The Fault in My Scars

On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars. I was thinking, do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.

Chris Cleave, Little Bee

There is a scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams’ character, Sean Maguire, has Will cornered and he has his social services file in his hand. They talk about the abuse Will suffered as a boy, and Sean starts saying, “It’s not your fault.” Over and over again. “Yeah, I know.” “It’s not your fault.” Will half laughs. “It’s not your fault.” Will becomes angry. “It’s not your fault.” Will begins sobbing.

Me too.

I’ve probably seen that movie ten times, and that scene always affects me the same way. Part of the reason, of course, is that it is a beautifully written, gorgeously acted scene. I’m sure most people watching it are moved.

I’m not moved.  I just recognize the terrain.

There is a chasm between the brain and the heart, a chasm so deep, so wide, so profound, that for some it is impossible to traverse. The brain can know something is logically, unimpeachably true, and the heart may never accept it.  It’s the difference between facts and feelings, knowing and believing.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse.

That’s something that, until recently, I’d never said out loud. Survivor, that is. I’ve said I was sexually abused. I’ve said I was a victim of abuse. I’ve become more and more open about it in the last few years.  Never used the word survivor, though- not even when it became the empowered thing to say. Not even when OPRAH said it.

I think that is because for much of the more than three and a half decades since it happened I knew the jury was still out on whether or not I would survive it.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse.

It was not my fault.

I was a little girl.  He was a grown man.

It was not my fault.

I know that. Of course I know that.

The thing about shame is that it doesn’t so much live in your brain, as it inhabits your heart. It is a parasite that takes up lodging in your soul. I have been host to my shame for so long that it is hard to imagine my life without it. Shame was always my baseline. Shame has always felt a lot like home to me.

What’s so deeply insidious about that particular type of abuse is that it fundamentally changes how a child feels about who they are, how they see the world, and how they believe the world sees them.

I used to think everyone knew.  In fact, I used to think they could smell it on me.  Literally. I was obviously bad. I was the type of girl boys wanted, but not for their girlfriend. I never thought I was beautiful, but I always knew I had that thing- whatever it is. That’s another thing about shame- you wear it. Every day. You just assume it’s visible.

Maybe it is.

I can look back and see how my abuse informed the decisions I made in my life.  The people I chose, the power I gave them.

It’s really just in the past few years that I’ve decided I don’t want to live that way anymore. It’s another way in which the implosion of my marriage was a gift.  You know how on home renovation shows when they are touring a disaster of a house they say need to take it down to the studs?  Total gut job?

Maybe that was me.  Maybe I was a gut job.  I’d been trying to do cosmetic repairs for years.  Prettying up the outside stuff, when really I needed to strip it all away.  That’s what my divorce did for me.  It took away the “perfect” and left me with the mess.  My very own ground zero.

A while back I decided to write my abuser a letter.  He’s dead- passed away years ago. Doesn’t matter- it’s to the version of him that lives within me, anyway.

To the Thief,

If I were to list what you stole from me, I would write forever.

I’ve heard other survivors say that their childhood was stolen. I suppose that’s close to being true for me. What you stole was the child within me. I was an ancient ruin before I was ten.

When I look at school pictures after that summer they look like me… almost. It’s as though it’s a very realistic mask of the girl I used to be. But blank. Like a light went out. I turned the corners of my mouth up for the camera, because I was an obedient girl and I knew that’s what was expected of me- but there was no joy. I was guessing at normal.

I looked tired.

I was tired. All the time.


You stole my belief that I was safe in the world. Even in my little world. Once you know what people are capable of- the evil that is possible- you never feel entirely safe again. When someone who is supposed to love you, supposed to protect you, violates your trust and desecrates your body- you feel as though danger lurks everywhere. If you aren’t safe in the cocoon of your own family, you understand that you will never be safe anywhere. Ever.

You took from me my sense of self. I didn’t get the opportunity to form a strong identity before having my sexuality be the way I defined who I was. I don’t remember a time when that wasn’t the way I viewed my worth. I knew that’s where my value lay, because that’s what you taught me. You didn’t hone in on me for my intelligence, or my kindness, or my personality. You wanted to dominate and punish me. To inhabit and destroy me. You taught me to hate my body. I still have not entirely unlearned that lesson, even more than three decades later.

For a long time I carried around so much anger. I disguised it as sarcasm and cleverness, but frequently I was just mean and defensive. I nurtured a small seed of hatred in my heart that bore your name, and it informed the decisions I made, the people I brought into my life, and the person that I was.

I know I cannot have peace or true happiness by continuing to do that. If my focus is on the wounds of the past, I will miss out on the blessings of the future- and I am unwilling to allow that. In order to cast out that darkness, in order to banish that hatred, what I finally realize is that I need to forgive you.

As inconceivable as that seems, I know in my heart it is the only way.

I don’t want to carry these heavy things any more. Without forgiveness, there is no freedom from this. From you. And I want to travel light.

What I know for sure, is that monsters like you are not born, they are carefully crafted. As I am your creation, you were someone’s handiwork as well. Someone stole your light. Someone killed the boy within you, the same way you murdered the girl within me, I am certain of it. You turned it outward, and I tried to destroy myself from within. My continued mistreatment was an inside job.

I mourn for the boy you once were, for your lost innocence. For what you might have been. Nobody, not even you, is all one thing. I am sure you had gifts and talents. I know you came into this world Good. The only thing I remember about you is what you did to me, but I am sure that is not the totality of who you were.

I mourn for your other victims- the ones I know about, and the ones who remain anonymous. My nameless, faceless, shattered sisters.

I am going to do my best to let you go. To have this be one thing that happened to me, a very long time ago. Not the defining thing. Not the totality of who I am and who I hope to become. Just a chapter in the book of my life- perhaps never completely closed, but whose pages I hope to revisit less and less. There is too much happiness ahead of me, there is too much goodness and grace in the world, to spend time reliving such pain.

I refuse to continue to be your host. I will not feed you any more. You own a great deal of my past, but I will give you none of my future.

You cannot have that.

It’s time to sit in the sun.




65 Comments on “The Fault in My Scars

  1. Wow, Laura. I love you. You are amazing. And so wise, and good and beautiful. And brave. Thankful to have you as my friend…the world needs more people like you in it. Thank you for planting seeds of kindness and forgiveness in the world today with your brave words. xoxo
    (Also, we are clearly friends at least partially b/c of our shared impeccable taste in books and movies – two of my favorites, too).

    Liked by 3 people

    • I too was molested as a child. And that led me make choices That I might not have made had I been whole. It always amazes ne the strength when someone is willing to open up.

      The line I use now is this: my past may have shaped me but it does not define me.

      Keep strong and don’t let him take one more minute of your life. You deserve to be whole and he certainly doesn’t deserve any more of your life.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so well written.
    And like you watching the movie and making that connection to your own life, as I read this I made my own connection to my life.
    Survivors, yes! And we are warriors as well.


  3. You are an absolutely beautiful writer and person. I am so sorry for what happened to you, but thank you so much for telling your story, for there are others out there who will find comfort in your words, feel less alone, and know they can “survive” as you say… good luck to you


    • Thank you so much for your kind words. My hope is that in sharing what happened to me, I can make space for someone who has had a similar experience to say, “Me too.” It’s time to put work boots on the pain. xo


  4. it’s not your fault. sometimes the words must be repeated for a lifetime before they can be absorbed. so many masking layers of betrayal and shame they must travel through. i honor you for sharing the painful pivotal parts of your story and all those beautiful scars, laura. peace to you right where you are.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. i don’t believe that any other single piece of writing has touched me as profoundly as this piece did. I like to claim this space in my heart as “dealt with”. The full body sobs that sprung forth after dropping off my little, who still has the light in her eyes, (thank God she still has the light in her eyes) speak otherwise. Thank you for your bravery. It’s shown me that I need to go back in and that I can survive going back in.


  6. Darling brave daughter-cannot say I didn’t cry all the way through this blog but can say am so relieved that you are no longer giving anyone else including your abuser power over your life. Bless you and may you receive all the grace you need to break free. Love you. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I am so glad you are a survivor. You are one of the most beautiful people that I know inside and out. You love, you share, you laugh, you heal others and more. I do not know your pain, I am sorry you had to endure it, but I am glad you are stepping into a wonderful future and leaving it behind, Society needs to fight sexual abuse but it begins one fight at a time joining with others. I stand behind you on your fight and stand with others to stop sexual abuse. I know I need more education in this matter and will seek it.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you, Laura. Many medical doctors have questioned if I was sexually abused but I don’t remember anything. I do remember verbal abuse and emotional neglect and some of your thoughts here resonate with me, as well.


  9. I came across your blog from Momastery. This Fall my 6 year old daughter told me her grandfather, my dad…my Daddy, sexually abused her. We are in the middle of this nightmare of anger, sadness, and horror…where I know more about the judicial system than I ever cared to. I can only hope and pray that the love, counseling, and the sheer grit that comes from within myself can somehow lessen this for her. Thank you for your words. No one talks about this. We so need to talk about it, as hard as it is, because something else I have learned is there are multitudes of “me, too” and it’s heartbreaking.


  10. Thank you for speaking up. For sharing hard truths.

    I spent the first fourteen years in a nightmare, the next fourteen pretending the first fourteen didn’t exist or matter. This month marks six years since I enforced some boundaries. You know, simple things like refusing to buy him a Christmas present or allow him in my home. It took hearing him say an all too familiar phrase to my two year old daughter to shock me into action. I spoke up when I was fourteen. No one wrote it down. My family has mastered the art of pretending. I’m honestly still waiting for a grave to dance on. I’ve got to say though, once I started trying to live rather than merely survive, there was more joy in this world than I had ever expected to find.

    I’ve found that the more I try and make peace with the past, the more women approach me to say they’ve been hurt too. I used to think that there was a sign on my forehead – probably black light ink because that stuff lasts forever – that let abusers know I was an easy target. Now it seems that’s been replaced with a symbol that only other survivors recognize. Survivors are drawn to each other. There’s so much comfort in hearing, “Me too.” Thanks for shining light into the darkness- I hope a hundred women find their way out because of your willingness to speak.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Your letter..the words…the described what I could not put into words. How we define ourselves because of these experiences. I have even used it as a weapon, accusing my husband of only wanting me for sex. For taking sexual rejection as a complete rejection. It takes more than it should to remember tired is just tired. (yes like many i joke to make it easier). But thank you.


  12. I have been so blessed by your blog tonight. Thank you for writing, and for this post in particular. My heart breaks anew each time I hear another story, but brave words–faith words–also heal; they untangle the web of shame and lies and help the light shine through. Thank you for bearing light.


  13. I just read this…I can so Identify with what you have written.I too have buried my emotions and protected myself with anger. Keeping people at arms length unable or fearful of to much emotion.


  14. Your words are opening my heart up to a new level of healing. Thank you. I realize I can say I am an overcomer of sexual abuse and it’s been one heck of a ride. Still effects me but it no longer defines me. Thank you for helping me realize this. Thank you.


  15. You wrote so much of what I’ve felt my whole life. Made me realize just how much I was wrecked by what happened. The picture brought me to tears.
    Especially the picture. Because I remember coming home that summer,and for years after, my father and step-mother prying at me to find out what happened, what had my mother done while I was there to make me suddenly so different. Where was the endlessly friendly little girl who would run up to any stranger and try to strike up a game? Where were the big bright eyes that lit up when I ran off into the woods? Why didn’t I like running on my own in fields and forests anymore? I feel horrid all these years later, that the change got blamed on my mother, that they used it as another reason to attack her, when she had done nothing wrong.
    But I couldn’t tell them. For 13 years, I couldn’t tell myself. The memory always got pushed out of my reach if I got too close and I would just go numb. For a while, I started blacking out when I was reminded.
    Whenever one of the men I chose,so wrongly chose, awful men. Abusive to my mind and body and catalysts that furthered my self-destruction. Whenever it had gone too far, I just left my body.Blacked out,floating, until I got pulled back. Always to a bloodied man looking horrified.
    That’s around when I got to it. When I finally got through to the memory.
    I spent a month in my bed. I ate once or twice,threw up a lot and just lay there. It still took a year after for me to tell my family.
    They sobbed and tried to hold me. They yelled when I tried to apologize.
    Because it wasn’t my fault.
    I feel like I’ve become someone else since then. Maybe a near approximation of the person I should have been. I tore everything apart. I tore off every doubt and restriction the extensions of my attacker had put on me. I figured out who I was. I’m still getting the hang of it.I still have the times when something is done or said and break down for a month.
    But I’m getting better.
    Your stories have touched something I still keep trying to bury,but maybe that’s why they pull at me so much. Maybe I should be letting it go and finally cutting what ties there are in my heart. I need to kill the worry and insecurity.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • SO much of this resonated with me. Thank you for sharing your story here. I am so glad you finally told, and that you were believed. Congratulations on doing the hard, sacred work needed to rebuild what was broken. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU AND YOUR COURAGE and your cousin, Mary and her courage and I cannot thank you enough. God damn, if I never stop crying, it will be okay, because I am not alone. This is hope. You.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you! So beautiful and real. Real is what we need. Real is what is not shown in the movies. Real is what is not shared. Thank you for choosing to share!


  18. I’m at a loss for words… This paragraph:
    “You took from me my sense of self. I didn’t get the opportunity to form a strong identity before having my sexuality be the way I defined who I was. I don’t remember a time when that wasn’t the way I viewed my worth. I knew that’s where my value lay, because that’s what you taught me. You didn’t hone in on me for my intelligence, or my kindness, or my personality. You wanted to dominate and punish me. To inhabit and destroy me. You taught me to hate my body. I still have not entirely unlearned that lesson, even more than three decades later.”
    I have never identified with something more in my entire life. Thank you for writing this.


  19. thank you for your beautiful post. i suspect you may already know this book, but if you don’t, i suggest you check our bessel van der kolk’s “the body keeps the score.” i just finished it and found it to be an amazing resource for people who have lived through trauma, including childhood sexual abuse. i think you might find it helpful in guiding you further along in your journey.


  20. Pingback: Post Sunday Specials: Nigeria, Abuse and our Birthing Bodies | 3 Therapists Walk into a Blog

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  26. Laura your words give the 11-year-old child in me a voice. I thank you for that. The way my story unfolded, I not only lost my innocence and the joy a child should have growing up, but I lost my sisters love and nurturing. Because I was singled out and they were never touched by the ugliness of sexual abuse ~ they did not understand my reality. My sense of security was ripped away and I was alone amongst a family of 6. I grew up with no support, no one believing me and feeling like I was nothing more than someone else’s object. My hope is that by shining a light on the truth I can somehow find a much healthier sense of myself and learn I have worth. I believed that everyone’s life had value except my own… I continue to pray that by exposing the truth and reaching out for help I will find healthy, healing love from what’s left of my family. Yes I survived the sexual abuse of my childhood but now I would like to do more than just survive, I would like to actually to thrive. Only God knows how many more years I have on this earth and I long to know the joy of true love from my sisters. May God bless you and keep you in the palm of his hand as you do this very meaningful work . I pray that as you grow to except and love yourself, we can all learn from your pain and live loving who we are inside now.

    Liked by 1 person

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