Everyone found out about the sexual abuse on my birthday.
A handful of energetic fifth-graders had gathered at my house for a slumber party. Man, my parents always hated those. Probably every parent who has ever experienced a sleep-over can understand why. The rented movies went unwatched; the girls were more interested in playing Truth or Dare. At some point, my mother said it was time to be quiet and go to sleep, but we never did that. We just giggled as quietly as we could inside our sleeping bags.
You know how there’s always that one friend… The one who couldn’t keep her mouth shut during an assembly, who always got you in trouble for talking in class. That friend decided to go snooping around my house while we weren’t looking, and my parents were watching television in another room. She started rooting through my bedroom and she found a note. I thought I was a genius for stashing it in a little pink locker with a padlock, but a simple paperclip was all that was needed to pry it open.
The note was written by me to a neighbor who had been sexually abusing me for years, telling him I wanted him to stop. My friend thought it was hilarious, stashed it away in her stuff, and the next morning she hopped on my bicycle and showed it to anyone she could find, including the other neighbors. My father stood in the front doorway watching the commotion as I screamed and cried and pleaded with him to get the letter. He was dazed, as I’m sure I would have been. Finally, my friend’s dad pulled into our driveway to pick her up, and she threw the note in our front yard and laughed as the car slowly rolled down the street. My dad grabbed the letter and opened it.
My neighbor never laid a hand on me again after that.
But this is not the happy ending of the story, just the start of the real nightmare.
I was told never to speak of it again. It was over and done with, and I was supposed to just move on, but I couldn’t. Guilt left me unable to sleep or focus in class. It was the talk of the school and the few friends I had disappeared. Many parents didn’t let their children play with me anymore. I guess they were afraid I’d molest their kids or otherwise negatively influence them. I spent a lot of time kneeling alongside my bed, asking God to take my life because I was too afraid to take it myself.
As a teenager, I cut myself, attempted suicide three times, was obsessed with sex, and I often felt like I didn’t know how to be normal. I didn’t know what a normal friendship looked like, or what it meant to “feel normal.” Obviously, praying for death wasn’t normal by the standards of a healthy human being, but I never knew what it was like to have an average day free of gut-wrenching guilt and incomprehensible sadness. I created what I referred to as “me time,” a chunk of 15 minutes when I first climbed into bed when I could ruminate about the things that were bothering me, and at the end of that 15 minutes, I forced myself to think about other things to help me fall asleep.
When I was 15, I had to start dealing with the past. I didn’t have a choice, because I was failing the 10th grade, and my behavior had driven my family to the edge of a full-blown crisis. Other adults that God had placed in my life went to my parents and explained to them that if I didn’t get help, I would self-destruct. I was on my way to becoming some sort of statistic – another teenager found hanging in her parents’ basement, or a drug addict riddled with needle marks in the street, or a pregnant adolescent with no prospects.
So I went to see an emotionally distant shrink, who largely ignored me, except to prescribe me Zoloft. I took the pills and I felt a little better, but I didn’t start to feel alive and learn a little bit about who I was until I started going to a support group for teen girls who had been sexually abused. It was a life-changer for me. No one avoided me because my past made me weird, and no one was prohibited from talking to me. Those girls became my sisters. The circumstances surrounding our experiences were different, but we all felt the same guilt and shame. We all blindly felt our way through life, trying to be normal, whole…
I have dealt with my past sexual abuse and I can tell you that, a month from my 34th birthday, I have been set free from it. I can think about what took place with no emotion, and I am even able to drive by the house where it occurred without any trauma. About a year ago, I started watching a TV show that had a character that looked like the person that abused me, and in the past it would have turned me off to the show completely, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve been healed of the direct effects of sexual abuse.
I always wonder if I would have developed bipolar disorder even if I hadn’t been abused. After all, sexual abuse has been shown to trigger mental illness. I’ll never know what could have been, but that doesn’t bother me too much anymore, either. God has restored me and He is using the path I am on to help others on their own paths, and that’s what is important. I know I would be in far worse mental health if I had not dealt with my painful childhood. I would be taking medication not only to treat a mental disorder, but to throw dirt on something ugly to pretend it doesn’t exist.
I think it’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t tell us to ignore the devil. It tells us to resist him, and to tell him to leave us alone, but it never tells us to pretend he’s not there. You can’t command something out of your life without acknowledging that it exists, and confronting it. Don’t throw out your pills, friends, that’s not the point here. (Please, for God’s sake, don’t throw out your pills.) But if you have pain lingering in your past, turn around and look it in the eye. Acknowledge it’s there, face the ugliness, and take back your power – accept the Holy Spirit’s power – to leave it in the dust. Because you deserve it, and your health depends on it.
I know there are a lot of you reading this that are just like me. Maybe it’s not sexual abuse, but there is something in the past that is keeping you from living a full life. It’s not fair, and it doesn’t have to be this way forever. I was blessed with a fantastic counselor; I know they exist. Another great place to turn is Celebrate Recovery. It’s a Christ-centered, 12-step recovery group for any “hurt, habit, or hang-up.” I have found support there for various things in my life. You can find a list of meetings around the country on the website.
Don’t just medicate, heal.