I like to think of myself as a crusader. The internal image of myself is a fierce woman, charging on horseback toward oppressors, declaring the truth to those they hold bound and inspiring the captives to overthrow the tyrants’ rule. I don’t back down from standing for and with the oppressed.
I’d eliminated any residue of abusers from my life, but after the relief of not having a relationship with my parents for nearly six years, they were back in it. They sued me for defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress. I’d publicly exposed my childhood sexual abuse by my dad and they didn’t like that very much.
Being sued for exposing my sexual abuse meant I couldn’t walk away from my abusers this time. I not only had to read the painful lies my mother used as “discovery”, I had to respond with a defense. I felt controlled and victimized again.
Not knowing the outcome of the case, how long it would go on or how many thousands of dollars I’d have to invest, it was difficult to make plans or to be motivated to do much of anything. It felt like Evil held me as its captive.
As the case dragged on, the lawsuit took its toll. Instead of the determined charge, my internal image changed to the horse carrying my limp body back behind the castle walls. I retreated into the security of my home and I tucked in.
The most painful day of the lawsuit was when I realized the force of my mother’s efforts to shut me up. It felt like a denying of my existence. The things she wrote about me held so much disgust and hatred. She finally gave voice to all the things I’d sensed she felt for me when I was a child. I barely survived her indifference then. Now, instead of cold silence, it was brutal attacks. Total annihilation. That’s what my mother seemed to want.
“Stay the course” became my mantra when I felt like I couldn’t breathe through another moment of the struggle. As suffocating as it was to be sued for exposing my sexual abuse, I knew I’d feel even worse if I gave in. Many times, all I could do was curl up in my big, comfy chair. That was a strong as I could be—not giving in. I didn’t doubt I’d continue to stand and tell my truth; I just wondered how I’d continue.
When this lawsuit was brought against me, I felt cheated. I was only trying to do good, didn’t I deserve a $*@%**& break????? My version of order, my paradigm of the world, was crumbling.
Friends tried to encourage me with things like, “Justice will prevail” or “Truth will triumph”. But the truth is that good doesn’t always triumph over evil and love doesn’t always win. That’s not the world we live in. Innocent people are killed and raped and robbed every day. My parents stole my childhood from me and then invaded me again. If the world were just, I wouldn’t have been abused or sued. History is full of people who stand against evil and are destroyed for it.
I think those comforting platitudes are repeated to give us a sense of control when we face so much loss. Bargaining is a stage of grief and I was desperately grasping for order. Do good and things will work out—the reward of altruism.
Unconsciously, I’d made that deal with life. It was the same bargain I made with just about any abuser I’ve encountered: I’ll be good but just don’t hurt me. That deal never worked well with life or with abusers.
A part of me was still in the survival mentality I learned as a kid. As a child, being safe was just a fantasy. As an adult, I needed to let go of that fantasy and accept the world as it is. I wasn’t owed anything for doing good or being good.
Thankfully, after fourteen months, the lawsuit ended favorably for me. My father died and without his testimony, there was no case against me. I conceded to a few minor things that didn’t hinder me from telling my story or speaking my truth.
I’d love a happier ending than just being able to go on pretty much as I had. It would be wonderful if everything I’ve done to stand up to injustice would guarantee a positive outcome—for me and for others. I don’t have control over the world or how it works. I can’t stop injustice, no matter how hard I work, how passionately I speak, how sincerely I try, how much I give or give up.
Facing my loss of control actually set me free. Letting go of the outcome was liberating. I’m no longer tied to the conditions that I used to place on life. I’m free to speak the truth no matter if anyone else believes it or benefits from it. I may incur difficulties for it, but I’d rather face the pain of speaking out than the pain of staying silent.
I only have control of what I do with my life and my voice. And I use it to speak up for justice and compassion and equality and truth. I may not be able to stop abuse but I’ll live my life trying. And that’s a life that I’m happy to live.
Have you been sued for speaking out or afraid of speaking out for fear of being sued? How about other consequences for speaking out? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Please comment below and remember to subscribe to comments so you don’t miss any of the discussion. You don’t have to use your real name. Email addresses are never made public.
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.