Sexual abuse destroyed me. Motherhood saved me.

October 11, 2019


As a child, I was shy but did well in school. I played and hung out with friends regularly. On the outside, I was pretty much your average kid. But what many people didn't know - and don't know until now - was I was raped when I was five and molested by different men on separate occasions: between the ages of 4 and 8, twice as a teen, and once as an adult. Eleven out of the 13 perpetrators were people I know and trusted. These happened in places deemed safe and non-threatening. 

I subconsciously compartmentalized these memories. They festered inside me. The effects of sexual abuse did not manifest until I was around 15. I never even remembered anything about the rape until one night in bed, when I was 17, the details suddenly surfaced. They were sharp, vibrant, and stinging.

I lied awake for hours - confused, crushed, and crying helplessly. 

I didn't tell anyone until I was already 22. I lived day in and day out carrying shame, guilt, and a misplaced burden of responsibility. When I was 7, someone caught a man grabbing my vagina and commented, "Siguro gusto mo kaya di ka sumigaw (Maybe you liked it that's why you didn't scream)." I thought maybe if I called for help, pleaded, or resisted enough in any other occasion, I would not have been sexually assaulted. I had a hand in my own circumstance. 

It was a lonely path to tread. I learned that it hurt to smile. Every time I went home from school - and later on, work - I locked the door behind me and didn't look back.

In an attempt to gain control of my life, I dove into a sea of destructive habits: binge drinking, eating disorders, underperforming in school. I began inflicting harm to myself using any object I could get my hands on: rulers, blades, shards of glass, pens. To let the pain bleed.  Initially, it did. The sight of crimson blood on my skin rendered instant relief and adrenaline. "Now the pain is symmetrical inside and out," read one of my journal entries. 

But the following day or two, the pain would swim right back into my bed. So I hurt myself some more until I had to wear jackets and pants at home in the sweltering summer heat to hide the wounds on my arms and legs.

During the semester I was about to graduate from college, I found out I flunked two major subjects. That meant I wasn't going to graduate.  My family expected me to be a doctor. I was supposed to take care of them after pre-med. 

I wanted to move on, but I was tired taking on what seemed like a pointless fight. I had a world purposely built for me, and now that world is no longer possible.

The last thing I wanted was to disappoint or hurt anyone. They deserve better lives without a fuckup like me. I texted a friend, saying, "Please tell him I love him, but I can't do this anymore. I'm so sorry."

I swigged a bottle of beer, along with a handful of pills: six paracetamol, two anti-anxiety medications, a sleeping pill, and others that I no longer remember. At six in the evening, I passed out in my bedroom. 

Sunlight seeped through window cracks. I squinted, lightheaded and dazed. Was I in a dream? Am I finally home? 


I turned and saw an empty beer bottle. Pills and cigarette ashes on the floor. A chipped cherub figurine. Tens of unread messages and missed calls. It's been 12 hours and apparently, I am still alive. 

I shivered with anger. All I wanted was to find peace. Instead, the Universe threw me back into chaos. I violently chucked books in the air and gave the heavens the dirty finger. "Why do you have to keep me alive? You are a sick sadist."

My phone rang. On the other end of the line was a familiar voice. "Napakababaw ng dahilan mo para magpakamatay. Para hindi ka lang naman ga-graduate (Your reason for attempting suicide is so shallow. You're not graduating, that's all)," it said. 

Maybe it seems silly and irrational to take one's life for things that can still be rectified. But it was the only rational way for me to find comfort. It was not just one thing that drove me to the edge. It's a series of small burdens, with school problems as the tipping point. Back then, I wasn't aware that everything - the band-aid solutions, the misery, the rebellion - pointed back to sexual violation. That to take back my life, I have to address the root cause. 

Every over-the-counter medication and tool I used for self-harm were confiscated. "You will live."

So lived I did, day after day until they turned into years. I nursed wounds, ill-equipped for the battle - without medications, a shrink, an ear. I got married and became more preoccupied with work and house duties. Yet, some days remained terrible that I wanted to sleep through them and never wake up. No kind of relationship could fix me. Maybe you can be happy, but not really. Maybe happiness is a fish, and it's like a lottery on who gets to bait the fattest one. Maybe everyone's fish is supposed to be mediocre. 

I was on a plateau until I gave birth to my daughter at 28.

As I watched her grow, the darkness dissipated inch by inch. I didn't understand how or when or why, but the world became sunny again. I started looking forward to waking up. I can breathe easy. Everything felt lighter. Whenever I walk roads, it is no longer aimless and hazy because she is walking beside me. I can charge into the world with might and courage.

Suddenly, taking care of someone did not feel like a conundrum. It is a joy. A privilege. A purpose. A legacy. To know something so pristine can be birthed by a soul that's been tainted black; that my time with her is fleeting made me appreciate mortality.

With her, I found a reason to live. Not just survive, but truly live with hope, love, freedom, and trust in humanity - things that were so elusive before. And all it takes is a smile, a hug; a tiny voice uttering, "Mama", "I love you", and "You are the best gift God gave to me". 

My daughter and I have bad days when money is so tight that we share a couple of fried eggs or instant noodles for a meal. There are rare occasions when I don't want to talk to people for days to a week. But I go through them knowing I will still come out alive and stronger not because as a mother I need to, but because I want to. Because I now possess the certainty that after those brooding days, I have her to come back to and a life whose every second is worth living.  

Some find redemption in career success, friendships, intimate relationships, or religion. I found mine in the purest and most unconditional love. It turns out that sometimes, it's the children who save their parents, not the other way around. When I look back at the morning I questioned why I had to be kept alive, I am relieved that I now know the answer. And I am eternally grateful for this second shot at life. There are parents who, despite their great love for their kids, succumb to mental illness - sometimes with grim outcomes.



I want to tell you that if you suffered or are suffering from abuse, depression, or both, you have the right to be happy. But more than anything, you have the right to forgive yourself. You should not account for a fault that is not yours. Your abuser does not deserve to steal one more second of your life. They have stolen enough. They have scarred you, but your scars do not define you. 

Know that it will be a long, dark, and seemingly endless road. But if you fight and hang on a little more, even though it won't be easy, it will get easier. Things will not turn out to be the best, but they will be better. I hope you find your light and hold on to it, no matter how faint its rays are. You deserve to see that the world isn't as fucked up as we think it is. As I can attest, happiness and redemption are possible at the end of that road, if only we hold on just one more day.


All photos taken by Martin San Diego

Jayna said...

You're such a strong woman. Thanks for sharing your story :-)

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