Lift

“Shame cannot survive being spoken.

It cannot survive empathy.”

Dr. Brene Brown

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 10.43.27 PM

I’ve been messaging with a survivor lately. She’s been having a hard time, had some questions.  I ‘listened’ over our Facebook chat, I made a few suggestions.  It can be tricky when I don’t know someone to know what to advise.  While there are common threads, there is no one universal experience.  We suffer differently, we heal differently. There is no one panacea.  It’s almost always AND and not OR, when it comes to paths to healing.

I don’t know how much help I was.  It never feels like enough.

She’s in therapy, which is good.  She’s processing her story, which is HARD.  She’s living with the fallout, which is painful.  She’s carrying some dark and heavy things and trying to make sense of her story, just like the rest of us.  Trying to figure out what it means for her, and who she is on the other side of it.  Who she will be.

Last week during one of our chats I told her that I am completely shameless about my abuse.  I truly do not feel one ounce of shame about what happened to me.  That it was gone from me.   She asked me how that happens, and in that moment I couldn’t really tell her.

She messaged me the other day.  She told me she shared her story with a friend, who also turned out to be a survivor.  Neither of them had any idea about each other. That happens so often it’d make your head spin.

Anyway, when she shared what her friend said in reply I was elevated to tears.  Her friend’s response was,

“I’ll carry this with you.”

That’s when I realized I’d been mistaken.  I DO know how we can lay down the shame, I DO know how we ALL begin to heal.  It’s THAT.  It is sharing our story, and having the people in our lives say, “I’ll carry this with you.”  “I’ll take a corner.”  “You do not have to carry this burden by yourself for one more day.”

Shame is a man-made thing, its toxic seeds need to be planted, tended.  The good news is, things intentionally planted can be torn out by the roots.

I became shameless when I shared my story.  When I wrote The Fault in my Scars, and heard from friends who’d known me for decades, and they said, “Me too.”  When I had person after person respond with compassion.  When He Wrote it Down was published, it was the same thing on a larger scale.  That’s when the last traces of shame disappeared. Because I had so many people carrying it with me, the burden was entirely lifted.

I hear time and time again from people, after they look at our Survivor Gallery, how helpless they feel.  How they wish there was something they could do.  Well, here you go:

BEAR WITNESS.

Because I no longer believe in expecting people to psychically intuit what I need, I will put the dots very close together.  Based on my own personal experience as a survivor, and having talked to hundreds upon hundreds of other survivors:

You don’t need to fix anything, just listen.

You don’t need to ask questions- if it’s an important detail, we’ll tell you, if we don’t it may be because we can’t.  Yet.

Please, fortheloveofallthatisholy, do not quantify our experience.  I have had more than one person ask if it was “RAPE rape.”  Do not do that thing.  That is a thing you should not do.

It’s okay to have an emotional reaction, but please do not put us in the position of having to comfort you.  That reinforces the lie we’ve all been sold that our story is unspeakable. And those aforementioned seeds?  It waters them.

Please do not treat us as though we are tragedies and our stories are precious.  That’s backwards.  Our stories may be tragic, but we are precious.  It is unbearable when people treat you differently after you tell your story, as though you are a tragic figure, some fragile thing.  If we were fragile, I promise you- WE WOULD NOT BE HERE.

Believe.  Sometimes our stories are fragmented.  We can’t remember some basic things, but have complete, detailed memories of others.  We’re not sure when things began, how old we were.  What happened first.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s life, not a screenplay.  It doesn’t need to be linear or organized.  Trauma is seldom tidy.  Just believe, and understand that memory is sometimes ephemeral, and sometimes it has unyielding claws.  It’s BOTH.  It’s AND.

Most survivors tend to apologize for having burdened someone with their story.  We know it’s heavy.  We know it’s a lot.  If we share our story with you, it is because we believe you to be a safe place for us.  It is an act of bravery for us and it shows we have faith in you.

Be deserving of that faith.  Honor that bravery.

Thank us for sharing it with you, and then pick up a corner and walk a while with us.

*** If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and would like to share your story anonymously, please consider submitting it to the Say It, Survivor Blog.  Not everyone is at a place where they can share the story with the people in their lives.  If that is true for you, send us your story.  We will bear witness for you, friend.

some people

when they hear your story.

contract.

others

upon hearing your story.

expand.

and

this is how

you know.

Nayyirah Waheed

34 Comments on “Lift

  1. I jut loved this post! It’s so hard to find safe people to share with. I, too, feel sometimes this nawing part, this need to share, and yet find few who can really carry it. I am so encouraged to hear you’re at a place where you feel no shame. That gives me HOPE!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another post getting me right in the feels. To the brave survivor you mention at the beginning, I say, me too. And oh my gosh–it takes so so much brave to share one on one with a friend. Warrior.

    Like

  3. You know how much I struggle with shame, because you’ve never stinted on your faith that someday I won’t. But I don’t know. I. Just. Don’t. Know.

    I shared once with someone, and she assumed I was willing, that it was … play. Exploration. I don’t know, something hurtful.

    Even a therapist might ask if you sought attention, if it made you feel special in some way. Was it like that? Because you didn’t have love in your life.

    No. It wasn’t.

    But I didn’t say no, and I didn’t fight, and there’s so much shame in that.

    But don’t doubt how much you help with your kindness. I don’t know that particular survivor, that particular conversation, and can only speak for myself — but when you listen, when you hold faith — it matters. Even when it doesn’t feel like it does, I can promise you, it does.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think people do not understand how their reactions affect us. The first person who asked the “RAPE rape” question? I flinched like I’d been hit. How bad does it have to be for it to matter?

      I think sometimes therapists attempt to understand the need that some abusers seek to fill as part of their grooming process- perhaps in the assumption that it will help you better understand something. I don’t get it, and I don’t find it helpful. I think there is particular misunderstanding when the perpetrator is also a minor. There’s the sense that it must be consensual, or that the other child didn’t know any better, or was a victim of abuse themselves- which may, in fact, be true- that doesn’t matter to the victim, though. That doesn’t change one thing about their trauma.

      I know I’ve said it to you time and time again, and I will keep saying it: It was not your job to fend off your abuser, it was his/her job not to abuse. I also keep saying “fight or flight” is only partially true. There’s also paralysis. Sometimes the only fleeing we can do is in our head, which is why so many of us have the mind/body disconnect.

      You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ahh, see. Is that the first time I let it leak around the edges it was a minor? I don’t remember exposing that before. But perhaps I have, unknowingly.

        There seems extra shame in that, to me.

        Did you know most definitions of sexual abuse insist the other person be at least 5 years older? So if he wasn’t, therefore I wasn’t really abused. It’s all in my head, how I feel. (No therapist has ever said that, though.)

        But yes, I have heard the “he was probably a victim also” theory. Okay. Maybe. I don’t know. Never asked, never will. Does it matter?

        Wouldn’t it be one thing if he was way older, way bigger than me? It seems like it would be.

        Like

      • Then those definitions are bogus. I have never seen a legitimate source quantify how big an age gap nees to exist. In fact, NO age gap needs to exist. Most reputable sources say “older or more dominant” child.

        Put it this way- his state of mind doesn’t change how his actions made you feel. I am certain you could find plenty of adult offenders who were convinced the child invited/wanted the abuse. You could find adult, unintelligent offenders. You could find adult offenders who were under the influence of a controlled substance. Would any of that that change how it felt for the child? No. It doesn’t in your case, either.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Besides — what if I was smarter than him?

        What if I knew it was wrong, and he didn’t?

        What if he was drunk and stoned most of the time back then, and not very smart anyway?

        I was always the smarter one, even if I was younger.

        So if I knew it was wrong, and he didn’t, doesn’t that make me more to blame?

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      • moth2flame, in response to your most recent post that starts, “besides…”

        It doesn’t matter.

        It doesn’t matter.

        It doesn’t matter.

        That has nothing to do with it.

        ABSOLUTELY NOT.

        ***

        Because of Laura, and, through her bravery, because of others, I know what I have said is true.

        I still have so much to catch up on here and hope to one of these days. I am so glad you are still coming back. I see you. I hear you.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful, well said. Thank you! I want to share this , you can find the rest if you google it. Rachel Naomi Remen. She said, ” When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time. I so believe that is key, GENEROUSLY.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your posts. This one especially resonates with me. I lived in shame and fear for 20+ years before I finally reported my abuse. The reaction by some closest to me was exactly what I feared it would be, but my church family and key support people were SO supportive and loving, which helped me. It’s been nearly 4 years since I first spoke out about it, and as I’ve gone to counseling and continued to share my story, I am also free of the shame! Praise the Lord!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura, thank you. I just finished a workshop on serving survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are now adults and are pregnant. One of the points that was emphasized repeatedly was how we respond to disclosures of abuse. We were taught to respond in a way that honors the survivor and does NOT add shame, and then we are to make sure they feel safe now, and finally we work on making sure they feel safe while they are in labor. It was a heavy workshop, but so so valuable. Birth workers or not, I believe everyone would benefit from a “how to respond” class. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s so cool that you do that. I have tried and tried to find a resource for an ob/gyn that’s sensitive to someone with issues — and strike out at every turn. There’s no resource, there’s no listing, and even the one I tried this last exam — she had a question on her form that made me think she was aware of issues, and I actually (unusually) answered it honestly — and you know what? I couldn’t tell she’d even read my form, let alone it making any difference in her approach. But from ob/gyn to dentists to family doctors — I wish there was a way to network and find the good ones in a geographic area.

      Like

      • I am sorry that no one knew how to properly respond to your needs. I met a lot of women in all sorts of different birth- or trauma-related fields from all over the US, Canada, and even some Latin America countries. I’d be happy to see if anyone is in your area – you can email me at upliftedbirthdoula{at}gmail{dot}com if you wish.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My dental hygienist that they used to have was so great (without us ever having an explicit conversation) — she was soft spoken, always verbalized that she was about to do something before randomly touching me, and tended to keep a running patter of what she was doing. The newer one – at the end of my last cleaning commented that I seemed jumpy (d’oh) and said next time I should consider the nitrous oxide, no shame in that. But I’m not a fan of that — don’t like feeling out of control even one iota. AND I’m not good at asking for something, either. So it helps if they are just naturally sensitive and careful. (I know, I’m asking a lot.)

        We won’t even talk about mammogram technicians and the horror they can be.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, bek21 — I will. Although I’m well past child-bearing age. 🙂 But there’s always yearly checkups and such.

        It would be cool if there were places we could anonymously review practitioners particularly on this dimension — and read what other women have said. As much as I’ve tried to google for that, I can’t find anything like it. And I live in a major metropolitan area.

        Liked by 1 person

    • that is AMAZING- I love that they have training for that. I recently saw something similar for dentists. Thank you so much for your work- I know the scariest part of labor for me was the lack of control, and while it never occurred to me that it was trauma related, it makes perfect sense.

      Liked by 2 people

      • {Can’t figure out how to reply to the “make one” comment – maybe too deep into the thread? anyway..} I love this idea. Something like a “rate your professor” or something? Maybe attached to but still separate from a website like Say It, Survivor? I would love to contribute my {albeit small amount of} resources to this project – the women with whom I went through this workshop will also have resources, and this is too important not to share.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I will talk to Mary about it in terms of SIS. At the very least we can float the idea on the fb page and see if someone in the medical field can take up the charge!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I LOVE the idea, but I can see some issues with it also — the sheer geographic spread, and people feeling comfortable, even anonymously, identifying their location, etc.

        I’m not trying to pooh-pooh the idea, but I’m not sure how well it would go, either. Plus, how many people are like me — want that kind of resource, but don’t have anything to contribute to it.

        Like

      • Maybe we let it grow organically… people who have resources to contribute can do so, and people who have recommendations {or anti-recommendations?} can share those. What if was just a list of providers who have been trained or been found to be sensitive to the needs of survivors?
        I’m totally brainstorming “out loud” here, but I think whatever it looks like, it could be valuable.

        Like

      • I’ve been giving it some thought. What might be a better use of our collective wisdom and resources is to advocate the need for training for medical professionals- maybe some sort of certification/training that they could then list on their website for prospective patients so that they know it is a healthcare professional trained in dealing with trauma survivors. I’m going to reach out to a few people and pick their brains. You brilliant people keep thinking.

        Like

      • and obviously, such training DOES exist, so perhaps it is a question of making it more well known, and making survivors aware to ask about it. It could just be an awareness campaign.

        Like

  7. I so wish that I had a copy of Lift for my family before I began my struggle to be a survivor. My family has done (or not done) everything you wrote about. My entire support system completely dismantled in less than 6 months. I’ve been struggling on my own (and a therapist) for 6 years. I just recently moved out of my house and have progressed rapidly forward on my healing. I have to move back home soon and I am hoping that my progress will continue at this pace but unfortunately the atmosphere at home remains the same. I’m hoping some how I will be able to get them to read this.

    Like

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