As #MeToo stories continue to surface, it’s a sad reminder of how prevalent sexual assault is in our country. In contrast, I grew up in a culture where no one talked about it and victims were left carrying that weight around their entire life or concealing horrific secrets all the way to the grave.
I was sexually abused as a child, and I have empathy for all victims that have any sort of abuse in their past. Directly or indirectly. Being sexually abused by two male babysitters by the age of six led me down a nasty path in my adolescent and young adult years. I began to seek out my worth through long hours at work, abusing alcohol and drugs, and engaging in promiscuous behavior—just to name a few. It fueled a whole host of feelings including lack of self esteem, shame, guilt, confusion, anger, and disappointment.
My friend and mentor calls child sexual trauma “the silent epidemic.” That’s the perfect way to sum up any sort of sexual assault. The stats are astounding (across all types) and it’s extremely difficult to talk about. Most folks don’t even know how to respond to loved ones about it, and often times the perpetrator pays a large sum of money to shut somebody up.
There’s an Elie Wiesel quote that’s reemerged through the Time’s Up Movement.
Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Fortunately, folks are starting to break the silence (even beyond the recent Hollywood scandals), which is beginning to shed light on this issue and give a voice to the voiceless. For the first time in my lifetime, it feels like a cultural shift is starting to unravel. People are stepping forward, sharing their tormented stories, and putting these predators and pedophiles on the stand.
It took me 30+ years to find the support that I needed. An ex-girlfriend actually told me about a healing group at a church that focused on child sexual trauma. She knew I was dealing with some buried issues from my past and I’ll be forever grateful for her delicate nudge.
As I headed off that first night to check out the group, I almost turned around in the parking lot multiple times. It was extremely difficult and I felt like I walked into that room with several cinder blocks strapped to my shoulders. Slowly I began to remove the weight of my past and began to realize that God was next to me (the Bible says he was actually weeping) while the abuse took place. I started to understand the love that God had for me as a Father, that it wasn’t my fault, and that this black cloud wasn’t going to define my entire life. That God would restore my past, rebuild my heart, and redeem all things. That He’d allow me to forgive and place me in a leadership role to help others heal.
####5 STEPS TO HEALING (as I know it)
1) TAKE A STEP
Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The more you sit and let your past fester (or act as if it never happened), the longer you’ll sit in the pain and never experience the fullness of life. This is often the most difficult stage, but you need to develop goals (just like accomplishing anything in life) and begin building momentum. This could look like purchasing a book, researching expert therapists and counselors in your area, scheduling a listening appointment with someone at your local church, begin processing your past through journaling or artistic expression, etc.
2) SEEK HELP
Whether it’s one-on-one counseling or a group at church, get connected with other people and begin sharing your story. You’re probably asking yourself, “You want me to get in a group and talk to someone about my pain?” That’s a big fat YES. We weren’t designed to do this alone, and you’ll start to experience freedom once you involve others.
3) BRING GOD INTO THIS AND ASK FOR HEALING
Just like in John 5, Jesus asked the paralyzed man, “Do you want to be healed?” I think we often look to God to give us what we think we need, when in fact, what we need is him. If you’re depressed about your past, you might be asking God why he let this happen to you, when it’s possible to depend on God for the fulfillment that no human or possession can possibly give. It’s also important to understand that there’s no quick fix to healing. It’ll happen to all of us at different stages.
4) EXPECT SOME BREAKTHROUGHS
If you put time, energy, and passion into the healing and recovery stage, you can expect some massive breakthroughs. In addition to the ones listed above, I suggest talking with experts and others who’ve experienced similar trauma, become a subject matter expert to help you better understand signs and symptoms, take steps toward prevention or get behind a movement, etc. If you’re willing to do some of the work, your life will begin to look different. You can be a force to be reckoned with. Trauma victims are as resilient as they come. They’ve experienced some God-awful things in their lives and they’ve survived. It’s time to take the power of that pain and turn it into something productive. (Google anything around PTG or post-traumatic growth and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)
5) PUT YOURSELF IN A POSTURE OF FORGIVENESS
This will only come with time (heck, it took me 30+ years), but I believe you can’t be fully healed or restored if you don’t bring forgiveness into the equation. To be clear, forgiveness doesn’t mean you accept what that person did. It means that situation or person no longer has control or power over you.
In all of this, the rawness will feel the worst once you dive into the healing and recovery stage. You’ll be opening up old wounds. But I believe there’s another side of the pain that can lead to a thriving life full of beauty, hope, and restoration.
Once I experienced my own healing, I began to lead a child sexual trauma group at my church. It pains me the most when older men and women attend the group and are addressing their past for the first time. Don’t let the perpetrator or enemy win. You were meant for incredible things and it’s time to break those chains, take back control of your life, and become whole again. Don’t wait an extra day.
Joining that group actually changed the trajectory of my life, and I can honestly say that’s when the true healing began. I used to internalize my past in isolation, or I’d project to others that I had all my sh*t together. When in reality, my painful past had elements of my life in bondage and I was crumbling at the core.
In April, I celebrated five years of marriage with my beautiful wife, Allie. We also have two incredible boys, a job that I’m passionate about, and close, authentic relationships with family members and friends. By no means does my life look perfect, but the work I’ve put into this journey has given me a new outlook on life and has allowed me to use this pain to positively press into things that I never thought were possible. By getting my wounds out in the light, triggers are less debilitating, and I have people in my life that can walk through difficult situations with me and help me process things if I fall back in a rut.
Lord, I pray this article finds people who need next steps and encouragement, that more victims come forward knowing that their voice and story matters, that they embrace the work that goes into all of this. Help them realize they have you as a loving Father, who will restore all things and free them from their past. I also pray that the next generation of men, women, and children never have to deal with this type of darkness. Amen.