Child Sexual Abuse: Finding a Healing Community
This wasn’t an easy week for me. There was a lot of self-focus, some deep grief about things over which I have no control, some regret, nights of worry.
But last night I watched videos about CNN’s Top Ten Heroes—people who are working with what they have, within their communities, to relieve suffering.
Richard Joyner, a pastor in North Carolina, has substantially reduced death rates in his rural community by drawing all ages together in a gardening program. Maggie Doyne used saved-up babysitting money to start a now-thriving school for street kids in Nepal. Sean Gobin, a combat veteran, found that hiking the Appalachian Trail helped him readjust to life back home. His non-profit offers veterans the same solace and camaraderie.
What’s it really about? The lone visionary may be a catalyst, but healing arises within community.
Revisiting my tough week, I wondered: What do I have to give? Not someday. Not when my worries are resolved. Today.
Well. There’s one major social problem I know a lot about: child sexual abuse and its aftereffects.
And one thing I can do: I can write. And I’ve got a blog. Which, however many readers it has, is a kind of community.
If you’re not interested, please scroll up and click a CNN link. It’ll take your mind off gun control.
Actually, a blog is an ideal way to navigate this complicated terrain. It preserves privacy among readers. How many people who live with the fallout of sexual abuse would go to a Meet Up group for “victims”?
I won’t necessarily tell my own story in these posts. Years ago, I was in a support group for women who had been sexually abused as children. It was efficiently run by a therapist who was conspicuously not one of us. She was a shining example of mental health. She offered professional insight while we all struggled to trust one another—and her. It wasn’t a great model, frankly. We were expected to expose our raw shame to someone who seemed immune to shame. It’s not that I wish she had shared personal information; it was more a question of subtle emotional tone, the expression in her eyes. The hardness in her voice.
That’s not full community.
Maybe others found it helpful, but the best I can say is that the group didn’t harm me. Our leader’s problem was not her professional training, but her persona—by her apparent strength, she unwittingly reinforced our view of ourselves as damaged.
Yes: it’s extremely important for adults who were sexually abused as children to tell their stories. Abusers-and complicit family members-thrive on your silence. If you’ve never told anyone, it’s a horrible burden.
But. And this is big. You have to tell your story at the right time. To the right people. Men and women who were abused as children are conditioned to placate others. The inner voice of self-protection was muzzled long ago by our abusers, and it can be tempting to ignore it later on. Just because someone is friendly does not mean she/he has the ability to hold your story with deep respect. For me not to tell my story is an acknowledgement of all those who aren’t yet ready.
If you were abused, you have a right to your own body. You have a right to your emotions. You own the copyright to your story.
If you were abused, you are not alone. Your tribe is out there. Given generally accepted statistics (1 out of 4 girls, 1 out of 6 boys), it couldn’t be otherwise. The tribe you discover may be small, but to trust even one person with even a whisper of your story can crack the shell of isolation.