Why does it matter forty years later that my minister abused me? Well, for starters it had a huge impact on my life that affected what I did or didn’t do, and why. When we live in total denial of a major trauma that happened in childhood, our entire reality is distorted.
Before we share our story, all we can do is hold it inside our bodies. That means we carry it in our mind, stomach, liver, intestines and every cell in our body. And let’s not forget these stories of abuse have poison in them. As I have heard said, holding our tongue is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die. But in reality we are holding the poison which becomes more toxic over time. Healing can only begin when we spit it out.
Because I had never spoken of what happened to me, every decision I made in life was in response to the trauma I suffered as a child. In theory I was a survivor, but as long as I held on to the toxic stress of child abuse, I was giving victim reactions to most all the input that came my way. It was not a choice I made, it was programmed into my brain to respond to people and situations as though they might be a threat to me. I was wary of everyone, quick to write people off and always on guard.
I just heard from a 71 year old man that said he hopes he has not waited too long to tell his story. It is never too late to tell your story and the person that it will matter to most is you! The person it mattered to most when I began therapy at age 57 was me. My quality of life had suffered immeasurably, and I was just plain tired. You have to want it or need it more than the perceived safety of keeping the secret and the pain (poison) locked inside.
I wanted more out of life than just living as a survivor. I wanted to feel again. I wanted to have a real live relationship with another human being. I wanted to be able to love and be loved, touch and be touched. All of these things sound so very basic and yet I gave them up in order to be able to keep my secret. To be honest, in my case it probably took a year before I realized how much others really meant to me and how much I had given up.
Finding some sense of justice mattered to me as well. Justice has a different meaning to every survivor. Reporting my abuser became important. The places he had been a minister needed to be notified so they could look for others that might have been victims and needed help. In the process the faith community became aware of what had happened in their building and had the opportunity to discuss what they could do to make sure it never happened again.
I think it is important to note that the church did not embrace my report with open arms. I had to persist over time to get their attention and support, but it did finally come. Without survivors telling their stories this would never happen. No one can be as passionate about child abuse as a survivor and it takes that passion to get peoples’ attention and eventually their understanding.
Telling my story has changed many more lives than my own. It has changed my relationship with my partner whom I have been married to for 42 years. It has changed how I am with my children and grandchildren. It has changed my church and my community.
Whether your story is at the beginning, middle or end, it matters because you matter! Telling your story matters more than you can ever imagine. Besides giving new life to you and those you love, it will give people you have never met the strength to share their story. The more we share our stories, the more we heal and the more our families and communities heal.
Imagine a world without child abuse and one filled with healthy adults. That’s how much it matters.