You are told as a child that adults are there to protect you.
From the moment you begin exploring the world, you hear, “Give Granddaddy a hug.” “Go to the store with Uncle Andrew, you’ll have fun.” “Daddy and Mommy love you.”
So you trust.
It’s not a choice. It’s what life has opened to you. You are a child.
And you learn and laugh. Cry and are soothed. You trust more.
Then, one awful day, something happens you don’t understand. You know in your gut that it feels different. Maybe you are five. Maybe ten.
Granddaddy touches you in a way you have never been touched. Your body feels things it has never felt. You are told to do things that you have never done.
The look in Granddaddy’s eyes is not the same, he tells you how special you are to him, or that he is helping you grow up.
You are scared. You freeze up. You just want it to be over.
You love Granddaddy. He says he loves you. But something feels wrong.
The next day, everything appears normal. You get up. Mom has fixed pancakes. It’s time to go to school. “Granddad is going to pick you up today and take you to soccer practice.”
Nothing is normal for you. You eat a little bit of pancake. And go to school.
When Granddad picks you up, he is jovial. He asks you about how soccer practice is going. He can’t wait to see your next game. And he drops you off.
You are left to wonder if it will ever happen again, and pray that it won’t. But you don’t tell.
After all, it’s Granddaddy.
[tweetthis twitter_handles=”#CSA”]Sexual abuse in a family isn’t a story. It’s reality for millions of little boys and girls.[/tweetthis]
Brothers. Mothers. Fathers. Grandfathers. All can be abusers.
It is the ultimate betrayal. Many children never tell, or they don’t reveal their abuse for years.
“I don’t get the way I feel about him. I remember what he did to me. But there are also really good memories. I loved going fishing with him. He taught me about the kind of bait to use… why did he have to ruin everything?”
“I sit by my brother every Sunday at church. And I cry every week, remembering what he did to me. I’m so scared he could be doing the same thing to others. People have no idea what I am really crying about.”
“I dread going to Christmas every year. Because my uncle’s there. And I will see that look in his eyes, like he’s remembering. I feel dirty. Guys don’t talk about this stuff, so I don’t know what to do.”
Women are afraid to tell, often fearing that they won’t be believed, especially when the abuse happened within the family. Men fear more that their masculinity will be questioned. And almost all hate themselves for “doing nothing.” Therapy often includes finding compassion for the child that you were, and remembering the powerlessness and vulnerability of children.
Because sexual abuse is about power. One human being is taking control of another. Manipulating. Using a child for their own disturbed, sick enjoyment.
To be frank, even if you tell, half the time you aren’t believed by your family. Or you are believed, but no one does anything. The abuse just sits there, like the proverbial elephant in the room. Everyone knows, but somehow ignores it. It would take too much effort. It’s more important to maintain the status quo. Any information that doesn’t fit with what they want their family to be, or look like to others, isn’t welcome.
It’s too messy.
So you are left with your pain. And now, lonelier than ever. You may be vulnerable to sights, smells, sounds, textures — anything that is reminiscent of your abuse. When you are hurt again, the feelings you experienced may once again emerge. That is normal. But if you are unaware of the connection with your abuse, it can be confusing.
You can heal. It’s a process of weaving the reality of the trauma into how you understand your life. You can learn to trust again, not in a childlike way, but with care.
Think of your life as a tapestry, which has many colorful threads within it. Yet darker threads travel through it. Both give meaning to the other.
The darkness doesn’t overtake the light.
The healing process takes time.
I have had the honor of watching women and men take this journey, what Melissa Bradley-Ball, a leader in the field of healing sexual trauma, calls an heroic one.
The courage I have seen is certainly that. Heroic.
If someone tells you they have been abused, believe them.
If you have been abused, please find someone you trust. Have compassion for that child within you who needs comfort — who needs connection.
That child needs understanding and a way out of carrying a lonely burden.
It was never your fault.
If you have been abused, there are several excellent books that might help you. “The Courage To Heal” by Laura Davis and “Waking The Tiger” by Peter Levine are two classics. Many rape crisis centers also run free groups for victims, as do individual counselors. There are chat groups on Twitter — use the hashtag #CSA and you can find (Bobbi Parrish and Rachel In The OC run one that I have been a part of at times.) Child Abuse Hotlines can be found here.
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