When you were a child, what did you dream of doing? I dreamed of being a teacher, or a veterinarian, or an eye doctor. It was hard for me to imagine growing up. Not so much the physical act of doing that, but surviving long enough to get there.
There’s a commercial I’ve seen on television for insurance I think and different people are saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. My favorite answer is a fire truck. The man clarifies that he didn’t want to be a fire fighter, but an actual fire truck. I love the imagination in that.
My imagination was much more stilted. I just knew I wanted to get away from where I was. I had no idea how I would ever get away, but I wanted to be anywhere else. And what would I be when I got there (assuming that I ever did)? I had absolutely no concrete idea. It was too scary to actually hope for.
This morning, I was having a conversation with a friend. She thanked me (and another survivor) for being “real stand up people.” I am extremely touched that she considers me to be a stand up person. And there were many days (many, many, many) that I thought I’d never make it, or if I did, would not be able to speak about my experience if I did survive.
But I did. And even if my voice shakes when I speak, I do it when ever I can. A lot of people still don’t like the fact that I talk about childhood sexual abuse. It either strikes a nerve with their past, is too uncomfortable for them to hear about, or some other reason that people would just prefer for me to be quiet.
I can’t seem to be quiet. Some would probably say that I’m opinionated and talk too much. It took me years to speak out and even more years to build the confidence to keep speaking and speak with authority. My story is what I know and if I can’t speak that with authority, there isn’t much I really can ever say. Yes, I know the statistics and I know about what many other survivors have survived. I’ve talked to them. I’ve read many of their books. I have also read books that are more research-based to see what the “experts” have to say. I hope you will listen to other survivors, read their books and listen to the clinicians that have worked with them as well.
I cannot tell anyone else’s story. It is inauthentic to them and to me. Sometimes I will share a part of another survivor’s story, with their permission, because it shows a different piece of reality that I did not know. I can never tell their entire story. It is theirs alone to tell.
It is my hope that sometimes I can help another survivor find their voice. Perhaps my asking their permission to share a story gives them courage that they too can share it. I hope it gives value and validation to their story. It is my eternal hope that seeing a part of it here or hearing it said by someone else that they begin to understand the power in their experience. I hope it encourages them to become a stand up person, for themselves, for other adults who never make it to the point of healing where they can share their stories. Most of all, I hope they can become stand up people for children. It is much easier and less costly to educate people not to abuse kids or rape people than to heal the brokenness after abuse has already happened.
Life has brought me to the point that it would be completely unconscionable for me not to speak. My scars are my badge of honor and I would be a fraud to hide them. I have earned the right to speak. And in the words of Martin Luther, “I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” It just wouldn’t be right for me.
I would imagine no one ever said to his or her mom or dad, “I want to be a survivor of sexual abuse when I grow up. I want to start a blog and share my pain with the world.” It was not my dream for people from high school to send me articles about other people who are being abused, knowing that I’ll read it and talk about it. I am honored when people do that. I hope they think of me as someone who won’t be quiet.
Maybe more importantly, why should I be quiet? I have made mistakes in my life, but in connection with my abuse, I didn’t do anything wrong. I was the victim of a mean and selfish crime. It wasn’t your fault either. You didn’t do anything wrong!
While it is all a process and some days will be harder than others, I encourage you to become a stand up person too. In any way you can, speak those words. Say what happened. Know the signs. Teach your children that it is ok to say no, don’t do that. It is ok to tell your mom or dad or another trusted adult that one of your friends told you they are being hurt. Secrets, bad ones like the secret of sexual abuse, hurt everyone.
“It could change if we just get started. Lift the darkness, light a fire. For the silent and the broken hearted, won’t you stand up?”
I’ve used this song before, but I love it and it speaks to me. I hope it speaks to you as well.