Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Serious Subject

I apologize in advance if this post is confusing or doesn't flow or jumps around. This is free form blogging- I just don't know where it's going to take me but I know some of what I need to get out and I hope you'll bear with me. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It went on for a long time and a lot of bad things were done to me. It stopped when we moved out of state. I didn't tell anyone for another 7 years. When I did, I was believed immediately, never doubted. My parents supported me and loved me through a lot of very difficult and traumatic stuff. I work hard to learn about how to talk to my kids about protecting themselves. About fighting back. About telling. And about avoiding situations. It's incredibly sad and frustrating that it feels so impossible to cover all the bases, every topic, every angle. I learned an important lesson recently. It seems like so much recovery from abuse and messages about having been abused are focused on a warm and fuzzy kind of healing. The focus seems to be on not blaming the victim, not blaming yourself, avoiding guilt. But something became clear to me the other day... What if we change the focus to how we empower the people who have been impacted by abuse? "It wasn't your fault, you are blameless, you are loved..." What if there was a big emphasis on "What will you do next time? What have you learned and how can you change it?" I was talking with someone who expressed how much fear they still have and that it stems from what happened to them. Whenever I am in a situation where I am called upon to give advice or support, I pray first, I open myself up to be guided and say what needs to be heard in as true a way as I can. It suddenly struck me... The abusers are more afraid of the survivors than the other way around. And what if, instead of calming the fears, we face them head on? Instead of living in fear of the unknown, we try to define the unknown and plan what we can do about it? I have to admit- I've never thought about it for myself. I've never thought about what I would do if my abuser showed up at my house or I ran into him somewhere or he somehow contacted me. But if I was afraid... having a plan in place to know what my options are before the situation happens feels powerful. I still worry that I won't be able to protect my children. I feel confident that I am doing everything that I can to be as prepared as possible, to prepare them as much as possible, and to create an environment that encourages discussion and openness. Maybe my fears need to be faced head on. What would I do if... But I can't go there. I can't. It's beyond fear. It taps into something primal to think about someone else hurting my children and how I would have to try and pick up those pieces and put my child back together again. And that makes me realize how much respect and love and intensity and honor and connection I feel to mothers who have to live that role- including my own mother. Especially my own mother. For anyone looking for guidance on protecting yourself and protecting children, I highly recommend reading Gavin De Becker's books- Protecting the Gift and The Gift of Fear.


Katie. said...

My heart fills up for you and your family. Your strength is amazing.

Amy said...

One of my kids has a fear that has been causing a lot of emotional turmoil. Enough that I took the child to talk to someone about it. The therapist said basically what you did. Facing our fears - not driving away thoughts or trying to ignore them - is what helps us get past them or at least be able to manage them.

kbiermom said...

Like a fire drill... We can protect and prepare for "what if" situations, but only just the first steps to safety. The rest is dependent on so many factors -- that's where it begins to feel unknown.

That's where God takes us by the hand and says, "Know this. I am. I will never leave you. I will lead you to a place of indescribable goodness. Rest in me."

When my kids ask me "what if" questions that I can't answer, I tell them that the "what ifs" belong to God. The future belongs to God -- as human beings, we truly can't handle much beyond the here and now. God wants us to be humble and lean on his care and strength.

I thank God for the people he sent to help you through your trauma, that you have allowed God to lead you to a place of goodness in your life, and that you continue to allow him to lead you to share that goodness with others.

Anne K. said...

I am a survivor, too -- of both childhood sexual abuse and of rape as an adult. I understand what it is like to be afraid of what might happen to your children. I'm the same way and that has a lot to do with why Allen and I let very, very few people watch Will. It also has to do with why we listen to his fears and his gut feelings about things. Children are very intuitive.

When I got out of my last situation of abuse, in early young adulthood, I was filled with fear. I had PTSD with lots of flashbacks and startle responses. I was afraid to leave the house. One day, I got really super pissed off at the fear and decided to get good and angry. I was able to use that anger to get out of the house, make friends, pray honestly and ultimately to find real love later on.

God gives me my emotions and does understand my suffering. That doesn't fix anything, but it does mean that I can pray for God to direct my thinking, my actions and my emotions. It means that when I ask for that and really open my heart, I can trust the path that God has me on. That doesn't make it warm and fuzzy and sometimes it's very, very rocky.It's just that I know that everything I go through is leading me somewhere and that God will heal me, given time and my willingness.

I have thought of what I would do if *I* were ever in a situation of sexual assault again. I use that as empowerment and so that fear does not take over my life. I have also thought about the basics of what I would do to protect Will, but I can't get into specifics. I just try to do the best I can to be there for Will and teach him what I wish I knew when I was younger.

Anne K. said...

Oh, and confronting abusers is powerful. I've confronted all of mine in one way or another, whether through phone conversations, letters or court. It's extremely empowering. I will NOT let someone else with such demons have control over my life. There is only ONE who deserves that kind of power in my life and that one is God. :-)

Shell said...

What a strong and brave post! Empowering- I think you have the right idea about that. Thanks for linking up and sharing something so personal.

Anonymous said...

Liz, I am often times in awe of you. You are so brave, and you just really inspire me almost every day.

I literally started a PYHO post today on fear. My fears. I chickened out and posted about a small fear I had...and didn't even really finish it off how I had wanted to. I'm definitely going to pick up that book from the library!

Sarah said...

Good for you for saying that the focus needs to be on empowerment, that is so true.

Doreen McGettigan said...

As a child of sexual abuse myself I must say I am proud of you for posting on this topic.
I was so paranoid the same things would happen to my kids; I became involved with an organization that empowers victims. You might want to check it out they have a great book for explaining to children how to protect themselves.
Also when you have a chance please stop by my blog I have an award for you!

Unknown said...

A serious subject for sure, but one that needs to be talked about; awareness for a subject that seems so common is SO important. I think I'm going to read that book and the website the commentator above ... I had no idea those things existed but like you, the mere thought of something happening to one of my daughters "taps into something primal"

PS. THANK YOU for sharing this part of yourself through this post.

StrangeMamma said...

Here in the UK there has been a lot in the news thus past year about horrendous abuse on infants and young children. All by carers or family members. Being pregnant at the time made it so much worse. The fear was almost paralyzing. I cannot even wrap my head around having to deal with that as a mother.

I have had my own history of abuse which truly seems minor compared to what others have gone through but there was still the fear and the rage that had to be faced and dealt with again and again. It is so hard as a mum to find that line between imparting fear and smarts to our children. All I can do is rely on God to give me wisdom and help me face my fears and raise aware and confident children.

Pardon my own disjointed thoughts. I hadn't thought of things this way before. I will admit because it is very hard for me to think of this at all these days. I'm realizing that I completely left that out of my history page that I wrote for my blog the other day. Not that I thought of it and decided it wasn't necessary or important to share but because it didn't even cross my mind. Some may think that would be healthy, that I don't think of it much, but for me that's my defense mechanism. I forget things. I thought I had largely left that behind. I guess not.

Sharon Cohen said...

I thought I'd left a comment earlier this week but I'm grateful (now) that it didn't post. Saturday Sampling brought me back for another look.

As the survivor of just about every abuse a woman can endure - I know that it is vital that we never succumb to the "victim" mentality. Being mistreated is an important condition of mortality, for eternity itself depends on how we view those who mistreat us. The opportunity to forgive is a gift to us, the abused.

Tracie Nall said...

I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor also. I was abused by my uncle from age 4, until he died when I was 9. It took me many years to work through the denial and shame and talk about the abuse with my family. My mom was wonderfully supportive like yours. I will always be thankful to her for that. My father was not, and actually we have not had a relationship for over five years now.

I think part of what you are talking about, being prepared, facing abuse head on, fits in with Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children program It is all about prevention, and how to recognize and react responsibly when a child is being abused.

Eternal Lizdom said...

Thank you to all who have left comments on this post. I appreciate the words of support and I especially appreciate those who have shared pieces of their own story.

Mrs4444 said...

I'm really glad you linked this up, Liz.

As you know, I'm a survivor, too. The guilt/shame weighed heavily on me until I got therapy in my early 20's, and the therapist asked a simple question: Think of someone you love right now who is the same age you were when this happened. Would you think she was responsible? And that was it--it totally clicked for me. I guess I was ready to let it go.

,I'm very glad you have such awesome parents who supported you. I'm sure that validation made a big difference.