My “Perfect” Life In The Middle East Covered Up Childhood Trauma And Sexual Harassment

By Reem Abdellatif··  10 min read
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My “Perfect” Life In The Middle East Covered Up Childhood Trauma And Sexual Harassment

Old objects carry old energies, just like old memories of people or places that we wish to forget – or better yet, forgive. If you want to change your life, a good place to start is by decluttering. Notice that I said that it’s a good start. Usually, a physical declutter is preceded by an emotional and mental purge. But, I know that sounds easier said than done.

When I look at my own life and how it has changed in the past few years – particularly the past two pandemic years – I can say with firm conviction that I have taken decluttering to a whole new level. 

Generational Trauma and My Childhood

I’m a first-generation Egyptian-American and the daughter and granddaughter of FGM survivors. FGM stands for female genital mutilation. My Egyptian grandmothers were child brides, married at the ages of 12 and 14 in Egypt. They lived in the Arab world’s most populous country when it was still a monarchy, they saw when the British occupied their home, and they also lived through the 1952 revolution which saw the military take over Egypt from the King and his family. These women had seen it all. They also came from very humble beginnings. So when I say I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams, that’s not an exaggeration.  

I had a very different life than my grandmothers. While I grew up in a quaint country town in South Carolina, the shadow of generational trauma followed me everywhere I went. When I moved back to the Middle East at 21 years old to study journalism, the trauma continued to creep up on me.

During my 20s, living in the Middle East and experiencing trauma, sexual objectification, and harassment was just a reflection of the same experiences that I faced in my childhood. This time I wasn’t just up against my parents’ inner demons, but also those of autocrats.

As a teen, I faced sexual harassment at the hands of my own father in our own home and my mother acted oblivious. His words to me at the time – a 15-year-old teenage girl– were scarring. I lived in a strict traditionally Muslim household with zero autonomy over my body. Even today, Egyptian women’s struggle for bodily autonomy is ongoing. As a child, I constantly found myself fighting for basic rights, such as shaving my legs, spending time with friends, or not being touched inappropriately by my own father.

As a child, I lived in a home where abuse was normalized as “culture and tradition.”

I found myself thankful for the bare minimum, like the fact that he just tried to molest me and never actually raped me. I had to hear him say that “I wasn’t worth the money he gave me for food, clothes, or shelter because I was bound to marry and sleep with another man anyway.” 

His actions and words followed me everywhere until I made a conscious choice to heal that trauma. His words had made me resilient and resistant to men in a very unhealthy way as an adult, and I am not ashamed to admit that this wasn’t the life I wanted. Throughout my 20s, I was a workaholic while living in the Middle East. I hung on to my career as a journalist and editor for dear life. Don’t get me wrong – my career was very rewarding and exciting, but the journalism industry itself was toxic at times. The industry is going through its own awakening today, but it has always been fast-paced and editors often had unrealistic demands and expectations.

But the universe doesn’t give us what we deserve, it gives us what we’re a vibrational match to. So at the time, it was the perfect career for a woman who wanted to numb the pain of her childhood. Even I had unrealistic expectations of myself. I remember thinking: “If I could just focus hard enough on being a feminist and a die-hard journalist, I wouldn’t have to deal with human relationships or messy things like love.” I also wouldn’t have to deal with the turmoil and “clutter” festering within. 

My “Perfect” Life Covered Up Trauma and Sexual Harassment

Despite running from myself, I always had a silent prayer: I wanted to heal, find my soulmate, and end the abusive cycle that the women in my family had experienced for generations. Eventually, the universe kept sending me signals to deal with my inner baggage so that I could free up space to maybe finally get what I want. After all, you can’t build a home on a shaky foundation! That’s when the internal decluttering process first began. 

In 2016, at 27-years-old, I was living and working as an editor-in-chief in the United Arab Emirates. That’s when I experienced sexual harassment at the hands of a very prominent journalist and editor who works for a leading American media organization. Seemingly, I had it all. I was working at a leading news organization in the Gulf and Middle East region, I had a lovely apartment on the Marina, and a beautiful sports car. Sounds like the typical glitzy Dubai life, right? Trust me when I tell you nothing is ever as it seems. On the outside, I made sure everything was perfect. It was my way of controlling life – which we’re actually never really in control of anyway. 

In Dubai, and in the Middle East in general, I lived in a society where women have few real rights over their bodies. There was a clear pattern unfolding in my life, and it was all a reflection of my unhealed subconscious mind. I kept recreating life experiences from the familiar comfort zone, with man playing the role of the “enemy” and “woman” as the victim.

I kept recreating life experiences from the familiar comfort zone, with myself as the victim.

You see, the comfort zone isn’t exactly always comfortable – it’s familiar. My life, although it looked seemingly different on the outside, was still very much the familiar life that I had known as a child. I was still stuck in trauma. As a child, I lived in a home where abuse was normalized as “culture and tradition.”

My outer reality was just the physical manifestation of the clutter in my mind and soul. Healing from that was not easy by all means – I cried, I broke down, I fell – and as cliché as it may sound, I still got back up again. I didn’t expect anyone to save me, nor could anyone do that. I had to do it myself, but I also did it by seeking the help of professionals and allies. At some point, I had to do my own inner work and put my healing into practice.

When healing generational trauma, it takes time before we’re truly out of the woods. Old wounds sometimes need revisiting and staying “clean” of our old ways takes commitment. I say staying clean because trauma can be addictive. This is why many survivors of sexual abuse, violence, or trauma often stay in or return to unhealthy relationships or households. 

A Lack of Women’s Rights Almost Killed Me

Purging my own emotional baggage eventually led to the decluttering of many physical manifestations in my life – and although it happened slowly, it had to happen willingly. 

First, it took years of therapy, personal self-development, and falling in love with solitude to be able to recognize and break my life patterns through conscious living. That’s when the decluttering began.

That’s also when I felt called to leave Dubai and the Middle East in general, where I had faced abuse, trauma, and sexual harassment on several occasions and was unable to seek justice because of politics and local gag laws. 

I quit my job in the emirate after I faced a near-death experience because I overworked myself. In 2019, while in Dubai, I had developed something called endometrial hyperplasia. This caused excessive and uncontrollable bleeding that resembled a miscarriage. At the time, my gynecologist told me that if I did have a miscarriage, she was required by law to report me to authorities before operating on me to stop the bleeding. She told me that if the blood test came back positive for a pregnancy, I would be arrested after the surgery.

If the blood test showed I was miscarrying, I would have been arrested after the surgery.

Here I was, thinking I was going to die from excessive blood loss – a possibility the doctor later confirmed had she not operated immediately. But I still had to wait for an oppressive bureaucratic procedure before I could be treated.

In that moment, I felt the burden of being a woman in the Middle East – frightened and alone because I lived in a world that shames women for wanting a soulmate, a husband, or the so-called “traditional” life. In reality, I wanted it all. I wanted to write freely, to have a partner, and a loving relationship. Nothing was keeping me from my silent dreams except fear and the weight of the past. Both heavy emotions kept me mentally subscribed to society’s unrealistic expectations of me as a woman.

After five years of being committed fully to my healing and facing the demons from my past childhood, I wondered what the hell was I still doing in the Matrix? This painful, near-death experience was the last straw. I eventually left the United Arab Emirates and refused to return to the Middle East.

It was a chapter in my book that I was ready to close. As I packed my few belongings and moved to Europe in March 2020, I was scared but ready to start over. This is not to say the Middle East is a horrible place, but let’s just say there’s room for improvement when it comes to human rights.

I told myself and affirmed out loud daily that I wasn’t starting from scratch, but rather experience. When I moved, the universe moved with me. That’s because we’re in a constant dance with the universe. We’re co-creators of our lives, and when you ask the universe for something, it delivers, and it delivers the sweetest gifts. 

Consciously Seeking Healing from My Past

So how do you declutter emotionally? You start by developing self-love and self-awareness to call yourself out on your own bullshit and subconscious fears. 

Here I am today, in a completely new world, a new reality where literally everything has changed because I made a conscious decision to change. I’m a woman, a writer, a human rights advocate, many things – but I’m not that broken soul who convinced herself that she didn’t need help, love, or a man because she can do it all alone. 

Letting love in is part of the healing process.

Letting love in is part of the healing process. Activism doesn’t always have to be bloody. Sometimes we have to put our weapons down. Today, I know that. After witnessing my affirmations come to life right before my eyes, I’m filled with gratitude for the life that I’ve co-created with the universe. I’m grateful to have found the love of my life who – just like I had manifested in my affirmations journal – is my soulmate. He even looks exactly like I pictured. I’ll spare you the cheesiness of describing this amazing man any further, but trust me when I say the universe delivers.

Closing Thoughts

While going through the motions of trauma and garnering the courage to leave my old life behind, I affirmed that I would move to a European town with half-timbered homes with medieval architecture. I had some very specific affirmations because I was ready to co-create with the universe a completely new life. So trust me when I say anything is possible with a little faith, pure intentions, and a strong unwavering belief in the universe. I owed it to my ancestors, but most of all – I owed it to myself. 

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