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Integrating Fear and Love – A Sexual Abuse Thriver Story Underneath the Iceberg
Revelations keep coming in about the most common child sexual abuse that anyone wants to know. This problem continues to surface as a global social problem. Those who are shocked and dismayed and those who continue to seek ways to invalidate the brave, who have had this experience, seem to make judgments, laws and social decisions without really understanding this lived experience. Many like me, who experienced childhood sexual abuse, quietly live their lives, drawn to other wounded souls whose love and care they can share when they haven’t learned to do so themselves- same. This ability to love and give to others is a wisdom disconnected from the spirit that lives within but until it is integrated does not help the bearer. It also keeps us quiet because of the fear of being rejected by others who are so easily able to voice their opinions about something they have no experience other than what they have learned from books. and research. The research, while helpful, is not even the tip of the iceberg of thoughts and feelings that underlie the need for an island of safety before they can arise and express themselves. Research gives us ideas about a certain group, but not about individual lived experiences. This article is therefore not intended to generalize to all. This is my story, my struggle to find my voice and give it words of expression as I continue to discover who is hiding under the iceberg of my life.
I believe I came into this world with a spirit of love. I loved life. I liked people. I loved my family. I feared my family. We had good times and bad times. They confused me. They hurt me. They did what they knew. I did everything I could for them. From what I was told, I was the center of my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my great-grandmother’s and my grandfather’s world. In conversations later in life, my stepfather told me he thought I was spoiled and needed to bring me in line. My parents divorced before I was born. I had childhood visitation episodes with my father who is now deceased. About a year later, my mother married my stepfather. In my memory, it was in December after my 2nd birthday during a drive in movie when my mother organized a baby shower for my sister that the aggression began. My mind flashes on pieces of this memory that have not left me. I remember being confused at first, but my stepfather’s face looked so happy that I thought I must have done something right. I was so excited when I got home that I tried to tell my mom about it, but she was too busy. The abuse lasted until I left home at 17. I don’t remember how many times it happened. I don’t think it matters. I remember the first time there was penetration and I started bleeding. I went to tell him and he told me to go tell my mother. She started telling me that’s what happens when girls get older. It made no sense to me because in my mind it had more to do with what my stepfather had done to me than growing up. But her face was happy and it seemed to mean something to her, so I accepted what she said and denied my own valid experience.
Fast forward to around age 13. My mom found my stepdad in my bed one morning and all hell broke loose. I heard her say things like ‘you told me you would never have another wife’, telling her it was because I was wearing short nightgowns, my siblings coming out of their hysterical chambers and me frozen in fear of ‘what did I do wrong.’ Later, my mother confirmed that it was my fault and told me that I didn’t respect her but that I had to respect my stepfather. The situation made me feel totally responsible. My stepdad told me that if my mom asked to tell him, it had only been going on for a little while because she didn’t want to sleep with him. She never asked. (I’m not sure it crossed my mind that they had sex. I think I had grown up thinking it was between us even though I knew it was with my other stepsister. I didn’t learn until years later that he had assaulted my younger stepsister as well.) I wondered how long this had been going on. I realized that this had lasted all my childhood. The positive thing that came out of the situation was that I now had permission to say no. It never occurred to me to say no. (My stepsisters both told him no when they were teenagers and he quit.)
Oh, I take that back. There was an incident when I was about 5 or 6 where my nanny found me and a few of my friends acting like we were boys and had penises. She was so angry and then she went to tell my mom. Their faces were very angry. This really scared and confused me, because my stepfather pointed his penis at me and put it between my legs. I was just playing my experience. Neither saw my behavior as a red flag. I also remember one time he had me in the playhouse and I heard my nanny calling me. He covered my mouth and told me to be quiet. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to get away from him but my nanny was everything to me and I wanted to go to her. I remember realizing that she didn’t know what we were doing and he didn’t want her to know. I didn’t know what to do with this information. I assumed everyone knew.
Other things happened during my childhood like physical abuse, emotional detachment and multiple losses and moves. My iceberg is made up of so many problems that it’s hard to know what contributed to what. I survived physical and sexual abuse. I don’t have any physical scars either. Most of my wounds were about my developing self trying to integrate and make sense of the confusing messages and experiences within a family that seemed to the world like leaving the beaver behind. We were involved in church, scouting, school activities and had friends. I think that’s why I see life as both and rather than either or either. We had everything. I also think the confusing and unanswered questions not only contributed to my self-blame but also my shame.
I remember after we got involved in church and I learned that my sins could be washed away, I was so happy. I admitted that I had sinned (I didn’t say what I thought my sins were but that I had sinned) and accepted Jesus into my heart. I felt a freedom and a lifted burden after my baptism. However, the shame returned. Sometimes I baptized myself by taking a bath and imagining the dirty feelings that were flowing. I couldn’t seem
To let go of my feelings that I was not well. God couldn’t forgive me. He could forgive others. I know now that it was me who did not forgive myself. In my distorted thinking, I considered service to others to be my lifelong penance. I think that belief came from never feeling like what I did was good enough for my family. I couldn’t stop my parents from screaming and fighting and I couldn’t stop them from beating my siblings. I couldn’t make my mother be a mother. Before I was 18, the belief in my failures ruled my life and I could accept any mistreatment as validation of God’s judgment on me and my ‘lot in life to bear’.
Over the years, I confronted my parents and we reconciled. My humanity needed them and by not responding to my legitimate needs, I lived in great fear of abandonment and rejection. This fear organized my beliefs and motivated me from a place of fear. My mind of Love could not let them go and on some level understood them as children lost in adult bodies. Now I am learning to give myself this spirit of love. I am learning to take care of myself and take care of myself as I deserve. I realize that it is not God who has not forgiven me; it was I who did not forgive myself. I think it was easier to accept and take blame and have an illusion of power and control than to accept my overwhelming feelings of helplessness, helplessness, shame and grief. The emotions were too much to bear so they had to go somewhere. Children not only readily accept blame for adults’ failures, they resist any attempt to tell them otherwise. I see him every day in my private practice.
It is a difficult journey from the fear that keeps you locked in self-unforgiveness to accepting and validating your innocence and returning to the love of your spirit.
Sexual abuse isn’t just about sex, it’s a journey of reintegrating fear into love. Sexual abuse is not just about sexual acts, but what happens after disclosure. How sensitive can others really be if they don’t understand the dynamics of this issue and the experiences are individual and not general? Each person’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences should be honored and acknowledged as well as their continued integration. I was sexually abused and that’s not who I am; This is what happened to me. Now I give those experiences a voice to add to the chorus.
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