Today, I want to share with you a story of one of my clients. I have changed the name and some events.
How far are you willing to go to protect your children?
If you have not read What Happens After #MeToo– Tackling the Iceberg, I think you will change your mind after reading this true story.
“I am created from a clay called the clay of sexual abuse,” said Sanaa, a girl with olive skin, sad eyes, and thick, frizzy hair. She would come to my office in long sleeves, pulling down to make them as long as possible, even in the heat of summer. But I never asked why. Sexual abuse survivors need to feel some sense of control during counseling sessions.
Sanaa blurted out these words after eight months of weekly counseling. She had come from a very dysfunctional family; her father had horrific fits of anger. If she did something wrong or got a bad grade at school, her father would grab her by her school uniform and hang her over their third-floor balcony wall. Sometimes he would run after her with a knife to discipline her. So she was terrified of heights and used to fearing for her life.
Her father had other problems too. He did not show any respect to anyone at home; he often made sexual comments about his two daughters. Sanaa’s share of comments was always much more than her sister because her sister was “the pretty one.” Sometimes her father would barge into the bathroom while she was bathing, urinating right in front of her. She was ashamed that he saw her bathing and would try to hide with the shower curtain.
“Dad, please get out. I am bathing,” she told him.
“You don’t like it? Okay.” The next day, the shower curtain had been removed.
Sanaa would not shower for days at a time. She was ashamed of her body as it developed, disgusted by her father’s comments. She would wait to shower until he was out of the house.
When Sanaa turned 16, her father told her to come work with him at the textile factory where he worked. “I need to keep my eyes on you,” he told her. The first day of work, he drove them in his car. He always touched her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and dirty. When they arrived at the factory, her father left her in the janitor’s office until someone could show her what she would be doing. She saw the janitor looking at porn sites.
“This janitor is a dirty old man,” Sanaa told her father on the way home. She described what she saw.
But she didn’t expect his response: “So what? You need to learn these things.”
Sanaa wanted to avoid going to the janitor’s office, but that’s where her dad always asked her to wait when she finished her chores at the factory. She didn’t like the way the janitor looked at her. She began wearing larger clothes, but with no effect. Whenever she sat at the janitor’s desk, he looked at her seductively and licked his lips in a way that made her sick. And her father never rebuked him. He never defended her. And that troubled her greatly.
One day, Sanaa went to the janitor’s office and did not find him there. Thank God, she thought. But the janitor sneaked in behind her and grabbed her breast. Sanaa ran out mortified and decided she would never set foot in that factory again. She went home feeling dirty and abused. She went into her room and locked the door with the key. She tried to cry, but there were no tears. She sat with her knees touching her chest in a bid to protect herself from the world.
“Come and have dinner,” her father called.
“I don’t feel hungry,” she screamed back.
As of that day, Sanaa began to find solace in food. Food never blamed her for anything and was never too busy for her. She started eating anything and everything. She began overeating, subconsciously trying to become unattractive to men. Beneath the surface, she hated all men. She grew to 400 pounds. She hid food everywhere—under the bed, in the washing machine, in the closets, in her shoes. Her mother started searching for food everywhere. She tried to make Sanaa eat healthy to lose weight
Depression set in. Sanaa slept a lot, ate a lot, and did not leave home. One day as she was watching TV, she saw the heroine of the film cutting herself with a razor until blood flowed. Sanaa thought she might try it, so she started sticking her nails in her forearm. When she saw the blood, she had a sense of relief and euphoria she never experienced before. She felt in control at last. She even wrote “I hate me” on her forearm. She started wearing long sleeves. She did not want anybody to know her secret.
Sanaa developed codependent relationships, especially with her mother. She would not let her mother out of her sight. She wanted to please her regardless of whatever it cost. She became so dependent on her mother that she would not lift a finger to wash dishes or bathe. When her mom asked her to help, she would flare out in anger, then feel guilty. She would go into her room and cut herself.
Sanaa started suffering from nightmares. She would wake up screaming every night. She always dreamed the same dream.
That’s when her mother decided to take her to counsel. After months of cognitive and behavioral therapy, after months of attentive listening and building bridges, Sanaa started revealing her daily dream and her story at the factory.
“There is a man running after me. He wants to hurt me, he wants to touch me, he wants to kill me. I know this man. It is that janitor at my dad’s factory. He runs after me and I try to flee. I run and run, but there is a high wall in front of me. I try to climb the wall, but he catches up with me, pulls me down, and hurts me. I dream the same dream every single night. I am too terrified to sleep. I don’t want him to hurt me.”
When I heard about Sanaa’s dream, I remembered a story my mentor had told me. I went over to the shelf in my office and picked up a silver box. It was pure silver and very nicely carved. Inside, it was lined with blue velvet.
“Okay, Sanaa, why don’t you write the dream in detail and put it in this silver box?”
She looked at me as if I was silly and irrational and making no sense, but because she trusted me, she asked, “Then what?”
“Then you will put it above your cupboard in your bedroom. Every time something bothers you, every time you have a scary dream, just write it and put it in the box. Put the box high above so that thing cannot come back and haunt you.”
When Sanaa came for her counseling session, she had a hint of a smile on her face. “I slept so well the first four days, then I got the same nightmare. I told myself, ‘No!’ This dream belongs in the silver box. I woke up, wrote the dream, put it in the silver box, put the box above the cupboard, and went back to sleep. I slept like a baby.”
After one year of counseling, Sanaa divulged that her father used to come to her room every night to sexually abuse her. “I prayed every night that he wouldn’t come, but to no avail. It seems that God does not hear my prayers. It seems He cannot protect me from my father. I stopped praying. I used to go to my room alone and hide under the covers to protect myself from him, to ease the pain. I’d put the covers over my head and hug my teddy; I’d leave the lights on. And when I felt everyone has gone to sleep, I would try to sleep too, hoping to have sweet dreams. Then I would hear footsteps coming toward my room. They stopped at my door. I saw the door open. I shivered, I cried. I knew why he was coming, but I didn’t understand. He said he loved me. He said I was his little girl. He pulled back the covers that protected me. He told me this was our secret, the special game we played. No one should ever find out, or else they would lock him up. I kept silent, with my clothes on the floor. I tried not to think, tears running down my cheeks, my teddy still sleeping. Maybe he was having sweet dreams.
“I asked myself, Why does he come to me when he should be sleeping near mommy? He told me I would be the one to blame if anyone ever found out. I pulled the covers as he left my bed. He kissed me on my forehead. I saw him get dressed. He stressed again that this was our secret. I followed him with my gaze as he left the room, as he closed the door quietly. I heard his footsteps going back to his room. I hugged my teddy and cried quietly. I sat in the dark. Every time he came, a part of me died, and I prayed he wouldn’t come back. I learned how to let my mind leave my body. It was as if I was at one corner of the room and I could see my body lying there, but I wasn’t feeling anything. It was as if there were two of us. I would tell her, you go with him, I cannot be here now. To this day, I wonder if my mother knew anything about it. Maybe I don’t want to know.”
Sanaa told me her secret without shedding a tear; she learned long ago that crying is a weakness. She told me how, after this happened when she was 15, she did not know if it were true or if she were making it up. She wished it were not true.
Sanaa had a long way to recovery. It was after two years in therapy that she shed her first tear. “Where is your anger,” I would ask her. Then, one day, three years into therapy, I saw her anger as she screamed at the empty chair, as she stomped her feet and hit the pillow until she tore it apart. She realized it was okay to be angry, that it was not her fault, that her father was the guilty one.
Today, Sanaa still keeps her silver box on top of her cupboard.
As a parent or a caregiver of children, as a grandparent or a teacher read the book so you can spot the signs early on. Read it so you know how to react if you suspect your child or any other child is being abused.
You can order the book here.
You can also support us by either buying a book for a friend, sharing this blog on your social media or by donating to my non profit Not Guilty inc to help us abolish sexual abuse in children.
Together we are strong. Together we can make our voices heard.