My World Mental Health Day in 2022

CN: childhood sexual violence, trauma

World Mental Health Day

This World Mental Health Day, I’m thinking ahead 12 days to my birthday (Oct 22.) I have a complicated relationship with my birthday because of the trauma I experienced during my childhood along with the neglect and abuse.

There’s a lot of reasons – the inconsistent celebrations, the shame and guilt I felt for wanting acknowledgment when there was so much going wrong at home, the deep desire to feel special at least on this one day – on the day the world said you are supposed to feel special and celebrated.

My therapist and I worked on these issues this year so I could perhaps just enjoy a nice birthday. We identified that I do very well with rituals, things like having blueberry muffins for breakfast on holidays or watching my favorite movie on my birthday. So that seemed to be going along swimmingly. I was able to actually identify a few simple gifts I would like to receive without feeling all the feelings.

Apparently, this processing has been working so well that my mind has advanced a few steps without letting me know. I’ve begun recently to have little memories, glimpses or flashes. They aren’t new or repressed memories, just things I haven’t thought about in a long, long time. Things like the frayed and worn out curtain in my bedroom window or the path we took walking to school. Benign memories, coupled with intense big feelings of sadness, grief, and some shame. Nothing has happened in my life to dredge these up, certainly not at the rate they’ve been flooding my mind.

My therapist thinks that my mind is ready to move ahead on processing trauma and that the work we did on my birthday served as a sort of template to show my conscious mind that it is possible to change those hardwired memory/emotion pathways into something neutral if not positive.

So that’s good. I think.

Yes, of course it is good. I’m working really hard to heal and this is affirmation that I’m making progress. It isn’t necessarily comfortable or a positive feeling as I go through this, but I do have some sense that I can actually come out on the other side.

I selected this to share on World Mental Health Day because it isn’t some big moment. It is a quiet almost imperceptible step toward healing, one I could have missed were it not for paying such close attention to my mental health.

The sadness of my childhood is tied in part to neglect, but also to the very real experience of living in a family with an extended member who was a repeated sex offender (never convicted, but definitely guilty) – raping multiple women in and outside of the family, then grooming his own young female descendants. I was put into his care as an infant when my mother was hospitalized with illness and my father had to work to pay for the hospital. So there is literally no “pre-trauma” for me. I was at his mercy from Day One. Every childhood memory is framed by the fact that I was groomed by a sexual predator. Every moment was tainted by the programming that stripped me of my instincts and my sense of self.

I got lucky that my groomer “aged out” of his sex drive before I aged into his preferred age range. For a long time, I thought that I got off easy. I did not. It was horrible. I had no idea just how horrible until I began this trauma processing work and started to understand the pieces of me that I thought were defective were a result of the programming.

Even my birthday. I was taught that I wasn’t special, I was fulfilling a role. I was taught that I was supposed to find that role special. I was taught that I was nothing outside of that or beyond that. For 46 years, I’ve dragged around a birthday gift he gave to me out of some misguided sense that it was special to me – I still have it. You try having a typical happy birthday out of that morass. Of course I always felt letdown and left out, year after year.

This year, I’m going to let myself feel those experiences I mentioned earlier, the feelings and the memories. Even just for a few moments, then I’m going to gently set them aside so I can stay focused on my actual adult lived experiences. After putting these things together, I realized that I feel a genuine sense of loss about not being able to celebrate my 50th birthday in 2020 the way I had always planned – spa treatment weekend. It wasn’t so much missing a treat as missing a milestone, again. So I’m hopeful to be able to recreate that little getaway on my 55th birthday.

This year, I was able to make a simple list of gifts I would like to have so my wife could choose. That’s a big deal even if most of it was gloves and pajamas. And I suddenly find myself in want of plaid leggings. Odd. Anyway, my hardworking mind deserves a little rest from all this. I can’t turn around in today’s world without someone screaming about groomers to hurt queer and trans people. It works with me. But I say “where the fuck were you when this child needed to be protected from grooming?”

I’ve shared some here before, but most of it – I probably will never put in writing. It could cause harm to other survivors. Keeping the secret has done enough harm. I can never undo what happened to me. I can barely find the words to explain it to myself. But I can focus on healing and having a happy ever after.

Don’t give up on your mind. It can do amazing things like help you read posts like this one to educate yourself and possibly find a kernel of help. You deserve to heal.

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