Goldfish Reminders: Surviving Childhood Trauma

Goldfish was the name of my Soviet kindergarten. It had sun-filled spacious playrooms and a big yard with a swimming pool eventually converted into a flower garden buzzing with bees and dragonflies. If you climbed to the top of the ladder shaped like a rocket, you could look over the grapevine-clad fence onto the avenue lined with chestnut and poplar trees. Somehow it’s always late summer. In Russian folklore, goldfish is akin to a genie in a bottle. If caught and released to the sea, it would grant you three wishes. I have only one wish. That I had never gone to the Goldfish kindergarten.

Hello, my name is Alexey and I am a survivor of child sexual abuse.

My psyche repressed the memories of those experiences until I was 37 years old.

For 30+ years, those memories were an invisible wrecking ball for my life.

I am forty-three now and in the process of re-building my identity anew.

My suffering had been silent and secret (largely from myself as well).

I wish that my recovery can be public, visible, audible, shared.

I guess I do have more than one wish.

Goldfish Reminder #1: you can dream again.

When I first sought therapy in 2010, I told my therapist I was ok but nothing made sense. In retrospect, I can see that I was not ok but things in fact made perfect sense. I felt there was a black hole within me that consumed all experiences people usually use to build relationships, careers, wealth, status. “I am a house with no foundation,” I said. It would take years to (re)discover my foundational story. Thanks to many books and a few therapists, I’d learn how textbook my case is. Except many survivors don’t survive into adulthood. I owe this chance at healing to myself and others.

I do not know who did it. It would happen in the nurse’s office at naptime. I do not think it was the nurse. In various facilitated attempts, I was never able to access a clear visual memory to gage age or gender. I am summoned. I tiptoe past the big windows and glass doors of the sleeping quarters, past the other sleeping children. I am special, chosen. The nurse’s office has a wooden door and no window. I enter and stand still. A presence hovers at the edge of the line where my vision blurs and I disassociate. “The body keeps the score.” I know the touch that detonated my spirit.

At 37, the resurfaced memory hit my mind like an aneurysm. I was incapable of sustained cognitive effort for months. I’d write an article or grade a quiz and spend days in a daze. It cost me work opportunities. I began to withdraw from social life. It undid me. Worse, I began to see my entire-whole-total adult life as a singular trauma response. My behavioral patterns, personality quirks, sexual kinks, it all finally “made sense”. Everything had been de/formed by the abuse, forged by repression, hijacked by denial. None of it was sustainable. I gave into falling apart. I committed to dismantling myself. I embraced the ruin.

I am in a safe(r) space within myself now. I feel a foundation. I am at a point where I can begin to write consistently about this journey. There isn’t a long enough long-read!

After years of incessant intrusive suicidal ideation, I catch my mind musing about ideas it would like to pursue in two-three years. I never experienced an internal horizon that wide. It’s overwhelming in a new way for me. While my professional and personal life have been decimated, I am finally driven by cautious hope and curiosity instead of angst and depression. I “lost” 30+ years. I am determined to make each next one count.

If recovery is possible, I am in it to win it.

Goldfish Reminder #1: you can dream again

(even if I can’t yet fantasize, but that’s a subject for another time)

@alexeytimbul

Survivor Resources (a sample starter list): Enough Abuse, RAINN, Survivors Trust, Dr. Glenn Patrick Doyle and Nate Postlethwait

Support my recovery effort: BuyMeCoffee, Patreon, PayPal

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