How To Begin Recovering From Sexual Abuse, From One Survivor To Another
Dear new friend,
I know the look in your eyes all too well. I don't need to know you personally. I don't even need to know specific details about your story in order to understand the pain you're feeling in both your head and heart.
I know you're scared. I wish I could take that fear away. But it didn't go away for me until I practiced talking about the things I was scared of over and over again. I know it feels like you're alone. But I promise you that you aren't.
I've been there. I'm still there.
I'll tell you a little bit about myself: I'm 26. I live in Idaho, and I love coffee, writing and turquoise.
I have a wonderful fiancé, an incredible support system of friends and an amazing family. I recently bought a house, and I think it kind of looks like a castle.
I'm happy and healthy. I've finally made peace with my past.
Oh, that's a detail I should probably tell you: I was sexually abused for the first six years of my life.
I didn't remember anything about what happened until I was 14 years old. Then, memories that felt like they didn't belong to me began flooding my brain. I thought they were part of a dream.
I thought I was making things up. I thought everything was my fault, and I thought I was crazy. I remember wishing, more than anything, that I could just forget it all and go back to the way things were before I remembered everything that happened.
I remember feeling like I was broken. I thought I would never be able to feel like I was normal again.
In high school, I tried to control anything I could in order to better my future and erase my past. I struggled with disordered eating. I cut myself, and I kept everything locked inside to a point where I made myself physically sick.
I had ulcers. Doctors told me I was depressed, and I struggled with anxiety whenever things felt like they were slipping out from under my control.
I used to think hurting myself was proof that I had taken control over my body back. Cutting myself made me feel like my body finally belonged to me again. It was my way of getting back at the people who had hurt me.
I have since learned that the best revenge is living a happy, healthy life. I must treat my body with love and respect.
I have learned that my scars — both internal and external — are not to be ashamed of. My scars are proof that I survived. I have also learned that giving myself new scars doesn't make the old scars go away.
I decided to speak publicly about my experiences in 2012. I partnered up with a local nonprofit foundation called Speak Your Silence, and I launched a fundraising campaign in order to raise money for counseling grants for victims of sexual abuse.
I remember my voice shaking. My knees felt like they were going to give out, and my heart was pounding as I stood in front of over 100 people and spoke my silence aloud.
I was so scared in that moment. I felt like saying everything out loud would make it all real. I remember feeling like once that moment was over, everyone would know my secret.
I could no longer pretend it didn't happen or push it down in my backpack to deal with on another day. I was certain people would think of me differently, and I was worried things would never be the same.
I'll tell you this: Things weren't ever the same, but in a way I never expected.
I received more hugs, donations and mutual tears than I ever dreamed possible. In just seven days, I had 11 people reach out to me and speak their silence. The number of people who have opened up to me until now is in the triple digits.
For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like I was alone.
You aren't alone, sweet soul. If the only point you take from reading this message is that fact, please believe it.
I know you're scared, and I know it feels like your head and heart will never agree with your body. I know that sometimes, it feels like it would be easier to stop trying or keep pretending it didn't happen.
You want to run until your past just can't catch up. I learned in the 16 years I tried to run from my secret that your past always catches up with you.
I moved states, changed friends and switched jobs. I lost myself, found myself and graduated from high school and college. But no matter what, the past always found a way to get back to me.
Then, one day, I just got sick. I became sick of hiding everything that had happened. I was sick of protecting the people who had hurt me.
I got so tired of feeling like I didn't even know the girl staring back at me in the mirror. So, I decided to take everything out of the backpack I'd been carrying around for so long and see my experience for what it really was.
I don't want to downplay what had happened to me or to anyone else dealing with memories of sexual abuse. But once I realized the experience was something that had happened and not a part of who I was, I realized I held the pen when it came to writing my future.
I learned that talking about it was the only way to make the hurt go away. Putting a face, a name and a feeling to all the mixed up corners of my heart and head allowed them to not have such a strong power over me anymore.
It's amazing how high you can fly when you choose to let go of all the weight that has been holding you down.
I know that right now, it seems like that's impossible. But it's not.
You are beautiful. You are worthy of both self-love and love from those around you. You are enough.
You are perfect exactly as you are. Instead of trying to get back what someone took from you, realize that you're already whole.
We all have cracks, scars and jagged edges. But the people who love us will put their arms around us and hold all those pieces together during the moments we need it the most.
I know we don't know each other, but we will always share a similar scar. I've learned it isn't going to go away.
So, we might as well talk about it in order to hopefully prevent that scar from hurting someone else. My voice used to shake. Tears would fill my eyes whenever I would talk about my abuse.
But now, I've been able to use that experience to connect with people and help them.This has taught me how to love myself unconditionally.
I want you to know that if you need to talk about it, there are so many people who want to listen. I don't know exactly how you feel, but I can promise you I've felt similarly at some point or another. You're going to be OK, and you're going to be able to move forward.
Sometimes, we move forward in leaps and bounds. Other times, it takes everything within ourselves to just put one foot in front of the other.
I always say you only need tiny stepping stones to get across a river. Right now, you're facing an ocean. But little by little, you will make it across.
One day, you just might find yourself sitting in the office of the castle you just bought, writing a letter to a girl who got dropped into an ocean of her own. In that moment, I hope you can look back at how far you've come and smile.
Don't smile because of what happened to you. Smile because you survived.