A Letter to my Abuser

So, I just finished writing this letter and I am still in somewhat of a shock that these words came from my heart. They literally just poured out of me. The first line was probably the most difficult. How do you address the person who abused you for years? I figured out what works for me. Here it goes…

October 19, 2016

To the man who stole my innocence.

Years ago I wrote you a letter. I never mailed it, thankfully. Although, it may have been good for you to read it. It was filled with hate and pain- a disastrous combination. I was at my lowest point of despair. I wanted you to witness how my life was ruined because of you. I do not regret writing that letter. It felt amazing to throw all the overwhelming emotions on paper… temporarily. I quickly learned that my hate and utter disdain for you did not change a single event that occurred in the past, it had no impact on you, and it was preventing me from living. I was existing, but I was not living.

With the help of a phenomenal counselor, I discovered how to live again. Slowly, those feelings of hatred faded. I learned that my life was not ruined, despite the really horrible things I endured. I made the decision to take back control of my life- my emotions, my thoughts, and my behaviors. Then, I chose to place my life, my trust, and my faith in the hands of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It may appear that this was an easy transition, when reading my words, but it was far from that. It may appear that it happened over night; however, it actually took years.

At eight years old, my life was forever changed. I continue to encounter circumstances that demonstrate yet another way the long term sexual abuse impacts me. I believe this will be lifelong. Trauma can’t be undone. But, that is no longer a disparaging truth for me. New neural pathways have formed. I have the tools to cope with the triggers and nightmarish memories of the many nights of my childhood. And, in moments when coping and pressing forward is difficult, I have a support system and a counselor that I can reach to for support. My life is not ruined. My life is so worth living.

I never imagined I would consider forgiving you. However, as I grew in my faith and learned about the act of forgiving, it did not seem so foreign. Many times I tried telling myself that I had forgiven you because it was the “right” thing to do. But, it was never authentic and truly from my heart. I can still recall the exact date that I finally “felt” like I had forgiven you. I forgive you.

I believe there are many misconceptions about forgiveness. It does not undo the sexual abuse. It does not remove the sadness I still feel when I think back to when I was just a child- how little I was, how scared I was, how confused I was. It does not mean I no longer hold you responsible for your choices. And it certainly does not mean I want to join you for dinner. In fact, I still pray I never see you again. It does not mean that I will let you petition for removal from the sex offender registry without fighting with every ounce of strength I have for that not to happen.

Forgiving you has allowed me to not just live, but thrive. It has provided me with the ability to accept what happened to me as a chapter in my book of life. It is no longer the conclusion. Forgiving you grants me the ability to turn my focus towards the future- towards strengthening legislation that fights for and protects children, towards completing my degree in counseling so I can hopefully impact lives like my counselors impacted my life, and towards removing the stigma surrounding sexual abuse and creating conversations that need to occur.

Some say the pivotal moment of forgiveness occurs when a person reaches the point of being able to extend appropriate grace to the perpetrator. I’m not there yet. And honestly, I’m still trying to figure out whether that is something I agree with or not. Maybe one day I will reach that place. For now, I have peace with my level of forgiveness for you. So, whether you are wondering or not, my life is not ruined. I forgive you.

Sincerely,

A Very Brave Woman

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For anyone struggling with forgiveness, please know that it truly takes time. Don’t beat yourself up for not being at that point yet in your journey. Healing takes time. Forgiving takes time. In one of my favorite books, Mending the Soul by Steven R. Tracy, the last chapter is on forgiveness. The LAST chapter. In a coming post, I hope to further explore what forgiveness has looked like in my life.

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Identifying the Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

I am pretty sure the first place I learned the term “sexual abuse” was during a health lesson in elementary school. Although I was being abused at the time, the connection between what was happening to me and what I read in my book did not exist. If you research signs of sexual abuse or something similar, there is a fairly consist list of “symptoms” a person may exhibit if they are being abused. While I firmly believe in the importance of knowing the signs, I also know that if we rely solely on the lists, there are many children that may not be identified as victims because they do not demonstrate the signs in a typical manner.  

             So, what are the signs of sexual abuse?

  • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
  • Nightmares/sleeping problems
  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • Becoming unusually secretive
  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings, and seeming insecure
  • Regressing to younger behaviors, e.g., bedwetting
  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Changes in eating habits
  • New adult words or body parts and no obvious source
  • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
  • Self-harm (cutting, burning, or other harmful activities)
  • Physical signs, such as, unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
  • Running away
  • Not wanting to be alone with a particular person

List is compiled by:

http://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/warning_signs.htm

This is clearly not an exhaustive list. These are just a few of the signs of sexual abuse in children. It is extremely important to realize that some children will exhibit many of these signs as a result of other circumstances in life (not necessarily abuse, but likely something traumatic), while other children will experience none of these signs and have endured significant abuse. We can’t simply rely on checklists to determine what is taking place in a child’s life.

Parents and caregivers must be attuned to their children. God has created each child with a unique personality intricately woven together. It is our responsibility to know what “normal” is for a child and to be able to readily identify when something seems “off.” From there, we must be ready to have the “not so easy,” but absolutely necessary conversations to discover what is taking place in the child’s life. It may not always be abuse, but if a child is experiencing any the distressing “signs” listed above, they need someone to intervene and assist them through the difficult time.

If you are unsure of how to start the conversation with a child about potential abuse, visit this website for some tips. RAINN is a great website and resource for further information. Feel free to leave me a question in the comment section.

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Telling the Secret: What I’ve Learned About Disclosure

If you have been keeping up with my blog, you may have noticed that I have not spent much time discussing my personal disclosure of abuse or what I think on the topic in general. I have purposefully not shared my disclosure experiences because I just did not feel ready. However, I have come to the conclusion that I want this blog to continue to be a place that people can learn from successes and failures in my story. There are many mixed views about the appropriate responses when a child discloses abuse and I appreciate the respectful dialogue that can occur through differing opinions. This post consists of my ideas about disclosure based on personal experience and the beliefs that I have come to adopt through the healing process.

It was not until last year that I realized just how difficult the issue of disclosure can be and the many emotions it fuels. When a friend was accused of committing sex crimes with a minor I did not want to believe it. It is hard to believe that someone you love and care about- whether it’s a friend, spouse, family member, teacher, pastor, coach, etc- could commit such atrocious crimes. Honestly, the default in us may be to say “no way, that’s not possible.” We want to see the good in people. There is good in people. I believe that. But, I also know the amount of courage it takes to mutter the words “I am being abused” (or however it comes out). I also know the immeasurable fear that ensues as soon as those words are muttered. There is also the knowledge that you have broken the rule and the legitimate possibility your abuser will follow through with their threats. Disclosing abuse involves a person making the decision that they are willing to risk their abuser’s threats becoming promises in hopes of the opportunity for freedom from the pain.

My first disclosure took place about a year or two after the ongoing abuse began. I wrote a letter after a bad fight with my abuser. I did not exhibit any of the typical signs or symptoms of being actively sexually abused and therefore no significant safeguards were put in place to end the abuse. After my first disclosure, I vowed I would never tell anyone what happened to me. Thankfully, my eighth grade year of school I was able to identify a teacher that I trusted. I took that chance once again and as mandated reporters, my abuse was taken seriously, investigated, and ultimately resulted in my abuser being charged.

So here is what I’ve learned about disclosure and my thoughts:

  1. The first words, despite the likely feelings of shock, need to be “you did the right thing by telling, this is not your fault, I believe you, and I am here for you.” The child, or adult, likely feels some sense of trust and safety if they are disclosing to you in the first place.
  2. Never use the word “IF.” If implies disbelief such as “if this happened…”
  3. Do not make promises you cannot keep. You may not be able to ensure the person’s complete safety from the perpetrator. If you can make that promise, it is really comforting, but only make promises you know you can keep.
  4. Let the appropriate parties do the investigating. This may depend on your role, but if it is not your responsibility, don’t begin the investigative questioning. Safety is the most important element immediately following disclosure.
  5. Do your absolute best to maintain a calm and comforting composure. I am certain it is much easier said than done, but a child needs to see a strong adult. This doesn’t mean you have to be hardened and stoic. Be real, but don’t become an emotionally distraught in front of the child.
  6. Continue to support the child or adult in whatever ways you can. If a person discloses their abuse to you, know that they did not just pick you randomly. There is likely a reason they felt safe with you and you have the power to be a influential force in the child’s life. Again, this will look different depending on your role.

Too many times disclosure does not occur until years or even decades after the abuse first occurs. This is not okay. If children can know that they will be believed and someone will act on their behalf and in their best interest, maybe, just maybe, disclosure will occur sooner. Unfortunately, right now, too many disclosures are overlooked. When a child witnesses another person’s disclosure being dismissed that decreases the likelihood they will ever gain the courage and trust to tell their experiences.

Again, these are just my views and I know the many alternatives. Although I don’t necessarily agree with them, I can see where people come from in forming their beliefs.

What are your thoughts on disclosure? Can you think of any other helpful tips in handling a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse?

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Healing is possible. True joy returns. ❤ my siblings