Some of the most painful burdens I get to help people unload are the secrets of surviving sexual abuse and assault. While these are always horrific experiences, we are often processing violations that occurred many years or even many decades ago.
I share other’s stories in hopes that their experiences and their combination of regret and relief encountered will inspire more of us to move toward the newfound freedom that results from trauma recovery.
We choose a powerful investment in our holistic health and quality of life because the weight of our secrets can neither be calculated nor overstated:
It’s sleeplessness and night terrors. It’s chronic neck/shoulder/back pain and debilitating gastro-intestinal problems. It’s social anxiety, fear of the dark, and the inability to explain so many things – like why dentists or brushing teeth are terrifying. It’s standing in a shower that is 20 degrees hotter than it should be for hours and never feeling clean.
Worst of all, it’s the injustice of self-loathing. For millions of us, our greatest shame is nothing we’ve done but rather, what was done to us. The sickness of our abusers stripped away our dignity, our self-concept, and our ability to trust (others and ourselves).
We have every right and responsibility to take those back.
There was a time in our lives in which we sought feverishly to forget. We tried to train our minds not to remember, and our hearts not to feel. We felt betrayed each time we relived it in the nightmares and flashbacks and derailed by the intrusive thoughts. We lived with both the short and long term impacts to our bodies.
Too often, consensual sex felt like abuse. Many of us made ourselves invisible with food. We filled the emptiness with other people’s dreams and needs. We numbed ourselves with alcohol and drugs. Sooner or later whatever we use to get by fails us. We run long and hard, but it gets tougher as we age.
Anyone who has spent a lot of time in a nursing home knows the truth. Those cries and words that don’t seem to make any sense? That’s the sounds of a survivor whose defenses have crumbled completely.
The simple truth is that most of us wait to seek help until we can’t stand it one more minute. The average age of those I’ve treated for childhood sexual abuse is somewhere between 40-45.
We felt like dented cans that no one wanted. We saw ourselves as broken, worthless, and crazy. We believed the lies they told us – we wanted it, we brought it on ourselves, we seduced them…
The relief of integration (putting the pieces of ourselves together) and catharsis (releasing the pain, shame and working through the fears) is nothing short of transformative. It’s spiritual.
It starts by embracing fairness and self-respect. I don’t preach self-love. To me, that’s an ideal we spend a lifetime trying to attain. I get a ton of mileage just by asking, “How would you see this if it was someone else’s life?”
We maintain two perspectives, two ways of judging, two voices – One for ourselves and one for everyone else. If we come to use the Golden Rule in reverse, we become free to frame our experiences and treat ourselves as we do others.
To those who never told, I simply ask you to take stock. What’s the cost of the burden you carry? What would your life be like if you could lay that burden down?
One is a great place where millions of folks share secrets anonymously: postsecret.com
The second is more personal but can also be done anonymously: sevencups.com