I am terrified to put this post on paper. Though it’s been in my head and on my heart for quite some time, I never really knew if I’d get around to writing it. And so I write it, kicking and screaming…knowing it needs to be written but not wanting to be the one to write it.
I am a survivor of sexual and emotional abuse. The perpetrator was a youth pastor, and I was ages 15-18. The abuse and the relational trauma that came afterwards has left a permanent scar within my memory and seared across my heart.
The pain that comes with any kind of trauma or abuse is something that I would never wish upon anyone. I see myself often as two different people–who I was before my abuse and who I’ve become afterwards. It is so traumatizing that my brain has shifted memories, identity, everything into those two categories.
Before my abuse, I was a pretty happy person. Yeah, I had my down days but they were few and far between. I was a choir nerd and loved Jesus, and that wasn’t particularly popular in my small high school. But I generally liked who I was and I think I was liked by many of my peers. I didn’t date much, didn’t get asked out much, but had a bestie that I was stuck to like glue. I engaged well with teachers and many times would prefer hanging out with them rather than my peer group. I didn’t drink and I didn’t smoke–I was a goody two shoes. But I liked myself…I really did. I liked the way I looked (as much as any teenager can I suppose), I liked the personality I had, and I liked the world I lived in. It was safe and comforting. It was home.
After my abuse, my entire worldview changed. I suddenly feared everything. Nothing was safe to me anymore and I didn’t know where to turn to feel safe anymore. I feared others and their reaction to me and the proverbial scarlet “S” I was convinced was stitched on my chest. Most of all, even above the fear, I hated myself. Absolutely loathed myself. I would look in the mirror and have to turn away because I hated the image looking back at me. I was dirty, unclean, and ugly. So, so ugly.
Any type of abuse changes your view of yourself and your world. You are no longer safe and those who you love cannot be trusted. Therefore, you trust no one. You love no one. You shut yourself off in an attempt to stitch yourself back together and become whole again when you feel so incredibly broken.
See, abuse digs into the deepest deep part of your soul. It slithers its way in there, whispering of your worthlessness and your depravity. And though you know those things may not be true, when your abuser comes at you again, you turn and see only the broken parts of yourself that used to make up who you were in one giant heap. Or if your abuse is over, it is not your abuser at you anymore, but the whispers of him and what he used to do to you that make you completely worthless now.
And so you medicate yourself with other relationships or alcohol or drugs or whatever it is that will take the edge off of how much you truly despise yourself. Thus, the cycle continues because whatever you do in those relationships or during that drunken binge becomes another source of your whispering, telling you that you will never amount to anything useful anymore.
And then one day, you will turn and decide you don’t want to be that anymore. And you will have the courage to stand up against the whispers and the worthlessness. And when you ask, God will come and begin slowly to redeem those broken shadows and parts of you that you despise.
See, I am in the midst of the repairing. I don’t know if I’ll ever not be in the midst of it, to be honest. I medicate my wounds with relationships and affirmation from those in my life in whom I’ve put my trust. If I don’t get that affirmation, the whispers come and sometimes I have the strength to stand against them with the truth of who God has made me to be. But sometimes, friends, like this entire past week, I haven’t had the strength and I’ve sunk deep into the hole of self-loathing and hatred. And just last night, I decided that I would turn, once again, towards the sun, and ask God to continue to bring His redemption in my life and onto my heart. So I take one step forward, into the sunlight. Its warmth and brightness catches me off guard, but as I catch my breath, the ache in my heart begins to ease and I know that God will continue to restore me to a healthier version of myself.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to the girl I was in high school. I wish I could be totally naive to this world and the grief that can accompany our circumstances. And yet, I know that I can’t and though I grieve for the loss of who I used to be, I know that God has and can continue to use my story to strengthen other survivors. My heart will never be the same. Though it may be repaired someday, it will always bear the scars of my past. I cannot escape it and until Jesus comes to take me home, I will carry it with me. But it no longer will define me or break me.
If you have been abused, please know that I am so, so sorry for your heartbreak. What happened to you wasn’t deserved and it wasn’t ok. I hope and pray that your abuser will be brought to justice and that you can begin down the road towards healing. I want to encourage you to bring your abuse to the light. See, the shame and the guilt and the burden that many survivors carry around can thrive in the darkness. Don’t stay in the blackness that can swallow you whole, dear friend. Speak your story. Speak to those around you and those you trust. Speak until your voice cannot speak anymore. Don’t hide it away.
And if you know someone who has been abused, handle them with grace and love. Love them so much that they know they have someone in their corner. Be stable for them. Most of all, allow them to begin to heal without having all the answers or making promises you can’t keep. Sit with them in their story, allowing them to process through–sometimes with words and sometimes with no words at all–and helping them to begin to build up their hearts once again.
Abuse is a part of my story. But it no longer holds me in its grip. I pray, friends, that you can turn towards the light and share your story, and help others to do the same.