Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse
Many who are abused as adults were also abused as children – either emotionally, physically or sexually. The number of people who have experienced this is shocking and tragic. Getting past any of these is difficult, but I can’t imagine anything worse than living with the pain and trauma of childhood sexual abuse. Today I am sharing a blog about this written for MOPS International by my friend Tammy Kennington.
Tammy is a writer, speaker, educator, and child abuse awareness advocate who will soon complete certification in trauma work. Familiar with the impact of trauma, mental illness, and parenting in the hard places, Tammy hopes to lead others toward a deeper understanding of themselves and their relationship with the God who loves them.
She has authored five children’s nonfiction books and has also written articles and devotions for Thriving Family, MOPS, Upper Room, and several other publications. When she isn’t writing, Tammy is likely discovering unmatched socks and candy wrappers tucked beneath the cushions of the couch or drinking a cup of Calming Chamomile tea as her children configure a boxing ring in the front yard with traffic cones and twine.
Tammy is a talented writer. In this piece, she describes very well the circumstances and feelings she experienced as a child. Be aware, if you have experienced sexual abuse, this article could trigger you. ****TRIGGER WARNING****
I dragged them into marriage and motherhood unwillingly: the memories of my childhood. They tracked my steps and lurked in the shadows until it was safe for them to emerge; when my life had settled into the predictable patterns of children’s soccer games, playdates and family dinners.
I remembered bits and parts, but the shadows refused to remain tucked away. They invaded my sleep with images of my stepfather. He was as real in my nightmares as he had been in the dark of my room when I was a little girl. The way he looked at me as he approached my bed. His smile false and threatening; words of twisted love watering the hate I harbored in the unseen corners of my heart.
Within those black dreams, I could sence his anger rising; smell the whiskey mixing with his cologne and the stale scent of Marlboros. Curse words erupted from a reddened face, his fist splitting the tender flesh just above my mother’s left eye; her chin jerking toward the ceiling as if someone yanked hard on an invisible rope attached to the back of her head.
Night after night, my husband awakened to the choked sounds of fear gathered in the back of my throat. Pulling me close, he’d stroke my hair and wipe my tears until the thrumming of my heart settled.
“You’re safe,” he’d say. “I’ve got you.”
But my memory paid visits during the day, too, and I began to think I was losing my mind. The triggers of the smell of Old Spice in the grocery store or the slamming of a door sent me reeling; transporting me to a time and place I wanted desperately to forget.
Anxiety, depression and fear became my constant companions as I crowded my journal with pleas begging God for peace. Deliverance. Freedom.
Before long, thoughts of dying became as much a part of my day as living and I wondered how I could entertain such horrible ideas when I finally had the family I’d always hoped for – a loving, devoted husband and precious, beautiful children.
One bleak, chilly day I wandered into the family room. Without emotion, I planted myself in front of my husband. “I feel like something is dying inside,” I said. I felt as brittle as the brown leaves on the tree outside our front door and doubted I’d ever feel joy again.
Not long afterward, with the help of a counselor, I began the slow path to healing. And, link by link, the chains of my past were loosened. Some required more prying and harder work than others. A few only gave way to counseling or prayer. A remnant held on stubbornly for years and required multiple types of therapy. Many times, the temptation to give up loomed almost as large as my desire to take back fully living. Finally, one beautiful day, the chains lay broken at my feet and I stretched out my arms – embracing freedom – as joy left its trail on my cheeks.
Now, with a microphone poised in my hands, I stand before a room full of young mothers. They need to know. There is hope for freedom. Surprised to discover that my knees aren’t quaking and my voice is steady, I tell them important truths.
“One in four girls,” I say. “One in 5 children.”
I glance around the room and notice women shifting in their chairs, discomfort etched on their faces. I wonder if they’ll rise in unison and leave the room. People don’t discuss child sexual abuse or domestic violence in polite company, yet I’m announcing to a roomful of strangers that I wear a large letter S – Survivor.
I know the ugly side of evil. I’ve been its recipient. Lust. Hatred. Unforgiveness. I understand how it feels to be trapped in a maze of memories. I was the child who believed she had been abandoned. The little girl who doubted her worth. The woman who yearned to escape to a place of promise and freedom from the past.
I tell them what I needed to hear when brokenness held me in its grasp. When I could barely breathe because the pain of my past continued to twist its hard edges around my life, disrupting marriage, motherhood and mental health.
The words come tripping off my tongue and I long for them to experience the loosing of chains, the breaking of bonds, the freedom of wholeness.
“God sees you,” I say. “Whether you bear the wounds of abuse, divorce or a broken relationship, he sees you. The tears you’ve cried? The silent weeping of your wounded soul? He hears you. God wants to set you free. He can break the chains of the past. Do you believe it? Will you begin to trust him today as he leads you into freedom?”
Perhaps your story runs as deep as mine, Friend. Maybe you’ve tucked the secret of your hurt and shame away, never having shared it with anyone. It could be that only one or two people know about the hard of your story.
Can I encourage you? Tell someone. Invite people you trust to be part of your journey. When you do, you’ll begin to chip away at those chains and you’ll be one step closer to freedom – with God at your side. (Published with permission by MOPS International)
As a counselor, I work with many who were sexually abused as children. I was shocked when I heard it from one of my first clients. Sadly, I am no longer shocked. Working with adult abuse victims, I hear about their childhood sexual abuse way too often. This in itself is a tragedy. What is worse is that these victims are often made to feel as if their abuse was their fault. They feel dirty, worthless and used. Please hear me when I say, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Anyone who would sexually abuse a person – especially a child – is just plain evil. Yes, I believe there is evil in the world. I fully believe God is furious with these perpetrators and anyone who suggests a victim should keep silent about their abuse. As Tammy says, God came to set us free, not to keep us in bondage. I encourage you to take the steps you need in order to be freed from this terrible injustice. It starts with telling a trustworthy person (friend, family member, pastor or counselor) what happened to you. Then, take steps to get past your pain.
If you would like to pre-order Tammy’s new ebook, Moving from Pain to Peace–A Journey Toward Hope, visit www.tammykennington.com and complete the form on the Pain to Peace tab. The e-book releases on August 25th and you’ll receive it in your inbox as her gift to you.
Question: Have you experienced childhood sexual abuse? What are you doing to move to a place of freedom?
It may be hard for you to believe God cares about you and your pain. He DOES.
In Matthew 18:6, Jesus says: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Through Solomon, God declares:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter. Ecclesiastes 4:1
In Psalm 82:2-4, God chides us:
How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
God’s call to each of us is to rise up and defend the weak and oppressed. This begins with victims getting the courage to tell their story, and for the rest of us to support them in any way possible.
Lord, please give us strength and courage to share our stories and defend victims. Amen