Remember that 80s song by Flock of Seagulls about running so far away? If you lived through the 80s, you couldn’t get away from it. I loved that song, even when I couldn’t stand it anymore (I bet it’s running through your head now – you’re welcome). It resonated with me on a deep level, one I wouldn’t understand for many, many years. Decades, even.
Because I ran. Because I run. Because I still run.
Let me explain.
When I was eleven, a neighbor dad sexually abused me and a few other neighbor girls. He was in the army. It happened more than once, and I didn’t understand what it was or why this thing, this monster, wanted me, what he wanted with me. Eventually, all our experiences with him came to light, and I testified against him in both civil and military trials. He got two years, lost his pension, and then moved back home.
My family didn’t move away, so I lived with what happened for the next eight years until I moved away for college. I didn’t receive therapy, and my family just kind of swept it under the rug. I lived with his kids’ accusatory stares every day as I hurried to and from the same school, as if I were the one who had committed the crime. I lived with their rumors, gossip, and bullying as I rushed through my school activities, busy with busy-ness, terrified that my friends would find out if I came to a standstill for even a moment.
So I ran. I ran from the shame.
I never shared my story publicly until I wrote about it in my bestselling third book, Broken Pieces, in 2012, and my fourth book, Broken Places in 2014. These are heavily honest (yet, not explicit) books, filled with essays and poetry that discuss what it’s like to live with the effects of being a survivor, as well as love and loss.
One of those effects is that I run — not the literal ‘put on your shoes and go for a run’ — which I did for a long time until my knees gave out. No, this is a different kind of running; the kind that happens when I find myself in an emotionally overwhelming situation. I cut and run. I leave the room, and if I can’t leave, I clam up. I’m Baby in the corner.
I didn’t know, until recently, that running away from difficult situations is very common for survivors of sexual abuse, and yet, it’s not a bad thing. It seems like it would be, right? But it’s not. You know why? Because it’s a way for us to take back our power.
It’s okay to run, or really, to remove ourselves from a situation where we are uncomfortable, because we weren’t able to do this when the abuse happened — so all these years of being scolded for being a coward, or not standing up and ‘taking it’ mean shit – because I was actually being strong! Just not in the usual way.
The trick here is that I come back and resolve it (if I feel it’s important enough)… and that’s what survivors have to decide for themselves – how important is the relationship?
Point is, it’s okay to run, as long as we come back to form a resolution.
It’s Okay To Run. And It’s Okay to Come Back. When YOU’RE Ready.
Running from difficult situations has caused problems in my personal relationships; I won’t lie. I just went through a divorce (my choice, but that’s a whole other post – or book!), and the man I’m seeing now gets very frustrated when I walk away from confrontation. He’s a Scorpio — he loves to dig in and get things resolved right then and there. I’m the complete opposite anyway (Capricorn, introvert), but add the past abuse, and it’s a minefield. We’re working through it, and his love and compassion for me helps immensely. So does this realization about running.
See, you have to understand something: I’m not a doormat or a victim. I speak my mind. I’m a strong woman, a feminist, and an advocate for women and children, particularly survivors of sexual abuse, but that doesn’t mean I’m infallible, or that the abuse tapes don’t run when I’m confronted with confrontation. Human is human.
For a long time, I, like my family, minimized what happened. They believed me — how could they not? I testified in court — twice. Plenty of court records around, as well as neighbor witnesses who came to court for support. I helped put the beast away—for a few years anyway. But the minimization was brutal. ‘Rachel’s abuse wasn’t as bad as the others,’ became the family mantra. I can’t even get my mind around that to this day.
I became the good girl, the cheerleader, the overachiever who graduated early, who earned every award and promotion, who moved across the country as a single woman to get that home office job — who ran, exhausted and panting for air, but who kept running, because that’s what I did. That’s what I knew. That became my normal.
Until it all crashed down when I had my first baby — postpartum depression and terrifying anxiety. How could I ever let her out of my sight? This precious, innocent life that depended on me to keep her safe — what if I failed her? I finally started therapy and medication. Everything, all my freak-outs and missteps and fears — started to make sense.
Our past doesn’t just fall away, no matter how deeply we bury it.
I don’t use my past as an excuse, but it helps me to understand much more about my own behaviors, and why I subconsciously react to situations the way I do. Becoming aware of the subconscious helps me deal with all of it in a more conscious way, if that makes sense. Writing about the abuse so openly has been a wonderful way to connect with other survivors as well, to comprehend so much about what eluded me.
Survivors learn so much from each other. It’s astounding.
I started #SexAbuseChat on Twitter (every Tuesday at 6pm PST) in 2014 with my amazing cohost, certified therapist/incest survivor and author Bobbi Parish, to help remove the stigma and shame survivors feel about our past. Any survivor or family member is welcome to join — just use the hashtag.
My final point is this: survivors, just like anyone, need to set boundaries. If putting the brakes on an emotionally difficult situation helps you, then do it. Just being aware of that is a big step. We often have to define, or redefine, what normal is because what’s normal to us and normal to well, someone who is truly normal (is anyone truly normal?) is completely different.
Everyone is just a little fucked up.
Run if you have to. And it’s okay. But be sure to come back to those people who mean something in your life, because if you don’t, you’ll have nothing, and maybe no one, to run back to.
“Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Rachel Thompson is the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader’s “Best of 2015” top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed.
She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), Feminine Collective, IndieReader.com, 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly,
Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs and the live weekly Twitter chats, #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish (Tuesdays, 6pm PST/9pm EST), and #BookMarketingChat, co-hosted with author assistant Melissa Flickinger (Wednesdays, 6pm PST/9pm EST).