I was met with a rush of emotions as I watched a preview for a newer version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (WWTBAM). I have not kept up with the show since the first few seasons with Regis Philbin as host. I figured it had found its place on Game Show Network. I nostalgically reflected on the same excitement I felt as an eight-year-old eagerly awaiting the show’s premiere. I still love a good trivia game show. A little over two decades from the original air date, the current preview still brought sadness, anger, and confusion.
At eight years old, my excitement met my worst nightmare as my abuser destroyed my enjoyment of the original WWTBAM. The episodes of WWTBAM morphed into regularly scheduled abuse sessions at the hands of my abuser. My abuse revolved largely, but not solely, around this gameshow that so many grew to love. Despite how much I hated this show on the inside, if you had asked me when I was eight or nine years old, what is your favorite television show; I would have readily answered with certainty, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I had no choice but to adhere to the façade my abuser created. So, I felt sadness, when the new preview aired, for the little Kendall that simply wanted to watch a new tv show with anyone who would watch it with her, competing to see if we too could “win” a million dollars.
Next, came a pang of anger because, for this new season of WWTBAM, my abuser is no longer a registered sex offender. I immediately began thinking- what if there is another little girl who wants to watch this show with him. Will he abuse her too? My anger at the justice system was reignited as I questioned- why was his punishment not greater? Why did they let him off the registry? Who is going to protect the next little girl? In my prefrontal cortex, the logical part of my brain, I have somewhat satisfactory answers to those questions that help me maintain a level of peace with the past. However, in this moment, my limbic system, the emotional part of my brain, was triggered and these are the questions it generates in that state. If you think about the fight, flight, or freeze response, I was definitely experiencing a desire to fight.
The most troubling emotional response I experienced was confusion. I questioned how I could feel excitement now for a show that has been associated with so much pain in my life. Am I allowed to watch this newer version and maybe even enjoy it? If I can watch it now, what does that say about my childhood abuse? If I refuse to watch the new show, does that give my abuser power over my present and future?
A child is completely powerless when he/she is abused. The child has no voice in those moments. The powerlessness is created through the threats abusers often use, reliance on the relationship for basic needs and survival, strength differentials, a desire for cohesiveness and stability in the family unit, and disbelief when we do tell another person. Part of the counseling process for trauma, particularly abuse, is recognizing our powerlessness as children and reclaiming that power, where we can, as adults.
Continuing this healing journey, I walked through these steps this week. Where I did not have the power to choose whether or not to watch WWTBAM when I was a child, I could choose now if I wanted to watch the show, where I wanted to watch it, how I wanted to watch it, who I wanted to watch it with, and when I wanted to watch it.
Not only did I allow myself to watch the show, I allowed myself to feel everything that emerged as I watched it. I am choosing to create new associations with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to replace those that immediately take me back to my abuser’s bed. The show did not abuse me. My abuser used the show as bait for his heinous acts.
Will I watch the next episode that airs this coming week? Maybe I will or maybe I will not. It is a decision I get to make.
That is the power of healing that God allows us to engage. He created our brains in a way that allows us to form new associations and connections. Those things that used to conjure nightmares can once again be enjoyed or at minimum, tolerated. Realistically, there are going to be many more times when the familiar sounds of the show take me back to a place of pain, but leaning into God’s truth and using the power I have to choose my thoughts, I do not have to remain in that painful place. And as time goes on, those familiar sounds may one day bring a joyful smile to my face as I think about new memories the show generates. Healing is real, ya’ll. Let your final answer be, keep on the journey.