People who experience trauma often have lasting effects from it; anxiety, PTSD, depression, etc. The list is long and the ailments varying in degree from person to person. It doesn’t matter what caused the trauma when you are dealing with its effects; the trauma itself is not the problem anymore. It’s the way it has changed your life that becomes the issue. So many people suffer every day and the resources are drying up and the empathy is perfunctory; everyone has some advice to offer, but no one really gets it unless they are survivors, too.
I have had a shadow that has followed me since I was young. He is always there, just over my shoulder or standing in the darkness, watching me. Waiting for me. I never really knew why he was there, but sometimes his allure was so strong, I was tempted to follow him in to the darkness.
I know now he came to me after the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was a young girl at a home where my sister and I were cared for while my single father was at work.There were a dozen or so kids from ages 6 months to 14 years old who went to this caregiver and we were not well supervised. I was the oldest girl at this place and there were a couple boys a bit older than me. There were also boys in the neighbourhood who would come to play. It was on a hot, sunny day when all the kids were outside playing in the yard that I was lured to the front of the house by one of the boys. Two other boys, neighbourhood kids, were waiting. The boys held my arms, and pushed me to the ground. The other boy, who I thought was my friend, pulled down my shorts and fondled me. He put his fingers inside me. Then he held me while the other boys did the same. They laughed and teased and called me names as I cried. Eventually they let me go. I ran into the house to the bathroom downstairs (we were never allowed up in to the main part of the house) and locked the door. I hid in there for as long as I could. I cried and cried and wondered what I had done to make the boys want to hurt me. I was humiliated and full of shame; I knew it was my fault. I was so afraid that the babysitter would find out and and she would tell my dad…I would be in so much trouble if anyone found out what I had done. You see that? I blamed myself for the behaviour of those boys. They assaulted me and I felt I was to blame. It was the early 80s and Feminism was not something that even existed in my world.
I avoided the boys as best I could the rest of that day. I never told anyone what had happened. It wasn’t the last time I was assaulted by these boys and I lived with the shame, the confusion and anger. I turned it all on myself and searched for ways to appease my guilty conscience. And that is how Shadow Man came to me.
Shadow Man is the darkness, the sadness and shame that I cannot contain inside. He lurks around me, following me, reminding me that I am dirty, unworthy, loathsome and unloveable. He reminds me that I am alone, and that the only way to free myself of him is to join him in the darkness. There, I will find release from pain, a quietness.
He was a part of my life for years. I did everything I could to keep him at bay, but usually I resorted to self-destructive behaviours that really only fed him, and helped him grow stronger. As a young girl I became obsessive about keeping my room clean and in order. I tried to be perfect at school and at home and tried to stay out of the way of the older boys at the babysitters.I was anorexic in high school and college. I binge drank and experimented with drugs. I tried to be perfect, carefully doing my make up and hair every day to look like I was “pretty” and “normal”. Inside, I knew I was ugly, tarnished and unclean. Nothing I did chased Shadow Man away. I became angry, defiant and put on a facade of a strong, confident woman who said what needed to be said, did what needed to be done and had her shit together.
I suffered more trauma through my life; I was raped in high school and never reported it. I never told anyone about it until much later. I married a man who became abusive to me and my children in some of the most heinous ways; I still feel like it is unbelievable that it could have happened to me.
Shadow Man stayed with me my whole life, only leaving for a short period of time when I was and adult. I was working full time, things were quiet on the Family Court front and my kids and I were happy. I was happy, but He was still there. One day a friend of mine told me how you can tell a “spirit” to leave you alone, to go away. I was astonished; could I really do that? I suppose I wanted to believe that this Shadow Man was simply an unwanted entity who had attached itself to me. I followed my friend’s advice and I asked the Shadow Man what he wanted. I got no response that I could feel or understand. I told him he was unwelcome, that he had to leave me alone and never come back. To my surprise, he left. He was gone; I could not feel him anymore. I was so amazed and relieved!
Life was good and I was happy. I was as financially secure as I had ever been. My kids and I were in a good place and the Shadow Man became a memory.
And then my grandmother became ill and when I lost her, I felt like my whole world was crashing down. She was my best friend, my mentor, my hero. Without her I felt like I was disconnected, unstable, lost. I was exposed and Shadow Man found his way back to me; I welcomed him this time. I wanted to feel him near, to know he would be there when I was ready to fall in to the quiet, the dark and rest.
I know that I am not the only person who has experienced trauma in their lives and I know I am not the only one who battles this darkness. Trauma opens you up to it, allows it to come in to your life and haunt you. I have successfully resisted his allure many, many times, but there are still so many days when his darkness blots out the sun and swallows me. On those days, I allow myself to cry, to brood, to be angry. I allow myself to feel the pain that Shadow Man promises to take away. Some days the pain is overwhelming, the anxiety crippling. I will think that I cannot resist anymore, that I don’t even want to; I want the quiet, the peace. And then someone will remind me that I am a Survivor. A friend, my children, or my grandmother’s voice will whisper in my ear, “One foot in front of the other, Lass. Better days ahead.” So I allow myself to feel the sadness and anger and fear for a short time. I remind myself that I will survive it, as I have so many times before, and I will keep going. Shadow Man is here, he may always be, and I accept that. I have to find a way to live with this darkness and keep it at bay. I don’t know for how long, but today, I know that I win. And a win one day at a time is a good start.