Like many birds before me, I am a healer and a survivor of sexual abuse. Up until my early 20’s, the memories of a childhood sexual abuse were pretty distinct, like dark shadows in my life, with painful definition and clarity.
Many years before that, in darkness and feeling betrayed, it felt like my spirit had been shattered like glass. I suppose it was only inevitable that someday my whole facade of competence, self-assurance, and sanity would come crashing down.
Today at the age of 38, I write this journal as a diligent worker in support of those persons with disabilities. This often warrants a need to become hyper-sensitive to people’s needs. This can also sometimes cause confusion and even forgetting to check in with my needs.
I can even work feverishly to fill up my time, so there will be no time to face what is going on inside. I hide my unspeakable pain beneath a meditative mask, a smile and a quiet word.
A few of you may also know that I felt a slow collapse this year. One that also led to several months of what has felt like “a mini retirement”. Fortunately, this is also a perfect time of year to rest, writing through these healing expressions.
Appreciating whatever comes up, including what may feel like a cyclone of horrors from being an adult and a child. What I understand today is that I felt violated.
I feel a broken heart about that. I have even relived those traumas after feeling terribly wounded and abandoned.
With the many other victims of sexual abuse, I stumble along a treacherous road as an adult too.
We struggle daily to cope with the longterm aftereffects – including chronic forgetfulness, poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, panic attacks, phobias, sexual and relationship problems, suicidal impulses, and post-traumatic stress disorder – just to name a few.
Harmless everyday events can trigger terror, including loud yelling, angry music, doors being slammed, a certain aroma, and even the touch of an unseen hand on the shoulder.
Working your way through
It grieves me terribly to write of the violence and violation we suffer. If you, too, have endured abuse, you may have experienced unbearable pain as you reached out to friends. As such, it is within your power to break the terrible silence and say:
“I was abused too. I want to reclaim my life in new and healthy ways.”
Break the silence
Many victims of abuse also deal with ongoing terror. Like zombies, they even blot out their “old memories”. As survivors, we must dare to grapple with our wounded psyche, which suppressed memories of our fear or horror.
After years of, “keeping the secret,” we need to break the silence.
We must remember the abuse, admit it, and recover from our silenced voices so that we can tell the story of our “amnesia years.”
We cannot do this alone, however. We need the kind of gentle compassion that heals and brings release from our dark fears. We need compassion with humor, kindness, and deep reverence for our fragile psyche.
Share your story with someone you trust to be this kind of companion. This could be a caring professional, a business partner, a relationship advisor, a touch therapist, someone from your religious community, an extraordinary friend, a family member, or other survivors in local and online support groups.
Readers and even companions help us to embrace the parts of the pain we shudder to face. They validate our feelings, hold us up when we cannot carry the burden alone. They accept us just as we are.
Grieve for your lost childhood
As children and adults, we often hear the warning, “Don’t talk to strangers.” But no one warned us about the people close to us, whom we trusted with our innocence.
This is a great time of year to allow oneself to grieve any time of lost childhood. While this may be a lonely and frightening process, it could also be a perfect time for expression through your art.
Mourning the childhood we missed and remembering the horror of the days we can’t forget? Give yourself some care when you remember that no one paid much attention to any small desperate screams.
Especially? When you already kept whatever terrible secret was brewing inside, including those in your nightmares, stomachaches, and throwing up moments on family trips. Our spirits became crippled by hiding the pain and pretending all was OK.
Allowing yourself to grieve might release a whole torrent of losses: the loss of power over your own body, and even what it was to experience nurturing and trust and security of healthy relationships, of playfulness.
Because we attempt to obliterate the memories of abuse we also forget what it is to be a child. We begin to isolate ourselves from others when feeling our own blame even.
Nurture your inner child
Children and adults who experience sexual abuse are thrust into grown-up roles and responsibilities long before they are grown-up. And we can go back, rediscover our “inner child,” and give that child the nurturing he, she, ze or xe lacked.
Get acquainted with your own wounded child. Cherish, protect, and parent your inner child with comfort, respect and love.
Through making the connection with this wholesome and innocent part of yourself, you can learn to love yourself again. Affirm yourself; give yourself credit for having the strength to survive even. See yourself as good, holy and a courageous person.
A competent therapist, like myself, may also guide you through that process. In befriending another in this way, you can also work through some of the relationship and even sexual difficulties that may have come as a consequence of your abuse.
Be good to yourself
Once we are able to confront our abuse, we begin to realize we don’t even have to smile or be a people pleaser anymore. We don’t have to pretend anymore that everything is OK. We can set boundaries with people who cause us to feel afraid or depressed, which include family members.
We can even be assertive on behalf of our rights without feeling we must say yes to anyone or everyone. We can believe we have feelings that are legitimate and deserve to be addressed.
As you move yourself forward with gentleness and patience, you can make new choices – healing choices – that allow you to spend some time celebrating your inner goodness.
Call a friend, just to chat?
Laugh, or shed a tear?
– and know your friend cares.
You can do fun things! You can do something nice for yourself, like reserving some special time for you – to rest, read a book and wander into and out of the wilderness.
You can even pick up something off the street as you wander – call it “a free gift from the planet” – a rose, a doll or even a teddy bear to hug when you feel lonely and need a reminder from the people you are missing hugs from. The hugs you needed as a child. Be assertive on your own behalf. You deserve good things!
Many of us were innocent victims, wounded terribly during times of abuse. We did not cause or deserve that treatment.
At times the memories are so unbearable; we can never fully erase them. And I do believe that we gradually learn to embrace our pain and rebuild our lives. I believe that as we share with other members of the community of survivors, we can heal parts of one another.
Perhaps we will even come to recognize that our deepest wounds are the greatest gifts we can contribute toward a more compassionate and respectful world. We can be wounded healers for others who dare to share their dark secrets. Those others need our support, care and courage.
Like all animals, you have embarked on a journey to become more than any wound. Your very struggle is a healthy sign that your spirit is not hopelessly deflated or worthless. Believe in resilience of your spirit and its capacity for healing. Believe in your own goodness and courage to withstand the rigors of he long healing process.
Recovery may cost you must grief, confusion, fear, self-doubt, and regret. You may feel very weak and vulnerable in realizing that the abuse you endured is continuing to riddle your adult life with emotional pain. Mending a broken heart and a fragmented spirit can seem an endless and overwhelming task.
Yet, when you feel as if you don’t have the strength to endure another day, don’t give up. Be patient. Find comfort and be compassionate to yourself.
Your patience will be rewarded with the discovery that you are not a guilty, unworthy person, but a truly precious resource from the Earth that is meant to be cherished.
You are a gift to the world. A miracle.
As a miracle of life, you will learn to recover and celebrate your own inner-light. You will find the strength.
Steph Bird, MAED/AET, CPFC, Certified pastoral counselor
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