*the following article may be a trigger for others who have experienced sexual abuse. Please proceed with caution and remember to take care of yourself. If you find yourself needing to talk to someone call 800-656-HOPE. The abuse story is italicized so if you need to skip over that part please do so. You will still be able to understand the rest of the post.
We lived in a white house with paneling cracked and falling off and several other TLC projects needed attention. I didn’t mind much as a toddler. To me, this was home. We had a big, green yard where I played with my brothers and friends and it had a little pathway that unveiled the blacktop runway that led to my soon-to-be elementary school. This was the house where family visited often with card game tournaments.
It was also the house where my first moments of guilt and shame occurred. On one of those family evenings, some of my family decided to go out to get something or another. I knew that even though my parents asked, I wasn’t allowed to join them. Instead, I stayed in the house with my uncle. While everyone exited the door through the kitchen, I wished them goodbye. Then my uncle and I ended up in my parent’s bedroom which was closest to the kitchen and he shut the door behind him.
I heard commotion in the kitchen that caught my breath. Feet shuffled outside the door. Grocery bags crinkled. And the noise quieted. My brother called out to me “Brea are you okay?” I stood on the other side of that door on the bed, with goosebumps on my skin from the cold except where my pants bunched at my feet. I looked at the door. Feeling a new kind of paralyzed. And saw movement at the corner of my eye from my uncle. He looked at me and I knew I had to be okay. My brother said they were going back out and asked if I needed him to come into the room for some reason or another as his voice grew closer to the door. My uncle nodded at me to say something. A meager “no it’s okay. I’m fine” left us alone once again.
I willingly replayed that memory in my mind over and over and over again. I’ve asked the why me question. I looked at all of the mistakes, everything I could have done differently. I could’ve gone with my family. I could’ve spoken up. I could’ve somehow ran away, overpowered my uncle, fought back harder. Done anything, anything at all for that memory to have played out differently than it had. I punished myself for years. Pretended that if I made a different choice, I could have changed that day and prevented future days.
That moment, and every other moment of sexual trauma I have experienced, painted me with a crimson stain. After singing a worship song one night,
Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow
- it hit me: our crimson stains aren’t always our own that need to be washed away. I had a crimson stain on me caused from my uncle’s sin against me. I was splattered with shame, guilt, worthless, dirty, fearful, confused, unsafe.
Guilt and shame are actual coping methods our brains use to try to protect ourselves. In fact, there is a whole psychology around why sexual trauma victims experience guilt and how to process that guilt. If it was our fault, that means we can stop it from happening again. Which means we’re safe and in control. If it was our fault, that means the how-can-someone-I-love-abuse-me question can protect that relationship and the abuser. Which means the unexplainable is explained. If it was our fault, things don’t really have to change.
The reality is that I was never going to be able to change the past. What I could have done for someone else’s sin isn’t going to change that it happened. People have reminded me of the ways I didn’t fail myself. That it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my sin. It’s difficult to let go of punishing yourself, though. Because the pain you experience is real. The event you experienced is real. It happened. And it’s not going away.
The good news: there are ways you can let go of a sin you didn’t commit in exchange for a freedom you’ve long been robbed of.
First, Go through it!
Denial is a common stage that victims of abuse go through. Denying, minimizing, bottling up emotions all appear to be the more comforting option. I understand. I lived in this for years. It’s a way of coping, a way your brain tries to rationalize how something so bad could’ve happened to you. But you can’t stay here forever. It comes with an agonizing pain, a numbness, and it traps. Though it may be hard, the first step of healing comes with admitting it happened. From there, deal with the guilt. Here’s how.
Second, Share Your Story
Sharing my story has been the most empowering and liberating experience of my life. And it can be for you as well! Find a method of sharing that works for you. If you’re not ready to share it with the world – don’t. Start wherever you need to and go from there. There’s power in lamenting. Don’t know where to start? Below are a few ways you can share your story.
A. Art ~ express yourself through art. This comes in many forms, from drawings to painting to sculptures and everything in between. It’s a creative means that helps you express yourself through pictures more than words. Maybe you’re still afraid to say the words. Don’t, pour them into a drawing or painting instead. But don’t hold back.
B. Poems or Songs ~ Maybe you’re a different kind of creative. Create a poem or song. Find an already existing song and claim those words. When I’m at a loss for words myself, I often listen to Andy Squyres “Why, Oh Why”
C. Journaling ~ For me, journaling brings me back to my base line after I’ve felt hopeless and defeated and depressed. Whenever I feel at a low, I write out my thoughts uncensored. After, I really do feel a ton better. Sometimes, I share my journals with all of you through a blog post.
D. Join An Online Support Forum ~ There are online support groups that allow you to journal online.
E. Counseling ~ See a professional counselor. I swear by therapy and found that the stigma attached to counseling is nonsense. It took me a few counselors before I found one that worked well with me, so if it tanks at first keep trying. You can get free counseling at your local rape crisis center.
F. Support Groups ~ This is one area I wish I had while going through my initial healing process. Finding community in other victims/survivors is powerful. It’s nice to hear you’re not alone – support groups show it and make you feel it.
G. Use a hotline ~ You can stay anonymous and find other resources available for you. Talk to someone anytime, 24/7! Call: 800-656-HOPE 877-995-5247 800-273-TALK Text: 55-247
H. Use a workbook ~ If you need some guidance in sharing your story, use a workbook such as The Courage To Heal Workbook and guide by Laura Davis and Ellen Bass. Find it here.
I. Dive into faith ~ It's not about whether or not you're "religious." It's about authentic relationship. Pray to a God who hears you.
J. Tell someone ~ Finally, tell a friend. Responses from people may vary, and you can’t control that. But if someone doesn’t believe you or want to listen, keep trying. You’ll find the support you deserve.
As I have begun sharing my story, I’ve found that it has given the courage for others to speak out about theirs. I have been able to see things I struggled to through other people who have gone through sexual trauma. You deserve to have your voice heard, to be believed, and to start on your path towards healing.