As I tell my story of sexual trauma and exploitation, others often share with me that they have a story of abuse too, and then they hastily add, “It’s not as bad as yours. It was just one time. Or one perpetrator. Or a long time ago. Or, Or, Or…..
I always reply with this: Own your story. Your story matters too. Painful stories are not to be placed on a scale. Pain is pain. Assault, rape, abuse – it deserves its own space in your story. Personal violence is disruptive no matter how brief the exposure.
This journey has taught me there are just different traumas, however, each is painful and debilitating. Each requires courage to face. No doubt your trauma left a mark on you. Depression, trust, intimacy hang-ups, body issues, self-harm patterns, and the list goes on.
If someone tells me they have cancer, I have just as much empathy for them as I do the person with sexual assault. Cancer is no picnic! And, after walking the road with some dear friends, they tell me it feels like a betrayal from their own body. And, I have heard that from sexual trauma victims too. The emotions that arise from our painful stories are actually more similar than we realize. It’s just the roots that are different.
Another response is folks that say, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.” Well, there are a lot of other painful situations that I can’t imagine either. Again: pain is pain.
I’m giving you permission to carry your painful stories gently and reverently. Own them, become comfortable with them, and they will, eventually, ask less of you over time.
From another perspective, if you or I minimize our stories then we are minimizing someone else’s story that resembles ours. There are, unfortunately, thousands of stories of assault and abuse from priests, church leaders, teachers, coaches, Boy/Girl Scout leaders, trainers, medical professionals, and next door neighbors.
Each breach of boundary is important to acknowledge – it leads us define what a healthy boundary feels like.
I’ve been the first witness to long held secrets many times now. And what I can tell you is that keeping it locked up inside is a form of denial. It doesn’t mean you need to take a public stance and tell the world, it means you open up to those closest to you that love you. You become vulnerable with trusted people in your life.
Perhaps you just quietly say “Me Too” in the mirror to practice being honest with yourself. Open your journal and write it out – yes, this happened, this is part of my story. Send yourself an email with the subject line: Me Too and see how it feels to see it in black and white in your handwriting, and/or on your computer screen. Perhaps you decide to sit with a therapist or other trauma professional to unpack this old story that has layers of dust covering it up.
Then, when you feel you’ve gathered your strength around this event, you can open up to those closest to you.
I do believe it’s important to tell the story to folks that are safe. Reclaiming our voice after silence is an empowering action. Chances are that silence has cost you something.
The last consideration I will share is this: silence has allowed this rape culture to become epidemic. If I’d been able to find my words, it might have saved victims that came after me. I’ll never know because I didn’t find my words until my grandfather had been dead for 20 years.
Here are the hard stats: the average perpetrator has 117 victims in his/her lifetime – our silence has allowed them to continue harming. THIS is why the stats also tell us that 1 in 5 children have experienced sexual assault by the age of 18. THIS is criminal and epidemic. My friends with breast cancer have a 1 in 8 chance of having breast cancer by the time they are 88 years old – and breast cancer has been an epidemic for 20 years.
It’s time for sexual violence to be declared an epidemic too. We can change these statistics. Let’s do better for our children. Let’s do better for each other.
p.s. If you want to read about my story,you can dig around in this blog OR you can wait for my book! “The Other F Word, My Manual on Forgiveness.” Sign up for my email list here: www.thekiinside.com – it will be available on amazon for pre-order soon.