When I first started recovering memories from my abusive childhood, I had no idea what to do with them. I felt like they were stuck somewhere inside of my body and that’s where they would stay. I started journaling my memories and found it to be very helpful, but I still felt like something was missing from my healing journey. I would visit my therapist, look her in the eyes, and tell her that something was very bad. But I could not say what happened. I could not verbally recount the events of the memory to another person … even a person I trusted.
It was as though a lifetime of shame was stopping my words. They were stuck in my throat and I could not get them out.
But there was something else stopping me besides the shame. I was absolutely convinced that nobody would believe me. As a child, I was told by my family that nobody would ever believe me. This wasn’t a suggestion. It was repeated thousands of times. It was brainwashing. And I had no reason to doubt it.
I struggled for a while, but after some time, I was able to tell my therapist about the memories. I started with a general overview. “My dad abused me. My dad sold me. My mother helped.” Later, I was able to tell her more of the details. Then, I was able to tell one other person. Then, I was able to talk about it in a support group … sometimes. I found that I was able to tell people that I trusted in environments that I trusted. I thought that would be the end of my sharing.
But then, there was the internet. I have heard social media referred to as a waste of time. I have heard that social media does not help move us forward, that it isn’t advocacy. I disagree. Social media has been instrumental in my healing by allowing me a venue for my voice. I started with Facebook (because doesn’t everyone?). I started testing my voice on issues other than my abuse. I put out a few posts about things that I had opinions about. I started with ideas that I thought would be generally accepted. Over time, I was able to post about topics that might not be accepted by everyone, even politics. This was hard for me because I had been trained by my parents to not have opinions. It took a long time to express myself openly and even longer to stop over-reacting to those who disagreed.
And then came the blog. When I decided to write a blog, I panicked for a month. After posting the first article, my anxiety was so intense, I was sure my heart would actually pop out of my chest. I even struggled with paranoia. I literally thought I was going to die. The power of my old thought patterns was overwhelming me. I was still sure that speaking my mind meant dying. Why not? That is what my parents told me.
Of course, the opposite has happened. I have healed so much from writing the blog. Although there has been healing from voicing my story, the real healing has come from the love and support of the readers and other survivors. I am so grateful for this community. And I know and respect the courage of every blogger who writes on this topic.
And because I always love a challenge, I have started speaking to groups about sex abuse and trafficking. The first time I gave a presentation, I was filled with anxiety. It was not the fear of public speaking. I have always been a public speaker on other topics. While writing is my first love, I am an extrovert by nature, so the personal connection is very important to me. Despite my difficult past and the trust issues that accompany that past, I find it relatively easy to connect with others. I am drawn to others. It is just a part of who I am. Honestly, my desire to know other good people is probably one of the main drivers for my recovery journey.
I have met (and re-met) some people lately that I am so glad to know. My story wasn’t easy for them to hear, but they appreciated my perspective and their own increased awareness. Although my audience was focusing on what I had to say, it wasn’t my story that was the highlight of the event for me. It was theirs. It turns out that when I share, others share. It turns out that children aren’t the only people with dreadful secrets.
What is it about these discussions that encourage sharing? Maybe we need to feel safe. Maybe we need to hear a story that sounds as unbelievable as our story sounds in our heads. Maybe we recognize vulnerability when we see it, and we reciprocate.
There are two things I have learned. Our everyday life does not allow for the vulnerability of sharing our deepest secrets. And there is nothing more healing than sharing in front of people who believe you and unconditionally accept your story. NOTHING.
I am not referring to telling all the horrific details of our story to law enforcement, the media or medical professionals. I am talking about the act of sharing vulnerably with people that can be trusted to respond with empathy and understanding. I am talking about the kind of healing environment that can move a person from a place of deep sadness to a place of relief, and possibly hope. If we want to heal our world, we have to start by healing ourselves. We heal ourselves through our vulnerability, our willingness to be honest about the parts of us that feel broken beyond repair. It can be hard to create an environment where that kind of sharing can happen, but I have discovered one way to do that. I have to do it first.