**Trigger Warning: This article discusses the effects of child sexual abuse on adult survivors. Some may find its content difficult to read. I do encourage everyone to read it even if you are not a survivor yourself, chances are you are a partner or friend to one.**
As many of you are aware, I am a child sexual abuse survivor (CSAS). I was molested at 10 and raped at 12 years old. I have also survived homelessness and other forms of abuse in my earlier years. All of which have resulted in dysfunctional and maladaptive adult behaviors. In my 30s I struggled terribly with low self-esteem and control issues, which is most common in CSAS. “Among the problems and symptoms that have been associated repeatedly with a childhood sexual abuse history are symptoms of posttraumatic stress, low self-esteem and guilt, anxiety, depression, somatization, dissociation, interpersonal dysfunction, eating disorders, sexual problems, substance abuse, and suicidality.” (Briere, 1989; Browne & Finkelhor, 1986)
For me personally, control was a big issue. Needing to have control of myself and my environment started immediately after my rape occurred, I recall the exact moment and time I swore to myself that I would die before I let anything like that happen to me again, I was 12. The need for control was what kept me from doing drugs and drinking. I was the only one in my group who never got high or drunk. Which turned me into everyone else’s caretaker and gave me a sense of empowerment! Here I am keeping myself safe and now protecting others who are vulnerable too. That created many instances of fighting, stealing, lying and petty crimes – all for the sake of “protecting” the ones around me. Flash forward to my 30s now married with children. As an unhealed CSAS, I demanded control over my household and family members, including, if not especially, my husband. He nicknamed me Jessica “The Master Planner” Echeverry. God bless him for his patience! Everything had to be a certain way (my way of course) all in an effort to “protect” my people. But it was a very unhealthy behavior that was slowly ruining my marriage and my personal relationships. I was struggling.
Eventually, I experienced around 7 years of therapy which helped me tremendously. I also found Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church which combined with a healthy marriage and loving husband I was able to finally find healing of my early childhood wounds and abuses and get ‘control’ of my control issues. But healing of wounds does not take away the truth of what happened. The reality of actions. And so yes, I still suffer from flashbacks. I am still triggered by certain things. I still “suffer” from the recall of the heinous crimes that were committed against me as a child.
As a Christian, I feel a closeness with God that allows me to surrender myself completely to Him when it happens. I say yes to it and embrace it, knowing I am suffering with Him on the cross He has allowed for me. I think of it similar to St. Paul’s own labor for the church, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” (NIV Col 1:24) For the sake of the church. Just like Jesus.
But it still hurts.
It is still real.
Just as the day it happened.
Because we don’t change the reality of historic events.
They will always be there, like 9-11.
We learn to deal with them and hopefully we heal from them.
But they never actually disappear.
So what does quarantine have to do with all of this? Lack of control. For many CSAS being in quarantine has triggered (knowingly and unknowingly) our need to feel in control. Stay at Home orders remove freedoms, remove a person’s control over one’s self – something very important for a CSAS to feel. Wearing a mask can trigger a flashback if the abuse was violent in anyway, if the CSAS was held down or smothered in anyway (my attacker placed his whole hand over my nose and mouth to keep me from screaming). For the first few weeks of the quarantine I felt weird. I felt aggression. I felt depressed. I felt like I had no control. I felt suffocated by the facemask now required in order to go out into society.
I struggled so much through prayer and trying to find a reason for all of these feelings. And after much prayer and research I realized that it is the quarantine that is the trigger. Once you realize you have been triggered, then you have the awareness to start the process of working through the trigger and memory. Awareness is the key and it is the start to finding healing and peace to what it is you are suffering from.
So yes, quarantine is difficult on people for all of the regular reasons. But please be mindful, be aware that for the CSAS it brings about another deeply profound level of suffering and stress you could only imagine, especially for those CSAS who have never told anyone what has happened to them or hasn’t had the opportunity to find the healing they so deserve.
If you are a victim of child sexual abuse and need help, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Live Chat (safe and confidential) available on their website as well: https://hotline.rainn.org/online