Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed, it means the damage no longer controls our lives.Unknown
A lot of books have been written on how to heal yourself from childhood traumas and the advice is similar across board e.g. willingness to heal, seek and accept support from loved ones, seek professional help, exercise and eat well, practice mindfulness and meditation etc.
Then Oprah’s book, What happened to you? came out and it’s all the rage – my copy is en route. To commemorate the release of the book, Oprah posted a series of posts on social media on some of the abuse she went through while growing up, most of it heart-breaking. Of course, many people commented about their own experiences, and as I was reading through the comments, a common theme emerged – which for the majority was the norm – getting whupped! Where I come from this was more common than being sent to bed without dinner. You could get whupped for absolutely anything including not crying for getting whupped.
Thankfully, the rise of social media platforms as a global therapy couch has brought relief to many, because sometimes talking about these things is the best therapy. One effective way to heal using this global couch is posting your experiences, (anonymously if you want), in a humorous way e.g. I read one post about a woman who, as a child, tried to please her parents by cooking chapati, but they turned out to be a disaster. She had to jump out of the window to escape the inevitable attempted murder: short story shorter, people laughed about it because they could all relate.
For most of us, getting whupped was not trauma but part of growing up, people in my generation who missed out on whupping can’t join most social gathering stories. #justsaying
Having said that, a few years ago, I heard this story that will break many hearts and I wondered if it was possible to heal from every type of trauma or do some traumas cut so deep there is simply no way out?
Trauma is the result of having extraordinarily stressful event(s) that crush and devastate your sense of security leaving you helpless.
The following story has been fictionalised to ensure anonymity and maintain privacy; however, the relevant actual events haven’t been changed.
I was fifteen years old and the only girl in a family of nine – that many boys was enough to put anyone off men for life, but not me. I loved the company of boys and this caused my parents several sleepless nights. My mother cried often and my father, who ruled with an iron fist, threatened to kill me many times. And since my parents were religious to a point of insanity, I kept my knees closed, I knew if I became pregnant I would not see the light of day again. I did enjoy getting to second base though and I figured, it was harmless fun to explore my sexuality.
“You are too loud for a girl, you will never get a husband!” my father roared every time he caught a glimpse of me being carefree, like practising dance moves in the mirror. For me, this was the nineties, and we lived in the greatest city in Africa and nearly all my friends were already sneaking out to party in various clubs and I wanted part of that.
One day I came home in the wee hours ready to sneak back into my bedroom undetected but my father was waiting. I didn’t panic, I knew what was coming – major whup. I was ready, but he didn’t beat me, he was eerily calm which freaked me out. Then he dropped the mother bomb!
“Go and get some sleep; in a few hours you’ll be leaving to live with your grandparents!” Before I could protest, he took a long thick piece of wood that was obscured by his frame and started tapping his open palm with it, I knew what that meant, protest and get whupped! My father was the master of psychological warfare.
“OK,” I said and retreated to my bedroom. I cried myself to sleep the rest of the night. I hated my grandparents’ house. There was no electricity or water or TV or young people or clubs! My grandparents also insisted on speaking in their mother tongue which I didn’t quite understand. ‘This was going to be a long December holiday,’ I thought as I packed my clothes before catching a few hours of sleep.
True to his word, the very next day I was bundled into the car with all my clothes. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to anyone, not even my brothers.
“How long will I stay with them?” I asked mum who hardly spoke in my father’s presence. I think she was getting worse abuse behind closed doors.
“Until you finish high school!” my father roared. He could never speak like a normal person. If he wasn’t pointing a finger in your face or piercing into your soul with fiery red eyes, he was talking like Simba.
“How will I commute to sch….”
“You will transfer to the local school!”
I nearly threw up. The local school looked like a derelict shed you’d find in the outback. The students looked like middle-aged women from the fifties. It was going to be the longest three years of my life.
Protesting was futile. I was a bad girl on the verge of getting pregnant according to my mother’s desperate housewives holier than thou club; and if something wasn’t done to reel me in, I was headed straight to hell too. As we embarked on the three-hour journey to the village with no life, I realised ‘operation get Nisa out of Nairobi’, had been underway since I joined high school and morphed into a brat. I tried to protest by explaining that I wasn’t doing anything bad, that I wasn’t having sex, that I wasn’t drinking alcohol – my only crime was loving life too soon too early and clubbing.
“Mum, dad, please don’t do this! I can change! I know I can! Please!” I begged. My pleas fell on deaf ears. Dad maintained his thunder face while mum sniffled silently into her scarf. I was being exiled into a village I hated, and nothing I could say or do would change that.
It was the first week of December and festive days lay ahead so I thought I had enough time to plan an escape. However, in the space of 10 days my life was changed forever.
I didn’t understand a lot of the words my grandmother used when describing me, but I was sure she was referring to me as a prostitute when she spoke about me. The hate in her eyes was palpable, but that was nothing compared to the plans she was cooking in her head.
The night before Jamhuri day celebrations, I woke up from a nightmare to find myself in a far worse nightmare. My grandmother stood over me, and before I could say anything, she spoke, “do not fight for your own sake!” In the next heartbeat, four middle-aged women walked in, three of them held me down, my grandmother covered my mouth with her wrinkly palms, while the fourth proceeded to surgically remove parts of me I will never recover. The whole process took less than 3 minutes but for me, it felt like an eternity and the pain was indescribable.
I know this is not a competition as to who got it worse, but as a victim of FGM I can’t imagine a worse trauma. I didn’t want it; I didn’t even know it was happening until it was happening. I wasn’t consulted on that ritual, but they were nice enough to explain afterwards that they were saving me from premature sex, extramarital sex, and god knows what other sex. I hated my grandmother, but after than fateful night I felt nothing for her, because I realised hating her meant I cared, indifference meant I didn’t care. I hated my parents too, I still do. I don’t know if this feeling will truly ever go away.
What I knew then and now know for sure was that the only thing they protected me from was a relationship with my mother, respect for myself, relationships with men and the ability to become a mother.
I found the following quote from some self-help book – trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. For me though, there is no doubt, this is a life sentence. After years of promiscuous sex and finding out that no one really wanted to be with me forever, I chose celibacy.
I know I need to heal from this childhood trauma and get some semblance of life beyond self-pity and hatred for others, but I don’t know how.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this story, please contact support
Photo credit: Pexel.com (M)