Talking about hard things: childhood sexual abuse.

I chose this picture for two reasons: I feel beautiful in it and my beauty isn't taken away because of what happened to me as described in this post; and second, I wanted to be smiling and looking straight at those who might read this - I am not ashamed.

I chose this picture for two reasons: I feel beautiful in it and my beauty isn’t taken away because of what happened to me as described in this post; and second, I wanted to be smiling and looking straight at those who might read this – I am not ashamed.

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“It’s not what I asked for

Sometimes life just slips in through a back door

and carves out a person and makes you believe

it’s all true.”

                                                    Sara Bareilles

 

When I was a child I wanted three things: to be a limo driver, to be a mom, and to play professional soccer for the Argentine national team.

All achievable goals, right?

I thought so.

To children, all things are possible. To children, being an adult is all it takes to be anything you want to be. To children, growing up seems like the grandest adventure.

What I didn’t know as a child, however, was that sometimes life sneaks up on a person earlier than it should, earlier than one deserves, and leaves one shattered and grasping for a way to hold on.

 

I am scared to write this post, for me and for those who will choose to read it. I care too much about what people think about me. Don’t we all? There are some who have managed to lessen how much they care what is thought of them, but to suggest that they don’t care at all is a fallacy. I want to care less about that and more about what I think about myself.

I am scared to write this post because to be honest about this carries with it the weight of shame. I have to be honest about the one thing that I don’t want to talk about and no one wants to hear about, but it is also the one thing that needs to be talked about, that needs to be driven from the darkness: child sexual abuse.

Those words. Even typing those words I feel a pounding in my chest and my hands become ice on the keyboard. So many thoughts come to a person’s mind when those words are said or read. For years, I mean YEARS (15+), my mind would seek to protect itself by going somewhere else whenever those words were mentioned or hinted at. If you choose to stop reading, I understand. I get it; I’ve been there.

But I will not stop writing.

I write for myself.

I write for my clients.

I write for children and parents everywhere who are falling in to the dark well that is the knowledge that they or their children are being or have been sexually abused.

I write for the 1 in 4 girls and the 1 in 6 boys that have experienced the horror that is sexual abuse and possibly never spoken of it, because so many of us don’t.

I write for the 85% of those individuals who have made it to adulthood and never reported what happened.

And lastly, I write for a population of individuals, myself included, who, even amongst these shockingly high statistics of sexual abuse, is considered unmentionable and forbidden and often discarded as not telling the truth because it is too hard to contemplate as a reality: I write for those who have been sexually abused by women—yes, I said women. More on this later.

Recently I was able to meet up with a friend I haven’t seen in years but who I care about deeply. She is a great supporter of me and I of her, and it has been that way since we met. She reads my blog and as we were catching up about me and talking about my writing, she asked me a question about when I first talked about being sexually abused as a child. She stated that she felt as if she missed something because it was as if it was suddenly there.

I hadn’t thought about it until the moment she asked, but I realized I’ve only ever really mentioned it as side information in other posts, never more than a sentence or two. But all along, since it was playing such a large role in my mind, I felt as if I had talked about it more than I had.

Some might say, “Stop talking about it. Those sentences were enough. Stop mentioning it, it’s too dark, it’s so hard to read.”

In response, I might kindly say, “Believe me, I get it; it is dark. Yes, it is hard to read. Multiply that by a million and you will understand how hard it is to write; then multiply that by all the numbers in the universe and you might graze the surface of understanding how hard it was to live.”

So the question then becomes, why write about it at all? Why speak of it?

Brené Brown said it best when she stated, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”

I write because for too long I allowed shame to have all the power. For too long I allowed myself to believe in the lie that shame loves to tell; that we are what happens to us. And if what happens to us is bad, wrong, dirty, unimaginable, awful, painful, disgusting, embarrassing, destructive, then we ourselves are bad, wrong, dirty, unimaginable, awful, painful, disgusting, embarrassing, and destructive too.

I have believed those things about myself for far too long.

I have often heard individuals marvel as to why children don’t tell when abuse is taking place and for me it’s not a mystery. For me it was all wrapped up in shame and an inability to communicate what it was that had happened. An author, Kirsty Eager, defines the type of shame I’m talking about in this way: “Shame isn’t a quiet grey cloud, shame is a drowning man who claws his way on top of you, scratching and tearing your skin, pushing you under the surface.”

That is the type of shame I faced when I was 11 years old and was sexually abused by two adult women.

Yes, that is correct, I said women.

We don’t want to believe that a gender that we consider most apt to nurture, protect, and mother children could include beings capable of abusing a child in any way, least of all sexually.

But it does happen, and I know this because it happened to me.

When we refuse to believe it can happen, we allow those female pedophiles to carry on with their abuse because their cover is our inability to comprehend that they exist. They are free to hurt and damage because more than most they can say to their victims, “No one will believe you,” and be right.

The magnitude behind sexual abuse is that it carries with it many other types of abuse—its very nature is that it is an abuse of the physical body, the heart, the mind, the soul. Damage comes sexually, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and mentally.

There is much to my experience that will remain mine, that remains too much for me to share. So often we want to know the details: who, what, how, when, where. I believe we want details because we want some type of way to say that it won’t happen to me, to my loved ones. But the truth is that no one can definitively say it won’t happen to them or those they love.

The details I will choose to share are this: I was a shy, self-conscious eleven year old who didn’t have many friends. I finally found some friends and in that process, two adult women came into my life. These women were skilled; they knew what they were doing. They became friends with my family, my parents. They became caring adult “mentors” that I could look up to. After months of grooming the opportunity presented itself, as I was to be in their care for a few days.

During a four-day period I was emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abused—I was called names, I was made fun of, my body was made fun of. I was told I was fat, ugly, pathetic, and disgusting, that no one would ever love me, and because of this they would have to sacrifice and overcome their own disgust with me to show me love. I was a witness to their sexual acts, then drugged and sexually abused by one of them.

It was a hell unlike anything imaginable to a child. How was I supposed to tell what had happened when it was too much for my little mind to process, let alone find the right words to explain what exactly was happening? I had recently been given the “sex talk” by my mom, but it was explained to me in a much different way than what was happening—a person was supposed to be married and in love; a man and a woman did it together, not a woman and another woman.

I had been taught that danger came from strangers and that those strangers were men. What had happened was from people I knew, women I knew, and women who shared my same religious faith. I had been told during those traumatic days that it was my fault. They shamed me into believing that what had happened was my responsibility and that I was so dirty and wrong now that if I told anyone, they wouldn’t believe me. I thought my family would kick me out, my church would shun me, I would be alone forever.

I came home changed.

The Mia everyone knew before was gone, but I tried very hard to keep her going, to make sure no one ever found out. I was terrified and ashamed to my very core about what would happen if anyone knew.

I came home, and to cope subconsciously, I started to eat anything and everything. I believe it helped to literally keep my mouth full so I wouldn’t talk. It numbed the pain, and it helped me avoid the thoughts that would come as I would try to pretend it never happened.

I came home and became moody and angry, my family believing I was just jumping in a little early to my teenage years.

I came home and pulled away from those friendships I had made, pulled away from ways I would come in contact with those women. I was so grateful when the women moved out of state soon after because I believed it would make it easier to forget.

I wanted to believe that it would all go away if I believed hard enough and long enough that it didn’t happen. But avoidance doesn’t take anything away, it just allows for more residual damage to build so that when it all comes crumbling down, the fallout is extensive.

I am still recovering from the fallout and probably will face aspects of it for the rest of my life. That is what trauma does—it colors an individual’s life throughout their lifespan. It is a thief that is never caught, that continues to steal parts of someone’s life long after the initial event has passed.

I believe that is the hardest part for people to understand. One would think, “It’s over now, so if you look forward and stop talking and thinking about it, you’ll be fine.”

But trauma doesn’t work that way. Trauma changes an individual’s brain, especially trauma experienced in childhood when the brain is still forming. And the longer one goes with that trauma still in the mind, without getting help, without someone knowing, the more pressure builds. That is why we cannot compare trauma; we cannot seek to believe that how I react is how someone else will react. Individual timetables are different, and different life events will push into someone’s life and cause that trauma to shift, to change.

What I have been trying to do since the day it happened was move forward, but sometimes that moving forward has been like running along a sandy beach and other times it has been like walking in quicksand.

There is still much to say about trauma, about sexual abuse, about protecting children from that abuse and what we can all do.

This isn’t just my story. Childhood sexual abuse is the plague of our time but a plague we often choose to shy away from because the subject matter is hard or dark. The more we choose to look into the darkness, the less power it will have.

If you are hurting, if this has happened to you or someone you love, I am so very sad, and I hope you know I am hurting for you and with you. It is okay to speak your truth; it is okay to share your story, whatever that story may be. You might not share it in a public setting as I have chosen to do, but if you can push past the fear and tell a friend, a family member, a church leader, spouse, a parent, a therapist, me, anyone—you will begin to see that shame is afraid of your words and the more you speak, the less it defines you.

My life isn’t perfect.

I work really hard every day to overcome my past and my pain. Sometimes I’m okay and sometimes I’m not.

I have been lucky to have finally found a therapist who is helping, who is willing to take on the battle of rewiring trauma mixed with twenty years of maladaptive thinking and coping. I have chosen a profession as a social worker that allows me to try to do the same with others, to listen to their pain and to help them find new and healthy ways to cope with the problems and issues they face.

If there is one thing I have learned in my own experience and in listening to that of others, it is that no one is immune to pain, no one is immune to shame and what it can do if we allow it to take root.

What I have also learned, however, is that the human spirit can withstand so much more than we believe; it can overcome so much more than we think. Overcoming will look different for everyone and it doesn’t always mean an absence of future problems or pain.

You can be okay again; your children can be okay again. There is hope, there is healing, there is a way to deal with those parts that don’t heal exactly how we want them to.

You are strong. You are brave.

You keep fighting; don’t you dare give up!

I won’t if you won’t and in case you don’t know this about me, I am super competitive. I don’t like to lose, and the battle isn’t you against me—it’s you, me, and everyone else against pain, shame, fear, trauma, childhood sexual abuse, grief, addiction, sickness, infertility, inequality, domestic violence, human trafficking, and anything and everything else that seeks to destroy the soul and ruin the lives of men, women, and children the world over.

We will not and cannot lose when we choose to fight together.

 

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44 thoughts on “Talking about hard things: childhood sexual abuse.

  1. As I finished reading your last words, my first word was “Wow!” I am overwhelmed by your bravery! And not just the courage you’ve exhibited in writing this now, but the fortitude you’ve had for many years, enduring/fighting dark, obscure battles against shame and anguish. You have directed a laser beam of light to the shadowy corners of untruth in your life. What a painful, but healing process. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are a beautiful, confident woman (as evidenced by the smile on your face and the light in your eyes) and a precious child of God!

    I feel grateful to you for sharing the thoughts of your heart. It is a wonderful heart; one that will be tremendously instrumental in the healing of others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kerry. I appreciate so much your words and you taking the time to share your thoughts with me. You and I both know how important it is to see someone’s experience and sit with them in whatever they have experienced and even though it’s virtual 🙂 I thank you for sitting with me in this experience. I thank you for all the work you are doing to help others heal! I love to see our cohort go out and do good in the world 🙂 Thank you for your continual support!

      Like

  2. What a hard experience. I am so sorry you had to go through something like that, but happy to hear you are healing. I have a question. From this experience what advice would you give parents when they speak to their children about it being ok for them to tell their parents if something like this happened to them? I mean to truly reassure them that no matter what the parent would be on their side, a true advocate. I think about this because I have children but more so because I have an autistic son. Although high functioning I always worry that he will be more susceptible to people taking advantage.

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    1. Brittany. Thank you for your words and I love your question because it is a powerful one. It is something, I imagine, that many parents worry about. I am going to write a follow-up post to this one and share some of the things I have learned by person experience but also through my study and work with children who have gone through an experience of sexual abuse. One question I want to address is the one you have. I can’t imagine how your worry would be multiplied by the possibility of someone taking advantage of your son with autism.
      If there is one thing that I could say right now it is that parents teach about bodies and sex with as little shame as possible – use correct names for body parts, answer questions they have in as a matter of fact way as possible. The less shame they feel and more ownership of their body they have, we hope that will lead them to be able to talk if something does happen. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what you were asking but I am working on a post about this issue and I hope it can be beneficial.
      Thank you for reading, thank you for being concerned about protecting children against this!

      Like

  3. Mia,
    What an AMAZING strength. It’s awesome to see how we all changed and grew up and at times see into the soul. Thank you for saying the hard things people need to hear them. Thank you for having the courage to help others, you are able to help some that others could not. I love you and am grateful for your story of strength.

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  4. i love you, Mia! This was heartbreaking to read. And so very scary as a parent! How your parents must have felt as well when they finally found out. Thank you for sharing. You are so brave, but you are making a difference! Absolutely!

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  5. Dearest Mia,

    Your message was so poignant and relevant. Thank you for having the courage to share your story. I believe Ezekiel 18:2-4 is relevant to this issue and applies to both men and women.

    The Lord has given you a voice out of your tragedy. Because of your message and mission, others will be more aware and awake, and able to recognize the patterns and warnings that accompany this kind of abuse.

    I sure love and admire you!

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  6. This is a powerful article. “We cannot compare trauma.” People try to, and try to dismiss it if it wasn’t as bad (in their eyes) as their situation or as bad as it could have been, which is really unfair and unloving.

    I have been struggling. Thank you for understanding.

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    1. Thank you so much, Amber. That is one of my favorite parts too – the not comparing trauma part – because I used to do that a lot and it only invalidated my story and pain and had me competing in a way that I would never win and there is no winning, there just is an individual story. Thanks again, for reading, it helps me to know that actual people are out there!

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  7. This is the first post I have read of yours and wow … just wow! I don’t talk about it my experiences as a victim either, because I truly hate that word and how it makes me feel. However, it sort of spills out in little dribs and drabs. Your beautiful, powerful words sucker-punched me in the best ways. Thanks for giving voice and description to so much of what I feel and struggle with internally every single day yet cannot bring myself to say out loud and only write in tiny, halting sentences.

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    1. Janelle, thank you so much for your kind words about my post. It really was one of the most gut wrenching things I have ever done and so your words mean so much and help me see that however hard it was is paid back to overflowing when I can make connections with people like you! That word “victim” really is awful – I’d rather just be a person who has dealt with something hard and is working through it or trying too 🙂 You are wonderful and strong and I don’t know you that well yet, but I believe that to be true just from the fact that you made it through whatever pain life has brought across your path! I’m glad to know you.

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  8. My heart breaks for you. For all of us who have suffered the pain of abuse & the fallout after. Some days I feel that I will never conquer. Thank you for sharing. 😘

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    1. Traci, my heart is with you too, my friend, even if we don’t know each other. There is a special bond for those who have gone through a trauma or abuse like this and I am grateful to you for reading and then sharing back with me. It makes it easier to want to continue in sharing my journey 🙂

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  9. What a blessing you are to those who have suffered in any way. You write beautifully. I’m deeply sorry this happened to you. I admire your strength and courage to share. What I’ve come away with, is a determination to maintain an open dialogue with my children. Be aware of those mood changes sometimes meaning more. Help them to feel safe and actually be safe. Thanks for sharing. Keep it up. Marinda

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    1. Thank you, Marinda, for sharing your thoughts and take away … and I love what you took away from my story. You are so right about the open dialogue and watching for what those behavioral shifts mean. I know your cute kids are lucky to have you as a mom 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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  10. I have no words except this…I believe you and I believe IN you. I am a survivor of childhood sexual, physical, and mental abuse. I didn’t speak up until I was 18 and I didn’t seek professional help until my 30s. At 45, I still battle the effects every day. Thank you for sharing, and I encourage you to carry on with your head held high.

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    1. Jay, thank you for reading and for your encouragement to carry on. It is what has to be done and is done, sometimes with more ease than others, as I imagine you understand. Thank you for sharing a little about what you have experienced and while sorry is often used flippantly, I hope it’s felt that I truly am sorry and hurt for the pain you have endured. I love that you used the word battle to describe what is done to more forward, because there could be no more appropriate of a word – keep fighting!! You are wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for your courage.
    Me too.
    It’s so hard to rationally understand or explain the effect that childhood trauma has had on me. And yet anytime I hear from another survivor, the story, although unique, is yet in some way familiar.
    Thank you, and God Bless!

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    1. Duane, thank you for reading and reaching out and in doing that, helping me feel less alone. Abuse and trauma sometimes have no rational explanation but somehow that is what others, and ourselves, want. I appreciate you and am always glad to hear from another survivor 🙂 May you be blessed!

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      1. Our unique and yet familiar stories connect us. There is a subconscious connection between many survivors, I believe. I know a guy who says he knew that I was a survivor the first time he met me. I often find that when I make a real connection with anyone, I find out they are survivors. I can’t logically explain that, can you?
        I recently read Theo Fleury’s “Playing With Fire” and found it a very tough read because of the wounds that it re-opened, but then when I was done I could look back and be happy I had read it, because there was also healing in the story. Now I’ve moved on to a book he wrote with his therapist, Kim Barthel, called “Conversations With a Rattlesnake “. Highly recommended!

        God Bless you!
        Duane

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      2. I agree 100% about that connection piece – it’s not a community anyone seeks after or chooses to be part of but what a blessing it has been in my life to feel that connection and community with others.
        Thank you for the book recommendations! I haven’t heard of either and I always love a chance to listen to another survivor.
        So grateful to now know you, even just through the Internet!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for your powerful words. I have a 12 year old daughter who was abused. She was strong enough to tell me, thank the Lord! But the pain, shame, hurt, anger, self hate I can clearly see in her eyes. Parents of an abused child are victims too, I struggle everyday with how to help her. I too feel heartache, shame, anger, and hatred. So bless the innocent children, and bless the loving parents that are struggling to pick up the pieces.

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    1. Michelle, thank you for sharing part of your story with me. I am so very sad for what has happened to your daughter and you. You are so right when you say that parents are victims of the abuse as well. As a therapist, I have worked with children and their families as they seek to recover and it is most definitely painful for all involved. I am so glad your daughter was able to tell you and that in that, she can begin the healing process and have your support and love. Thank you for being a parent willing to speak their truth. I am sending prayers and blessings your way! Thank you for reaching out and commenting, it means so much to me.

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  13. Thank you for sharing Mia. You’re so brave for posting what you did. I know how hard it must’ve been for you, but know through your words you inspire other victims to share their stories and not feel so ashamed about their experience because it was not their fault. People are realizing more and more about the commonality of sexual abuse. I too was sexually abused for about 10 years by my male neighbour. I was about 16 when it ended and it still took me another 3 years to tell my family and this was after I had tried counselling, anti-depressants, reporting to the police and I shortly after tried to kill myself. I’m 23 now and still working hard on recovery. I’ve done in-patient programs, support groups, educational groups and seen a high number of counsellors. I’ve also now tried just about every medication out there. Because the abuse started when I was 6, I didn’t really understand what was going on and when I finally did at about the age of 12, I fell into a deep depression and buried myself in over-working myself to the point of rarely sleeping which has of course caught up with me now. Anyways, I still struggle everyday but I managed to get a degree in criminal justice and am now applying for my masters in criminology. Like you I want my future career to be about helping victims and protecting individuals so they don’t have to suffer the way that we have. Thank you again for sharing and please take care of yourself ❤ You're a very strong woman and I bet a great social worker helping individuals who need it.

    Lauren

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    1. Lauren, you are a powerhouse and a survivor! Thank you so much for sharing your story and for still being alive and working towards helping others. You inspire me to keep going, I mean that. Getting an undergraduate degree with all that you were going through, and now going on for the master’s is incredible. I can relate to the struggling every day part but how grateful I am you keep going! It makes me feel less alone to know that you are out there, struggling and fighting against all that you have gone through! Sending blessings your way and so grateful to now know you 🙂

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  14. You are the voice for women afraid to speak out! Ive been through sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Since i can remember. It changed me as a person..

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    1. Charmaine, thank you for your comment and for sharing part of who you are. Abuse does definitely change a person and my heart hurts with you. Thank you for sharing your voice here and speaking out, it helps me feel less alone. May you be blessed, my friend.

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  15. Miraculous how God works – after being in counseling, I was finally able to talk openly about my past, the sexual abuse. This was today, this morning.
    I am broken and no where near the step of healing that you are, but, I find it otterly miraculous I would stumbleUpon a Facebook page that somehow lead me to your blog. I cannot even retrace my steps, but I am here and I so appreciate your words of strength and kindness. Thank you

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    1. Gloria!! I am so happy that you were able to finally talk about it! I can imagine the mixed emotions you must feel. It’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to heal. I am still broken on so so so many days. I am so grateful you reached out and that I can now know I am fighting along side a wonderful new friend, Gloria. May you be blessed! We are in this together 🙂

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  16. Thank you for sharing. I’m still fighting myself and feeling very self-destructive and alone tonight. Right now, your words are louder than the demons. I will bookmark this page and read and re- read as needed.

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    1. Kristy, thank you for reaching out. I am sad with you for the loneliness you are feeling, I have often believed there could be no worse a feeling as that. Living is hard enough, when we feel as if we are living alone, it multiplies. I am glad that for now my words helped and I want you to know there have been many times for me when the voices of pain and isolation were louder than I can take and they won over. If only for last night, I’m glad they didn’t win! You keep going, you keep fighting! It gives me strength to know you are out there fighting too 🙂

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    1. Kimberly, Thank you so much for your comment. One of the most comforting things is to know one is not alone and it helps when wonderful people like you comment and I feel less alone. 🙂

      Like

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