I was abused as a child. I didn’t know that at the time but now I am more than aware of what happened. The abuser was a relative who would often come to our house. It started when I was very little. He would often talk to me one-on-one in a way that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t even sure why I was uncomfortable and I assumed this was how some adults behave. I now realize that he was grooming me.
I was assaulted five times over the span of ages 11 to 14. After that, the person moved away and I never saw him again. I have no idea what happened to him and I do not want to find out. I felt so threatened that he would come back to haunt me again that I never told my mother about it. The first time I formed my experiences into actual spoken words was when I started seeing a therapist in college.
The abuse I experienced wasn’t just in those instances of actual physical and sexual assault. His presence in my life was a constant source of stress and fear that would often render me unable to enjoy my childhood to its fullest. I was manipulated, lied to, threatened repeatedly. I was taken advantage by a grown man who made my life hell. I was not only abused sexually but also emotionally.
I didn’t know how to define what was happening to me. I never considered that to be a violent act because it’s not like I had any physical markings that would indicate what I went through. No bruises, no cuts, no anything. So it couldn’t have been violence, right?
Violence is: the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation. (source)
That’s violence as defined by the World Health Organization. This definition was introduced to me and then explained by my trauma therapist. She was the first person who helped me understand that what happened to me was in fact, an act of violence. This made it easier for me to deal with the situation as an adult.
She also suggested that the fact I didn’t see it that way as a child was a coping mechanism. If I had admitted to myself that I was experiencing violence then I would have no choice but to accept defeat. But because my mind was working in survival mode, I would simply dismiss that possibility. I also downplayed it, thinking to myself that other people have it much worse so why should I be the one that gets help. That was also another coping mechanism.
All of that constant stress resulted in suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as I grew up. I still experience some of its attacks occasionally but it has gotten much better in the past few years. The symptoms of PTSD are listed here.
For me, hypervigilance was the most obvious symptom. Hypervigilance means being constantly on alert, ready to protect yourself and no ability to relax. I was so tense that I began having regular tension headaches. I had trouble falling asleep.
As you might know from my other posts, stress is very closely linked to metabolism. Abuse, stress, PTSD can all lead to damaged metabolism. In turn, this affects your whole body and overall wellbeing.
You don’t need to have experienced abuse to suffer from the negative effects stress has on your body. Being stuck in a job you hate, having no close friends to turn to in need, suddenly losing someone close to you – all of those happenings can be a source of both acute and chronic stress.
Your body deals with stress by producing a steroid hormone called cortisol. Whenever you experience a sudden onset of acute stress, your body will release a strong dose of cortisol to help you get through that. If you are overly stressed on a regular basis, you will get many doses of cortisol one after another. Those doses build up over time and slow up your metabolism as a part of the body’s defense mechanism.
Here is a short list of the most common factors (as edited by me) that lead to increased cortisol production (source):
- lack of sleep
- prolonged or too intense physical exercise
- severe calorie restriction
- long commutes
- trauma and stressful triggers
- eating disorders
- pressure from society
I want to talk a bit more about the last point. Having a damaged metabolism is most likely causing you to gain weight. Shedding that weight is almost impossible without addressing the issue that is causing your metabolism to fail. And dealing with PTSD or abuse is not something you can do in one day.
Not fitting in society’s norms about which body types are accepted and which ones aren’t is another source of stress. Do you see how that vicious circle continues? You can’t lose weight because of pressure from society because you can’t lose weight. It happens more often than you think, I promise. And no amount of healthy diets and exercise can change that.
Diet Recovery and Eat For Heat both explain the link between stress and metabolism very well so I recommend you read them to understand the concept further.
How to deal with abuse?
First, we need to accept how commonly it is happening. We cannot avert our eyes from it and only notice it when it happens to us. If you haven’t experienced abuse yourself, you definitely met someone who did. It really is much more common than we like to think. And it happens no matter what your socioeconomic background is, no matter the city you live in, no matter where you went to school. We need to acknowledge that.
And we need to be supportive of the abuse victims. Not dismissing them or telling them how to feel. Understanding and empathy are what helps people overcome their abuse and PTSD.
It is also vital to seek treatment. People rarely get over abuse on their own and most will require help from a specialist. A specialist will help the victim understand what happened to them and definite it. They are like a teacher for learning a new life skill. Be it a therapist, a psychologist, a trauma counselor, or any other person qualified to treat people who experienced abuse. There are specialists in every area, including but not limited to: domestic violence, sexual abuse, childhood abuse, bullying, and many more.
For me, it was much easier to start getting better when I had my own family. I didn’t grow up in a safe environment but I wanted my kids to be able to. For that, I needed to become stronger myself. I want to be the kind of mother who can stand up and support her children in the hardest moments of their lives. So I overcame my abuse for my children.
And just remember one thing: it gets better. You might not believe it now but with the right treatment, you can get your life back.