My Ancestors Are Helping Me Heal My Childhood Sexual Abuse Trauma
In July of 2019, I scheduled an appointment with Daya, the woman whose mediumship and psychic abilities had been instrumental in helping me connect with my ancestors.
My experiences with men I’d been attracted to or close friends with were weighing incessantly on my mind. Whenever I thought of men, I’d become uncomfortable. Ancestors communicate with us through our thoughts, so I knew mine were trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what.
As usual, Daya began our session by asking, “How are you feeling, mami?”
I sighed. I told her in as few words as possible what was going on. I wanted to be in love with someone. I thought about it often. Although I’ve been with men and women romantically, for whatever reason, I couldn’t imagine myself with women. When I imagined myself with men though, I, unintentionally, surrendered any agency I had. I was never who I wanted to be; I was who I thought men thought I should be. When I fantasized about relationships or sex with men, I was a watered-down version of myself. I couldn’t see myself with them and not see myself as submissive and subservient.
I told Daya I was confused and frustrated. “I want to be in love, but that’s not who I want to be. I don’t understand why I can’t unsee it or see anything else.”
Daya was silent for a moment. She was waiting for my ancestors to guide her. “Love is on its way to you, but your ancestors want you to stay away from men right now, mami. Just for a little while.”
“Well, they don’t know if you remember what happened to you, but you were sexually abused as a child.”
I said, “No, I remember. Bits and pieces.” I didn’t tell her, but I’d always thought the bits and pieces I remembered from that day in the motel room were glimpses of a terrifying dream I couldn’t forget. A childhood nightmare never laid to rest.
Daya said to me, “You haven’t healed from the trauma of your sexual abuse. It’s why you see yourself as subservient to men. Men sense your subservience energetically. You give everything to men for little or nothing in return. They’ve taken advantage of you or have manipulated you a lot in your past, yeah? Male lovers and male friends?”
“Well, love is on its way. I see that for you. That’s why you’re becoming more and more frustrated with the idea of being submissive and subservient to men. It’s not who you are. Your ancestors are motivating you to begin healing now. They say it’s time.”
I spoke with Daya for an hour and after the session was over, I felt both drained and heavy. I made a promise to myself to journal about what I was feeling the next day. I lit a tea light candle on my ancestral altar and asked for guidance. I asked to be shown, in my dreams, whatever I needed to see to move forward. I thanked them, lit incense for them, and went to bed.
That night, I didn’t have a dream. It felt like a nightmare I’d been living for years. It felt like cursed history threatening to become my future.
In it, I sat in an empty and dark church with my mother. My mother wasn’t my mother as I know her now. She was my mother before she’d ever had any children. A sliver of light coming through a window above us shone only on our pew, and because ancestors use symbolism they hope you’ll understand, R. Kelly stood behind us. The light didn’t belong to him though. In his darkness, he opened his mouth to speak and blood came pouring out. It spilled slowly onto the pew between my mother and me but never touched us. He walked around to stand before us and screamed at me. He raged and raged. I looked over at my mother. She was calm. She was silent. She sat completely still with her legs crossed and her hands clasped in her lap. She stared straight ahead. Like her, I was also quiet. I let R. Kelly go on and on, but I would occasionally glance at my mother and the blood between us and wonder why we weren’t saying anything, why we weren’t standing up for ourselves.
When I woke up, I thought about a reading I’d gotten from a Black witch on Jackson Square in New Orleans, Louisiana who drew tarot cards but gave readings with her eyes closed and her index fingers pressed against her temples. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was letting spirit lead her. She said to me, “There’s something you and your mother should be saying politically right now that you aren’t saying.” At the time, the #MeToo movement was everywhere, but I didn’t see women like my mother and me, Black women, women from North Memphis, sharing their stories though.
I thought about the time my mother swore on a Bible she’d tell me everything that happened between her and a man who was like a father to her when she was a little girl. She told me I couldn’t write about it though. We still haven’t had that conversation.
I thought about the first and only time I tried to tell someone about what happened to me. I was eleven years old and I’d slept over at my best friend’s one weekend with another girl from school. I don’t know why, but when I woke up that Saturday morning, I wanted to talk to them about what I remembered from that day in the motel room. After breakfast, I held a pillow as I sat on the bed and looked down at them on the floor. I took a deep breath, counted to three, and said, “I think I was raped when I was little,” barely above a whisper.
It felt good to finally say out loud, but my best friend’s eyes widened and she shook her head no and quickly glanced at our friend who hadn’t even heard a word I said. I opened my mouth to speak but didn’t say anything else. I just nodded. Later, when we were alone, I asked her why she warned against talking through what happened in front of our friend. She said, “I could tell you really wanted to talk about it, but you know her, fool. She talk way too much at school.” She was right. I never mentioned it again though. I don’t think she or I realized how much strength it took to finally begin to tell someone about what happened. I wouldn’t find that courage again for another fifteen years.
Through journaling about the dream I had, I realized I knew several men who’d rather not see me fight for myself, my freedom, my healing. Men who benefitted from my wounds being neglected would not have been able to get what they wanted from me had I been doing what was necessary for healing five or ten years ago. They wouldn’t have had access to me at all.
I realized nearly every man I’d been with romantically and the one I’d given nearly a decade of undeserved friendship to wanted to feel good about themselves, but for whatever reason couldn’t do so on their own. They needed me to see myself the way I saw myself; it made them men.
As I continued to journal, I asked myself, “Why have I assumed a lesser role emotionally and spiritually in my relationships (imagined or otherwise) with men?” I answered: a part of me has believed that if I positioned myself as someone who posed no threat to men or their masculinity, they’d be less inclined to hurt me or treat me harshly. This hasn’t proved true yet.
I asked myself, “Why have I allowed men several chances after they’ve continuously shown a lack of concern for my emotional well-being? How come I hardly ever imagine myself in relationships with women?” I answered: I’ve wanted to prove to men (and perhaps even myself) that I can and should be liked by them. I’ve been seeking validation. If they could just show me that they can treat me with respect, I’d know I was worthy of it. I’ve wanted to prove to myself that being with a man is something I’m capable of. Why? I was taught, indirectly, that men’s approval must be life’s greatest achievement because I’ve seen so many women go above and beyond to please men. I’ve never seen any men go above and beyond to please women.
After journaling, I felt lighter, but something was wrong. The bits and pieces of the abuse began to want to meet in my mind, but they couldn’t fit. In my mind, I saw a motel room, my mother, and a man who was nothing more than a shadow. I saw my mother leave. I saw myself alone, naked, and in a bathtub. I even saw my grandmother kneeling before the bathtub, but I couldn’t see anything else.
I couldn’t remember if the man called my grandmother or if he was still there when she arrived. I couldn’t remember drying off or getting dressed or tying my shoes. I don’t remember if I held my grandmother’s hand as we walked to her car. I don’t remember if I turned around to get another glimpse of the motel or the man as my grandmother and I walked away maybe hand-in-hand.
My mind went to the last time I thought about that day in the motel room before shoving it as far away from my consciousness as I could where it would stay for more than a decade. The first time I’d ever performed oral sex on a guy in high school, he asked, “You sure you’ve never done that before?” Immediately, in my mind, I recalled that day in the motel, but I didn’t understand why. I wouldn’t think about it again until I was twenty-five and face-to-face with a five-year-old dark-skinned Black girl from North Memphis living through what I’d lived through in that motel room. When I told her it happened to me too, she froze. I did too. We were stuck. Struck. A mirrored life.
After journaling, I realized I needed to speak with my mother. I called her. On the phone, I asked, “Do you remember that day you left me at a motel with a man?”
Her voice was the voice of someone trying and succeeding at not crying. “No, baby. Why? What’s wrong? Did something happen to you that day? Did he do something to you?” Her voice was also erratic. Her breathing was heavy. I knew she wasn’t sober.
I said, “I don’t really know. I’m trying to figure it all out.” She said she was sorry she couldn’t help me remember. I told her I loved her and I’d talk to her some other time. She doesn’t call me much anymore. When she does, she seems calm. She seems sober.
I called my grandmother. I told her about the conversation with my mother and she said, “She was more than likely high when whatever happened happened. Either way, I don’t see her ever really wanting to talk to you about that. Whoever he was, he didn’t do anything to you though.”
“How do you know? He could’ve threatened me. I could’ve lied to you when you asked.”
She said, “I know because I made you a doctor’s appointment. I asked them. I watched them look at you. Lady said you hadn’t been penetrated.”
“I don’t think that’s what happened.”
“He might’ve touched you — ”
“I don’t think that’s what happened either.”
“Well, what do you think happened then?”
“I think he put himself in my mouth.”
My grandmother stopped breathing and I was thankful, for once, for the trouble she’d been having with her memory for the past five years. I hoped she’d forget what I said before falling asleep that night. She hasn’t mentioned that conversation, but she calls more often than she used to. We don’t always talk long. Sometimes, she just calls to ask, “Are you writing today? Do you have groceries? I love you.”
The next day, I made another appointment with Daya. She said, “Alright, mami, so do you have a question or do you want spirit to lead?”
I was hesitant, but I took a deep breath, and said, “I was hoping my ancestors could show you what happened to me when I was sexually abused. I’ve talked to my mother and my grandmother and…I don’t know, I just want…I need to know what happened to me. My whole life I’ve been afraid of most men and I’ve never really known why.”
She took a few deep breaths and I could hear her softly praying for road opening and spiritual communication that would bear the most clarity. When she was done, she asked, “How old were you?”
“Four. Maybe five. I hadn’t started kindergarten yet. I’m sorry I don’t know the exact — ”
“It’s okay. That’s okay. Where were you?”
“Memphis, Tennessee. A motel.”
“Who were you with?”
“My mother and a man she knew.”
She was silent for a while. Then, she said, “I see you.”
I asked, “Where am I?”
She said, “You’re in the bathroom,” and I exhaled. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath. I hadn’t dreamt it.
“The door is closed. You’re playing in the bathtub, you know, like little kids play. There’s a man in the bathroom now.”
I asked, “Where’s my mother?”
“She’s sitting on a bed. The bathroom door is still closed. She’s not there though. I don’t know what she’s smoking, but I can’t even really see her through all the smoke. Whatever this is, it isn’t marijuana. She’s not even in her body, you know? She’s out of it.”
“The man in the bathroom is standing over you. He’s masturbating. I can see you trying to hide away in yourself, bringing your shoulders around your ears. You’re trying not to look at him.”
“He’s trying to get you to let him inside of your mouth. You’re squirming away, but he won’t stop pushing your head toward his penis.”
“He’s trying to finger you now. You’re crying. I hear your mother telling you to hush with all that crying in there. She doesn’t know what’s happening though. Even if she did, she couldn’t help you. She’s not present at all. I see her floating above her body almost. Whatever she’s smoking, it’s intense. She’s very high. She’s gone.”
“Ew. Shit. He smells horrible down there. He’s old, crusty. Ugh. He’s dirty. He hasn’t washed. He smells like sweat and motor oil.”
She sighed heavily and went quiet for a moment.
“Oh, shit. I can’t, wait, I need to. Fuck. I’m sorry, mami. I’m trying not to cry. If I cry, I’ll fuck up your reading. Ugh. Just hold on. Let me, just wait. I need to…” She took a few deep breaths and I apologized.
“No. No. Don’t. I’m okay, alright. You don’t need to be sorry at all.”
“What is it? What do you see?”
She said, “I see him shoving himself as far as he can down your throat. You’re coughing, gagging. He’s done. He didn’t finish though. If he had finished, he would’ve killed you,” and I wanted to cry. I wanted desperately to fall apart. I didn’t. I couldn’t. My ancestors had wrapped their arms around me.
I spent nearly two hours on the phone with Daya even though I’d only paid for an hour-long session. The messages she channeled about my sexual abuse had taken up nearly forty-five minutes of that hour, but I had at least four more questions I wanted to ask so she spent more time with me.
Before the session was over, she said, “You’ve been holding onto so much of the betrayal and deceit you’ve experienced. You have so much bottled up. It’s time to let go. Your ancestors are saying you should blog about your past pain. They say the memoir is the memoir, fine, but they want you to let go of some of this stuff yesterday. You know?”
I journaled for three days after that and discovered a lot about myself. I grew up afraid of or nervous around men, but I didn’t always understand where my anxiety came from. Growing up around a male family member who was almost always abusive toward women and children who loved him didn’t help either.
I tried to find the place in my life where I first remembered being afraid of a man and I thought of my grandfather. Once, he suggested my younger brother ride to Kroger with my grandmother while I accompanied him to Best Wings of Memphis. I was eight years old and I loved the Cadillac, was fascinated by all of its lights and leather and luxury (we could listen to CDs in there while my grandmother’s car only played tapes), but I’d never been alone with my grandfather in it. I didn’t ask to go with my grandmother because I didn’t think I was allowed to voice how I felt, but I was nervous. My heart beat wildly in my chest and when I climbed into the passenger’s seat, I tried to shrink and become invisible. Even then, I didn’t move much. I didn’t want him to feel like I didn’t feel safe. I was eight and prioritizing men’s comfort over my own. He reached over and squeezed my knobby knee and said something endearing. I didn’t respond, but I smiled a barely noticeable smile. Eventually, I realized I was safe with him and was far more relaxed on the way home, but I knew I never wanted to be alone with him again.
As I journaled about this, I cried. I lost my grandfather in 2015 and learned that he’d never married my grandmother because he was already married to someone else. This was why we’d never been to where he lived and only saw him on weekends or holidays. He was with my grandmother for nearly my whole life. I watched them argue, I watched them shop for our school uniforms, I watched them prepare meals together, and I watched them slow dance to Gerald Levert. He’d been the most present and responsible father figure in our lives, but at his funeral, we weren’t even recognized. He was not survived by us. It felt like losing him twice. Realizing I was afraid of him because of something another man had done to me felt like losing him a third time.
I came to understand why I had trouble saying ‘no’ as a child. I feared harm being done to me for not complying with people’s requests. If I said no initially, it was only a matter of seconds before I gave them what they asked for or did whatever they asked me to do even if I didn’t want to. I got into the habit of taking away from myself to please others just so I could avoid harsh consequences. The older I got, people didn’t ask me anything. They’d just tell me what to do for them and expect it done quickly.
I didn’t enjoy being still as a child. As I got older, being told to be still angered me. It didn’t matter who asked or why. Once I stopped moving, I almost immediately began to hate whoever had asked me to even if only for just a little while. I came to be known as too sensitive. Even now I don’t enjoy being still. I rock gently back and forth, sway from left to right, or bounce my leg when I’m sitting.
As a little girl, whenever I could, I would rock back and forth. That probably isn’t the best way to describe what I did though. I would violently bang my back into the sofa while making a monotonous sound that soothed me. I wouldn’t call it humming. It was angrier than that. When I think about it now, I understand I was trying to process emotions I didn’t know how to express.
I was ridiculed a lot by family members close in age and adult family members sometimes questioned my mental capacity. They’d ask, “Are you slow? You one of those children? They might need to get you checked out. They probably could get a check for you.” At the time, I couldn’t understand their frustration but I know now the sight and sound of what I was doing must have been incredibly disturbing. Still, I wish someone would’ve asked, “Is everything alright? Are you upset about something?” Maybe I could’ve begun to work through what I’m working through now.
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