“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32
Today I read this blog post by a woman named Laura. It’s her story about finally coming forward and reporting the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her grandfather. I cried as I read Laura’s story. I cried as she described wanting to dance on her grandfather’s grave. I cried the moment she and her cousin decided to report the abuse to the police. I cried when they called her sister from the police station and had her give her statement. Mostly I cried at the freedom and validation she felt by having her truth told and acknowledged publicly. Because I know how freeing and healing it is to be able to tell your truth. To no longer hide it, keeping it tucked away deep inside like it never happened.
When I was molested by my step-father at 13 there was no police report filed. There was no public announcement made. I never even got to confront him. I was removed from the situation and taken to live where I was safe (and I’m thankful for that). But I was told that reporting it could ruin his life and his career. I was told that I was confused, that I had misunderstood what had happened. I was told I needed to talk to a counselor – a stranger who sat behind a large desk. There was a lot of whispering behind closed doors. There were awkward hugs and “how are you doing?” from family members. I wasn’t sure who knew and who didn’t. If they did know, most of them never said anything to me, and I was afraid to bring it up.
While no one ever said the topic was taboo, I felt it deep in my heart. I felt like it was too big, too real for anyone to handle. I felt like the only person I was supposed to talk to about it was my counselor, who was the very last person I wanted to open up to. So I pushed down my truth and hid it in a dark corner, under a heavy rock in the pit of my stomach.
There it stayed, only shared with two or three friends for the next 8 years, until I was 21. Out of nowhere the truth came bubbling to the surface and exploded from the years of pressure and subconscious effort it had taken to keep it hidden. I fell into a deep depression for a year and almost didn’t graduate college. But, the good news was that explosion forced me to seek help. It forced me to get the counseling I needed but hadn’t wanted at 13. It forced me to start telling my story.
Over the years, through lots of counseling and prayer, and amazing support from my husband, I learned how to own my truth. I was able to start sharing with other people what had happened to me. The first few times I told my story my hands trembled, my heart raced and I sobbed, barely able to get the words out. Then, with each telling it got easier. With each telling I healed a little bit more; I took another step towards freedom and forgiveness. I began to own my past, not be afraid of it.
With each telling I was met by women who confided they, too, had been molested or sexually assaulted. Each and every single time. And I would hear God say, “There are more. Keep telling your story because there are more.”
Last year I told my story in the most public forum to-date, this blog. To date over 400 people have read that post and because of it I’ve been approached by women who have been molested, or had a sister, a daughter, a grand-daughter who have been there. They’ve sought me out eagerly, with a sense of urgency, and whispered this in my ear or sent me private messages, still unable to tell their truth out loud, but wanting so bad to tell someone. Some women have confided they’ve never told another living soul, others said only a few very close family members knew. Yet, they were compelled to tell me because it felt safe. I was one of them. And I could see the slight unburdening of their soul as they shared with me.
My sisters (and brothers) there are so very many of us who have been hiding our truth for too long. Thinking we were the only ones. It’s time to end the silence and the fear. Whether you choose to file a report with the authorities, like Laura, to tell your best friend, or share with your Bible study group — don’t be afraid to tell your story. Don’t be afraid to own your truth and reclaim it from your abuser.
Let God be your armor and your strength. You are not alone and you are loved.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” – Ephesians 6:13-14
[Author’s note: While I believe that telling our truth is a freeing and healing step for those who have suffered sexual abuse or trauma, I also want to stress that doing so may open up a lot of old wounds, especially if you have been keeping your secret for a long time. I encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse to seek out professional counseling to help you work through your past and move toward healing.
Update, May 3, 2016: I dear friend of mine, also a victim of childhood sexual abuse, recently released a book called Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to find healing from the abuse of their past.]