Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health professional of any kind. What I am is a 31-year-old woman who knows what it’s like to be in the shoes of millions of women just like me who were sexually abused as children. I was 8. She was a trusted family friend. I told no one and held the secret for 15 years, repressing the memories even from myself. Once I turned 23, bits and pieces resurfaced, like bubbles filtering up in a water dispenser, breaking the surface of my awareness. I knew then that it was time to heal the pain I’d kept hidden for so long.
Even now as I write this my throat tightens, resistant to sharing my story. But it’s a story that so many women (and men) have been a part of. It’s also a story rarely shared because it’s encased in a thick layer of shame surrounded by discomfort from those who don’t want to listen or aren’t sure what to say or do in response.
We’ve been quiet long enough. It’s time we break our silence and empower ourselves by stepping out of the shadows and shining light on an issue that needs our attention.
What follows are the words I wish someone had spoken to me when I started on my path to healing. I share them now for anyone who is still struggling with the effects of sexual abuse.
To the woman who was sexually abused as a child:
I know your experience is different than mine, and yet, we’re part of the same story, linked to each other in an invisible web. Sadly, you and I are far from alone in our experience:
- Every 6 minutes a child is sexually assaulted in the United States
- One in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is affected by child sexual abuse
- There are 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S. today
- Only 1 in 10 sexually abused children tell someone
Millions of us are impacted by something that no one talks about. So here we are, suffering in our secret silos of shame and despair.
We’ve suffered in isolation long enough.
I want you to know that I see you. I hear you. I feel for you. I believe you.
You are not alone.
You are not to blame.
You are not disgusting.
You are not broken.
I know sometimes it feels like there is something inherently wrong with you, like you’re a bad person. Like maybe you did something to deserve what happened.
I know how easy it is to play it down like it was no big deal. Other people have it so much worse, your mind says, trying to minimize what happened. But the scars on your heart tell a very different story.
I know how frustrating it can be to be trapped in a body that doesn’t trust other people. You long for connection but the wall you’ve built up to protect yourself keeps everyone at a distance.
I know how it feels to be triggered by little things that make you numb out and shut down in an instant, despite your best efforts and desire not to.
I know how scared you are to look at your pain because you fear that once you venture into no man’s land, you’ll never escape. You’ll never be free of the pain you’ve tried so hard to keep buried forever.
I know how exhausted you are from all of the sobbing and angry outbursts. I know how unfair it all feels.
I know how relentlessly you’re trying to let it go, but the pain just goes another layer deeper, layer after layer after layer. Will I ever get to the end of this? you plead in desperation.
I’ve been in that place where the pain is so intense, so all-consuming, that you don’t want to be here anymore. Where you question why any of this matters, why it needs to continue at all.
I know your heartache. But I also know just how brave you are.
You survived an experience that most people haven’t faced first-hand and can’t truly understand. Despite the hidden pain you carry, you do your best to live a happy, productive life. You put on a brave face and dive into what needs to be done.
Somehow, despite the trauma and shame and sadness and seeming injustice of it all, you manage to keep your heart open enough to care about those around you. You lend an ear to a distraught friend in need even though your own heart is in pieces. You listen to a coworker vent about something trivial even though your own heart is screaming to be heard. You deeply love your spouse and family—even though you can’t fully love all parts of yourself.
It’s your turn to give yourself the support you give to others.
Though you may have been alone when you experienced the abuse, you are not alone now. It’s time for you to be your own best friend and be there for the part of you that hurts so deeply. Give yourself the attention and space you need to process all of your emotions—the bad, the worse, and the ugly. Reach out to a trusted friend or a professional to help you lighten the burden you carry.
Reclaim your power.
You are not a victim, you’re a survivor.
I hope you can see yourself that way, because I do.
It’s true that you experienced something terrible that shifted the foundation of your world. But it’s also true that you now have a choice to make: you can either let the experience run your life and pollute your view of the world, or you can take back the reins by reclaiming the parts of yourself that retreated into safety.
Only you can decide how you react to the challenges life throws your way.
If you choose to heal, loving yourself fiercely is key.
When that mean girl in your head starts barraging you with endless judgment, telling you how worthless you are and how ashamed you should be, I hope you shower yourself with an abundance of love instead of believing her lies.
When you’re at your wit’s end and want to give up the fight to reclaim who you were before all this happened—love yourself more, not less. You’re doing the best you can.
When you feel isolated and misunderstood by everyone around you, know that there’s someone out there who has felt what you feel and is sending you so much love and support from afar. I understand your pain and I admire your courage. Don’t give up, my love.
You will get through this—and you’ll be stronger for it.
If you need help finding support or want to play a role in preventing child sexual abuse, check out these resources:
- Darkness To Light — a nonprofit organization with the mission to empower people to prevent child sexual abuse
- RAINN — the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
- The Survivor Manual — a website dedicated to inspiring and empowering survivors of sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence to lead joyful lives
- Erin’s Law — a law being passed throughout the U.S. that requires that all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program
- Be The Voice — a Public Service Announcement from the founder of Erin’s Law