You are a SURVIVOR of child sexual abuse… just “Let it go”? I have heard this statement throughout my life. Merriam-Webster defines “Let it go” as, to forget or not care about something. It can now be found all over the internet, on t-shirts, motivational posts and of course we can all hear Elsa from Frozen singing in our heads.
This statement has caused more grief, more conflict and at times has left me more hopeless than I have ever felt in my life. Let me explain. I have taken this statement to heart most of my adult life. I felt like I had tried everything to “let it go”. I went to therapy, I wrote about it, I talked about it. I went to Alanon and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings and “attempted” this thing they called meditation. When that didn’t work I spent my time trying to “let it go” by scrubbing my house till my fingers bled, scheduling my day with impossible, self-defeating goals and suffering from perfectionism. If that didn’t work I simply yelled at my husband, drank alcohol, took my anti anxiety medication, or zoned out on sleep medication. My physical body became extremely ill and exhausted. The more I tried to let go of the fact that I was sexually, emotionally and physically abused as a child, the worse I would feel. It was like my shame would go into supercharge mode and consume my very existence. When I would talk to people about what I was going through and they would say with the best of intentions, “Sweetheart, you have to let this go so you can move on with your life,” it would make me so angry I wanted to punch a wall. OK, I wanted to punch them in the face, but I don’t believe in violence so a wall seems more appropriate! I just wanted to scream “I don’t know how to let this shit go!!!” After my anger spell, I would lay in bed and cry, sometimes for days. What was wrong with me?
Then a few years ago, something amazing happened. I was driving to a friend’s house for a much-needed girls night. My PTSD and nightmares were in full swing at the time, but I was vigorously working on “letting it go”. While following my GPS I turned down a road, looked up and there it was…the red brick fourplex where my abuse began. I had driven by it several times over the years, but this time it felt different. I stopped my car in the middle of the road and just stared at it. I was suddenly so overwhelmed with emotions that I could not describe. I could vaguely hear people honking, flipping me off and screaming obscenities at me. I could not move, I could not breathe, I could not “let it go”.
It was this very moment that I realized I had been misinterpreting the phrase “let it go” this entire time. When we are children we are instilled with core beliefs from our parents, schools, teachers, religion and surrounding culture. My abuse had started such a deep core belief of shame that it actually became a part of who I was. Not to confuse shame with guilt. Guilt is an emotion that says to you “I did something bad, a made a mistake” and can actually be beneficial in some situations. Shame is an emotion that says to you “I am something bad, I am a mistake” and is completely self-destructive. No matter how hard I had tried to “let go” of my story “I was still bad”. The two were intertwined and my brain was not separating them.
My shame was not simply fed by my abuse. It was fed by my preschool teacher who made me sit on the stairs in front of everyone because I peed my pants. My shame was fed by my second grade teacher who yelled at me in front my class for sucking my thumb every day that year. My shame was fed by religious teachings on morality and my body being my temple. My shame was fed by the police department and the court system. My shame was fed by the vice principal of my middle school who caught me sluffing and told me I “was a loser”. My shame was fed when I thought my father’s addiction was a direct cause of me telling about my sexual abuse. It was fed the second I became a wife and a mother and it is currently fed every day in society, on TV and on social media. My shame was also fed every time I was told to “Let it Go”.
Every time I tried to let go of my story, in an attempt to let go of my negative emotions, I was feeding my delusion of shame. If my story is bad, a secret, not to be talked about and shameful, then I must be bad, a secret, not to be talked about and shameful. That is why I have struggled with the delusion of shame and that “I am nothing”. That is what I have been taught throughout my life.
I feel this is important to discuss because although we have made some strides in breaking the silence, we still have a long way to go. The more people who share their stories with me, the more I realize I am not alone in my perceptions. Whether it was 30 years ago or 30 days ago, victims of child sexual abuse are still being made to keep silent. They are still being told that they should be ashamed of their story, therefore ashamed of themselves. The shame is as alive and well today as it was 100 years ago. My abuser was not charged because my parents were told that going to trial would be to traumatizing for me. I am not ignorant of this fact, but the truth is I wonder if it was more traumatizing to be told I couldn’t stand up and say to my abuser, “You did this to me, and you were wrong.” Instead it fed my shame into adulthood that my story was simply too traumatizing to be told. It said to me, your story is bad, therefore you are bad. What message are we sending to our children when this is still the case today? Families don’t want to be shamed, Religions don’t want to be shamed, Schools don’t want to be shamed, Society does not want to be shamed. Instead, we allow children of sexual abuse to carry that burden with them their entire lives. I wonder what the world would become if we could stop the shame? I wonder how much less suffering there would be in children if we did not shame them?
FACT: Child sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most people realize.
• Child sexual abuse is likely the most prevalent health problem children face with the most serious array of consequences.
• About one in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday*.
• About one in seven girls and one in 25 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18*.
• This year, there will be about 400,000* babies born in the U.S. that will become victims of child sexual abuse unless we do something to stop it.
FACT: 90% of child sexual abuse victims know there abusers.
FACT: Emotional and mental health problems are often the first consequence and sign of child sexual abuse.
FACT: Sexual behavior problems and over-sexualized behavior are a very common consequence of child sexual abuse.
FACT: Substance abuse problems beginning in childhood or adolescence are some of the most common consequences of child sexual abuse.
FACT: Delinquency and crime, often stemming from substance abuse, are more prevalent in adolescents with a history of child sexual abuse.
FACT: The risk of teen pregnancy is much higher for girls with a history of child sexual abuse.
FACT: Substance abuse problems are a common consequence for adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
FACT: Mental health problems are a common long-term consequence of child sexual abuse.
FACT: Obesity and eating disorders are more common in women who have a history of child sexual abuse.
These statistics confirm to me more than ever that I will embrace my story and I will NEVER LET IT GO!! I encourage everyone to do the same. Never feel shame of where you come from or what you have been through. Easier said then done, I know. But to start, simply read this statement….
“I will own and embrace my story. I will let go of the shame I have attached to my story. I will let go of the pain, the anxiety, the blame and the statement of I am nothing.”
Then read it again, and again, and again, and again, and again……
Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. ~ Brené Brown
Facts obtained from http://www.d2l.org/the-issue/statistics/
My story can be found at http://earthwingsreiki.org/breaking-the-silence-of-sexual-abuse/