Why It Took Me So Long to Realize That I Was Abused

Why It Took Me So Long to Realize That I Was Abused

Author’s note: This article discusses sexual assault.


After 10 years of mentally going back and forth, I admitted to myself that I had been abused. No, not to my family or friends — that came much later — but solely and truthfully to myself. For 10 years I was in deep and intense denial. I knew the misuse had occurred but I was not confident in my understanding of what those actions truly were. Somewhere in my time of denial, I made a choice to regress my memory and let it fade into a corner of my mind; a corner where I would remain close friends with my abuser and I would not admit his exploitation until the consequences began to arise as an adult.

1 out of 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their life. I never considered myself to be one of them. My effects from my assault were not immediately traumatic. I never suffered from depression, abused drugs or alcohol, or experienced PTSD. Instead, I questioned the validity. “Was it really sexual assault?” I would ask myself as I remembered being woken up to someone’s hand down my pants, the hand of my best friend.

In addition to brushing away the abuse, I continued a friendship with the aggressor. Everyone reacts to traumatic experiences differently and survivors often remain in contact with the offender once the abuse has stopped. In order for me to hold on to any type of control, I chose to not push my abuser out of my life. This may seem contradictory or confusing, I am sure; however, at the time, I did not want him to think that he had won or that he tainted me in any way.  As an adolescent, I saw my best friend, someone who I defended and cherished. As an adult, I see my abuser, my former best friend who is manipulative and dangerous — characteristics I had chosen to ignore for the length of our friendship.

The view a child or adolescent has on their assault may be different from how they view it as an adult. When I began to experience vaginismus at a young age, I did not initially attribute my diagnosis to my abuse. When doctors began to repeatedly question me about a past with sexual assault, I would vehemently oppose their inquiries. However, at age 25 I began to gradually admit the offense. Still suffering from vaginismus, I realized that what I was experiencing with my current partners, who loved and cared for me, was a direct result of the abuse that I had been objected to at the age of 15. My fury overwhelmed me.

My false admittance does not mean that my statements are false. My frozen actions — both during the assault and after — and perplexing behavior does not mean that my experience was not real. My body’s natural impulse to freeze, instead of flee directly affected me during the incident and long after it was all over.

After several years, my 20-something year old self was sitting in a car with my abuser, who had admitted his intense love for me, and began berating me to admit that I had “led him on” when we were younger. At this time our friends in our tight-knit circle began to blame me too, saying that I had “really hurt him” because of how I placed him in the so-called “friend zone” for several years — the knowledge of the abuse was unknown to them.

Why did I wait so long to call myself a survivor? I hesitate, even now, to call myself that, as I am someone who is still coming to terms with the entire incident. Why did I wait so long to tell anyone my story? Why I have still never confronted my abuser about his wrong doings? Why turn to writing instead?

Sometimes, the beauty of innocence is a mask for the manipulation and abuse that occurs at a young age. My story is not everyone’s story because no story is the same.

I currently work as an editor and writer and thrive as a sculptor and artist. Some days I find myself retreating to the studio, creating pieces that mirror my childish inspirations; hues of pink and fleshly browns, playful pieces that mirror my light-hearted personality. However, for this incident and for this memory — for something beyond colors and shapes — I walk into the door, open my laptop, and begin to write.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.