“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change.
You just come out the other side.
Or you don’t.”
Stephen King – The Stand
I had someone ask me a few days back why we use the word survivor. My initial reaction was, “Well, because we survived.” Seems pretty self-explanatory.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since, though. Why is that word the word we use? I didn’t use it until last year- not even when Oprah used it. As I’ve written before, I didn’t use that word earlier in my life because I think I knew, on some level, that the jury was still out on whether or not I would survive.
We use that word, survive, because not all of us do.
Not all of us survive.
Some of our trauma is so violent that we don’t survive the event itself. Our lives are cut short. Our school pictures end abruptly. So many ‘firsts’ unachieved. So many milestones unreached.
We mourn the children who die far too young at the hands of their abusers.
So many of us seek to numb the crushing pain of our abuse with drugs and alcohol- and that may work for a while, but you cannot live on anesthesia indefinitely.
We mourn our sisters and brothers who succumb to addiction as a result of their abuse.
Many of us view our bodies themselves as crime scenes. We starve ourselves, cut ourselves. If our bodies are supposed to be temples, we seek to desecrate and defile them, because that feels normal. We hurt ourselves because pain is our baseline and trauma feels a lot like home.
We mourn those of us who took over the role of abusers in our own lives and took it too far.
Countless victims of sexual abuse are vulnerable to other predators. We are the walking wounded and those seeking to hurt someone can spot us from far away. Women who are sexually abused as children are 2-3 times more likely to be raped as an adult and are at an increased risk for being victims of domestic violence. We end up in violent, toxic relationships that end in tragedy.
We mourn those who gravitate toward the only connection they understand- one of violence and domination- and lose their lives because of it.
Many victims of abuse act out sexually at a young age, and engage in behaviors that leave them at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
We mourn those who, in trying to reclaim their power or re-enact their trauma so that it has a different ending, are vulnerable to potentially deadly diseases.
Most victims of sexual abuse will struggle with depression or anxiety at some point in their lives, to some degree. While no study existed that I could find regarding suicide and victims of child sexual abuse, the generally accepted statistic is that rape victims are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general public.
We mourn those for whom the pain became too great and the road too long. We mourn those lost to suicide.
At the SIS Survivor Gallery we seek to honor those girls and boys who somehow found a way to make it through the darkness and have begun to heal. Women and men are submitting their photos as an act of reclaiming their stories. The Gallery serves as a visual representation of the epidemic that is child sexual abuse. Those faces are the human beings behind the 1 in 4 and the 1 in 6. Those statistics aren’t numbers, they are CHILDREN. To look at those faces is powerful and heartbreaking. Every time we receive a submission I brace myself before I open the attachment, and I am moved to tears.
Some of the faces are wide open and smiling, and I think, “Does she not know what’s coming?” “Does he put on that smile every day to cover the nightmare he’s enduring?”
Some faces are closed shut. Mine was. My photo looks like a realistic mask of the girl I was before.
We can honor those children because they came out the other side. Still wounded, perhaps. Still suffering to varying degrees. Still impacted by their abuse- but still here.
Today I am thinking about the ones who aren’t.
I wish I knew their names. I wish I could look at their sweet faces. I wish I could tell them it was not their fault. That they mattered. That the world was better with them in it.
I wish I could say to them as I have to countless others, “Hold on. Both hands.”
Today I’m thinking about the women and men who will never submit their photos, the ones who will never feel the sun on their faces. The ones we lost- to violence, addiction, high-risk behaviors, eating disorders, self-harm and depression. Today I am honoring them- our nameless, faceless sisters and brothers.
The ones who did not survive.
Sad and heartfelt but beautifully written.
That gallery. I ache for them. I ache for the me that was . But I also thank God that we are still here to add our photo and to say a prayer for the lost.
Christine Loken says
I am that person. I’m in sexual assault counseling. I am 65 & just told my story about 5 yrs. ago. My abuse was from 4 to 12 yrs. old often with a gun to my head or threat of death. It was my “brother”. If I told the whole family would have blown apart & I would be blamed. It has scarred me to the point of being numb. 5 yrs. ago I found out my son was abused by a family “friend”. I’m only on this earth because of the grace of God. I will NEVER get over any of this. I really don’t want to be here anymore.
In Others' Words says
I know that nothing I can say will convince you, but you can come out the other side of this- but that’s not ‘getting over,’ that’s coming through. You cannot get over, under or around it- you have to walk through. You have to look at it, name it, feel it. Integrate it as A fact so it is no longer THE fact.
I am so sorry you felt so alone in what happened to you, Christine. I wish I had been there to tell you that it was not your responsibility to keep your family together- you cannot break a broken family. Your family was already broken, sweet friend. I am glad you are in counseling- I hope your son is as well. Please consider reading Matt Bay’s beautiful book, Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain – Matt is a survivor as well and I believe his words and perspective might be particularly helpful for a male survivor.
I will keep you in my prayers. Thank you for sharing a piece of your story with me. I’ll carry it with you.
Please stay with us. As sad as it is that there are so many of us, I take strength from knowing that every day there is someone else out there who is putting one foot in front of the other, deciding to stay.