First off, I need to give a little back-story in regards to this post. The other day, a site online posted something started by someone else in regards to the issue of survivors of sexual abuse. This site did not ask the permission of the person who had originally brought up the question, using her picture and those of the ones who had responded.
Though the writer who reposted these things may have posted this with good intentions, it was also careless to do so without the consent of the original person. Not only because they didn’t ask for permission, but this then caused many of the women who had been brave enough to open up in the first place to become concerned that their story would be put out to the world in a larger format without their permission. Another reason that this was detrimental was that people had started commenting really rude things to those survivors and trying to place the blame on the victims or to justify what had happened to them without understanding the larger issue.
Why this goes against the cause so much is this: those who have been victims of sexual abuse have a hard enough time being open about their experience in the first place. It is not something that just comes up in casual conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t come up at all. People who have suffered this kind of abuse do not need another reason to feel scared to tell their story. I know this because I suffered from sexual abuse for years as a child. I will not go into details about what happened to me because the details of the abuse are not as important as what comes from the abuse. The worst part of sexual abuse is not the actual action that occurs but the years of pain that come after it.
I can only speak from my experience but I would gather that many people who have gone through this kind of abuse could relate. I spent most of the years before I opened up about it by wearing a mask. I put on a smile and a happy attitude because I was terrified. I was terrified that anyone would get close to me, that anyone would see through the façade and see the real me. The one who was ashamed. The one who was scared. The one who felt dirty, and wrong, and unable to feel that anyone could accept me. The best example for what it felt like was truly putting up a wall. Each time I said ‘I’m fine’ I placed another brick down. Every time I hid my pain from others, I built it bigger and bigger. Eventually, that boundary was so large and hardened, that it just became a part of me. Something I would not allow to be torn down. Even the people closest to me had no idea. I never felt I could trust anyone with that secret. I did whatever I could to numb the pain, and push it so far down into the recesses of my being, that I could keep it like a monster in a cage.
But I was only good at keeping the monster from others, it would still find a way to speak to me from the darkness. To scratch it’s long claws at my self-worth. It caused me to harm myself, to hate myself, to want to end my life before anyone could ever figure out what was wrong. Once I ate most of a bottle of pills and another time sat on my parent’s bed with my father’s handgun in my mouth, and at this point I wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s permit. This is what fear can do. This is what pain can do.
I continued to live this way for many years, up into my adulthood. Finally I knew that I had to make a change to my life or things would never get better. Though it was the hardest step, it was also the most liberating, and I was able to tell a few close friends and family about it. Just saying the words were able to make cracks in that wall I had built. It wasn’t like opening a flood gate and everything was magically cured, but it was a start. It was a new beginning.
And that is not to say I am fully healed now. I am in the best place I’ve been in my life. I’m able to be open and honest with not only myself but others. But it took time. It took work. It took making changes that I never thought possible. Every once and a while the hurt will resurface and to this day it is still very hard for me to have physical contact with other people whether it is a handshake or a hug, but the way I deal with things is different now. I made a decision and I’ve stuck to that.
The biggest decision was that I would no longer let my abuser hold it over me. You see the actual abuse may go away, but what they have done can still permeate every faction of your life. And I was tired of it. Tired of letting that make me feel like I was a bad person, or unloved, unworthy, or wrong. The person who did it to me did not deserve to have that kind of power over me anymore. I had to make the choice to rise above it. I did not want to just be the victim, I wanted to be the survivor, the hero, the one who overcame it.
The other day after all this went down on Twitter, I had posted some of my thoughts to those who were survivors. And this got a huge response from many people. Some of them reached out to me personally, some thanked me for what I had said. I was not looking for any kind of praise or something like that, but felt I needed to say what I’ve been feeling for so long now.
This brings me to the point of this post. Myself and many others have been brave enough to share their stories. But for everyone of us who have, there are so many others who have not, who cannot yet express themselves because of that fear. But sometimes all it takes are words. There are power in our words. Words of understanding and courage can mean the difference. Sometimes we just need to hear them to get the courage to stand up. And that is what brings me to the title of this post. That we can be heroes. We are survivors, but we can be a hero to someone else. Someone at this moment is struggling with the hurt and unable to speak that, but a hero can come at the right time for them by just being brave enough to speak out.
Yes, there are those that will try and justify something as horrible as rape. This comes from ignorance, from not understanding. But we need to stand strong together to pass those comments on. Those people who feel the need to speak that way do not get to hold anything over those of us who are stronger. We should not be made to feel like we are wrong all over again. Our stories are worthy, we are stronger than this.
I do not claim to have any definitive knowledge of how to change the world. I can’t write a self-help book, and I don’t have any answers other than what has been true to myself. But I believe that we need to stand together, to lean on each other for support, and continue to push forward in our healing. The road is hard, but it is worth taking. We need to take back our lives and know we are stronger for what we’ve been through. We did not deserve what happened to us, but we can use it to break free and be who we truly are. We are survivors and we can be heroes. We can make a change in this world, bring light to something that affects so many people, those who can speak on it, and those who can’t. No woman or man should feel afraid or ashamed, they should be held up and helped, and seen for the bravery they have inside.
To those who have not had the ability to speak up, I hope you know that you are worth more than what happened to you. Though you may not feel it now, you have the power in you to break free from the pain and hurt that was given to you. This life is not easy and you can’t heal in a day, but you should not be ashamed of yourself. The only ones who should feel that are the ones who caused you to feel this way, the ones who did this to you. Just by going on day by day, you are braver and stronger than they will ever be.
We can all be heroes to someone. Let’s start today.