Because we have been weak, and frightened, lost, stuck, and confused, we have been forced to go deep into the crucible of our suffering and visit the frightened child left cowering in the dark. We cannot ignore the nagging pain that reminds us of our loss, or the myriad other shackles that we drag along behind us. Life is not compatible with so deep a pain, so great a loss.
Some children don’t make it to this point—they don’t survive. My brother didn’t. He left us early beneath the wheels of a speeding car. His teacher was perplexed. “It was as if he knew he was going to die," she said. It took me almost thirty years to figure out why-and then it came to me in a flash of understanding that took my breath away. I grieved, not only for Eddie but also for all the children out there, in our world who, like me, prayed to die—a prayer that wasn’t answered. It wasn’t until I talked about Eddie to a counselor that the truth came out, and she told me, “But you were the brave one. You were the strong one. You chose to live.”
Dear God, I grew up believing that if I were brave, I would have closed my eyes and walked into that street-out of the defilement, the agony, and the shame that consumed me. When Linda Mang, a family therapist in Port Huron, Mi spoke those words, a lifetime of self-judgment evaporated and another memory returned that gave me freedom to grieve other truths that I could not bear to remember. I remembered why my brother chose to die. I knew the moment of his decision and I knew that his accident, while not overtly suicide, was still his choice.
How does that make me strong? Steel receives its strength from being melted down, poured out, and solidified with fewer impurities. Just so, the survivor of sexual abuse experiences that refining process a thousand times over in the process of recovery. The recovering survivor is on a mission—
she has made up her mind to face the past with all its pain, and adjust her thinking to accept truths that have long been denied to her conscious mind. She is a warrior, armed with courage, questing after the dignity, the freedom, and the joy that was stolen from her when she was young, vulnerable, or emotionally comatose.
A person who has experienced sexual abuse has a choice to make—
a choice that will spawn a thousand others which will make her strong, or else destroy her life one day at a time, according to the consequences of the choice. The choice is this: Will I deny that the sexual abuse has left its ugly imprint on my life, or will I face the beast and bravely go about redeeming the treasures taken from me? The recovering abuse survivor matures into personal growth, relational honesty, and a fierce determination to make a difference in a world that is replete with sorrow. Recovering sexual abuse survivors are among some of the strongest and most resilient people on the planet.
© Linda Settles