by Christina Enevoldsen
The sun was falling behind the trees, the wind was gusting and the child desperately sought refuge, though not from the elements. The same man who had hurt her before in ways she couldn’t understand was getting closer. The girl spotted movement in one of the houses. A woman was inside, cheerful watering the dozen or so plants that hung at her window. The small fists banged on the door, “Let me in…Help me, PLEEEEASE!” Getting no reply, she ran to the window, frantically motioning for the woman’s attention. Seemingly oblivious to the sobbing child’s face pressed outside the glass, the woman continued humming to herself.
With nowhere else to go, the little girl tried to hide, willing herself to be invisible, hoping the danger would pass if she stayed quiet and still. But as she crouched in her makeshift refuge, the man was beside her, hovering, reaching down…
My mother wouldn’t tolerate anything that was disturbing. If her peace was threatened, she had a way of locking it out with something stronger and colder than bars and gates. Over the years, I made several attempts to ask for help, for protection, for comfort, for guidance from my mom. I told her things that would have unsettled her if she’d actually heard me. She either walked out of the room or if she stayed, she remained unmoved, vacant. She loved her peace.
I wanted peace too. I wanted to be able to sleep securely in my bed instead of being violated by my dad before the sun came up. I wanted relief from my role as a sexual toy to my father and his friends. I wanted freedom from the vague but constant feeling of being hunted. But my mom wanted peace, so there wasn’t any peace for me.
I pursued peace all of my life and I thought I knew the way to get it. Surviving the abusive system meant that I learned “my place”. I believed that placating abusers was the way to achieve peace. There were rules to follow and as long as I was “good”, I’d be safe: Keep quiet; don’t expect better; don’t question anything; don’t resist. Conflict was life threatening and there was no standing against it. Abusers always win, which meant more punishment if I didn’t cooperate. I adapted by becoming very sensitive to other people’s moods so I could fix them before something bad happened. It’s no wonder I grew up a people pleaser.
Like my mother, I learned to keep my head down and keep the peace. I didn’t question the rightness or wrongness of that system—I just accepted it. I tried to live in peace by being peaceful, but that didn’t work. I was victimized more, not less. There was no pleasing abusers. In all my efforts, in all my experience with a lifetime of abusers, not one of them ever stopped hurting me because I finally “won them over” by being good enough. Whatever I did, they always found ways to criticize me so they could punish me with more abuse. I wanted peace, but they wanted power.
Believing I lacked any ability to impact my environment, the only “safe space” was the false safety I created within my head. I dismissed potential danger; I ignored possible threats. My mantra was “It will be okay”. For all my efforts, peace eluded me.
Escaping into my head was the only place I could go when I was a child. But the abuse and the abusers were in my head too, manifested through the lies I believed about myself. To really have peace, I had to fight. I had to wrestle with the truth within myself.
The truth is that I’m not a child anymore, whose only hope of survival is to gain acceptance. I’m a capable adult and I won’t die if I oppose someone. Their displeasure won’t kill me and their rejection won’t harm me. I don’t have to go along with things I don’t like and I don’t have to be quiet. When I stopped fearing the consequences of conflict, I learned to oppose abuse.
Years ago, I thought the most frightening thing in the world would be to stand up to abusers. But the willingness to stand toe to toe with an abuser isn’t where I needed the most courage. I showed the most courage when I started to stand up to the lies within me—when I began to challenge the false messages I learned from the abuse. When I was finally able to confront what really happened to me and really understood the truth, confronting abuse outside of me became much less difficult.
The old role of “peacekeeper” sometimes tries to pull me back in. In a moment of panic, I feel like the same little girl who had no impact, whose only defense was to submit and hope “it” wouldn’t be too bad. But I’m not that helpless, frightened little girl anymore.
When abusers go unchallenged, when victims go unheard, there is no peace. I’ve declared war on the abusive systems of the world. As I’ve stood for the truth, truth has caused conflict in my relationship with others, but I don’t try to control that anymore. I don’t need others to affirm the truth for me to believe it. I don’t have to have “peace” with others to have peace within myself. Yes, I’ve made some enemies but I can finally sleep peacefully.
Now that you’ve heard my experience and thoughts about this, I’d love to hear yours. Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to partake in the discussion.
Forgetting About Abuse: Who Does That Really Serve?
Standing Up For Myself: Reclaiming My Self-Worth
Domestic Violence: The Signs I Missed
Dating After Sexual Abuse: Who Was I Attracting?
Straight Talk to Parents About Protecting Children From Sexual Abuse
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.