For decades, I have lived with the memory of my childhood sexual abuse. As a child, I remained silent, because I was told that if I said a single word to anyone, my family would be hurt. When I finally found the strength to speak, I was the one left hurting. I broke my silence, yet no one believed me. Instead of justice being brought to my abuser, speaking out caused me to lose loved ones. This rejection and abandonment made me feel hopeless. The abuse and my loved ones’ denial of the abuse created deep scars. I grew up seeing myself as unworthy of love and dealing with that pain ALL ALONE.
As an adult, I slowly started to notice that the effects of my childhood trauma came to define the personal and professional relationships I formed. I would spend all of my energy trying to please others by doing whatever I could for them so I would not get rejected. Dating was challenging as I often felt like I was going to get hurt and therefore wanted to always be in control. My guard was up 24/7. At the Saprea Retreat, I learned that people who suffered abuse as children often go back and forth, pulling people close and then pushing them away.
There are still other trauma effects that I deal with daily, such as pouring all my energy into perfectionism—like making sure each can in my pantry is lined up and facing the exact same way, and even trying to maintain a spotless home. I also felt for years like I was looking at my life through a window, distant from what was happening around me. l learned at Saprea that many of these effects are common for those who suffered similar abuse and that we put these demands on ourselves as a way of seeking love because childhood sexual abuse robs us of feeling loved.
I remember one particular moment at the retreat. We were all given long, beautiful peacock feathers to balance on our hands. The slightest breeze would draw the feather this way or that, and we had to keep it balanced on our palms. We were told by our facilitator that, often in cases of sexual abuse during childhood, we lose the ability to play. The activity was a gentle reminder to return to a sense of play. I began to shed heavy tears as that was a trigger word for me. It brought flashbacks of my abuser asking me if I wanted to “play.” Direct experiences like this allowed us to reflect on all the lessons we learned at the retreat and apply the shared techniques to help us heal.
Trauma is something both mental and physical. That’s why it can affect the way you behave and the way you feel. And if you want to undo trauma, it requires very hard work and a different mindset that I still struggle with daily.
In search of help, I visited a psychologist, then a licensed marriage and family therapist, and even received spiritual counseling—all of which eventually led me to the Saprea Retreat. And it was there, in only a few short days, where I understood many of the behaviors I deal with daily. Most are done unconsciously.
I learned, and am still learning, what all of this means for me. But discovering how these things are connected, and that I have a choice to do the work of healing, has helped me feel empowered.
However, just because a wound is deep and painful, and has been that way for a long time, doesn’t mean we can’t make the choice to seek help and heal. We gain hope when we take steps to free ourselves of the shame and rage bottled up inside for so long. Today, I stand up for myself, despite the “fear of the unknown” that has run through me since my abuse started.
Sexual abuse takes so much away from people, and the journey to healing is long. Something so many don’t understand. But we surely owe this to ourselves.
To the next generation, we owe something, too. We must believe all children when they speak out. But most importantly, we must ensure that they aren’t left in places where they can be easily abused. Child sexual abuse is real. And it can create deep wounds that are very hard to heal.
If we can have the courage to take care of ourselves and listen to others when they need us, we can mend the pain and suffering that these crimes cause. My abuser wrote the first part of my life story but it is MY turn to end this story. I am a survivor actively healing, and as I get more comfortable sharing what happened to me, I will join the fight against child sexual abuse. My journey alongside healing is to raise awareness in any way I can. That is how I am choosing to live my life. And I hope, now that you’ve read my story, you will do the same.