It’s Child Abuse Awareness Month.
A lot of people think they’re ‘aware’ of child abuse. But the most important thing to be aware of is that child abuse manifests itself in many ways, and can happen to anyone anywhere – the only way to prevent child abuse is to believe stories when they are told to you, notice signs of untold stories, and to ensure – in any way, shape or form – that children are comfortable and safe telling you their stories, the latter being the hardest part. Because every kid knows that they should tell a trusted adult if something is happening to them behind closed doors, but what we forget is that abused kids are being groomed and given favours and sharing ‘special secrets’ with a “trusted” adult. What is not seen or heard about though, can’t necessarily help kids to relate to their private pain and fear. Openness and de-sensitizing stories about abuse can bring the ability to talk to the forefront of a child’s mind. That’s important.
I can’t help anyone really, but what I can do is be frank with my few readers and followers today. For anyone who reads this and doesn’t know, I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. It is what it is, and it’s something I’m increasingly growing comfort and peace with as I get older and overcome a lot of the fears and complexities that results from that experience. I have a lot to learn and a lot to grapple with, and a lot of insecurities. But nonetheless. I don’t tell people this so they’ll feel sorry for me. I tell people this so they can understand where I’m coming from a little better, and also so I can help in even a small way, to lend my experiences to overcoming and eradicating untold stories of abuse.
While there is a lot to unpack about my experiences, it is hard to get people to understand them. But to add some universality to what I’ve lived through and help people see and feel what I have salvaged from it, here are ten crucial lessons I’ve learned from my experiences that I think are important to articulate for Child Abuse Awareness Month (in no particular order except for number 1):
10. My experiences with abuse have made me a very self-aware young person.
Having retreated so much due to my experiences, I became very introverted then overcame that (at least a little) later in life. I’ve realized that helping myself through these experiences without telling my parents or a therapist or other trusted adults before I became an adult my age, I knew what I did/do, whether it’s good or bad, to cope with, or as a result of, my experiences. I know what I need – and in fact, this was a hallmark of my strengths as a teacher. Having said that, I need to get from knowing what I need, to acting on what I need.
9. My reactions to abuse, are reasons but not excuses.
Having tragedy in your life isn’t an excuse to succumb to your emotional injuries or react selfishly or angrily to anything. We’re human beings though, and whether we’ve faced tragedy or not, we slip up and react in haste and let our insecurities, whatever they may be, get the best of us. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not defined by where you came from. And to be strong is to pick and choose pieces of your past and overcome the bad parts and use the good parts to propel yourself forward. I don’t always do this, but in the past couple of years I’m closer than I ever have been.
8. When one thing is wrong, everything feels wrong, but — everything isn’t actually wrong.
Mistakes, screw ups, bad days… it all tends to latch itself onto the end-all and be-all of how you screwed up in life, and how bad it feels to be ‘damaged’. A screw-up makes you feel completely destroyed. Like nothing in that moment is worthwhile. YOU’RE not worthwhile. Damage courses through your body, touching even the farthest tips of your limbs and into parts of your body you didn’t even realize you were aware of. But it’s important to breathe, shake it off, and remember that all of this – the bad day, the negative feelings, the excruciating pain – are temporarily affecting you. And this too, shall pass. And it always does.
7. ‘If you can get through this, you can get through anything’ is almost always true.
While I don’t think you can equate your own inner turmoil and social-emotional challenges with the difficulties that come with just being alive every day, it’s important to remind yourself every single day that you made it this far, even if “this far” is just — I woke up today, and I pushed aside that one trigger that tried to get the best of me. Everyone’s life has challenges. Your challenge is unique. Sometimes it will help you and sometimes your daily struggles will be just hard.
6. You don’t have to own your own story all the time.
We don’t like the term ‘victim’ – we like the term ‘survivor’. But we can’t be survivors all the time. Sometimes everything triggers us, everything is hard, everything sucks, and we become weak and allow ourselves to be overtaken by these painful memories we have. That’s okay. It takes a very strong, steady person to be completely level, but it’s an even stronger quality to admit that sometimes we’re weak.
5. Nobody has the right to your story except you.
Everyone and their dog has opinions and questions and/or shocking reactions or worst of all, pity towards you because of what you’ve gone through. They might try and dole out advice or ask you invasive questions, or chastise you for not going to the police about your experience when you ‘should have’. They might offer to help by telling the police for you, or sugget you confront your abuser or something. But, it’s your story. You know what’s best for you. If you didn’t tell, you didn’t tell. If you choose not to confront anyone, you choose not to confront anyone. Don’t let anyone tell you how you ‘should’ live your life and how to handle your past.
4. Friends who use your experiences against you, are not your friends.
People aren’t always going to understand you. But if they get angry at you for that, they get angry for your actions, and they treat you like someone lesser with looser morals and they chalk you up to someone with “issues”, then… they’re bad people and you don’t need them. It’s that simple.
3. It’s not your fault.
This is something anyone and everyone is going to tell you; your friends, parents, adults, Thought Catalog articles, therapists, and basically everyone in the whole world. But there’s a difference between knowing this, and truly believing it. To believe it is to move forward, even if it’s just believing it for five seconds every day. Or writing it down in your diary. It’s of utmost importance to remember just how not your fault it is.
2. You’re allowed to hate your abuser.
Some people I know who have lived this experience tell me they do not ‘hate’ because hatred holds you back (more on this in the next lesson). But you know what? I don’t necessarily agree. I think it’s okay to hate your wrongdoers, as long as that hatred doesn’t eat you alive or keep you up at night. I’ve had normal experiences and thoughts and emotions taken from me because of this experience. I have an evil person to blame for that, and I have no qualms at calling them evil or being glad they’re not alive anymore. It’s too late to ever take back what has happened to me. Hate is all I have. That’s not “positive” or “helpful” but it is what it is, and it’s ok.
1. Forgiveness isn’t for them – forgiveness is for you.
The most important thing about abuse of any kind, is forgiveness. To reconcile is to enable yourself to move forward. To forgive doesn’t mean you are letting the person who hurt you off the hook. What it means is to remember to ease up on yourself. You interacted with someone poisonous. But you’re still breathing, and your body functions. And what this thread in your life has brought you, for better or worse (it will depend on the day) is simply a different way to see the world. Sometimes it will be petulant and pained and sometimes it’s going to be empowering in a strange way. Either way, to forgive is about your ability to understand that what someone did to you, isn’t anything to do with you; it isn’t anything to do with your capabilities, or your “lacks” as a human being. Forgiving someone is to let yourself off and that’s one of the most important and empowering lessons you can teach yourself in life, regardless of what struggles you’ve had or not had.