For various reasons, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my healing journey over the last month. Some of these thoughts, which I am sharing with you now, have been difficult, while others have been empowering.
1) Healing takes time – For most, healing from abuse is a journey. Although we often wish it could happen overnight, the reality is that just like recovering from severe injuries to the body, healing our hearts and souls is a process that happens over time.
2) Healing starts with one often fearful, but always courageous step – From the moment we choose to free ourselves from the pain of our past, we begin to heal.
3) It is extremely important to make sure children have the vocabulary they need to describe all parts of their bodies. – Talking to your children about body parts is not dirty or nasty (as long as you keep healthy boundaries in the conversation). It’s not shameful. Teaching your children about their body parts is NOT teaching them about sex (although, there is an important time to start that conversation too) or encouraging them to have it. Instead, it is one step toward empowering them to protect themselves.
I was not taught the words I needed to explain that my grandfather touched and put his finger in my vagina (yes, I said it). Instead, the only words I knew to say were, “He held me, and I didn’t like it.” As you can see, these statements are very different, and while there is only one way to interpret the first, many adults will interpret the second as something much less harmless.
4) Protecting children from sexual abuse goes beyond talking about body parts. It also means we talk about boundaries, what is ok and not ok for people to say and do. “It’s not ok for people to touch, take pictures of or talk about your private areas, and it’s also not ok for them to touch, show you pictures of, or talk to you about other people’s private areas.” This conversation must be age appropriate and should include conversations about consent (it’s not ok for people to touch you anywhere without permission, adolescents need clear understandings of what consent means according to the law, etc.).
5) Children need to be empowered to talk about their experiences. They need to know there is a safe person to share their experiences with, someone who will take them seriously, not over-react, and who will do everything in their power to make them safe again.
6) Children need to know that no matter who (mom, dad, grandparent, friend, doctor, coach, teacher, pastor, etc.) touched them or talked about their private parts in a manner that was not respectful, they need to tell us, we will listen, and we will take action.
If someone had talked to me about this, I would have known it was ok to express that I was not ok with my cousin talking to me about women’s bodies in a sexual manner. I also would have known I should tell someone she was talking about things she shouldn’t. Instead, my lack of information put her in a position of power over me, which she used to “educate” me about sexual matters.
7) Even after 18 years, there is still an element of the unknown. There are still moments when I see gaps in memories, and ask myself, “What if there is more?”
8) A time comes when the question, “What if there is more?” is met with, “I am strong enough to handle it,” rather than the dismissive refusal, “I don’t want to know!” This does not mean we dwell on the question, nurture it, or push ourselves to explore the gaps. Rather we know if it does come, we will be able to get through it.
9) There is a time when the memories fade into the background of our experience. In the beginning, the memories are intrusive, the flashbacks inescapable, and every time we relive the abuse, we experience the pain all over again.When the mind decides it is time to start dealing with the past, it will constantly feed these memories to us until we have no choice but to do something about it. As we begin the process, the mind will continue to push us to think about these things until it is satisfied that we are purposefully processing our experiences. Once we take charge of the healing process, the mind then relaxes and says, “You got this.” Eventually, reliving the past becomes a controlled choice, a moment where we choose to reflect on a specific event, explore it without experiencing an influx of intrusive feelings, and bring ourselves back to the present safely.
Please remember, even though the journey can be painful, it is worth it. I wouldn’t trade all the struggles for the life I had before. I am stronger today. I will soar, I will fly, and I will enjoy the freedom that comes with letting go of the past.