Darkness and Light
Once upon a time, I was molested. It happened at a church camp I was attending in 1969. I was ten years old. It happened on a sunny afternoon when I should have been swimming, but a forgotten towel had sent me scurrying back to my cabin, alone, but not for long. My camp counselor, a man old enough to be my grandfather, was there in the dark shadows of the cabin. Years later, I would wonder why he was even permitted there, alone in a girls cabin. I would have so many other questions about what followed. Questions like, why me? Why didn’t I tell anyone for the next thirty years? If I had told, would I have been believed? If I had been believed, what would have happened? Would he have been confronted? Or would I have been further shamed in the process of telling my story?
Years passed during which I experienced episodes of severe depression. Severe enough that I made a plan to commit suicide. I would drive off a familiar road and into the deep waters of an old quarry. I would not struggle for breath as my car sank. I would just peacefully drift along until someone discovered my floating, dead body. I was just so very tired. Tired of wearing a mask of happiness. Tired of pretending everything was fine when it wasn’t. Only in hindsight can I now say that back then I was also so very tired of suppressing a deep, childhood secret.Finally, in 2003, I told a spiritual director when I couldn’t stop crying while on a retreat. She was a Catholic sister, and much to my amazement, she didn’t further shame me, as I expected anyone who knew about my childhood abuse would. She empathized, said there were so many of us out there, so many who had trusted church authorities and been taken advantage of. She encouraged me to seek further counseling when I returned home.
I didn’t seek further help. Instead, I told my husband, and washed my hands of the sordid tale. I was healed. It was so easy! I just had to tell someone. But we all know it’s never that easy.
I continued to struggle with depression. In my head, I downplayed the molestation that was always intermingled with questions. I would repeatedly remind myself, I wasn’t raped. I had only been fondled. I wonder if he’s still alive? After all, it happened so long ago. Could my depression be somehow connected to my past history of trauma? I needed to just get over it, pick myself up by my own bootstraps, and move on. Why am I crying? What’s wrong with me?
Eventually, at the prompting of a good friend (herself a childhood sexual abuse survivor), I went into therapy where I began to realize the tentacles of abuse reach deep into a person’s psyche and spirit. I started doing yoga and realized how disembodied I had become over the decades. I had a deep tissue massage and realized how memories are more than mental images stored in our minds. They are emotions stored in our muscles, bones, and in the very cells and tissues of our bodies. I started to write seriously and truthfully about my past and realized I needed to unburden my fears and story into the safe vessel of my journal again and again until a new narrative began to emerge.
Healing from childhood sexual abuse, I now believe, is a complicated, long process. There is no “once” and done. There is no closure.
Rather healing is like tending a plant. There are times of growth, dormancy, yellow wilting leaves, attacks by aphids, and times when a good fertilizer is needed. And there are painful times when you’ve outgrown the comfortable pot, and need to be uprooted and replanted into a larger vessel, where eventually the entire cycle repeats.
The solace lies in the leaves. The leaves always turn to seek the light, even when their roots are shrouded in darkness.
Over the years, I’ve been “repotted” many times, now to the point where I want to help other women through Women of Wonder @WomenofWonderCircle.com, a sanctuary that offers women with a history of sexual trauma space to explore lingering shame before moving into empowerment.
So much healing can happen when we share our stories, our shame, and lives with others who have lived similarly. We realize we’re not alone, and we move from darkness into light.