I don’t make the drive to NC often enough to be confident enough not to use GPS. There have been a few times I had a little too much confidence in my capacity for directions and the trips took much longer than they should. On my most recent trip to NC, I realized my GPS was taking me a different route than usual; however, it was not until I was miles off the exit that I recognized the road I would travel down.
The new route would take me right by the place I called home for several years.
As I got closer to the place I used to live, my heartbeat quickened, and I got that feeling of unease in the pit of my stomach. Those feelings calmed as I remembered that the house was not always a house of horror. My mind was flooded with memories of both the good times and the times of greatest pain. When I think about that place, I first remember the abuse that took place within those walls. But then I remember the huge backyard, fields, and woods where I spent hours playing on the weekends with my siblings. I remember the twenty-something cats that were all named and loved. I remember my pet potbelly pig, Petunia, and how excited I was to get her. One of the things that makes disclosures even more complicated than they already are is that there are going to be a lot of painful losses.
I can recall my very first disclosure when my hope was that my abuser would simply stop abusing me. I didn’t want to have to leave my home. I just wanted the abuse to stop.
I know I have touched on this subject in previous blog posts, but I think it deserves being revisited. Disclosure is HARD.
Abusers aren’t always going to be the “bad” person committing crimes. An abuser is often personable, caring, loving even, and he/she creates positive memories with his/her victim too. My abuser attended my sporting events, he took my family out to eat on occasion, he played baseball in the backyard with us, we went to the lake and beach sometimes. He was there for holidays and birthdays. This dichotomy further confuses the victim and keeps him/her silent- how can this person be bad and good at the same time. It is a lot for a child’s brain to comprehend and the child often assumes the “bad person” role, thinking he/she must somehow be causing the bad things to happen.
When a child discloses sexual abuse and is believed, the common response by others is sadness over what has happened but thankfulness and joy that the child will not be abused by that person again. This response is completely appropriate. There is a focus on this newfound freedom. However, we often overlook the many losses the child will grieve in this new freedom. Don’t get me wrong, that freedom is EVERYTHING. It is the only way the healing process can truly begin.
I grieved deeply following my disclosure that resulted in my freedom. I never saw my sweet Petunia again. I missed my bed and my room. I missed a big backyard. I missed my pool. I missed riding the four-wheelers through fields. I missed my cats. I missed everything as it was except for the abuse. These things may seem trivial to an adult, but they are the important things in a child’s life.
If you are a trusted adult in a child’s circle following the disclosure of sexual abuse. Remember to make space for the grieving process of those losses the child has experienced. Encourage him/her to talk about the things he/she misses about his/her “old life.” Remind the child that it is okay to have positive memories that involve the abuser (though it does not in any way make that person safe or justify the abuse). Doing these things will have long-term impacts on the child’s healing process. Doing these things will allow that child to one day drive past that house and be able to remember the good times and bad without feeling guilty, ashamed, or overwhelmed.