Characteristics of a survivor

Below is a list of what I think are common characteristics of sexual abuse survivors, particularly those who have experienced ritual abuse.

1. Dissociation/ amnesia

I didn’t know I was dissociative until I was about 26 when I realised I had been sexually abused. The more I tried to find out what happened to me the harder it was to get the details. I kept hitting what I describe as a black wall. It took another six years to learn I had D.I.D and amnesia about my childhood because of the abuse. I understood my memories were repressed but it took a long while for me to fully understand what this meant. Sometimes I think I am still in a state of shock. It took a long time to accept that I was programmed and my mind had split and this was done through torture.

There are many layers to dissociation. I have experienced depersonalisation and derealisation- things don’t feel real, I feel like I am on an acid trip, I am separate from body and mind and not connected to my surrounds. To be honest i feel like this a lot, but I don’t notice it so much anymore. I’m kind of used to it and it’s not that distracting anymore. Or maybe it is? I’m not sure….

2. Body issues

I didn’t notice my body until I was a teenager and I don’t remember being very connected to it. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I became self conscious in a heightened way. I had been backpacking overseas and on return my father met me at the airport and said, “gee you’ve put on weight” and from there, I developed an eating disorder. I must have lost 15 kilos through starvation and amphetamines. I loved being super thin but always felt fat and ashamed of my body. I have done lots of work over the years and it’s only been in the last 12 months that I have been kinder about my body. Perhaps this is one of the benefits of age. I have suffered body dysmorphia, shame and feelings of disgust about my body for so many years. I like to keep fit now and it makes me feel strong and empowered, but i still long to be skinny and not seen.

My issues with body have played out in sex, intimacy and all relationships. I’ve used my body as an object, I’ve degraded it, I’ve tried to get control of it in Sado masochistic environments. I’ve sexualised it, ignored it and shamed it.

3. Addiction

I’ve experienced many addictions throughout my life: drugs, alcohol, sex, fantasy, love, codependency, smoking, workaholism and coffee. The last two I am still working on. They keep me going for now at least. I’ve tried many forms of therapy for these things but found twelve step programs the most useful for the drugs and alcohol especially. I don’t attend these anymore as I think AA is too triggering as a SRA survivor but i am glad I did it. I’m also glad to be out of it. It took a while to deprogram from the false beliefs spouted. The addictions were all masks over the issue of abuse and as soon as I started to work with parts and my fractured identity and the dissociation, I got on top of most things.

4. Depression and suicidal thinking (ideation)

I think I had depression from a very young age. I’ve written before that I wrote a letter to God asking Him to take my life. He didn’t answer. I didn’t notice I was depressed until about 21 years old. I had moved to London from an isolated city in Australia, known as Perth. I thought I would thrive in the busyness and cultural life of a cosmopolitan city, but fear and anxiety dominated the experience. I was desperately trying to be adult and convince everyone around me I was more than how I felt – so worthless and low. The depression increased over the years and before and after I got sober the suicidal ideation intensified. Some nights I would lie in bed praying to God to take my life. Again, He never listened.

5. Negative feelings / self image

These go hand in hand with depression and suicidal ideation. At my low points I feel worthless, shameful, like a piece of shit, pathetic, selfish, disgusting, ugly and embarrassed. It’s hard when these feelings get activated. It was helpful for my therapist to remind me it was memory. Over time these perceptions have changed, through parts work, creative arts therapy and also just talking about these feelings with other survivors and people with addiction. It was helpful to discover I was not alone and these were common feelings amongst others like me. I never looked at these people in this way. I thought they were great, yet I couldn’t extend that thinking my way. Over time it’s softened and I know when these feelings come up it’s generally a part or a memory that needs to be released.

6. Fragmented thoughts

I lived in my head most of my childhood, teens and adulthood. Drugs and alcohol were great for getting me to verbalise. Most of the time my thoughts were fragmented and fractured. I didn’t realise this was because of the abuse. Writing has helped and so has study. My love of learning has meant that I pursued higher educational studies and so in many ways becoming more coherent came with study, practice and time. I have come to accept (thanks to a wonderful survivor feminist friend) that fragmented conversation and thoughts are a valid part of a survivors experience and that it is okay to celebrate this rather than see it negatively.

7. Obsessiveness / control

I used to have major issues with control in my 20s and early 30s. I think I am a lot better now. I used to be obsessive about cleaning. I find it a real chore now. These aspects of my abuse felt more pronounced in the stages of my developing identity. Now I feel organised and capable, rather than tightly bound. I think I’d have to get a second opinion on this.

Digestion issues | exhaustion | Headaches

I’ve had bowel issues, digestion issues and exhaustion most of my life. The tiredness is there when I stop. That’s why I keep going, like a little energiser bunny, but there is a deep fatigue inside. When I would experience conflict with my ex (of many years ago) I would get so exhausted and need to sleep. My mind would shut down. After getting sober I remember being tired for four years and then coming in to my 5th year sober I felt more awake and energised. That’s when life started to change massively for me.

Digestion ranges from constipation to IBS to stomach pains.

I am prone to headaches. This only started when the dissociation really came out, at about 32/33. I had lots of headaches, especially when I was switching. I still get headaches. I have to be careful because if I get prescribed pain killers they don’t last long even when the headache is over. The addiction starts to play out….

What am I missing? I’m sure there are lots of other characteristics but these are the main ones I can think off the top of my head. I hope what I wrote was helpful or identifiable in some way. More so, to know that you are not alone.

5 thoughts on “Characteristics of a survivor

  1. Hi!

    I haven’t commented in a while but was reading along. Thank you for writing this, although it is hard because i recognise a lot (except the addictions, maybe? I don’t know)
    Sometimes it feels like we walk a very similar path but I’m a few years behind. So, seeing what you have achieved (and are achieving) and seeing where you came from helps me a lot and gives me hope and perspective.
    Plus, i’m proud of you!
    Also, it helps me to see that there is truth in the memories or that some things aren’t as ‘normal’ as I make them out to be. And this is a good thing because I have to learn to stop denying everything because it prevents me from healing.
    Thank you and keep up the good work with your phd and your teaching!

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