When I would think of myself, I could not even comprehend that I even existed. For all that I knew, I was a ghost, or worse, that I only was here on earth to be used, abused, and made invisible again. This identity went deep into my bones and nestled itself into the cracks of my soul. As I sought protection from the caretakers in my life all I found was betrayal and a turning away from my anguish.
The despair I experienced is unfathomable, as well as difficult for me to fully articulate. I retreated far inside defending my heart against the world and forgot what my own reflection looked like in the mirror. I become a stranger to myself and felt utterly cut off from humanity.
When you have suffered exploitation or abuse of any kind you are left with so much confusion about who you are, your value, your worth, your existence… all this is called into question by what you are experiencing. In other words, you cease to know what it means to be human in the face of having to survive the unimaginable.
Survival costs so much, it leaves you with shattered trust and skewed ways of relating with others. It is all that you know to do to keep what little part of yourself alive. But merely surviving is not growing and it is not healing, it is just living from one moment to the next.
There is a terrifying leap that must be taken to move from living defensively, to thriving, and it comes from letting yourself be seen not only by others but by God and by your own eyes gazing into the face that trauma caused you to forget.
In these relationships, you are being called to remember and be remembered. First, you are called to remember who you are—that you are a human being that deserves love, empathy, compassion, care and dignity like any other person. Secondly, you are being re-membered— rebuilt and brought back into the community of humanity that exploitation separates you from.
Recovering Selfhood in Community
Being repeatedly victimized teaches you something very different about who you are and leaves you feeling emptied of the basics that make up being a person- choice, value, and voice.
How are these ever recovered when it’s been years in the making?
What I am learning is that this is one of the most difficult processes imaginable, it takes persistence, risk, and the ability to allow healthy individuals to come alongside you and fight with you in the journey toward reclaiming your sense of self.
The agony in this is that there is so much vulnerability in healing. You must be willing to let your broken places show and open yourself before others. When you’ve been harmed, manipulated, controlled, and abused it is almost impossible to think about letting yourself be anywhere near the dynamics of powerlessness that exploitation sets up in the mind and heart. Vulnerability reminds me of that victimization and I have defended myself against it so that I would not re-experience it. Yet by trying to keep myself safe, I have prevented healing that can only come from learning to trust again.
Healing is a community venture. It takes place in the relationship between hearts, minds, and bodies. It requires vulnerability, for one, the vulnerability of letting another into the shattered places, and the other the vulnerability of entering suffering with the one who has experienced deep trauma.
I leave this post with this single challenge: Are you willing to suffer for the sake of healing? If you’ve been deeply harmed, can you allow a safe individual into the places where you’ve been hiding? If you are a helper of one who has been harmed, can you allow your heart to engage the consequences of evil in this world and love even when it hurts without turning away?
There must be those who are willing to risk pain for restoration to come, and it is those who can be used mightily by God to bring hope and life to long devastated places. Are you one of them? I pray to God that I will be such a vessel in the world that by partnering with survivors we will rediscover the humanity and value that they have.
E.G. is a graduate of the Elevate program and graduate student in counseling-psychology working toward the goal of working therapeutically with survivors of multi-contextual abuse and human trafficking. She hopes to integrate her writing, music, art, and love of all things alive into the process of restoration and recovery.