In the book “Mending The Soul” the author Steven R. Tracy paints a picture of how widespread the problem of child sexual abuse is. He says that there are approximately 50,000 names on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. Mr. Tracy says that if we were to make a memorial to children in our society who have been sexually abused, it would need to be more than 1,300 times the size of the Vietnam Memorial (Tracy, 15). Unfortunately, my name would be on that list.
When I was six years old, living in Lexington, Kentucky I had an adult, female baby-sitter take advantage of me sexually. This abuse was an impactful time in my life; one that left me with emotional scars that I have carried into my adulthood. By the grace of God, we moved from Kentucky to Indiana, and I never saw that woman again. Overwhelmed by shame, I never told anyone until I got married and then told my wife.
So how do thousands of us who have been abused move forward? Let me give you a few keys to finding healing.
Acknowledge the damage
For many years I did not think that this childhood abuse really hurt me. I grew up with wonderful parents. I experienced so many blessings in my life that I was able to shove the abuse down deep and not deal with it. But damage was done.
My view of the world as a safe place was shattered. While I had an amazing family, there was some isolation because I had a secret. For some reason I thought that if it got out “what I had done” my father, who served as a minister, would be fired.
This belief was not true, but I was six and thought it was true (most likely my abuser told me this, but I don’t remember specifically). That is a lot to carry as a child. And then there was the guilt of not telling. I assume that woman abused other kids.
If I had told my parents and the authorities immediately, they would have stopped her. But the way in which she did it, I thought I was the one who would be in trouble. Again, not logical, but I was six, trying to grapple with a disturbing situation. Therefore, I waited too long. I do not know her name, and my parents could not figure out who it was, based on my description given decades later.
The hard truth is my silence aided her evil. That fact is heartbreaking and heavy.
Wrestle with God
As a Christian I believe in an all knowing and all powerful God. Therefore, I believe he watched me being abused and initially did little or nothing.
Now I am grateful he moved us to Indiana when he did. If we had not moved, that woman could have had access to me for years. What would have happened to me? To my little sister?
I understand that by giving humans free will evil is possible and becomes reality. If we are to truly have free will, God cannot step in every time someone is about to do something wicked.
If he did, then humanity would not truly have free will. I highly value the gift of free will. But sometimes God does step in and intervene. Why not earlier for me? Why not for so many others? Intellectually I get the “free will answer,” but emotionally not so much. Honestly, you might even have to “forgive God.” All I can say is that in my own life my goal is to trust God all the time.
Do not compare
I have worked in the ministry for 27 years and I was a crisis line worker for three and a half years: My wife and I served as foster parents as well. I have heard more horrifying stories of abuse than anyone should ever have to experience. I have to intentionally not compare trauma.
Others have been through much worse than I have, but that does not negate the pain I experienced.
My pain matters and so does yours. My story matters and it has to be dealt with wherever it falls on the severity scale.
I opened up first to my wife, who happens to be a therapist and an abuse survivor herself. She has been helpful. I encourage you to talk to someone, whether it be a pastor, counselor or wise mentor. Unpack the pain and help it heal.
One resource that has helped me is EMDR counseling. This helps you move trauma that is stuck in one part of the brain to where it needs to go long term. It is hard to explain the sense of relief that I felt sitting in the office of Terry Kelly of New Life Counseling and having him tell me towards the end of a session that I was safe. Intellectually I knew I had been safe for decades but something in me needed to hear it and actually believe it emotionally.
Offer yourself grace
In my case I had to “forgive” myself. Yes, I understand I was a child, I did nothing wrong, and the abuser was guilty not me. However, I still had to offer myself grace for not saying no to that woman. I had to “forgive” myself for not speaking up about my abuse when I was six. I have talked to victims who feel guilty because their abuse “felt good.” I have talked to those who let abuse go well past their childhood.
I had to come to a place where I can say with my head up that six-year-old Derek did the best he could with an overwhelming situation. Most days I really believe that.
Eventually a person should forgive the perpetrator as well, but that might require a book of explanation not a line in an article.
In conclusion, if you were abused as a child. Let me say I am so sorry that someone’s warped sexuality and evil intent invaded your life. I pray that you will find healing with God’s help and the help of others.
I genuinely believe there is hope and healing in a relationship with Jesus Christ; he has helped me and he can help you too.
Derek Dickinson is the Pastor at Journey Christian Church. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.