Four Letters.

I was not planning on publishing another post so soon. The words you will read in this one, have been sitting in the draft folder for years. Even though I wrote the draft, I was never planning on sharing. I actually tried to share excerpts on twitter a few times, but it never felt like the time was right to share everything. I was not ready. We all have those experiences in life where we tell ourselves, it’s just not something others really need to know. But this draft is another chapter in my story. And I can’t deny the influences it has had on who I am today. I can’t omit a chapter, especially when I have seen the miraculous ways God has worked. Tonight, God gave me the nudge and I felt the peace that I need to know, it is time to hit “publish.”

When I first started this blog four years ago, I desired for this to be a place where God would use my voice to shine His light in very dark places. I knew that some posts would push me out of my comfort zone into a place of vulnerability. Over and over again, I have listened as God reveals to people with similar experiences that they are not alone. It is worth every ounce of fear I feel prior to pressing publish, and every minute I fear judgment, for one person to know they are not alone. So, here I am tonight, questioning why God wants me to publish this now, when there is so much pain being felt by so many, and so much uncertainty about what tomorrow holds.

Brene Brown says “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.  Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Here’s to taking the time to explore the darkness, experiencing healing, and shining the infinite power of God’s light into the darkness so others will be led to the only place where ultimate healing occurs. You are not alone.

Four Letters.

How can a single word evoke such deep pain?

When I say it, my lips tremble with disdain.

Filled with shame, I cried.

As I looked the pharmacist in the eyes.

That judgmental stare crippled me.

As I swiped my card and bought Plan B.

But there wasn’t a Plan A.

I wish I could say.

I have to remember, she does not know.

I begged and pleaded, “please no…no…no”

With the hopes of my memory being erased

I swallowed the pill, just in case.

The commercial made it look so easy.

So why am I now feeling so queasy?

That summer night, a piece of me was taken.

It was the very piece that should only ever be given.

I felt like I was left with a huge, gaping hole in my soul.

But, my Lord reminded me, that with Him, I am forever whole.

And clean and worthy and redeemed.

And all the things that I dreamed

could be achieved

If I stepped out of my grave

and kept trusting, and believing, and being brave.

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Don’t Wait for the Birds or the Bees

Most parents will agree that having the “birds and bees” talk with your children is one of the most uncomfortable conversations in the world. Teaching children appropriate names of the genitalia is equally uncomfortable for most. Some parents may question whether early sex education will steal their child’s naivety, often framed as “innocence.” Will teaching children about sex steal their childhood? These concerns are common and valid; however, I want to share my thoughts on why it is important to educate and empower children as early as possible.

You probably still get that feeling of discomfort when you think back to the time your parents had the birds and bees talk with you. When we talk to young children about the topics covered in this post, it should not take place in the format of a lecture and or a sit-down serious conversation. The conversations should occur more naturally where we seize opportunities that present in a variety of contexts. Mary Flo Ridley describes how she talked with her children about how to know whether a baby is a boy or girl when born. Her son stated “well, because if it’s a girl, she’ll have a boy; and if it’s a boy, he’ll be wearing blue.” Sure, she could have left the conversation there; instead, she explained how babies are born naked and if the baby is a boy he will have these body parts and if the baby is a girl she will have these body parts. This was a non-threatening and flowing conversation. It was not scheduled or planned. When we are on the lookout for these opportunities we will find them. A link to more resources from Mary Flo Ridley will be included at the end of this post. 

We must remember that God created sex. Sex, by God’s design, is sacred as two become one. When we question if teaching our kids about sex will steal their childhood, we inadvertently send the message that there is something bad about sex. We do not want to over-expose children to sexual information; however, I believe we can find balance in teaching them about privacy and how sex is designed for adults within the covenant of marriage. As a parent or caregiver, you have the opportunity to teach your children first about the beautiful way God created their bodies and why God created sex as well as the very clear context he created it to occur. I want to be the one to one day teach my children about their bodies and sex- before media tells them, before a friend tells them, and definitely before an abuser tells them. You can choose the narrative your child first hears about sex.

The narrative you begin with can simply include the correct terms for various body parts, as described in the example earlier. It teaches children why we wear clothes and why some body parts are considered private. The early education should focus on the biological aspects of sex, not the sensual aspects. However, you can help children understand what a safe, healthy touch feels like compared to a hurtful touch or a confusing touch by teaching children about feelings. Provide them the tools to know what steps to take if they experience a hurtful or confusing touch. When children are taught this information at an early age and their questions are received with warmth and age-appropriate answers, they become comfortable with these conversations. This foundation will be integral for the days when talking with your teen about sex is met with eye-rolls, shrugs of the shoulders, and embarrassed silence.

We live in a sex-accessible world. Studies suggest the average age of a child’s first exposure to pornographic material is anywhere from 8 years old to 11 years old; however, any child with access to the internet or television, also has access to pornography. Even without unsupervised internet access, children are going to begin learning about sex anytime they hang out with other children. Children’s minds are sponges- they hear and see things they do not understand and will attempt to process that information by talking to others about those very things they heard and saw. Decades ago, maybe it would be realistic to wait until a child reached puberty to talk with him/her about sex because a parent could reasonably control whether a child could access sexually explicit material. There was far less sexually explicit material available. It would require a child stumbling across a magazine hidden in a drawer or possibly a pay-per-view channel on the television. While many children were still exposed at an early age to pornography, it simply was not as easy to access as it is today. The day you decide your child can access the internet unsupervised is the day they need to know about sex and pornography. Whether the child is using the internet at school, at a library, at a friend’s house, on a parent’s smart phone, through a gaming system, or on the desktop computer in the living room, we need to assume that child will be exposed to pornography. There are wonderful apps and software available that work really hard to block certain material on devices, but there are always loopholes and pornographers are continuously creating ways to target children and expose them to pornography. Once again, we do not want children to learn about sex from the images and videos depicted in pornography.

Teaching a child about his/her body and sex will empower him/her by providing the words he/she needs to describe what has happened if he/she has been abused.  I often reflect on what information or knowledge may have helped me to disclose earlier. While I can never know for certain, I definitely think I would have understood what my abuser was doing to me was sexual if I had a greater understanding of sex at the age he began abusing me- eight years old. Abusers tell children that what they are doing is normal or it is their special secret. Abuser may even explain how what they are doing will actually benefit the child because they are teaching them things they need to know. I remember feeling absolutely gross and disgusting when I believed my abuser was peeing on me. I did not know that my abuser was actually using me for sexual stimulation. I did not know that penises had any other purpose than for boys to urinate. I did not know there was a thing called sex that should only involve a mommy and daddy. I did not know that I was being sexually abused. I did not know.

Not only does educating children about their bodies and sex empower them, I also believe it can serve as a protective factor. While it will never be a fool-proof way of protecting children from manipulative abusers, I do believe it is worth the initial discomfort adults may experience in these conversations to decrease the likelihood a child will be abused. Imagine how an abuser may respond differently to a child who questions: Why are you showing me your penis? Or, my daddy taught me that vaginas are private, and it is not okay for anyone to show a child a vagina or a penis. Imagine next how an abuser may respond to a child who shows an initial curiosity when seeing a penis for the first time and asks, what is that, or a child who silently does whatever the abuser instructs. When we as adults willingly answer children’s questions as honestly and truthfully as possible with age appropriate information, it teaches children that they can ask mommy or daddy any question. They can tell an adult when something confusing or uncomfortable happens. The adults have showed a genuine interest in what they experience on a daily basis. Children need adults that they can ask or tell anything without feeling shame, embarrassment, or like they are an annoyance. 

There is never a time when sexual abuse is a victim’s fault. Neither a child nor an adult should ever be blamed for not disclosing sexual abuse. Educating a child about sex and his/her body will not prevent a child from being sexually abused.

We have the opportunity to choose what narrative about sex will be the foundation for a child. We can provide a child with knowledge about his/her body and how God uniquely designed him/her. We can equip the children with the vocabulary to describe abuse and other inappropriate acts they may experience that will clearly depict what occurred, which is very important for law enforcement. We dismantle confusion about what is healthy and what is unacceptable. We empower children through these conversations. We can make a difference.

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Photo by Thijs van der Weide on Pexels.com

Resources

Mary Flo Ridley: https://birds-bees.com/

Family Life/Mary Flo Ridley: https://www.familylife.com/podcast/guest/mary-flo-ridley/

Darkness to Light: https://www.d2l.org/education/5-steps/step-3/

National Child Traumatic Stress Network: https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/fact-sheet/caring_for_kids_what_parents_need_know_about_sexual_abuse.pdf

Play It Safe: https://www.playitsafe.org/index_parents.php

Secret, Surprise, or Private

“Don’t tell                               . It’s a secret.”

“I’ll only tell you if you can keep it a secret.”

“This is our little secret, you better not tell anyone- or else.”

Secrets are dangerous. Secrets are heavy. Secrets hurt.

Most of us grew up with secrets. I definitely remember keeping secrets with my friends and siblings in early elementary school and even throughout middle and high school. Whether it was a secret about kissing a boy on the playground or about my plans for my next trick to play on my siblings, my secrets seemed fairly innocent and inconsequential. It was not until I was threatened with serious harm or death that I found myself inside the prison secrets create.

“This is our little secret, you better not tell anyone- or else.” -My Abuser

When my abuser sternly uttered those words after the first episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I knew exactly what he meant when he told me this was our secret. I also knew what he was implying when he said “or else.” I was consumed with making sure I kept this secret. I worked hard at making everything look normal. I did not say things that would cause one to question me about my secret. In health class, I did not dare make eye contact with the teacher when we talked about the chapter on abuse.

Take a moment and think about a secret you have been holding?

A secret about something in your life or in someone else’s life.

What is the weight of holding that secret?

At a young age, I learned that secrets are things you do not break. If you tell a secret, someone gets mad at you or someone gets in trouble. Secrets are unspoken. I could keep a secret.

My secret placed me in a prison that was filled with pain, isolation, loneliness, worry, fear, and immense hopelessness. Breaking that secret only occurred when I was more afraid of keeping the secret than sharing it with another person. Breaking the secret is the only way I escaped the prison my abuser built.

I wholeheartedly believe that we should live a life without secrets. But, how is this possible without having everyone in my business?

Last week, I came across an incredible graphic from The Mama Bear Effect which distinguishes between secrets and surprises. It is included at the end of this post; however, I would like to add another category to consider, privacy.

So, what does this mean for us and more importantly, what does this mean for the children in our lives?

Let’s look at secrets first.

Secrets are tactics abusers regularly employ to ensure a child will not disclose abuse to someone else. Often, a threat is included with the instruction to keep a secret. In general, secrets are rarely positive, healthy, or encouraging. Research has identified 38 types of secrets that people tend to keep, ten of which are referenced in this psychology today article. As you can see from the list, many are painful. Most secrets are intended to be kept forever. We do not say, “okay, I’m going to keep this secret for two weeks.” Breaking a secret can feel dangerous and very frightening. There are major consequences for telling a secret. If the secret is ever revealed, it involves as few people possible.

Surprises are those things that we do not want someone to find out about, yet. We throw surprise parties and purchase gifts that will be the ultimate surprise. Surprises are usually positive and exciting. We may tell someone to keep a certain gift or event a secret from someone, but what we really mean is that we want them to keep it a surprise. Surprises are temporary and time-limited. When we share the surprise, we typically invite multiple people to participate. We do have to exercise some caution with surprises because abusers may provide a child with a surprise (a gift or special time together) and then instruct that it the”surprise” must be kept a secret from his or her family and friends. While it may seem strange to say “let’s keep this a surprise” because we are accustomed to using the word secret, it is something we should challenge ourselves to implement. The next time you and the kids make a Father’s Day gift, let’s teach the kids that we are making a surprise and when Father’s Day arrives, that is when we can tell/show Daddy the surprise we made.

Private things or privacy is fluid. When we were children, we had very little privacy. Someone put us in bed, someone helped us in the bathroom, and someone helped us get dressed. As we got older, our privacy increased. We began shutting the door when we used the bathroom. We were able to talk on the telephone without a parent being in the room. We could use the computer on our own. We begin to learn what conversations are appropriate for which environments. Privacy for children and teens is a privilege. Parents increase and decrease the amount of privacy allowed in order to balance freedom and independence with safety and discipline. Privacy includes who is allowed into our houses and our bedrooms. Clothing keeps some of our body parts private, exercising modesty. Privacy will look different in each family.

Let’s empower our children by making a “No Secrets” rule in our families. Take away tactics abusers use to control their victims and give that power to the children. Lift that burden from a child’s arms so they do not grow weary and more frightened.

Let’s challenge ourselves to use the appropriate terminology. “Am I asking someone to keep a secret or a surprise?” Is this something that should stay private or can it be publicized?

Most importantly, have regular, intentional, honest conversations about abuse with your child encouraging them to always tell an adult when something or someone makes them feel uncomfortable, nervous, scared or sad.

For more information, I encourage you to check out the Mama Bear Effect for more resources.

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Sexual Abuse in the Presence of Others: COVID-19 Version

I originally wrote this post around the holidays in 2016; however, I believe it is an important one to reshare as we face the coronavirus pandemic and many people are confined to their homes.

This was a difficult post to revisit, especially during this time when I know so many children are living their worst nightmare with no opportunity for escape. Of all my posts, I believe this is one of the most important for people to read because it describes the unimaginable- abuse happening right in front of us. Most of us feel immune to this type of experience- it can’t/won’t happen in my family. I’m sure my family would have said the same thing too. Yet, feeling that way did not protect me. We need to be willing to remove the blinders of security, step into the uneasy, and face the reality. Hopefully, this will never be your family’s story. Being proactive can reduce the chances of this becoming you and your child’s reality.

As many of us are spending much more time physically together with family or friends, it is important to acknowledge and understand how abuse happens despite being in the presence of other people. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that “approximately three-quarters of reported cases of child sexual abuse are committed by family members or other individuals who are considered part of the victim’s ‘circle of trust.”

I know it is hard to imagine anyone in your family or extended circle of trust harming your child, but it has happened too many times to too many people and we can’t ignore this any longer.

I believe many people have the misconception that sexual abuse can only occur behind closed doors or when the abuser is alone with their victim. We sometimes have the thought “well no one will try to do anything with so many people around watching.” Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Abuse can happen in your presence and abusers are so powerful in their manipulation skills that no one will be wiser.

There were many times my abuser was brazen enough to abuse me in the presence of others. Some evenings when I was a child, my family would sit around and watch television together in the living room. It became expected of me to grab a quilt and sit in my abuser’s lap during what should have been a safe and innocent bonding time. He would use this time to touch me inappropriately with both his hands and his genitals.

He was bold enough to do this because he knew how much he had manipulated me. I was so fearful in those moments that I would sit and act as normal as possible, muscles tensed as I did my best not to flinch, while he abused me. During those moments, I never dared to push the quilt away, screaming to reveal what was happening to me under that family heirloom.

We had a swimming pool in our yard and would regularly swim as a family and sometimes with neighbors. There could be 5 other people in the pool, yet if my abuser was in there at the same time as me, I knew what would happen. As he tossed each child in the air to splash in the pool, I knew my turn would eventually arrive. I didn’t have the voice to say no. Just before I would fly through the air, I would be touched inappropriately. No one seemed to notice and I never alerted anyone to what was happening in the pool because I lived by the rules of my abuser.

One simple act- removing the blanket, screaming, or even leaving my bathing suit malfunctioned from my abuser’s touch, could have revealed to someone the abuse I was enduring. As an 8-11-year-old child, I didn’t have the fight in me to do anything more than simply survive, and that meant, abiding by my abuser’s rules. All of my energy was devoted to maintaining the façade that everything was perfect in my life and meeting all of my abuser’s requests.

An adult has to step up and fight for us. You can be the person to do just that.

If you have children, I hope you will take the time to talk about body rights and healthy, safe touch. Empower them. Monitor their interactions with other adults, teens, and children, even if it is someone you trust. If your child appears fearful or nervous around certain people, do not brush it off as shyness- ask questions. If your child does not want to be alone with someone- ask questions. Help the child understand how to voice situations that are uncomfortable. Be willing to check what is happening under the blankets. Give them the choice of whether or not to hug a family member. Maybe a handshake or high five is more comfortable for your child. Fight through the discomfort this type of conversation may bring and have these necessary conversations now.

My intention is not to make you paranoid about every person your child comes into contact with, but to make you aware that abuse does happen in the presence of other people. It is not always isolated an incident. Abusers will not stop abusing simply because we are under a stay-at-home order; unfortunately, this gives them more opportunities to abuse. We have to be vigilant in protecting the children in our lives.

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The Return of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”

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.

Fighting the Drug that Calls Your Name

Last night, I was scrolling through old documents on my computer and I came across one document titled “Running.” I’m not sure when I wrote it, but it grabbed my attention. It was the start of a blog post but it was unfinished. So maybe now is the time to share.

When healing from trauma, we often find ways to cope with the overwhelming pain. Unfortunately, these attempts can sometimes be incredibly unhealthy. At the time, we often do not realize these efforts to cope are maladaptive and complicate the healing process. They often temporarily numb us to the pain or provide an escape we desperately desire. Something about the behavior produces the results we crave, otherwise, we would not return to it. Despite being provided examples of healthy coping skills when I was in counseling immediately following my final disclosure, some unhealthy coping skills just seemed to work better and quicker. As a result, many times I chose the “drug.” The drug created a new type of pain but the momentary perceived freedom (from the effects of trauma) it produced magnified its allure; however, there was never a time it contributed to my healing and growth.

The drug calls my name so strongly

I hope I can identify my trigger quickly

Do I need attention or to feel loved?

Am I startled by something that could be good?

 

I can predict the outcomes if I run

Even when I try to believe this time will be fun

I know deep down I will wake up feeling broken.

 

After years of sobriety, it can still be hard to choose

Lapses happen quickly and if I don’t bounce back I’ll lose

 

Don’t run, please stay and fight another day.

 

The drug in this poem represents the maladaptive coping skills I employed. When I chose to run to the “drug” I could expect and predict the outcomes. I often told myself, “even though what happens will be bad, at least you know what to expect. It is what you are used to.” Lies seeped through the drug. Lies such as: this is the best it’s going to be, this is “your” normal, this is the only way you can escape the pain you currently feel.

The truth is that the drug can be disempowered. We can learn to choose which way we will cope. It is not easy or quick, but it is possible.

Eventually, I faced the stark reality that if I continued to run to the “drug,” there would be a time that I would not be able to return to the life I most desired. Continued use of unhealthy coping tactics would result in my demise. The “drug” had the power to completely alter the trajectory of my life.

Here are some ways I was able to reach a place of choosing healthy processing and coping over escape, life over drug:

Recognize the reality and power of the drug.

Find a counselor and be honest with him/her.

Learn healthy, adaptive, coping skills and practice them regularly.

Remove all things (reasonably possible) from your life that tempt you to return to the drug (people, places, things)

Stay present with the pain and work through it.

Remind yourself about the reality of the drug and the pain it causes.

Discover God’s truths, His hopes and desires for your life (hint: it isn’t what the drug tells you) and always turn to Him

When you fall, let someone you trust know, and get right back up; commit to learning and adjusting.

You are not alone.

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Goodbye 2010s, Hello 2020

Growing up in the 90s, 2020 seemed distant and futuristic. In many ways, it was and is. At the same time, it seems to have arrived so quickly. The start of a new year is always an exciting time for me as I reflect on the many events of the previous year. It brings anticipation for new experiences and opportunities.

A decade ago, I was preparing to fly to Anchorage, Alaska to spend time with my dad, aunt, and cousin snowboarding on Mount Alyeska. I survived those runs down the mountain and later completed my first year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill. I ventured to New Orleans to serve as a camp counselor at Baptist Friendship House and did not board my flight back to Raleigh. The direction of my life took an intense pivot that brought peace in the midst of uncertainty.

10 years later, I am still a student. I still serve at Baptist Friendship House. I still love New Orleans with the same intensity as the day I moved there. But the personal growth and change in my life has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Over the last 10 years, God has strengthened me, stretched me, molded me, and directed me in ways I never imagined.

2020 will begin with a drive back to New Orleans after finally recovering enough from the flu to make it back safely.

Full time ministry and counseling will resume.

I will start my second semester of the PhD program at NOBTS.

I will continue to grow my blog with more tangible information for readers on how to advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

I look forward to more opportunities to speak/train on topics like human trafficking, childhood sexual abuse, and advocacy for crime victims.

In 2020, I want to be more present for the “everyday-ness” of life- the little moments.

Thank you for reading and supporting me in so many endeavors over this last decade.

Happy New Year!

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Celebrating 15 Years of Freedom

November 10, 2004. The day before Veteran’s Day. The day freedom arrived for me. Freedom from abuse. Even though the years seem to fly by, on November 10 of each year, I am keenly reminded of just how far God has brought me in my healing journey. One month ago, I shared my story of finding my voice after abuse silenced me, with over 500 amazing individuals at a Child Abuse and Neglect Conference in Michigan. Fifteen years ago, I could not see past the day that was before me. My life was filled with uncertainty, fear, and confusion. Fifteen years later, my days look much different. However, I would not be where I am today without the incredible support system God has placed around me.

When I spoke in Michigan, I listed all of the people who have advocated for me in various ways, identifying them by the role they played. Teacher. Guidance Counselor. Social Workers. SBI Agents. Coaches. Youth Pastor/Leaders. Professors. Friends. Family. The list goes on. I have never had to walk this healing journey alone.

I do not believe healing from childhood sexual abuse simply ends one day. I do not believe it is something we can just check off our to-do list. My body and my mind will always remember what happened. But, living in freedom, I have a choice.

Daily, I get to choose to keep pursuing a life of light, renewal, healing, and learning. I refuse to fall back into the place of silence where shame and fear once held me captive.

I am committing my 15th year of freedom to the continued fight for reform of the NC sex offender registry legislation. It is a fight for survivor’s voices to be honored and heard a decade after a court case is closed when abusers are provided the opportunity to petition for removal from the registry. Until all voices are heard and honored, I will fight.

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One Room Where It Happened

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-tcKYx24aA&t=290s

If you want one of the best resources on how trauma impacts the brain and the body, I suggest you read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

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The purple marks indicate the places where the abuse occurred

The Power in Truth (updated)

It is so hard to believe that I have been blogging for 3.5 years now. In many ways, it seems like just yesterday I nervously clicked publish to share my first post. I initially shared this piece in July 2016; however, as I have been preparing for upcoming presentations I have reread many of my posts and I felt this one needs to be reshared. One aspect of my abuse experience that I think is important for people to understand is how perpetrators destroy a child’s system of beliefs, often through horrific forms of manipulation. While it often takes repetition over a long period of time to rewire our brains with new, healthy beliefs; it is a form of healing that occurs following trauma.

In a previous post, I discussed how abusers are master manipulators. Initially, abusers may use threats of violence or death to the victim or a loved one; however, they eventually incorporate attacks on the child’s belief system regarding “right” and “wrong.” They normalize the abusive behavior so the child no longer questions the acts the abuser imposes.

There were many nights when I feared that if “we” (no longer ‘he’) got caught, “I” (not him) would be in so much trouble. The script was no longer “little Kendall” and “mean abuser,” but now “bad Kendall” and “stepdad.” The impacts of this script change did not become evident until I started working through things in therapy. It was not until more recently that I realized how a completely separate incident cemented this view. This is what abusers strive to do- to make the victim believe they are to blame and they are no longer valued.

Once again, I cannot recall the year this particular incident occurred but it had to have been a year or longer after the ongoing abuse began. My younger siblings and I were swimming in a pool at a hotel. Just like I can take you back to the exact location on Hwy. 903 in Magnolia in a previous post, I can also take you back to the exact hotel and could likely still draw a near perfect blueprint of the pool and sauna area. Initially, my siblings and I were bursting with excitement because we had the entire hotel pool all to ourselves. After a few minutes of swimming, I noticed through the clear door of the sauna that there was a man in there alone. This man moved to a separate bench in the sauna where it became evident that he only had a towel wrapped around his waist and he began to masturbate. My immediate thought was to protect my siblings by distracting them in the pool. However, I quickly began wrestling thoughts in my mind trying to determine whether I was supposed to go in there and do what my abuser made me do. It was like two conflicting identities were trying to operate at the same time “big sister” and “bad Kendall.” I just remember thinking, “maybe this is what I’m really supposed to do.” Thankfully, before a decision could be made, a family came into the pool area and the man in the sauna quickly left. However, that thought radiated through the years and turned into “maybe this is all I’m going to be worth.” I am forever grateful for the people that pour truth into me and help me fight against this lie I was taught.

A child should never, under any circumstance, feel obligated to sexually service a stranger in a sauna because he has exposed himself to her.

But that is what abuse and a manipulating abuser can do to a child’s mind. My heart aches for the children and adults that are currently facing this battle. I believe so strongly in speaking truth. Truth is the only thing that can combat an abuser’s lies. We need to tell the children in our lives how precious, loved, valued, and important they are simply for being who they are as children of God. We need to tell them that it is not okay for someone to make them feel icky or scared or like they are bad. We need to educate them about abusers and how to tell an adult if someone hurts them or makes them think they will be hurt. We need to explain sexual abuse and teach them healthy sexuality so they aren’t left questioning what is right and what is wrong. These should not be one time conversations- they should happen over and over and over. The conversations should grow in depth and complexity as a child’s mind grows and as they are exposed to new situations. The abuser tells lies over and over to the point that in the mind of the victim, they become truth. The frequency we speak truth to children should exponentially outweigh the frequency of the lies abusers say. 

Children need to know, believe, and feel truths about their identity as a beloved child of God, worthy of respect, love, dignity, and deserving of safety.  And nothing can take those truths away.

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