Today marks a year since I took my personal story of sexual abuse to social media. Not for one or two days, but for years as a child the molestation and secrecy were my reality. I remember the day I told my parents what had happened, and they handled it in the best way I think they could have. I don't know that any parent has a speech or action plan tucked away for if that kind of thing comes to light, because they shouldn't have to. After telling them everything I thought that was it, it was all over and resolved and the magic of childhood was restored. I thought I was free - but I wasn't. Not yet.
After the truth came the confusion, because when you are just a kid being asked infinite questions and dragged to and from counseling appointments is scary and more of an inconvenience than anything. I was fine. I just wanted everything to be normal. After the confusion came junior high, the pre-teen awkwardness, and the shame. With high school came anger and ignorance, along with telling the occasional friend about what had happened, but only the bare minimum and more so because I wanted a pity party than wanting to actually share my journey with them. By the end of my high school career I was set to stop dwelling on it and start pretending it had never happened. It felt like a giant lingering shadow over me that I wanted to just shake off so I could start living in the sun.
In my testimony on Facebook, I shared about the day I realized how constantly trying to outrun this shadow turned me into someone I didn't like. I talked about how I needed to forgive myself and raise my voice in order to be set free. I did need forgiveness, and I don't regret putting such a private affair in the spotlight. However, I think a year ago when I hit that "post" button I thought "This is finally it, now I can move on!". I thought I was free of my past's shadow and could walk away from it. I was wrong. I have spent this past year feeling more freedom than ever, as I've given myself permission to be myself and take risks that in the past I would have robbed myself of due to doubt and self-punishment. But that is all just the beginning.
A few weeks ago I was doing some thinking in the shower (because let's be honest, that's where all the best thoughts come about) and I had one of those realizations that hits you like a ton of bricks. I was having anxiety about something, as I often do, but this time I challenged it. I dared to ask myself why I always feel like I'm messing up, where does my constant fear and self-blame come from? Then the blinders came off and I saw a confused little girl whose world of magic was being torn down, and she could do nothing to stop it. I saw a child who did not understand what was being done to her - who thought she was just playing a game but even then had a sense that something wasn't right, like at any second she could get caught and something bad would happen. I was always on edge, and that feeling had stayed with me. My world has already fallen apart once, and it's my responsibility to make sure it doesn't happen again.
This was a lot of realization to happen all at once. I felt relief, like I had finally solved a puzzle that I had been working on for hours, only this was one I'd been working on for over a decade. Writing the piece I posted a year ago wasn't easy. In fact, today was the first time I actually read it since I wrote it. I believe it is so important to talk about sexual abuse (or any abuse for that matter) to break through stigmas and raise awareness, but that doesn't make it easy or comfortable to do. I started this new chapter last year looking to be free of my past's shadow, but I never will be because you simply can't erase parts of your life you don't like. Whether or not I want them to be, those years are a part of a story. They are a part of me. I have gifted myself freedom, and I will continue to do so more and more, but living in freedom shouldn't mean completely closing the door on the past. That little girl endured the pain and confusion that the darkness brought so that as an adult I could fully appreciate and make the most of the light. So I welcome that shadow to continue walking alongside of me, and when I have moments where I need to look back it is there for me, but it no longer gets to call the shots.
Compared to so many people, I have had a remarkably blessed life. I never for a second take for granted all that I have that could so easily be taken away from me. There are people who have been through far worse than I have and are still looking for their chance to taste freedom from all that is weighing on them. Some people will never even have that chance. I am so fortunate and thankful to be where I am in life, but I also acknowledge the struggles I have faced. Life is not a competition of who has it better or who has had it the worst. It's all just a collection of people who have been dealt their cards, but don't necessarily have to live with them. We can exchange cards, we can help those who have been given more to deal with, and we can rejoice with those who have been blessed with a great hand. If I didn't have the support system I have I wouldn't be here. I don't say that to be morbid, but it is one-hundred percent true. Kindness and love have saved my life, and because of that I know the power of speaking up for those who don't have that option and just letting people know that you are there for them. I know friends and family who have stories far too similar to mine who never got the chance to declare victory over that past. It breaks my heart, but I know there are children who are facing those same realities and don't fully understand the magnitude at which it will shake their life. I wish I could tell them it doesn't always have to be a bad shake, they get to stand up and choose what the outcome looks like.
If I could go back in time and tell my younger self anything, it would be this: speak up. You have a voice that matters, don't let the fear mute that voice. You are so loved and so valuable and so, so blessed. Right now it might not feel that way. Right now you feel scared and confused and broken, but it will not always be that way. This is a season of hardship, but after the storms comes the newness of spring. You can make this into whatever you want it to be. There are so many good days ahead of you, allow yourself to really live and make the most of those days. And when there are bad days take comfort in knowing that you've already survived a massive storm - you can take on anything. Sometimes you will look back on all of this and it will hurt all over again. It will be a lot to handle and you'll close the door on it, and that's okay. But there will be other days where you look back and something clicks and makes sense and it's as though the clouds have faded away and you have a little bit more control than you did the day before. It is okay to feel the hurt, but don't live in it. You are capable and will come out of all of this rubble strong and new. It's okay to have some uncertainty, but sweetheart you have to give yourself permission to live. You are a child of God. You are cared for so deeply and despite what you feel and what you will feel for the next few years, there is so much beauty to come from all of this. Never stop fighting, and more than anything, never lose hope.