Last week I put out a request for bloggers willing to post about 12for12K’s Stop The Silence campaign this month. One of the replies I got was from a survivor who had read my original blog post. I am overwhelmed by the fact that she entrusted her story to me and is allowing me to share it with you. Her courage and authenticity will move you beyond words.
A Message from A Survivor
I am a survivor. We are all around you, but for the most part you do not know who we are. The tears have been welling in my eyes since I went to the Stop the Silence site, but not only because of my own suffering. In watching their video I stepped out of my own story and awoke to the abuse and extreme suffering that continues on in the world. I’ve been trying to write this for the last few weeks hoping to encourage support for this cause. In the process I have been reminded that despite how far I have come in moving on, this will never be behind me. The abuse itself damages us to the core, but it is the silence that can ruin lives. No child should have to endure this. It must be stopped.
Contrary to the belief of many, sexual abuse is not simply a pathology of a few broken individuals. It is a systemic issue in many cultures and in families. In fact, what most people don’t realize is that many abusers were abused themselves. Unfortunately, shame begets shame. And in the cultures and families in which there are more taboos around sex, the more prevalent the shame and horrific the victimization seems to be.
This did not start with any one of us as individuals. Yet those of us who have been the unfortunate victims as well as those who have become the new generation of abusers can choose to have it end with us. We cannot do that without help to create awareness and understanding, and providing support for all involved and affected.
Donating to Stop the Silence is one very important way you can make a difference. I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. I also hope that if you choose to read on, you will gain insight into how you might help in other ways. This is my story, what I have learned and what I have come to believe over the last 35 years about what it will take to end the abuse.
The Personal Cost of SilenceWhen asked to describe his life’s work in one sentence Sigmund Freud said “secrets make you sick.” They also make our society and our families sick. This sentence defines my personal struggle. And it does not just apply to the secret of sexual abuse. The intensity of shame that kept me silent has taken a tremendous toll on my life in the form of depression and autoimmune disease. In some ways I feel like I have only gotten to live half a life because I have spent so much time being ill and recovering. Yet I feel lucky. I witnessed a dear friend have a psychotic break, returning to the age of 5 when she and her sisters experienced a violent attack by their brother. Another friend had to be institutionalized for a time after the birth of her sons because the birth triggered such painful memories that she had suppressed. I know people whose very survival and ability to move on required that they sever all ties from their family.
So why post anonymously?For the abused stopping the silence is not about telling the world. It is about breaking your own silence and the silence of the people around you so the abuse can be stopped and the healing can begin.
I stopped the silence in my family. What would sharing my name publicly really accomplish now? It would simply perpetuate a conversation around me and my family that I am committed to ending for me and future generations once and for all. I also don’t care if people think I am courageous. Stopping my abuser at age 13 all on my own was courageous. Confronting my family was courageous. Telling the world my name would not be courageous, it would be reckless given the risks to me and my family. We have all suffered enough. I will do everything in my power to make sure this ends with me and the only people who need to know are the people who can help me do that.
Breaking the Silence Goes Beyond the Abused Speaking UpAnyone who has had the courage to speak up has likely encountered some combination of denial, anger, compassion, and pity. Some people do not believe you. Some direct their anger by blaming you. Others simply pity you. We pray for and are eternally grateful to anyone who greet our story with compassion, respect and understanding. Our fears of not being believed and of being shunned are justified. Breaking our silence is fraught with risk. The silence destroys the abused, but it keeps the abuser safe and the system intact. There is not much incentive to listen.
While many recognize the courage it takes to speak up, the closer it is to home the harder it is for people to hear. It is easier to hear it from a stranger than from someone we know and love because in the moment this is shared both people are somehow changed forever. We are forced to make a choice we never wanted to make about so many things and even the people in our lives. Knowing can place us face to face with our own fears and judgments or even cause us to face our own abuse in whatever form that may have taken.
Some people are just not ready.
We must do more than just open ourselves to hearing the cry for help as a society if we are to end this.
We have to become awake to the signs. We must work to change the beliefs that have made sex shameful rather than a beautiful and essential expression of our humanity. Both the abused and the abusers are all around us. But do we know enough and are we willing to be aware enough to recognize it? My parents did not know. The doctor who diagnosed my ulcer at age 15 did not even suggest seeing a therapist. I did well in school, had nice friends and was a generally good kid. They simply thought I just overanalyzed things and needed to learn to lighten up. The system is clearly broken.
And There is Hope.In so many ways I have moved on in my life. I have said my peace, forgiven and continue to heal with my family. It seems I am never really done, but perhaps that is true of any deep wound. I can honestly say I have a great life with a loving husband, beautiful children, amazing friends and work that I love. This has been my circumstance, but it no longer defines my life. I continue to struggle with my health to some extent, yet I have come a very long way. I am free of chronic migraine headaches, and no longer suffer many of the debilitating symptoms of fibromyalgia, depression and interstitial cystitis. I am living proof that you can heal with the right kind of support physically, emotionally and spiritually. I am certainly not done yet, but I have tremendous hope for my future. Shame no longer defines my inner world and illness no longer defines me to the outside world.
You can make a difference in Stopping the Silence by making your donation today. I welcome your comments and your questions. The conversation cannot end here if we are to stop the silence once and for all.
I want to thank John Haydon, Danny Brown, and Sarah Robinson for taking a stand for this cause, for being willing and able to listen and for giving a voice to this survivor.