also became a firm believer in the strength and resilience of the human mind and body. I became fearless in the face of any challenge because I’d already survived the worst of circumstances. I became a fierce ally, advocate, and activist for all those struggling to find their footing. I fell in love with a beautiful woman who also fights to make the world a better place, and together we created a safe, loving space in our own corner of the world and even brought a couple rescue dogs into the mix. Nobody knows what determines a person’s sexual orientation, whether it’s genetically determined, environmentally determined in utero, or influenced by early-life experiences (probably a combination of all three), but whomever I’m attracted to is a natural part of who I am as a human being, regardless of how I got there.
None of this would have happened had I not been abused, and while I may have become an equally awesome Apryl, I don’t need to know who that person would have been because I love who I am now, in spite of everything. We are all worthy of love.