Shame, defeat, hopelessness…
the shrouds of death upon my soul,
the bars of my prisoned life.
There’s no escape and no way out.
Life slowly drains from out my heart.
They whisper terrifying messages
on the breeze.
“You’re hopeless! You’re caught forever!”
“There’s no use to try or even to live.”
“You failed so much even God gave up.”
“You’re dumb! You’re stupid! You’re worthless!”
“You are a failure!” the whole world screams.
So I hide my face in shame.
I close my heart so it will not hurt,
but it hurts anyway.
“Someday,” they cruelly taunt,
“You’ll escape this prison. Until then,
you are ours! Escape, if you dare,
Someday cruelly tantalizes.
I come to hate “someday,”
for someday never comes.
My soul fights, for it does not want to die.
But what’s the use?
The bands of death draw tighter.
I fight, desperate, trapped, despairing.
But in the end, I only lose.
I lose, but eventually,
I don’t care.
I believe the taunting,
though I hate it.
And I lose,
I always lose.
I wrote this nearly 11 years ago, barely weeks after the revelation of the abuse and my start of long-distance counseling. This poem, and the following one Hope just spilled out of me. This one, however, puzzled me. My counselor at the time asked me if this is how I felt. I did feel shame. At that point, I still believed I was at fault for my part in the abuse, so I felt a lot of false guilt. I also felt dirty and used, stigmatized for life.
However, at this point, I was totally unaware of the deeper shame I felt that manifested itself in the constant self-contempt. I still didn’t recognize the mocking voices I had heard and believed all my life about who I was. I didn’t recognize how incredibly trapped I still felt. At this point, I was unaware of the cave of horrors I was still living internally. Much of that knowledge wouldn’t penetrate for another 8 years, though occasionally I was able to recognize bits and pieces of it.
Reading this poem now makes me shake my head in wonder. Even then, when I had barely edged into my darkness, there was a deeper part of me that was self-aware and feeling. Only, my conscious mind wouldn’t let me recognize it because it was too painful at the moment. I read this now and know it wasn’t the rational, nearly 19-year-old speaking. It was something much deeper: the desperate cries of the child and teenager I had been. These words were theirs, trying to tell me how they felt and how I still felt. I didn’t understand it then. I do now.
Interestingly enough, during the first few years of this healing journey, I wrote most of my poems about sexual abuse in third-person instead of the first-person “I.” (I have since changed most of them to first-person.) It took me years to truly identify with my pain. During the early parts of this journey, much of the pain and memories felt like they were not a part of me, like I was two different people, like it wasn’t real. I know now that in many ways, I was two people. Dissociation had seen to that. That was how had I survived.
I remember when I first started counseling that I felt incredibly disconnected, like it wasn’t me talking, wasn’t me feeling, wasn’t me crying, like a part of me was dispassionately watching this “other person” suffer. The first time I ever discussed my memories with a counselor was the closest I ever came to “disappearing” into my dissociation forever. I was so out of it, I felt as if I had just mainlined a narcotic. It terrified me because, at that point, I had no clue what dissociation was or even how to describe the experience.
To this day, I dislike narcotics. They are often triggering for me, a reminder of the days I was terrified I would disappear and never come back, a reminder of my cave of horrors. I lived on pain medication during most of the four months following my stem cell transplant because of a lot of pain. Over the years, I’ve also had to take high-dose steroids and Benadryl as pre-meds before most chemo treatments. Those drugs make me feel just as out of it. Cancer treatment can be extremely triggering for patients who have survived trauma.