From Pandora’s Project, which is a resource for survivors of rape and child sexual abuse, Louise offers a powerful article about how, often, people in their forties, fifties and even sixties find that the past abuse becomes particularly difficult to manage – indeed, it may be only after 40 that many survivors even begin to face the past trauma.
Many survivors who write to and for The Healing Voices Magazine share a similar report: “Life was going along ‘just fine,’ when suddenly everything crashed….” This article by Louise is a well-researched exploration about just that.
It is well-documented by writers and researchers that there are times in the lives of abuse survivors when they will be more prone to thoughts and feelings about their histories. Circumstances that can instigate the re-opening of abuse-related wounds include pregnancy, a fresh encounter with sexual assault whether against the survivor or somebody close, children becoming the same age the survivor was at the time of their assault, or being in a safe relationship and no longer needing to merely survive. Another context for the arousal of early abuse-related trauma can be approaching, or having entered, middle-age.
You may be a survivor of child sexual abuse who is now in your late thirties, forties, fifties or beyond, and you may be finding that your feelings around what you experienced are worse than they have ever been, or at any rate worse that they’ve been for a long time. You may be confused as to why this is happening now. Life changing events such as medical scares, dying abusers, bereavement, retrenchment and ill spouses are things older survivors must often contend with. You may not expect such events to have triggered off earlier trauma, and you may be shocked and frightened by the strength of nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms.
Or perhaps there’s no precipitating event you can pinpoint as starting it all, but you’ve found that you suddenly can’t stop thinking about what happened when you were younger. It may be that you’ve retired, your kids have left home and life has fewer extraneous distractions. This can be a time when traumatic issues begin to clamour for attention.
If this is you, please know that even if you feel anything but normal right now, what is happening to you is not at all unusual. This appears to be a common aspect of survivorship. In writing about adult survivors of child abuse, trauma expert and psychiatrist Judith Herman says:
As the survivor struggles with the tasks of adult life, the legacy of her childhood becomes increasingly burdensome. Eventually, often in the fourth or fifth decade of life, the defensive structure may begin to break down. Often the precipitant is a change in the equilibrium of close relationships: The failure of a marriage, the illness or death of a parent. The facade can hold no longer, and the underlying fragmentation becomes manifest. When and if a breakdown occurs, it can take symptomatic forms that mimic virtually every form of psychiatric disorder. Survivors fear that they are going insane or will have to die (1992 p. 114).
I’m going to tell you about how this happened to me, then we’ll look at other important aspects of this process, and getting better.
I am a survivor of child sexual and other abuse who had undertaken successful healing work. Yet, two years ago in 2008 when I was 41, I experienced a major event that was for me the catalyst for developing panic disorder and agoraphobia. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) returned with such a vengeance that I was certain I had never before experienced it so badly. I could not allow myself to think about my history of child sexual and other abuse without experiencing the most dizzying terror about it all. I wondered if my past had finally defeated me. If you would like to read more about this part of my journey, here is a link. Two years later I am much stronger and have a greater appreciation of why this happened. I also know that I am part of a much larger group of older survivors to have felt such an impact – my older friends at Pandora’s Aquarium have been a major source of reassurance and validation to me, as was returning to therapy, and I’ll say more about this below….
For the full article, click here.