I pray this letter never needs to reach you, but if you are hurt, I pray someone shares it with you. The person who abused you, also abused me when I was a little girl. I want you to know that I believe you and you are so incredibly brave. I will fight for you, speak with you, and stand beside you. You are not alone.
Every single day, I ask God to protect you and keep you safe. I have often prayed for our abuser’s repentance and for his heart to change through the forgiveness granted by Jesus Christ our Savior. That change is the only hope I have that you will never read this letter. Unfortunately, at the time of me writing this letter, there have been no obvious signs of our abuser’s acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Therefore, I am afraid he still poses a great risk to other children. That is why I am writing this letter.
My heart aches for you because I know the hope-crushing pain our abuser is capable of inflicting, which you are likely currently experiencing. Sometimes, I struggle with an overwhelming since of defeat because I am unable to protect you. Over the last 16 years, I have literally exhausted every option available to me to hold him accountable for his crimes so he would never be able to hurt you. I have fought so hard for you to never experience this pain. I am going to continue fighting for you, but now it will be at the systemic level. Where the system failed me, which unfortunately has failed you too, I will advocate for change. I desire for your days in the judicial system to be empowering and healing. You deserve that.
Most importantly, I want you to know that I hear you and I am listening. The days ahead will be difficult and you will probably question if the pain will ever end. The pain— it changes. Through the years, my pain morphed into zeal for truth and justice. There will be better days. One day, this will only be a chapter of your life. There is so much more I want to tell you, but until then, Brave One: Keep Speaking.
The room that haunts me. The room where I spent hours upon hours with my abuser as he used me for his sexual pleasure. The bed where I laid during so many episodes of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
The drawing that you see below is a recreated image of a task I had to complete during the forensic interviews when I was thirteen years old. When my disclosure of sexual abuse was reported to the local authorities by my middle school, the local police department decided not to investigate because of a conflict of interest. The case was passed to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation; a move that, in hindsight, I am so grateful occurred. Through the SBI, I met two of my biggest advocates, the agents who were responsible for gathering all the details of what had transpired over the previous six or seven years. In my longest interview with K, one of the agents, she asked me to draw the locations where the abuse had occurred in our house. I meticulously placed every single detail of that room and that trailer on a piece of paper. It was a task I was able to complete with ease. So many nights I had looked around that room just waiting for the episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to end so that I could retreat to the safety of my own bedroom. I struggled to understand how I could remember what seemed to be such unimportant information when I absolutely could not answer how many times I was abused.
What do I remember?
I can remember that there were almost always three blankets on the bed- a sheet, a light blanket, and the comforter. I can remember how the tv sat on top of the tall bureau filled with my abuser’s clothes. I can remember which direction the doors opened to the bathroom, closet, and bedroom. I can remember there was a gun in the desk; though I was told it was just a “scare gun,” I believed it could kill. I can remember the two framed pictures hanging on the wall by the bathroom door. I know there was pepper spray in the top drawer of the dresser. I can map out, not to scale, every room of that trailer even though it has been nearly fifteen years since I stepped foot in it.
I spent hours with K and S as they asked me questions and allowed me to share my story. In each of my interviews with the agents, K and S, I felt safe, heard, validated, and supported. Though I often wondered what they were doing with the pages of notes they wrote, I knew, without a doubt, they were fighting for me. They were advocating for me.
The way our brain encodes experiences of trauma can be extremely frustrating- at least it was for me. As a young teenager, I could not understand why and how I could remember every detail of that trailer, but I had absolutely no idea how many times the abuse occurred. I could remember all the emotions I felt and the words my abuser spoke, but I couldn’t recall what year my abuser confronted me about my first disclosure.
For years, I struggled with feeling like my brain had failed me. I thought something had to be wrong with my brain because I could not recall what I believed were the answers to the simplest of questions. I believed the criminal case against my abuser wasn’t “strong” because my brain was not cooperating. Through counseling and education, I have learned how the brain works and why some memories are easily accessed and crystal clear; whereas, other details of the abuse, I will never know. I discovered that my brain actually worked really hard to protect me as much as it could from the impacts of the abuse. With this knowledge, I was able to stop blaming myself for not remembering. I rest knowing that God designed our brains to work in this manner, it is no mistake.
If you want a quick overview of how trauma impacts the brain, I encourage you to watch this video.
2018- where do I even begin?! This year I have felt like I was riding one of the fastest, scariest, most exhilarating, and most breath-taking roller coasters ever invented. It has been filled with twists, turns, ups, and downs. But as this year comes to an end, I am left with excitement about the future. I am walking into 2019 with the “feel goods.” It is not because I anticipate great things happening in 2019; instead, it is because of who I have grown to be in 2018. My spirit is stronger, and my hope is greater. I have seen God’s promises fulfilled. I have experienced the renewal of strength that comes only through Him. I have rested in His comfort and goodness.
At the beginning of 2018, I found out I would become an aunt for the first time. Pure elation is the only way I can describe my feelings following that phone call. My excitement grew each month we got closer to welcoming my sweet nephew into the world. Though Emerson’s arrival was a whirlwind, he has brought nothing but sweetness and joy to my life. I take the role of aunt very seriously and I am grateful that in 2018 it became a part of my identity.
Early in 2018, I started playing volleyball for a club in the city. It has been the best form of self-care I have afforded myself in many years. I am so thankful for the friendships that have formed on the court. Being back on the court allows me to connect with some of the best memories of my teenage years. Though I can’t jump as high or dig as quickly as I could at 16, playing volleyball again has been so much fun.
After 5 years of balancing graduate school and full-time employment, I finally graduated with my MA in Counseling in May. There is no feeling like graduating with a degree that will enable you to do exactly what you are called to do. Getting to walk across the stage with friends by my side and in front of family and professors who supported me through this journey was certainly one of the biggest moments of 2018. While I have definitely enjoyed my last 6 months of “no school work” and I will certainly enjoy the next 8 months of “no school work,” I am eager to begin the next phase of my education and hope to begin working on my Ph.D. in August.
In late 2017, I took a leap of faith and submitted my first abstract to present at a national conference. In June 2018, I had the honor of presenting at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children 25th Annual National Colloquium in New Orleans. It was an incredible opportunity which allowed me to connect with people who are devoted to protecting children from abuse.
July is the month that still feels like it’s a puzzle piece that doesn’t belong. But, it does belong and the events of July are a major component of what made me stronger this year. At the start of 2018, I had finally found rest and comfort in the belief that maybe my abuser simply was not going to petition for removal from the sex offender registry. It had been nearly 2 years since he became eligible so there was evidence to support my belief. In July, I got the phone call that crushed that belief. Over two days, I walked in and out of a courtroom multiple times. I spoke the truth of what happened and the ways the abuse impacted me. I was able to do exactly what my blog title encourages, “Brave Girl, Speak.” It was traumatic to go through the “courtroom scene” again. There was no outcome that could be in my “favor.” Either way the judge ruled, there would be pain. Had the law prevented my abuser from being removed from the registry, I would have had 365 days of respite before potentially reliving the scene again. The pain of hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal was indescribable. I am finding greater freedom in the judge’s ruling than I ever believed possible. I have now gone through the legal proceedings I desire to change. Though I never wanted to face my abuser in court again or experience that type of hearing, I needed to so that I would know what HAS to change. In 2019, I am determined to make progress towards seeing that change happen.
During the fall months, I was privileged to focus fully on working and healing. I needed the time to heal the wounds that had been reopened in court and to rediscover my identity after it felt so lost following court. In November, I submitted my application for a provisional license as a professional counselor. In December, I received my approval and will now begin the journey towards being a Licensed Professional Counselor. I am excited to resume something I love and to continue growing in my counseling skills.
2019 will be here in just a few hours. I want to thank each of you who have followed my blog this year and who have supported me through the year’s ups and downs. I am excited for the journey that will continue in this new year.