I was born in 1960. Between the ages of 4 and 7, my father’s best friend repeatedly sexually abused me. Several years later he killed himself. Shortly after his death, I received a call from his wife. He’s dead, she said, and it’s all your fault.
Childhood sexual abuse is a prison without bars. It has lurked in the shadows of every important decision I’ve made throughout my life, both the good as well as the bad. It became the lens through which I misjudged others, the source of mistrust, the wellspring of shame. I did not disclose these crimes until I was 21. With little to no emotional support, and after years of struggle, during which I dropped out of high school and made numerous regretful life choices, I earned an MFA and became established as a visual artist.
I was tormented by this secret and my life was diminished by its power. There was no action I needed to take to be inadequate, wrong or miserable; I just was. I was violated, ashamed, stigmatized, and filled with self-doubt and contempt. I have a term for describing my suffering – going into the abyss. It’s a place where I spin uncontrollably in a cycle of self-loathing, depression and dissociation. I tend to go there when I feel ashamed. Though my life is now more joyful than sad, more purposeful than simply surviving, still, even today, the abyss – and all that it stands for – haunts me.
By allowing the darkness that I struggled with for decades to be finally exposed and embraced, I discovered unforeseen strength and resilience. 50 years later I’m now choosing to elevate my voice as an artist, performer, writer and advocate in this field.
50 Years Later: The Long Shadow of Childhood Sexual Abuse is a conceptually driven art project based upon my life story, and includes a brief autobiography, further augmented through extant photographs, drawings, paintings, and sculpture. Fueled by literature, academic and journalistic, plus Darkness to Light and Justice Department statistics, I began presenting my work in venues beyond those traditionally commonplace to artists, such as law schools and treatment clinics, both in the United States and Europe. I speak out to bring attention to the life-long effects of child sexual abuse. Topics include the psychological effects of trauma (e.g. secrecy, shame, anger, dissociation, self-punitive behavior), the impact of childhood sexual abuse on interpersonal relationships, and the hurdles facing district attorneys who prosecute of these dreadful crimes (e.g. jury selection issues and sentencing guidelines). Illustrations from my new book, Shame and the Eternal Abyss further supplement these presentations.
Life in the shadows minimizes the ability to lead a joyful, fulfilled and purposeful life. My work aims to emphasize however that shifting that outcome is nonetheless possible, but only with the kind of acceptance and support that can induce tangible insights. Then, and only then, can the healing and self-forgiveness can flow.
Tania Love Abramson, MFA, is a conceptually focused visual artist, lecturer, writer and performer, and a survivor of chronic childhood sexual abuse. Drawing on her life story, her art delves into the elusive psychological manifestations of trauma, and the potential for resilience in its aftermath. Ms. Abramson also lectures both internationally and in the US, blogs for 50yrslater.com, and recently published her first book, Shame and the Eternal Abyss, which explores the dual experiences of shame and dissociation through her art and poetic commentary. Tania is currently working on two other books – a graphic memoir, and a visual/conceptual exploration of PTSD. Tania’s ultimate goal is to help inform effective treatment strategies for victims, as well as to rally further support for preventing and prosecuting this horrendous crime. To learn more, you can follow her blog, Twitter and Instagram pages, and see more of her art in Shame and the Eternal Abyss.