by Christina Enevoldsen, Bethany, Patty Hite & Jennifer Stuck
Christina: When I talk about my childhood sexual abuse, I see it as an opportunity to validate my inner child. As I reveal the horror of what happened to her, I’m inviting her out of the shadows of fear and shame. She’s accustomed to other’s dismissive denial, but telling the truth gives her the honor she deserves.
Bethany: I remember my childhood nightmare of screaming with all my might but no noise would come out. Holding in the secret abuse is just like that. I was constantly screaming inside but no one heard me. Finally, I made myself heard. I first began sharing when I was nineteen. My parents had just divorced, so my reason for keeping my secret was now obsolete. I pulled my mom aside and shared in very little detail that my father had sexually abused me for over twelve years. She put her arms around me and we both cried. What a relief it was! I could finally breathe again. This secret I held in all those years was out. It was a huge weight off my shoulders.
Once I told my mom, I didn’t feel like I had to keep the secret anymore. But I didn’t shout it from the rooftops either. For the first year I only told those who I trusted. Their reactions were always comforting and they were all willing to help in any way I needed. The validation I got in the safe circle of friends was crucial in being able to talk about it confidently now. I internalized my pain but talking about it helped me get it out.
Patty Hite: The first time I wrote my story about abuse it was kind of vague and straight to the point. I omitted who it was and the details. I remember being so afraid that if I wrote out everything that it would become too real. I was in denial at the time and didn’t want to believe that those I loved had hurt me in that way. After a few years of flashbacks and nightmares I decided to let it all out. Even though I was shaking as I wrote, I described the abusers and gave accurate descriptions of everything they did.
I discovered the feelings I felt at the time of the abuse. It was an awakening for me because up until then, I hadn’t realized how important it was to investigate the emotions, the smells, and the touch of the abuse. It was freeing. I felt liberated and empowered. Describing the abuse showed me how strong and courageous I was. Even though I hid my abuse from everyone as a child, it intrigued me to see what avenues I developed to cover it up.
Jennifer: Years ago, I spent a short time trying to heal from my abuse, but I quickly regressed back into denial, convincing myself that nothing ever happened. I lost any progress that I had made up to that point. It wasn’t until I started to write out and share my story with other survivors that I was truly able to start the healing process. I sat down with my laptop and typed out as much as I could remember—what they did, how it made me feel about myself, how my family reacted. I sent it to a trusted friend for her to read first. After that I slowly started letting more survivor-friends read it.
Just that one small step made the biggest difference for me. Sharing my story made it real in my own mind. I could no longer shove it to the back of my head and pretend it never happened. I had to start facing the facts. One piece at a time I looked at my own story. I was finally able to see things from a different perspective. Up until then I only remembered the abuse through my own eyes. I would always down play it and the effects it had on me, but when I saw my story written down I could read it like it was another person’s story. Would I blame them or say it was nothing if that were another person’s story? NO! So why was I doing that to myself? That realization was a huge moment for me. By sharing my story I was finally able to shed the guilt and shame I carried with me for so many years.
There are so many benefits of telling your story. Here are a few of them:
1. Abuse is devaluing. Talking about it is a declaration that you and what happened to you really matters.
2. Your experience may have been denied by others, and maybe even denied by you, but telling your story acknowledges the truth. It’s difficult to deny your abuse once you’ve revealed the secret. Telling the truth keeps you honest with yourself.
3. If you were threatened not to tell, telling helps to overcome the fear of breaking the secret.
4. The secrets you hold actually hold you, keeping you captive to the abuser’s power. Telling is a way to break free from the bond the secret created between you and your abuser.
5. Shame thrives in secrecy. Talking about your abuse helps to cast off the shame, both for yourself and other survivors.
6. Releasing the secret in this area helps you live more freely in other areas.
7. As long as you’re holding onto the secret, you’re also holding onto the pain. Sharing helps you access the feelings associated with your experience so you can release the pain.
8. Abuse is isolating. Telling is a way to connect with others. Having feedback from others heals the pain of isolation and makes support possible.
9. Telling may help you recover new memories and/or help you to see old memories in more detail. Telling the truth often leads to more truth.
Christina: A lot of people think that by telling my story, I’m living in the past. I feel just the opposite. The more I talk about it, the more separated I feel from the abuse and my abuser. The secret kept me imprisoned. I was locked up by my dad’s rule not to tell and I shared a bond with him as long as I kept that secret. It was as though he possessed me—that I belonged to him. As I protected him, I thought I was protecting me too.
I didn’t realize I felt that way until I told a crowd of people. I had the feeling I was betraying my dad, like I was cheating on a lover. In my heart, I accused myself of being disloyal. It was as though he cast a spell on me and the secret held the power. Breaking the secret broke his power over me. I was finally free to think and behave without considering how it would affect him. I didn’t have to protect him or our “relationship”.
Bethany: Before I broke the secret, I lived by my abuser’s rules, the most important was the rule not to tell. Breaking that rule took me out from under my dad’s control and made me the master of my own life. It didn’t happen overnight. Taking back my life fully has been a process. My dad’s control began to diminish little by little over time as I claimed my life as my own by accepting my own truth.
Telling broadened my horizons. It took off the limitations and put me in the driver’s seat of my own life. Some of the choices I made were good and some of them were bad, but they were finally MY choices. The decisions I made all had one thing in common: they were bold!
I was looking outside the window last night taking in my life as I know it. It occurred to me that where I am right now is now “normal” to me. Six years ago, before telling about my abuse, my world was so small. I could have never imagined a life outside my town, outside of what I was doing, or outside of the relationships I relied on. But when I told, my limited think began to change. My world got bigger and bigger.
It’s not easy to talk about our own abuse until we’ve heard the stories of other survivors. Reading other’s stories has many benefits:
1. Abuse and the secrecy surrounding it is isolating. Reading other’s stories tells you that you are not alone—that you aren’t the only one who suffered in that way.
2. Another common effect of abuse is the feeling that you are different. Reading other’s stories tells you that your feelings and the effects you experience are normal for the trauma you suffered.
3. Hearing other stories helps you see your own abuse in a different light. You may feel blame for your own experience, but seeing how blameless others are may inform you that you aren’t at fault for your abuse either.
4. If you don’t feel compassion, anger or other emotions concerning your own abuse, hearing other stories can help you to access those emotions so you can process them and heal from them.
5. Reading other survivor stories inspires courage so you can speak out about your own experiences.
Patty: When I first read a survivor’s story from a book, I cried for days. I was so relieved to know that I was not the only one. Her abuse was different, but the trauma from the abuse was the same as mine. Even though I didn’t know her and never spoke to her, I felt so close to her. As I continued to read about her abuse, I grew stronger. I was no longer alone. For a period of time the only books I read were stories about survivors; I didn’t want to read about healing. I wanted to become a part of a group of survivors. There were no survivor groups where I lived and there were no computers at the time, so the only connection I had was with the survivors who so graciously shared their stories. It was life changing for me. I continue to read survivors stories because it continuously brings me into the circle.
Jennifer: I wasn’t able to admit that I was a victim of sexual abuse until I started reading other people’s stories. They described the same types of things that happened to me as a kid. The only difference was that they had a label to define their experiences. I had always thought of it as “stuff that happened”, stuff that I didn’t think about, let alone talk about. It never occurred to me until then to attach the word abuse to my memories. If I hadn’t read the accounts of other survivors, I would most likely still be in denial today. I am so grateful to all the brave men and women that have opened up and shared their stories. They have paved the road for me and future generations to tell our stories and begin the healing process.
How Do I Disclose My Abuse?
As a survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Patty Hite has been tenaciously pursuing her healing for over thirty years. She’s a passionate advocate for all survivors and dedicates her life to inspiring emotional wholeness in others. As a former victim of spousal abuse, she’s delighted to find true love with her husband of five years. She’s blessed with four children and five grandchildren.
Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.
Jennifer Stuck is whole heartedly pursuing physical and emotional health and is determined to heal the wounds of her childhood sexual abuse. She loves to write, especially poetry. She has an open, accepting personality, and is always ready to crack a joke. She is currently studying for a career in Physical Therapy. When she isn’t in school Jennifer is at home spending time with her two beautiful daughters.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
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