Break the Silence

“In times like these, silence puts the rights of future generations at risk. Silence will not protect us or the next generation. Speaking out and struggling for change can.” 

P. Senior

We’re often intrigued by people who have faced harrowing feats and survived.

Books detailing near-death experiences fill row after row of bookshelves at Chapters. Television shows and movies depict extraordinary tales of survival, while newscasts, podcasts, newspapers, and magazines are replete with stories of ordinary folks who’ve had to overcome severe challenges to find a slice of happiness. We enjoy these stories because they open our eyes to the incredible will to survive all humans possess. Inspirational and empowering, they remind us of our strength, and make us believe we can handle anything that comes our way. But the tales I’m interested in hardly ever get told. They’re hidden away, shrouded in secrecy, essentially ignored.

For generations, countless adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse have kept their stories quiet, out of fear and shame, or some misguided sense of loyalty to family and community—even, in some cases, to their abusers. It’s time to break the silence. We need the stories of these women and men. If we’re ever going to understand how to change things for our own children, and see an end to childhood sexual abuse, we—the victims, the survivors—must speak out. We have to break the shell of our silence and let the light of truth in. Only light can dissipate darkness.

Let our legacy—rather than silence, shame, mistrust, broken relationships, addiction, and devastation—be the power and protection our words and actions affect. Let it be our personal mission to make it known, from coast to shining coast, that we won’t be silenced any longer. Because silence is deadly. Let our voices be heard, loud and clear, unabashed. Let us stand, united as one unequivocal force, and face this demon once and for all. Let us finally call it out for what it is—an act of war—an act of war against the very nature of a human being. And perhaps, finally, the deed that’s been done in dark corners for centuries will get the attention it deserves. Because, as every survivor knows, ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Ignorance perpetuates an environment for these crimes to breed. Silence leaves our children dangerously vulnerable. We have to set fire to this hateful crime once and for all. Light your lanterns. Carry your torches. Let’s burn it to the ground.

Child sexual abuse is not about sex. Rape is not about sex. Sexual abuse, despite its name, in actuality has nothing to do with sexuality. It’s about force, power, domination and control. And sexual assault doesn’t discriminate. Its victims, male and female alike, come from a wide variety of backgrounds, regardless of geographical location, socio-economic class, ethnicity, and/or religion. Our experiences may differ, but the crime itself is far too common, and it has to stop.

We have to speak up to protect the children. To save ourselves. By giving voice to our most traumatic experiences, we reclaim a power that was taken without consent, reach back across time, into the past, and rewrite history. No longer victims, we are survivors telling our stories, in order to bring these crimes into the light of understanding. Together, we have the power to create a world where women and children are no longer victims, stripped of their basic human rights on a daily basis.

In the meantime, how does one survive childhood sexual abuse? How does one reclaim stolen power and heal the wounds imprinted on her soul? How does one stop feeling like a victim and start to feel strong again?

Honestly, I don’t know that there’s a recipe, or even a good answer to that question. For me, it happens in fits and starts; I struggle to varying degrees, over a variety of issues, and some days are easier than others. But I know that sharing my story has helped, not only myself– rewriting the past has enabled me to find some tangible perspective– but also others, who have read about my experiences and seen a part of their story in my own. The path to healing and recovery is different for each and every one of us, in every situation across the spectrum, at every possible crossroad of intersectionality. Still, despite each difference and in spite of every variance, one thing remains the same: we survived. We fucking survived.

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often face considerable challenges in life. Surviving trauma of that magnitude requires incredible amounts of strength and resilience. Sadly, healing from such trauma often involves revisiting it, again-again-again, in a vicious cycle of self-punishment and abuse until it has been processed, assimilated, and transmuted on a soul level. Sometimes this never happens.

Problems with trust, relationships, fear, shame, personal boundaries, and low self-esteem are prevalent, as well as health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In severe cases, more serious conditions can develop, like dissociative identity disorder (DID). Often survivors must deal with addiction or self-medication, or even the urge to self-harm, due to feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy. And eating disorders are not uncommon, at either end of the spectrum, whether related to obesity or anorexia/bulimia. The effects of abuse are vast and enduring. We’ve come so far in our understanding, we have so far yet to go, but the first step, the one all others depend upon, is to break the silence. Because as we’ve learned, time and time again, silence is deadly.

The past infiltrated every aspect of my life for more than thirty years. I only began to heal when I finally started to share my story. Monsters in the dark can grow so big they swallow us whole. Only the wide open space of light can set us free.

*This post fist appeared on Living the Dream blog*

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