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I am a survivor

So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted on abuse – but with it being International Women’s Day, I thought I would take the opportunity. Before I do, I want to acknowledge that many men are victims of abuse and I by no means wish to ignore that fact by posting this on a day in which women are acknowledged.

I am a survivor.

I remember someone saying that you have reached a place of healing when you can say things like “I like chocolate, i have brown hair, my name is Elizabeth” and “I was sexually abused” in one sentence without any hesitation. Of course, such a sentence probably would not be uttered in any context. The point is, that stating a past of being sexual abuse will not have hold on a person who has come to a place of healing. There was a time when I thought it was obvious that I had been abused – like there were words imprinted on my forehead for everyone to see. There was a time that I felt no one knew me unless they knew this part of me – for this was the real me… I was damaged goods.

It’s been a long road towards healing full of twists and turns and falling and failing. But as I approach my eight year anniversary of leaving home, I am happy to say that life is generally good. And I can say that I am a survivor (even though I hate the word!!!) with pride and without any shame.

But for a moment, I want to share a little of how this has affected me over the years. Each survivor’s story is different – there are somethings we share, and some things we don’t. But this is how it affected me.

  • I have struggled with depression over the years. At times it has been debilitating and taken me to dark places. Other times it is in the background.
  • I have struggled with anxiety. As someone who lived silently with fear as a youth, I have grown used to anxiety being a part of my life. I have learned not to show it. But sometimes it becomes so overwhelming that it manifests in panic attacks.
  • I have struggled with sleeping – due to nightmares, due to racing thoughts, due to memories
  • I have struggled with self-image. I am happy to say that I can look in the mirror now and see someone who is beautiful and wonderful. But that took 28 years – it’s a relatively new step in my healing journey.
  • I have struggled with trust – my father was the one who harmed me, and my mother took his side. If the people who were supposed to protect me and love me above all betrayed me, how on earth is one able to trust another human being?
  • I have struggled with self worth. Again, if the people who were supposed to make me feel loved unconditionally hurt me deeply, how am I supposed to see that I am a worthwhile person?
  • I have struggled with feeling out of control of my life – and the other side of the coin, trying to make myself in control of something often to my own detriment. Food and self harm very quickly became my vices.
  • I have struggled financially. I left home before my 21st birthday very suddenly. God has blessed me and undoubtedly taken care of me these 8 years. But living independently at that age is costly!
  • I have struggled academically. Probably unsurprising given all the above, my academic years have been a bit of a mess. If one does not sleep and is under constant stress, writing a paper or preparing for an exam is not the easiest.
  • I have struggled with being hard on myself. This is an ongoing struggle. I set the bar high for myself – too high at times – and it’s a disaster when I miss the bar. I would never in my wildest dreams set the bar that high for anyone else.
  • I have struggled with feeling alone. I have struggled with longing for my immediate family to care for me instead of cutting me off. I have struggled with thoughts and memories alone while everyone seems to be enjoying life.
  • I have struggled in my relationship with God – how can a good God allow such evil and suffering to occur?

Enough of the bad news! There are more ways that abuse victims – including myself – struggle.

But – there is hope. I am living proof of that. I have given up on hope and given up on healing. I have thought that my lot in life is perpetual suffering and the joy that others seem to have would never be mine. But I was wrong – healing CAN happen. One can move from victim – survivor – into thriving. It is possible. It’s hard work. And it takes a long time. I know I have a long way still to go. But it is possible.

I have many wonderful people in my life who have supported me over the years. And I believe in God who has been faithful and merciful even when I rejected him – he has stayed by my side, refusing to leave, even when I was pushing him away with all my might.

On this International Women’s Day, I want to do my part in raising awareness about abuse against women. I also want to provide some practical ways in which you can help someone in your life who shares with you a history of (or current) abuse.

  • Believe her. I cannot stress this enough. Every abuse survivor I have known longs for validation and belief. Yes, I know there are people who make false allegations. And unfortunately, those few people have caught the eye of anyone who doesn’t want to believe that this is a genuine problem in society. Most allegations are true.
  • Tell her she is not at fault. I have yet to know a victim of abuse who has not felt that they are deeply at fault somehow. I was never told it was my fault when the abuse was actually happening. But I sure took on the blame for it from the moment it started.
  • Encourage her to get helpHealing has come – but that’s been after years of group and individual therapy. It’s been hard hard work and I know I have hard work ahead of me. Go with her to a first appointment. Help her find someone. Encourage her to keep on working towards healing even when it gets hard.
  • Know that it is a long road ahead. Nothing drives me more batty than to hear comments of people being told that they should be over it. Healing from sexual abuse is long and hard (though possible!). It is like an onion… you keep taking layers off and each layer stinks and stings, to different degrees. Sexual abuse leaves no part of anyone’s life untouched and thus takes a long time in healing.
  • Read books and get support for yourself. Now that I’ve journeyed with people who share the same backgrounds, I have a glimpse of how hard it is! There are lots of books (see my Books for the Journey page) and there are resources for you. Take care of you. Do what you can, and accept that ultimately it is not you that heals the person, you can just be an encourager. I know that has been a hard one for me as I like to fix things!
  • Pray. Not all my readers have faith background. But there are people all over the world who have prayed for me – many people I do not know – and I am so very thankful for the role they have played in my healing journey.
  • Report abuse of children. In Canada, everyone has a duty to report abuse or reasonable suspicion of abuse of children. Professionals (doctors, pastors, teachers, etc) have a special duty, but all of us have a moral duty. If there is a child at risk, call your local child protection agency right now.

As we acknowledge women worldwide today, let us work together at ending abuse.

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  1. March 29, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    This is a wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing it at the Blog Carnival; bravely done. Good and healing thoughts to you.

    Kate

  2. March 30, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing what you have learned from being a survivor and the healing work you have done.

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