I was ten years old when I blurted out my dark secret to my mom: I fantasized about dying tragically. Before I could finish detailing exactly how I wanted my body to be found, she interrupted me with, “Bethany, don’t ever say that again!” So I shut my mouth.
I wanted to die in a catastrophic way. I wanted my body to be discovered bloody and dismembered in a ditch, with my intestines trailing behind me. Although I never talked about it again, for the rest of my childhood and into my adult life, I still pictured the ways I could die. On the subway, I imagined the door coming unhinged and decapitating me. Driving down the road, I imagined a horrible accident that would rip my body in two. I could see the shards of glass slicing though my vital organs and the impact crushing my body until I become something unrecognizable. Although I didn’t voice them aloud, the thoughts were still screaming.
It was terrifying. The fantasy became a fear. A part of me felt crazy for taking pleasure in thoughts of my own demise. I was ashamed that I would think that way and I thought something was seriously wrong with me. I knew these thoughts weren’t normal, so when they came up, I silenced them. I was already good at hiding secrets because of years of sexual abuse by my father. My dad told me to shut up about the abuse, my mom told me to shut up about my thoughts, I told myself to shut up about everything. But it didn’t stop the fantasies from blaring.
When I started to heal from my sexual abuse, I realized that maybe I should start listening to the voices inside my head instead of trying to silence them. What where they trying to tell me? What message was my death fantasy trying to send?
As I paid attention, I saw that it told me several things:
1. I wanted my death to reflect my life.
I wanted to expose the horror of what the sexual abuse did to me. I felt mutilated, shredded, torn, dirty, dead, impossible to put back together. I wanted my death to tell the truth– that I’m not the pretty girl with the pretty life. I am the disgusting mess left on the floor. I needed others to finally see the agony I suffered.
People’s memory of me would no longer be a curly-haired angel, but a ripped in two wreck of a human. The image would haunt them, just as the abuse haunted me. I always had a smile on my face. I was well mannered. I got good grades. But I felt like a fraud. On the inside I was dead and I wanted to show it.
2. I wanted to expose my abuser.
I was angry at my abuser-father for what he did. I wanted to embarrass him. I wanted to draw attention to his sin. I was so angry that I was willing to sacrifice myself to get the retribution I deserved. I wanted all to see the truth of who I am, or rather the truth of what my dad did to me.
Watching the movie, Se7en, I identified with the words of the sadistic killer, John Doe, “We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it’s common, it’s trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I’m setting the example. What I’ve done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed… forever.”
I felt like my abuse was so obvious, yet no one did anything about it. There was a deadly sin being committed right before everyone’s eyes, yet they turned away and ignored it. I wanted an example to be made out of what was done to me, even if that meant dying to prove my father’s guilt. I yearned for everyone to see the horror that he caused no matter the cost.
3. I wanted to end my pain.
Most people fear death; I invited it in. My situation seemed hopeless. Sexual abuse was all I knew. It began before I could remember. There were no indications that I would have a life apart from the abuse. Death seemed like a better option at the time than what I was faced with. Death makes the abuse stop and I was desperate to end the suffering.
I wanted a voice. They took away my words, so I yearned to express myself in a more creative way. I wanted people to finally see. I wanted it to be so horrifying that they would never forget. “Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” John Doe said.
I wanted to expose the horror of what the sexual abuse did to me. I felt mutilated, shredded, torn, dirty, dead, impossible to put back together. I wanted my death to tell the truth.
And so the hard work began. I had to change my identity, first by addressing the negative self image that the abuse gave me. I’m not ugly on the inside. I’m not broken. I’m not a maligned mess. I’m not replaceable. I’m worth saving. Healing is possible. I’m not defined by what my abuser did to me.
I took back my voice. I told on my abuser, first at nineteen and again when I reported him to the authorities. Every day I continue to tell on my abuser as I uncover the truth of what he did. I’m continuing to expose the lies I believed about myself. And the truth is that the death I once carried with me everywhere is diminishing and new life is emerging.
I make choices that cultivate life. I choose healthy relationships, strive for a better future, and do good things for my health. Instead of making my death an expression of my abuse, I’ve made my life an expression of my healing.
What is My Anger Telling Me?
Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.
[read Bethany’s story here]
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