Not Branded for Life! I am not a wad of old chewing gum!

I sat and pondered a friend of mine on twitter. We have been talking privately and she has told me a little bit about her struggles and trials. While telling me about her life she told me she went to church the other day. When she told me that it was like she was reporting a victory, or a good thing. But when I asked her how church was, her response, as I almost could have predicted was, “it was ok.”

I sat wondering what I should say to my friend. I thought of telling her about my own trials with religion. I thought about telling her my thoughts on how the people who need the love and support of religion the most are the victims of sexual crimes. But for many reasons, it is the people in the most need, that are instead shunned by religion. I was turning this conflict over and over in my head. Trying to find the place where I came to feel more comfortable with religion again, and trying to encapsulate what I learned into something that could be shortened into a tweet. But as I did this I realized what a complicated thing this would be to communicate on twitter. Survivors are often being corrected and told where they are wrong. If I were to just start preaching to my friend, and telling her how I found a bit more comfort with religion, I could easily sound like another person stacking rules or expectations on her shoulder.

The fact that Survivors have a difficulty with religion is very real. But also real are the many studies that show that religious people are happier. The fact is much of the way religious people talk and think about the world insults survivors. But I also know that Gods plan is a plan of happiness, that when we follow his plan we are happier. The fact that going to church opens us survivors to feeling continually judged and shunned is real. But then I know I have received significant love and support from many in my church community. Survivors pains and discomforts with religion are so real, and difficult to live through. Yet religion that teaches love one another, bear one another burdens, comfort those in need of comfort, is teaching the very things survivors need.

One in four women in America have reported sexual assaults. One in six men in America have reported some form of sexual abuse. These numbers alone are staggering. But it takes your breath away to realize that these are only the reported numbers. It has been estimated that only about half of sexual assaults are ever reported. That could easily make the real numbers of sexual assaults jump to one in two women have been sexually assaulted, or half of all women. On in every three men have been sexually assaulted, or one third of all men.
Now lets take a moment to consider the victim’s family. The victims parents are affected, The victims partner is effected, the victims children are affected, the victims’ friends are affected. Everyone is affected by abuse.

As I sat on the side of my bed pondering, I felt inside that sexual abuse left a person branded for life. That sexual abuse took away some of a persons worth, that they could never get back. I could not see this flawed view in myself before, it was so ingrained into my reality growing up. As I thought of this flawed thinking I instinctively knew that other survivors I knew had not lost any of their worth. As I thought of them I knew that they were strong fighters, they were amazing people.

Then I thought about myself. I have spent a lifetime running away from the stigmas of sexual abuse. I have spent a lifetime fighting to prove to the world that I had value, that I was not branded for life, that I was good. So much so that I get caught up in living for accomplishments. It is like I feel the need to constantly be doing something noteworthy or good in order to prove to myself and the world that I have value.

Elizabeth Smart said that children should be educated that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.” She said this in May of 2013 while speaking at Johns Hopkins University. It was in the summer of 2013 that I finally faced and admitted my sexual abuse. It was shortly after she said this that I finally faced the feeling that I was a chewed up piece of gum, spat out on the black-top, walked all over and blackened, and of no worth to anyone else. It was as I was struggling with this very thought that I was lead to this article. In the article Elizabeth Smart is quoted to have said “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. It was in the summer of 2013 that another famous survivor agreed to meet me at the park. At sometime, either at the park, or in our emails afterwards, we talked about the chewed up gum feeling.

In my religion there is a famous song that sings “I am of worth, of infinite worth, my Savior, Redeemer loves me.” I had always heard the song I am worth, and believed it to be about other people. I believed this so much about other people that I loved to make friends with those estranged by the church and treat them with the dignity and respect I knew they deserved. I reached out to respect and love those that are shunned I never stopped to consider that the person who needed this respect and love was myself. As I pondered, for the first time the phrase “I am of worth, of infinite worth” felt true even if I was sexually abused. Sexual abuse could not take away my infinite worth and my value to my Heavenly Father.

When I faced the sexual abuse and admitted it, I needed to know that I was of worth in spite of it. In fact wrapped up in the memories of sexual abuse were the overwhelming feelings that I was evil, and worthless. I faced the reality that I was molested at age 12 by my father recently. But it was not until several months later that I finally faced the memories of being raped by my father. The rape was a much more significant thing to face, because it meant from the time I was raped, I was not a virgin. Facing this reality pulled the double edged sword out of the deepest parts of my heart. It cuts me to know I was raped, and it cuts me to know I was not a virgin for most of my childhood. Truth is, it probably always cut me twice like this.

The rapes that I remember happened around the age of seven. For some reason it seems that my sexual abuse came to an end sometime before I was twelve. Because my memories of being sexually abused at age twelve are distinctively about the abuse starting up. I believed as a twelve year old that I had not been sexually abused before, those memories were too strongly repressed.
I look back now and I am glad I repressed the memories of being raped. Since no one was there to help me heel as a child, it was better that I believed I was a virgin. Years and years of religious discussions about virginity were allot easier to endure when I could say to myself over and over, I am a virgin. And I DID need to tell myself this over and over, this was probably because the repressed memories were threatening to come to the surface. If I went through puberty knowing I was not a virgin I would have felt worthless, evil and bad. I am not confident that I had a support system around me that could have helped me with these issues. Feeling worthless I would have acted out in a rebellious way. Once rebellious I would have been shunned by the religious community as being evil or bad. I thank GOD I did not remember I was not a virgin in my adolescence. Enduring such a trial seems to me as though it would have been unbearable.

But even today, as I sat here on the side of my bed, I realized that I still felt branded by my sexual abuse. I think the religious stigmas about sexual abuse are wrong. Sexual abuse does not make me a bad or evil person. Sexual abuse does not even make me a fundamentally flawed person. Sexual abuse picks us up off of the developmental standard path and sticks us on a new path. On this new path the victim of abuse needs allot of love and understanding. The pains and wounds of abuse will remain bleeding and unhealed until they are addressed. Only love and understanding can heal the wounds left after abuse. We will be continually wounded until our wounds are addressed, loved, and healed. It is our unhealed, unaddressed wounds that make us so fundamentally changed, not the nature of our beings. Sexual abuse does not change our beings into evil or bad beings. The fundamental goodness of our natures cannot be changed by sexual abuse. What is changed by our sexual abuse is we are wounded, but are often too hurt to show it, we hide it and protect our wounds. I am not, nor will I ever be evil because of my abuse, I am only hurting because of my abuse. Often when we are hurting because of abuse, when we feel the stigma of us being turned evil upon us, often we rebel and act like the person the stigma believes us to be. But the truth is, we are not, nor ever were, turned evil by the abuse.

I am sad that the stigmas of abuse ever made me distrust my own nature. The truth is I and other survivors are strong fighters, fighting against the evil acts of abuse with as much as we have got. I am glad I have found this place inside of me that still felt branded by the abuse, and healed it.
My dad told me how abuse brands victims. How the abuse makes the judgement of the victim questionable. I know now that this indoctrination was part of his manipulation of me.

The facts are it all comes down to healing and to learning. It is like the abuse victim is picked up off of the standard path in life and placed on a new and unique path in life. I will never be like someone who was not abused, I will always be different because of my abuse. My abuse and pain is so great that it will require a lifetime of healing. The years that I have been in therapy have been a significant amount of healing, and I have been heroic through them. All abuse survivors are being heroic when they go to therapy, therapy is very difficult. The facts are my abusive home environment taught me many wrong things. But my nature has always been, and will always be, the nature of someone who is good. Before facing the sexual and spiritual abuse I knew I had endured emotional and physical abuse. I have always chosen to break the patterns of abuse and learn new ways to parent and govern my life. In my early years as a mother, I read every parenting book I could fit into my life. I have changed the pattern, I have broken the generational chains of abuse. But in my own life I still brought with me the broken and wrong ideas about myself. But now I know, today I know, I am not fundamentally wrong. I do not have a demon inside of me waiting to take hold of my heart and turn me to evil. My abuse does not make me evil. I am good, I have always been good, I have always fought off the evil effects of abuse. I am not branded, I have infinite worth.


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