7 Reasons Why I Share My Childhood Sexual Abuse Story
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I can tell you firsthand how isolating and lonely it feels as a child and how those cognitions followed me into adulthood. The brain often cannot fathom the horrors of the experience, let alone realize how widespread this form of child abuse is.
The reality is that too many childhood sexual abuse cases are reported every year. This abuse can follow children into adulthood and can manifest in many different ways. Victims of childhood sexual abuse are four times more likely to abuse drugs, four times more likely to struggle with PTSD as an adult (in my case complex PTSD) and are three times more likely to experience major depressive episodes.
Telling my story is one of the hardest things I have ever done — it has also been rewarding, and even necessary, for my mental health and well-being.
Many years ago I locked my inner child tightly away with all the bad experiences, memories and emotions that she carried. I thought that vault was sealed and I was over it, but she has started screaming loudly in my head, demanding my attention, begging for my comfort, compassion and understanding. I cannot ignore her any longer.
My voice was silenced as a victim. My innocence was stolen by someone who was supposed to love and protect me, my confidence destroyed; and the world became a dangerous and scary place. Even now, as a survivor, I still often feel like the victim when I dig in and face my past. It is so raw and intense. When I prepare to share my story I go through a gamut of emotions: I am scared, I am anxious and embarrassed. I wonder if anyone will believe me. I wonder, am I talking about my past too much and being selfish? Am I making people uncomfortable with the weight of my truth? Does anyone even care?
I feel all these things because that is how I have been hardwired. I was threatened often about speaking out. I was repeatedly reminded that no one would believe me. This was reiterated to me when, at a young age, I did eventually tell my dad and he told my abuser I was talking. My basic needs as a child were met — food, clothing and housing — but my feelings as a child were never a priority. I had no real friends, no hobbies and no one to love me or tuck me in at night.
Now, 20 years later, I am committed to owning my story — I am speaking up. I want to heal. Functioning is not living and I want to live!
Here are the reasons why I have started talking about my childhood of sexual abuse:
1. It is empowering.
Sharing is empowering. Sharing is liberating, and I believe it is necessary. There is absolutely no way to describe the weight of childhood trauma or the anxiety and fear that come with the journey to recovery. My innocence was stolen from me. I lost all control over the sovereignty of my body and I lost my sense of self. When I share my story and un-tell the lies of my past, I take back control over my life. I take back control over my body. I take back control over my feelings. Now I can focus on healing from the abuse.
2.It is OK to feel it.
I need to teach myself that feeling it is OK, especially when it is on my terms. As a sexual abuse survivor, I learned early on the importance of a protective shield from all the physical and emotional feelings. It is a hard defense mechanism to rewire. I am learning how to feel all of it, rather than pushing it away, which is not easy. I have realized I am often emotionally detached and physically cut off from the neck down. As I reconnect to myself and my emotions, it has been uncomfortable and intensely painful at times, but I keep hearing that amazing growth comes from the deepest of pain, so I trudge on.
3.I need support, help and compassion.
I need the support, plain and simple. I can’t do this on my own. Support is crucial to the recovery process and it can be found in many different places. My support system consists of my two therapists, one for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and one for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), my husband, my children and a few close friends who are also survivors. I cannot stress enough the benefits of having understanding loved ones or their help with coping. The support makes me feel less isolated as I try to keep from drowning in all the chaos. The support helps me accept that my feelings are important and that others do care.
4. Connecting with other survivors.
Courage is contagious. I want other survivors who are not yet sharing their stories to know they are not alone. There are others who are struggling, daily, to carry the weight of our sadness and pain without it spilling all over the place, too. Together we can all hold each other up.
5. Real talk about complex PTSD and the healing process.
I hope I am shedding light on the real recovery process for trauma survivors. Trauma recovery and healing are messy, chaotic and not for the faint of heart. My trauma is not a flash point in my life, it is a part of who I am. It has influenced how I perceive things and how I respond. Through therapy, I can learn to respond more appropriately to high stress situations, and I can also develop coping skills for anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks, however, it will always take a little extra effort on my part. As a survivor, I can view obstacles in life as challenges to overcome and get past. I do not get past my trauma – I learn to integrate it into my life and live with it. Healing is cyclical, not linear.
6. A Reference point for loved ones of survivors.
I hope my sharing helps loved ones and friends of trauma survivors better understand the complexity of recovery. I don’t think trauma ever goes away, and triggers can be everywhere. People who have never experienced a traumatic event usually have no point of reference for understanding. That is OK. In fact, I often tell my husband I do not need him to understand. I just need him to be with me in the space, so I know I am not alone when things get heavy. Through recovery, survivors learn how to better cope and navigate the chaos when the past comes knocking, but it is a slow and messy process.
7. It is my right!
This is my life, my experiences, my pain — I can talk about it all I want. I am done protecting the people who did not protect me. It is time to care for myself and the scared, lonely little girl within. It is time to love and nurture her and my adult self. For me, that means sharing, even when my voice shakes.
It is your right too!
Follow this journey here.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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Thinkstock photo via Ralwel