It happened when I was six. The abuse that is. That was when calloused hands grabbed hold of a little boy and kept him in a cage for two years. Then he was free? No more pain. No more cries being silenced by a hand placed over the mouth. No more need to dissociate reality from the fictional world he escaped to while it happened. No, he in fact wasn’t free. If anything he was far from it.
This little boy grew up to be a decent, young gentleman who never told a soul about his abuse. It wouldn’t be until he was a full adult at eighteen that the secret would come out. The memories would flood his mind; the dams of repression had fallen. The door with the rusted locks had finally been broken open and all the darkness of those two years spilled out into his vulnerable brain.
The symptoms seemed mild if not absent at first. A bout of depression here, a week of staying home there. Then the nightmares began. The flashbacks to those days and nights where my body was used as someone’s play toy. I was only a child, but now as an adult I still feel powerless which in today’s society translates to shame. I often times lash out and hurt myself during these periods of nightmarish hells. The doctors say there is nothing I can take for the nightmares, just to wear gloves to prevent from scratching my arms and back.
That was when I began to notice things that I hadn’t taken note of before. I often find myself constantly scanning my environment. Checking. Looking. Seeking for danger or a threat or someone who could do bodily harm to me. Anywhere and everywhere I go I am afflicted with this quirk — this burden, if you will, of hyper vigilance.
I walk into the library. Scan. No one seems threatening. Walk upstairs to the next floor to find a table. Scan. No threat yet. I sit down. Count, ten…nine…eight…’til I get to one, then I scan again. Still no threat. Friends are talking to me or nearby and I just smile and laugh and say things like “yeah” or “mhm” so they think I’m listening. In my head, I am counting and scanning. Some people have noticed. Often times I have a hard time making eye contact or I will drift off and look out into the environment to scan while talking. Most people probably don’t think anything of it. I can’t have a conversation for more than thirty seconds without scanning and counting.
I sit and scan no matter where I happen to be. It’s a blessing and curse in all the aspects of the words. It allows me to be very aware of those around me and notice subtle differences in another person’s behavior or emotional states. The curse is that it never ends, and if a threat is identified I am doomed to experience a panic attack. Scan. Threat is present. Heart begins to race. The blood begins to pump a little faster. I can feel it rush in my veins just beneath my skin. Pupils dilate to take in more of the environment. Palms are sweaty. Breathing is erratic. Breathe. Can’t breathe? Then run. Paralyzed, by fear, because I am not a twenty-year-old sitting at the library anymore, I am a six-year-old sitting on a bed with a striped comforter.
I can’t move but every sense I have is being overstimulated. I hear his voice in my ear. I smell the cologne he used to wear. I feel his rough hands on my arm. I am sweating and sick to my stomach from it all. Finally I regain a sense of reality long enough to escape and run home, run to my bedroom, slam the door and lock it. I lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling fan until I can breathe normally.
This is an everyday phenomenon that must be controlled and at times managed without running away; it takes the term “emotionally draining” to a whole new level. That, coupled with the constant repairing of the broken soul left inside can leave one hopeless, and lost. It’s as if I am still that little kid, searching, hoping, and waiting for someone to come rescue me.