Silence Through the Solar Eclipse
Content notes: child sexual abuse, violence, sexual violence, sexual assault, trauma, depression, self-harm, bodily autonomy
My name is Kalia Douglas-Micallef, and I am a survivor of CSA (Child Sexual Abuse).
As a child with profound hearing loss, much of my upbringing was ensuring I was developing at the same rate as my non-deaf peers. In the midst of struggling with language deprivation, I was assaulted. This only silenced and changed my way of self- expression further than I was already experiencing.
I often don’t remember the words, just echoing, ringing sounds I can’t seem to shake out of my head. I do, however, remember sight. And touch. When one sense is lowered, others are heightened. As a deafened being, I am hypersensitive to touch and somatosensory. I know what I saw, and I know that what I was saw was real, despite not having the means to communicate, comprehend and express in the form of verbal language.
I recall the side entrance to the basement apartment that started it all. The parched brown painted screen door that creaked with the sticky, thick chain attached from above as it opened.
I recall facing downwards, my head planted at my feet, as I walked down those wooden steps with the cracked and half-broken ceiling above me.
I recall the prideful smile on his face, the rush of excitement in his tone of voice, when he looked at me, and greeted me.
I clung to whatever control I could maintain over my body, whilst losing it to him simultaneously. As if my body left itself, as if my tiny grudgeful fingers curled up in a fist hidden under my dark blue coat painted with Sun and Moon wasn’t damned strong enough to make me stand my ground. Still, I found my feet moving towards him, as if a strong gust of wind pushed me forward, and into his arms. My body turned tingly and numb, my eyes glassy, and my soul ghosted, like the Moon eclipsing the Sun on my favourite dark blue coat.
I was five years old.
My memories are few and scattered. They come in fragments, but when it hits, it hits like a train-wreck, and I pray not to remember any more. I pray for the stinging feeling of unworthiness and uncleanliness to wash away, and somehow pour itself out of my body.
When I first recalled this memory at age 19, the first thought that popped in my head was, “Why would you think of such a nice man to do that to you? You must be sick. Okay, it’s real, I’m insane, and I need to undergo a psychological evaluation.”
This is a very negative response to have. As a Black disabled woman, our lived experiences are constantly downplayed and degraded to the point where we end up denying them ourselves.
I vowed to myself to never think about it again, though my first flashback weighed on me heavy. I didn’t feel good. The depression was sinking in, and fast. I didn’t understand. I just knew I was too afraid to drink alcohol, too afraid to close my eyes at night in case I thought about it again, and intrusively so.
It only got worse. The flashbacks became current. It was something I could no longer deny. To try and understand this better, I did some research on the symptoms I was experiencing and I came across a writing forum geared towards trauma. I created a pseudonym so that I could write about the state of confusion I was experiencing in hopes of getting insight and validation from others online. Regardless, one thing that remained was the intense fear I had. I felt like a silenced child. The Moon eclipsing the Sun.
My initial thought was, “I can’t tell my mom. I just can’t tell her.” I was in fear. My mother, she could sense that something was wrong. And so I received a text message from her about an earlier interaction we had. When I read this, I instantly started crying because I thought to myself, “This isn’t even remotely close to what I’m thinking about and what is on my mind right now.”
I convinced myself that I needed to be upset to tell her this news, otherwise I wouldn’t be believed. So I called her crying one afternoon. I said, “I need to tell you something, but I can’t say it.” She said, “You know you can tell me anything. Did you hurt yourself?” I struggled with self-harm (i.e. cutting as a teenager) and so my heart breaks that my mother’s mind still goes there. I said, “No, this is worse. I can’t say it. I can’t tell you. I have to text it to you.” So I hung up the phone and I told her by text. Her response was incredibly supportive. She told me not to be ashamed, that I wasn’t at fault for this.
It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t say it out loud because I had been previously threatened. A lot of children who are abused are threatened in order to keep them still and silent. I was beyond proud of myself for breaking this silence, though I was afraid.
I felt shaken to my core. I never felt this way before. My heart would start pounding, specifically at night time. Suddenly, I was feeling everything my inner child felt. Everything I stuffed down for so long. I never felt her like that. I just never felt her at all. And I remember wanting to eat a lot of foods that made me feel good as a little kid and just watch kid shows.
Childhood amnesia is a strong indicator of trauma. As a teenager, I thought, “I don’t remember me. I don’t remember her.” A roommate was telling me how she remembered a bob cut at age three. I laughed and said, “No, you don’t! Nobody remembers themselves at that age. I don’t remember being five, let alone three!”
I was triggered by blue vans as he drove a blue van. There was one particular blue van that was parked in my neighbourhood. Upon seeing this blue van, I would stop in my tracks, turn around and walk the other way. But I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that I was afraid of an automobile, and especially one that was parked with nobody inside of it. I told myself to walk past this van until I was no longer afraid. So I did. I’m not sure how many times, but I challenged myself because I didn’t want to be afraid of a car. I was afraid of my experience, not an object related to it. And I wasn’t about to let this instilled fear overpower who I was. I can’t say that I don’t do a double take any and every time I see a blue van, but I feel lucky and privileged that I no longer go into a sheer panic because I was able to challenge myself with this fear. That being said, sometimes a certain kind of fear will manifest in other ways, through other things.
Growing up in my household, we refrained from using correct terminology of private parts. I did not call my vagina, a “vagina.” I recall during pre-school, I would be corrected, and the shame and embarrassment I felt that came with that is something that remains burning in my chest.
Coming from a non-traditional, lesbian household, I was surrounded by LGBTQ+ positive people. My mothers were viewed as a power couple, social justice activists who paved the way for the gay community. I was consistently told how privileged I was to come from love. I internalized this message so deeply that when a psychiatrist asked me if I had been touched as a child, I thought, “What an absurd question! My parents are gay! That could never happen to me! I barely had men around, let alone straight men.” I thought, “This is exactly why I hate psychiatrists because they like to plant ideas in your head!” Sexual abuse doesn’t discriminate. And so when I recovered these memories, I was shocked to say the least. Suddenly, I couldn’t look at photos of my past self without crying and feeling as though my childhood and my identity was robbed, a total and complete lie. I suddenly felt a shift in my perception of myself more than I ever had. I felt like I didn’t know who I was, and all that shame I felt about my body growing up started to make sense. I wondered if I could ever look at myself the same, if I could ever look at my younger self without sadness and pain.
To this day, children are consistently denied their right to boundaries and safe space. It is only doubled and enhanced for children with disabilities. We are not taught adequate boundaries, and we are not taught about our bodies. There is a strong myth that disabled kids and adults have no sexuality, for example, in high school, a friend joked that I would be the last to lose my virginity. We are sexual beings like anyone else. We deserve sexual liberation, and that starts with understanding and knowing our bodies. Disabled kids need to be involved in the conversation geared towards sexual misconduct and consent culture as we have the highest rates of violence compared to our able-bodied counterparts.
Sexual education needs to be accessible for everyone, including those with disabilities of all sorts. So often we hear “Just say no.” Not only are some people non-verbal, but we know that ‘just saying no’ has only gotten so far in crises, and often escalates the situation. Regardless of the education curriculum your child is enrolled in, sexual education needs to be a part of it, starting as early as preschool and kindergarten. We need to teach children tactics and skills beyond verbal communication that will ensure safety throughout crisis and in the aftermath.
As a result of this, I’ve always struggled with my body image. It’s something I feel is tied to so much shame and humiliation. Many survivors of sexual trauma internalize this notion that pleasure equals pain. This can be manifested in various ways especially as one tries to gain control over the bodily memories that seep through their skin. It’s so easy to internalize a false belief that the only way to get gratification, a chemical shift in the brain is by inflicting harm on the body, whether by intoxication by use of substances, self injury, induced vomiting, starving, over exercising, unhealthy sexual behaviours and actions. I have regrettably indulged in and struggled with all forms. I am not where I want to be in regards to my relationship with my body or even accepting this reality. I’ve been through more than I’d like to admit with my mental health, that I think was dismissed as grief over a catastrophic loss of my mother when I was 15.
That said, I’m at the age now (22 years old) where I’m coming to terms with adulthood and feeling as though life is too hard to battle oneself. In the last year, I have regrettably neglected my health in almost every form. A level of self-destruction that has not affected just me, but also those in and around my space, which is something I’m going to have to forgive myself for in order to overcome the darkness, the confusion, the self-sabotage. I have a strong tendency to use avoidant coping mechanisms as I tend to repress until explosion. Learning to feel my feelings in chunks at a time is something I am still learning. Coming to terms with this specific traumatic event and sexual trauma remains difficult to face and consistently heal from. I often want to disconnect from myself, and find an entirely new persona, to reinvent myself by disregarding my true and authentic disabled self. I hate what happened to me. I hate that I am susceptible to being taken advantage of and made vulnerable in result. It’s a conscious effort to love myself in a world that wasn’t designed for me. The constant erasure and disregard of my being is often what leaves me in the depths of despair, so much that trying to escape myself, a being and life that is not rooted in discrimination and isolation, is almost routinely subconscious. I find that this intensity comes in waves for me. And when that wave knocks me to my knees, leaving me in a fetal position, it takes courage to muster the strength to open myself long and wide, and face the blows. I want to honour myself and my body. I want the courage to hold the little girl in me through this cold night, and every cold night that awaits, whilst remaining openly long and wide. I often think I would go back in time and tell her this and that, but I can tell her these things now. I can always tap into my little girl and love her right here, right now. I have not yet mastered this art fully and wholly, but I take pride in the fact that I never give up on this practice, no matter how many times I go out of my way to take such extreme measures to dim and put out the raging fire I set inside the pit of my stomach. My foundation of love will always be there, and I run back to it, openly, long and wide.
My name is Kalia Douglas-Micallef and I founded Anti-Ableism™, which supports my goal of creating and advocating for systemic education reform through the use of physical workshops to online accessible content such as personal essays, educational films and performances. My goal is to conduct and convey research derived from educational institutions and beyond. I aim to complete everything from a multi-sensory design standpoint to ensure that visual representations of data such as infographics is accessible and well-received by the masses.
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