How the lockdown made me confront my childhood trauma
A personal recounting of child sex abuse.
Trigger warnings for child abuse.
Writing about the self means writing about experiences. I have never written about the contradiction between my emotions and body, and my approach towards it. I want to write this as a letter to myself today.
While I was busy with life - daily chores like bathing, washing utensils, washing clothes in our families we were taught to do all household chores since the age of 8-9, not to learn the art of living but to be perfect wives and mothers.
I started doing activism at the age of 16. It all started with the atrocities in my village. Since then I have seen people from staunch Buddhists to staunch communist backgrounds and worked in various movements, pursuing journalism from a very brahminical institute – while doing all this I never gave any attention to what my body wanted.
I grew up among all males in the house. Rather than my mother and grandmother, I had my grandfather, father, my younger brother and three uncles. I was the only girl child among six males. I followed my uncles and father in literally every sense - hairstyle, clothes, the way I spoke, everything. I used to copy each and every habit from them. I remember I used to bathe with my brothers, and one day, suddenly, my aunt came and said to me that from now onwards I would bathe alone. 12-year-old me was wondering, what happened suddenly? There was no one to answer my questions.
The only thing I was told is, you are grown up now. What does ‘grown-up now’ mean? Changes in the body or the changes in the perspective of society towards you? What about the growth of senses, emotions, personality? Why did no one teach us to grow up as good humans?
My body was struggling with my past and wanted me to heal the wounds given by the past which were disturbing my present, the burden of the past was ruining my present. I always wanted to be around my mother but that was not feasible in our financial condition and I stayed away from my parents since the age of 10. I and my brother lived with my maternal uncle, aunty and grandparents. I always asked my mother why don’t you keep me and Bhai with you I don’t want to stay there and she always told me that the school in which you are today was always my dream school at that time.
My parents were not able to afford it but today I am saving each and every penny to give you a convent education. Let me tell you about her story. My aai was born in the Igatpuri taluka, Nasik dist. in a first-generation job holding Dalit family, (not a reservation beneficiary) my nana got his job as ‘gangman’ in fact majority of the people I know from his generation were gangmen in Indian railways.
My grandfathers from both sides were gangmen who spent their whole life repairing and building railway tracks. But that was a huge achievement for Dalits during that time. I remember the smell of their sweat from those orange shirts and khaki pants that are still the uniform of gangmen. He was an alcoholic until one year of my aai-baba’s marriage.
She grew up in the railway quarters in Buddhanagar, in a small one-room kitchen quarter. Her school friends told me she was the brightest student in the class, felt so positive about her being mentioned as a school goer, there were restrictions on her education of course. Irrespective if she passed her SSC or not she was not allowed to go to college.
The reason, she told me, was ‘If girls go to college they will run away with someone.” She wanted to go to that same convent school where I studied she told me that she used to feel so jealous by looking at those doctors’ and engineers’ daughters and the students of convent schools and that that was why she had decided this in her childhood itself that her kids will go to that same convent school and she made her dreams true.
I had cut my hand just to convince her to let me stay with her but a convent education was worth it for her. At that time they both were doing door to door marketing and selling sanitary products. I sold my anklets and gold earrings to pay my 10th std fee.
I missed my parents always but I really needed her when I got my 1st period and that day I missed her more than usual. That was the period when I hated my body. I hated those changes which were setting a new normal for me. Now, when I already hated my body and these changes, child abuse made things worse. I hated my body, my breasts, more and more,
One of my uncles was the abuser and I was 12 yrs. old. He used to press my breasts so hard I had cried for nights. Every morning I used to tell myself that everything is fine and normal. I remember I cried under a running tap for hours to erase that touch but it never vanished. Months passed, years passed, but that touch remained. After a point, my body got used to that touch.
The touch of the man in his 30s. This was the first time I was experiencing such an intimate touch. Every teenager has this special moment in their life where they imagine the first kiss, first and special moment for me, again, came in the wrong way.
My first experience introduced to me was from this man whom I still call my uncle. The heterosexual male-dominant power started controlling my body and emotions. By now my body was used to that touch. The unwanted touch which unknowingly became part of my liking, my personality. To fulfill the needs of my body- that touch, multiple partners, attraction towards dominant male and hyper-masculinity was a very common thing for me.
I never understood my relationship with power and its impact on my body and personality. Of course, there are more different aspects of life that shaped me I think my experiences and my politics my chosen family and queer and political circles shaped me and my emotions but this experience had a long-lasting impact on my body and emotions.
The COVID lockdown made things worse for everyone. Some were struggling to get a one time meal, even I was worried for my family that how will they survive if lockdown extends. Though I was in a very good space with proper food and shelter and all lovely people around, the tension of how my family will survive, led me to depression but my depression and anxiety also helped me to resolve the unbalanced equation of my body and emotions.
The lockdown period for me was rethinking every act of my life, my childhood, my wrong decisions, my thought process. Now it was like my body was alarming and telling me that enough is enough. I can still feel that unwanted touch, the body odor of the person. This reminds me of that incident, but after taking therapy for six months I got to know about what anxiety is which I always experienced since childhood but was never able to evaluate. With the help of medicines and therapy, I have made peace with it after a long time. I got a new perspective to look at in my life. Now I know what my body wants, what I want.
I want to tell everyone who is reading this: Give yourself some time, be patient, try to know what your body wants and most importantly try not to suppress your feelings.
I am on a journey now with myself, my body and my emotions. That’s what I am experiencing as the self and that’s what I think experiencing self is.
Ekta Sonawane is an activist, freelance journalist, currently pursuing Masters in Gender Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi.