Having your courage to finally speak out when you have been crippled by fear only to have that courage snuffed out by silence, rejection, blame, or ridicule is soul crushing. It is as painful as the trauma you faced because it confirms everything abusers generally say: “No one will believe you…You don’t matter… Bad things will happen if you tell.” This blog is for those of you who haven’t disclosed because this is your fear, those who are in the middle of it, and those who hope to find healing from it.
I was in 4th grade when I first tried to tell. The poor response of my church and community kept me silent until college and kept my memories locked away because there was nowhere safe to unpack what had happened to me. I was finally facing the truth, but not everyone else was ready to face it. It was a heartbreaking, lonely season for me. I want to share three things that were turning points for me in maintaining hope that this wouldn’t be forever.
1. Find someone who does believe you.
My college had a free counseling clinic for students that I took advantage of, and that was the first time I felt empathy and believed. That was a HUGE first step. Hearing someone validate that my experience did happen, that I wasn’t nuts, opened the door to healing. The floodgate burst, and I finally felt like I was able to breathe again. It was terrifying to give it another shot, to know the chance that this person wouldn’t believe me, but had I never risked a little heartbreak I would never live in the wholeness that I do now. Do not stop telling until someone believes! You may even have to reach outside of your community, but just know that compassionate people are out there ready to listen.
Shortly after, I was connected to a group of survivors reading Rebecca Bender’s book, Roadmap to Redemption. It was incredible just to hear from other people who had similar experiences. Finally, I was not alone. Breaking that lie is the biggest one, because once it is broken you can begin joining arms with others and become as strong as a redwood tree. Weird comparison? Maybe, but Redwoods are so strong, tall, and huge because their root systems spread out across the earth and weave into the other trees around them. They take on storms together, not alone. That is why there are trees that are hundreds of years old!
There are online groups of survivors who meet regularly like the Rebecca Bender Initiative Elevate program, as well as local options through domestic violence shelters, churches, and counseling networks. No matter what your past holds, there is a group for you and I highly recommend becoming a part of one!
2. Step into their shoes.
This one is the hardest… and I only gained this perspective from God. Trust me, hearing people who I loved and so needed to be a part of my healing journey call me and tell me I was nuts made me hurt and angry. What I realized, though, is that the news of all the terrible things that had happened right under their noses was the impossible for them. They never believed they were leaving me alone with harmful people. They thought they had protected me and given me a wonderful childhood. They were in total shock and I had to allow them their process. They had to allow reality to soak in, grieve, get angry, wonder why, and deal with their own array of emotions.
3. Heal anyway.
For a season, I had to separate myself from the doubters. Those who thought I was crazy or imagining things or trying to get attention and those who were not ready to come to terms or wanted me to act like nothing ever happened. No, I knew that I needed to process this. I needed to learn how to face it, feel it, and come back to life. I wanted total freedom and would not stop until I had it. I started counseling. LOTS of counseling. And I started connecting to people who did believe me. It was a tough season to be so distant from people that I loved the most, but for me it was necessary. I couldn’t let the opinions of others determine my healing. Neither should you.