By Kit Rempala
I’ve never been “normal” – if that word means anything at all. I see and speak to dead people. On occasion I read people’s minds and have prophetic dreams. Souls and emotions are as tactile to me as the fur on my cat’s back. I hear messages in nature, be they from water or fire or wind or earth or the moon in the sky or the rustling of leaves. I feel everything.
So, to sum things up: I’m pretty darned good at believing in things I don’t see, things I’ve never seen, and things that can’t be seen. Sometimes, I worry I’m too good at believing.
I never believed I’d been sexually abused until my therapist asked me. I thought I’d answer “no” and the session would move on. But instead she asked me another question, one I’d never expected: “Are you sure?”
What did that mean, am I “sure?” How could I not be? How could I not know? How could anyone not know?
But apparently abuse is the case for a lot of people who end up with eating disorders. That’s what I was there for: anorexia nervosa, the disease I’d combatted for most of my adolescence and do until this day (I’m twenty-two years old now). And I’ve heard before that plenty of times, these parasites known as eating disorders stem from sexual abuse during childhood. I’d just never considered it until now.
I suppose it would make sense, if it were true. It would explain my steadfast denial of my own femininity, how it was easier to whittle my body away to nothing than to make sense of its foreignness come puberty, how I’d rather call myself genderless than a woman, why dating men felt anything but comfortable…
But I had no “proof.” Funny, that someone as involved in the esoteric as me would dismiss something without formal or empirical proof. But it was true: I had none. There were no memories, no specific instances, no ghosts of images or smells or touches that burdened my mind and kept my dinner plate empty. All I knew was since the age of ten I’d been plagued with nightmares of being raped by a faceless man, I detested sex of any kind, and I had an intense and inexplicable fear of male family members.
I suppose this amounted to a fair deal of emotional evidence, but nothing more. For a long time I feared it wasn’t enough – like I had no way of justifying my suspicion. I felt guilt and shame for even wondering if it could be true, as though it were an insult to those who had to live with true, uncontestable memories of abuse every day. But try as I might to ignore it, I couldn’t help but connect those scattered dots of suspicion. And the more I connected, the more I began to believe it.
The more I began to believe it, the more my hatred grew – not for my potential abuser, but for my therapist. I knew it was unfair. I knew it was her job. But I couldn’t help but think, “How could she do this to me? How could she force me to knock on that door when I had no way of opening it?” I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned. She had pushed me into the cave of a monster I’d never considered existed and left me alone to wrestle it. I was scared to talk about it with my family, and I couldn’t accuse anyone of something so heinous without the self-assurance of it being true…
Sometimes I wonder whether or not it would be easier to cope if I knew for sure it had happened. As horrific and backward as it sounds, there’s a sort of comfort in knowing, in certainty. In certainty you can own it, not as your fault but as a part of who you are and what you’ve overcome. You can stand up and say, “I am me, and this is a part of who I am. It happened to me, and I survived.” But where did I stand if I wasn’t even sure? Did I blame someone else, myself, or no one?
Fear of the unknown has often been labeled as the worst and truest fear there is. At least, it is for me. I’ve never feared death, because I’ve always known that it’s coming. I don’t know when, but I know it’s inevitable. I came into this life knowing someday it would end, and in that sense I’ve always known where I’m going. No matter how lost I am, I know all roads lead to that same, quiet place. In my philosophy classes at college they taught us that nobody really fears death. We don’t fear the act of dying in itself. What we fear is the uncertainty of afterlife, of not knowing where we go – if we go anywhere (I’ve spoken to spirits about the afterlife before, and so it’s not as unknown to me as to most, but that’s a horse from a different herd). And it’s true: No child fears the setting of the sun as it sinks beneath the horizon. What children fear is the darkness that follows, and the uncertainty of what monsters may await them therein.
But something they didn’t teach us in philosophy is that darkness is not the opposite of light – it is the absence of light, just as ignorance is not the opposite of knowledge but instead the absence of it. Ignorance is not as pejorative as people make it sound. The fear of my abuser lays not in memory, but in the ignorance that comes from the absence of memory – from the absence of the knowledge that begets certainty.
For years I struggled in the darkness with these monsters: peering around at family reunions to try and pin a face on the faceless man in my nightmares, gritting my teeth and bearing down during sex and praying it would be over soon, quietly excusing myself from crowded rooms where I could feel every man’s overbearing “maleness” closing in around me, wondering if my unanchored fears were the result of repression or an overactive imagination.
There have been times when I wished I knew for sure if it happened. There have been times when I wished my therapist had never even opened her mouth to ask me, “Are you sure?” Because in suspecting but not knowing I felt I was missing a part of my history, a part of who I truly am. How was I supposed to overcome a trauma I was unsure I had ever experienced? How does one cope with an event for which one has no memory and no light to shed upon it – no proof?
Throughout the years I’ve come to understand that I don’t fear the possibility “that” it happened. I don’t fear the possibility that my head ran away with my nightmares, either, and it didn’t really happen at all. I don’t fear the action. I don’t fear the invasion. I don’t fear the betrayal. I don’t even fear the man who may or may not have done it. All I fear is not knowing myself. I fear the idea that some part of me has wrapped up this memory in a neat, little parcel and placed it atop a shelf where I’ll never have to look at it. I don’t want to live in such fear that I have to subconsciously protect myself. I want to know every bit of myself. I want to love every bit of myself.
What I don’t want is to constantly have to wash myself clean of the sticky residue that leaks from that little parcel: the nightmares, the fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty. Whether the box is empty or whether there’s pain waiting inside – it’s hard to not know. Because in my opinion, light – no matter how gentle or how harsh – is always better than darkness. Knowledge is always a step higher than ignorance. So, maybe I am a little too good at believing in things I can’t see. Or maybe I’ve seen it all along, but it was myself that I didn’t believe in. Either way, the darkness is no place for me. Because I’ve been through plenty that I do remember, and despite it all I’ve crawled out of that cave smiling. And whether the worst possibility is true or not – I’ll still have overcome it. I’ll still be alive.
Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (2 spots left.)