By Elizabeth Shane
What happens after you make the painful and difficult decision to disclose and/or speak out about your experience of childhood sexual abuse? Are you ‘fixed?’ Are you a completely different person, floating through time on a peaceful cloud, liberated and understood by everyone? Do you feel, now you have taken that brave step, able to just ‘move on’ with your life, as you might have hoped or expected to? Has the misconception towards survivors radically changed, who no longer feel the need to prove themselves to others to be believed, listened to, or accepted? If only life was that simple!
Do you ever consider the impact after the storm, when the dust settles and start to digest the aftermath of sharing your truth, hidden in silence for so long? The questions. Oh, the questions! They can be endless. Why didn’t you tell anyone? I would have known! Why wait all this time to say anything? Why see your abuser/s if they did anything to you, I certainly wouldn’t have and doesn’t make any sense? What if other people find out, how will that impact on the rest of the family or friends? How could you love your abuser/s? What if people associate me with you, let alone be related! As a survivor, it can be incredibly terrifying to even contemplate disclosing or speaking out, without the barrage of damaging comments which can push that person back into a wall of silence. It is human nature to question things we do not understand but words can be chosen with kindness and compassion, and willingness to listen. It is mind boggling, the narrative thoughts, and preconceived ideas, conditioned from society, from lack of understanding or fear of hearing such a taboo subject spoken about in public!
Sadly, it occurs, often appearing as veiled, undertones of voice, to silence the survivor who takes a brave step to talk about their abuse. These are unfortunately common threads survivors of childhood sexual abuse face and continue to, and this needs to change! Imagine, after years of not being able to tell anyone what happened to you and finally making that choice to open a piece of your heart, put yourself in a vulnerable position and say what you were put through, only to have louder voices trying to shut you down again. Whatever method a survivor uses to disclose or speak out, whether it is in a book, poetry, a letter, on social media, shouting from the rooftops or telling one person, it can be a life changing moment.
I reflect on my own personal experience as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I disclosed my abuse to a couple of close friends as a teenager, not having an inkling or understanding of what I was saying. I barely spoke about it after that and minimised my own trauma. After years of suffering mental, emotional, psychological, and physical effects from the abuse, I finally came forward, over forty years from when the sexual abuse started. First to the police, then the circle of family, friends, and wider community, eventually writing about my experience through poetry and public speaking. Why did I wait so long? So many reasons to select, these are just a few: Fear! Shame! Not being believed, lack of self-worth. Would I be viewed differently? Was it my fault? Will I be in trouble! All are familiar words for many survivors. And now? Why did I disclose and share, years later? Because the impact of carrying the anchor of trauma and shame was so heavy, I was drowning into oblivion. The challenges and struggles, processing the after effects of past trauma and how this presents itself in my everyday life, are, at times, incomprehensible. I hold no regrets speaking out and will continue to raise awareness, as I hope each person who hears my story, takes something from it, whether as a survivor embarking on their journey, or someone who has not been through this. By breaking the taboo around difficult conversations, it allows more understanding, awareness, knowledge, and education, giving survivors a right to be heard, and encouragement to recognise their own strength and self-worth.
Am I ‘fixed?’ I prefer not to use that word as I realise, I was never broken to start with! But it has taken a long time to recognise and a continual process, especially on days when darkness tries its hardest to sink the light. The damage inflicted on me has been from the hands of my perpetrators, who changed how I interacted with my internal self. Unfortunately, it is not something that just disappears. I haven’t vanquished my negative thoughts, feelings, or demons to an eternal hole. It takes patience, time, exploration, a gradual journey of healing, using therapeutic sources, including finding my voice through creative self-expression. My mental health concerns are still there. They didn’t run away when I said the words, “I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse!” In fact, mental health issues are often heightened under the complexities that result from abuse, as well as reactions from individuals and others who try and squash your growth, whether through fear, ignorance, shame, choice or by lack of acceptance for the person they no longer recognise. A person who has evolved with confidence, passion, determination, and a voice to bear witness of untold stories for one and many survivors who gather in strength and number to be heard, to speak with honesty, integrity, and courage, drawing on the world around me as inspiration for living in the present moment and exploring new opportunities in the hope for a brighter future.
What works for one person, doesn’t always work for another. As survivors, we endure unfair battles, not chosen or asked for in unseen wars. We each find a path and journey towards recovery and healing, at our own pace. But I will say this much. There is always calm after the storm!
*We have added Elizabeth’s second poetry book ‘Rainbow of Promise’ to our Resources https://isurvive.org/helpful-resources/books-you-may-find-helpful/