Moving Forward

It has been a while since I have taken the time to sit down and type. Life seems to have been moving at an accelerated speed lately. One of the goals of my blog has always been to convey hope to others who have been hurt. Hope that the pain will lessen. Hope that the offender will be held accountable. Hope that one day, the abuse one has experienced will only be a chapter of his/her life instead of a bolded header on each page. Some days my hope seems minuscule compared to the other emotions; however, most days, hope permeates my entire being. God continues to show me that He is in control and He is going to use my story to positively impact this world. Two days ago, He showed me, yet again, how He is at work.

On October 23, I sent my first email to a North Carolina legislator. I briefly shared one of my concerns about the sex offender registry petitioning process. I prepared myself for a delayed response. With the election less than a week away, I knew the Senator likely had more important matters to attend to at this time. I just hoped for a response one day. Just eight days later, I opened my email and with complete joy and surprise read an email from the Senator’s assistant. Not only is the Senator interested in hearing my concerns and ideas, but he is also willing to meet with me!

Now, God didn’t just allow for a quick response from the Senator. Hours before I opened my email, I FINALLY submitted my paperwork to the Louisiana LPC Board of Examiners to begin my journey towards licensure as a counselor. I became eligible to begin this process the day after I graduated with my master’s degree; however, after court this past summer it was imperative that I took the time to work through the trauma and allow myself some time to heal. I don’t really believe in coincidences. I see the two events as little nuggets of hope that God continues to give me to remind me of His love for me and His desire to see good come out of bad.

I have no clue what doors will be opened next. I am thankful for these steps forward. While I may still get tripped up on some days, the momentum is definitely towards making things better for other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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Giving Thanks

It has been a week since my abuser was granted relief from the sex offender registry. This last week has been filled with more emotions that I can write and a pain deeper than I have felt in a long time. Now the shock has worn off and I am beginning to feel human again. In the midst of the pain, I have remembered, and I have been reminded of things for which I can give thanks. There has been and will be a greater good that God will allow to come out of this experience. So, in this post, I want to share a few of those things with you. In future posts, I will share about the hearing and what took place in the courtroom and suggestions I will make to legislators to better serve victims of childhood sexual abuse.

  1. I have to give all the thanks to God because He was at work even in the court room. Whether it was the comfort He provided my family, friends and I or the strength and courage He placed in my heart to take the stand in front of my abuser- I can’t imagine having faced that battle without my personal relationship with Him.
  2. I was surrounded physically by an amazing army of family and friends during each trip to court. They sacrificed time off from work, time spent relaxing or with their families, to sit on an insanely uncomfortable bench for HOURS in the court room. I was surrounded by so many people in spirit who lifted prayers and sent words of encouragement throughout the week reminding me that I was not alone.
  3. The Duplin County District Attorney’s Office walked with me every step of the court experience. From allowing me to enter early to avoid running into my abuser or his family in the halls, to explaining each aspect of the hearing, to fighting as hard as they could to ensure that my abuser would remain on the sex offender registry. They have stood with me for years as I prepared for that day. I don’t question a single action they took on my behalf and I am not left wondering whether there was something else they could have done.
  4. While the judge’s ruling was incredibly tough to listen to, the judge was fair and made a decision completely “by the books.” He did not take my case lightly. He delayed the hearing so that he could ensure he had a complete understanding of every law governing this specific type of hearing. He did not speed through the hearing, simply relying on what the defense and prosecutors presented to him. He made my abuser take the stand and face an open court where he was questioned about the abuse. He allowed me to read my victim impact statement in its entirety. While I disagree with the ruling, I know the judge made a decision based on the law (which has to change).
  5. I’m not sure anyone would have anticipated me giving thanks to the defense attorney, but his character was admirable. The defense attorney could have asked for portions of my victim impact statement to be omitted, but he did not object and allowed me to read it in its entirety. He also could have cross-examined me, but he chose to rest the case instead.
  6. While I wish with everything in me that my abuser would be registered as a sex offender for life, I am finding freedom in knowing that I will never have to face my abuser in court again. Based on the current state of the laws regulating/governing the sex offender registry, my abuser would likely have been removed from the sex offender registry at 15 years. Had his petition been denied last week, my abuser would have been able to file another petition for removal 365 days later. It spares me 3 extra petitions if he would ultimately be removed anyway. While it still hurts incredibly bad that he no longer has to register, I am relieved that neither I nor my family and friends, will have to go through this again.
  7. I am thankful for the woman that came and gave me a hug after I gave my statement. I don’t know her name or her story, but she thanked me for being brave. If I was supposed to go through all this so she knows she’s not alone and that her voice deserves to be heard, then it was all worth it.

Friends and Family, I cannot thank you enough for your outpouring of support over the years, but especially these last three weeks. This particular chapter has closed, but a new one is opening. Stay tuned to learn how you can help me change laws, make our states safer, and empower victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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Redemption. Thirteen Years.

Thirteen years ago, I was a terrified thirteen-year-old child. I believed it would be my last day on earth as I left the security of my middle school walls. Thirteen years later, I am walking into a computer lab to take the most important exam of my graduate school career. I am honored that God is providing me with an extraordinary glimpse at redemption. What are the chances that I would be taking the CPCE the year that the test date falls on this pivotal day in my life? It is a powerful remembrance and an ode to God’s healing in my life to look back on the frightened child I was to the person I am today- taking an exam that will provide me the opportunity to continue counseling hurting people. Only God could orchestrate this redemption of November 10.

On November 10, 2004 my family learned about the abuse I had experienced for the previous years. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I was finally freed from the hands of my abuser; however, I had learned to live with the pain of the abuse. I had no clue what the pain of healing would entail. There were times I did not think I would make it another day. But each time I reached that point, God showed me how and why I could make it another day, and another day after that. As the years passed, November 10 became a little less painful and a little more joyful. I slowly began to see progress in my healing and I found that there IS life after sexual abuse.

Today, I celebrate. I celebrate that I don’t have to live in fear of my abuser. I celebrate that I don’t have to go to sleep each night with a secret no child should ever have to keep. I celebrate not having to keep silent in shame of what my abuser did to me. I celebrate each day of the last thirteen years that have led me to where I am today.

I don’t know where you may be on your healing journey from sexual abuse, but please know that there is hope. The pain will eventually ease. Joy will be felt throughout your soul once again. Your days can be reclaimed. God is at work. Keep going. Don’t give up. Make it another day. You are not alone. 

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Innocence Stolen.

This is my first attempt at poetry. I am amazed at how different it feels to write poetry than basic blog posts. There is so much emotion attached when writing in this style. So, here’s to a new adventure, we will see where it goes. The title of this first piece is “Innocence Stolen.”

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening? I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

 

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

 

No more teddy bears

Or rocking chairs

My life was changed forever

When you decided to sever

My safety and trust

Now I’m filled with fear and disgust

No words, just silence

I must prevent his violence

Hear what my eyes are saying

On the inside, I’m decaying

Perfect on the outside

Please, someone find where I hide.

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Your Response. It matters.

Sexual abuse is not a single-victim crime. It impacts families and communities worldwide. Most people know someone who has experienced sexual abuse. How will you respond when you learn someone you love and care for has been hurt so deeply by this heinous crime? In the years following my disclosure and people learning about my experiences, the reactions have varied across the spectrum from outright rage to assuming I was lying. Each response impacted me- some were extremely comforting and healing, while others caused added distress in my life (unintentionally and intentionally). I hope that through sharing my encounters more people will be aware of how important their responses are to learning of abuse. In this post, I am going to discuss the reaction of wanting to inflict significant injury to an abuser.

 In the days following social services’ intervention and the separation from my abuser, some of the people closest to my family, including extended family, were informed about what had happened. Anger, rage, and the desire to hurt my abuser were very frequent and common reactions. These emotions are absolutely justified and warranted. They are normal reactions and it is okay to experience and express these emotions (not actions)- just not to the person who experienced the abuse. (Just a reminder that these are clearly my opinions and do not apply to everyone). I found myself pleading with people not to “kill” my abuser for what he did. Thus, I experienced further emotional turmoil because I found myself “protecting” my abuser, but also feeling thankful that someone did want to make him pay for what he did to me. I recall thinking “if you kill him, then I’m going to lose you too!” What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused. I was going to have to work through those things despite the condition of my abuser. So, for someone to go and cause him pain, it would only have further negative impacts on me.

“What I could not articulate at the time is the fact that even if someone had inflicted pain on my abuser, it would not have changed what he did to me or erased the impacts of being abused.”

 I do not want to discourage people from expressing their understandable and normal emotions of fury, anger, and rage after learning someone you love has been abused; however, it is more beneficial to the person you love if you can find healthy ways of coping with those emotions. It is also best to avoid expressing these emotions directly to the victim and rather than worrying about the abuser, turn your focus to the needs of the people impacted by the crimes. What are some healthy coping mechanisms to consider when you learn someone you love has been abused and you become consumed with anger?

·       Find a trusted person to talk with about your emotions and reactions

·       Exercise to release some of the intense feelings of anger

·       Focus on the person who was abused and seek to bring them comfort

·       Pray for the strength to not act on your emotions

·       Find a way to turn that anger into pro-active action such as raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse, fighting for stricter penalties for child abusers, etc.

·       Journal – write a letter to the abuser to express the anger you feel, then shred it (probably not a good idea to mail it)

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 Due to the staggering statistics regarding childhood sexual abuse, it is unfortunately likely that at some point in your life you will have to choose how you will reach in this situation. What are your thoughts?

A Letter to my Abuser

So, I just finished writing this letter and I am still in somewhat of a shock that these words came from my heart. They literally just poured out of me. The first line was probably the most difficult. How do you address the person who abused you for years? I figured out what works for me. Here it goes…

October 19, 2016

To the man who stole my innocence.

Years ago I wrote you a letter. I never mailed it, thankfully. Although, it may have been good for you to read it. It was filled with hate and pain- a disastrous combination. I was at my lowest point of despair. I wanted you to witness how my life was ruined because of you. I do not regret writing that letter. It felt amazing to throw all the overwhelming emotions on paper… temporarily. I quickly learned that my hate and utter disdain for you did not change a single event that occurred in the past, it had no impact on you, and it was preventing me from living. I was existing, but I was not living.

With the help of a phenomenal counselor, I discovered how to live again. Slowly, those feelings of hatred faded. I learned that my life was not ruined, despite the really horrible things I endured. I made the decision to take back control of my life- my emotions, my thoughts, and my behaviors. Then, I chose to place my life, my trust, and my faith in the hands of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It may appear that this was an easy transition, when reading my words, but it was far from that. It may appear that it happened over night; however, it actually took years.

At eight years old, my life was forever changed. I continue to encounter circumstances that demonstrate yet another way the long term sexual abuse impacts me. I believe this will be lifelong. Trauma can’t be undone. But, that is no longer a disparaging truth for me. New neural pathways have formed. I have the tools to cope with the triggers and nightmarish memories of the many nights of my childhood. And, in moments when coping and pressing forward is difficult, I have a support system and a counselor that I can reach to for support. My life is not ruined. My life is so worth living.

I never imagined I would consider forgiving you. However, as I grew in my faith and learned about the act of forgiving, it did not seem so foreign. Many times I tried telling myself that I had forgiven you because it was the “right” thing to do. But, it was never authentic and truly from my heart. I can still recall the exact date that I finally “felt” like I had forgiven you. I forgive you.

I believe there are many misconceptions about forgiveness. It does not undo the sexual abuse. It does not remove the sadness I still feel when I think back to when I was just a child- how little I was, how scared I was, how confused I was. It does not mean I no longer hold you responsible for your choices. And it certainly does not mean I want to join you for dinner. In fact, I still pray I never see you again. It does not mean that I will let you petition for removal from the sex offender registry without fighting with every ounce of strength I have for that not to happen.

Forgiving you has allowed me to not just live, but thrive. It has provided me with the ability to accept what happened to me as a chapter in my book of life. It is no longer the conclusion. Forgiving you grants me the ability to turn my focus towards the future- towards strengthening legislation that fights for and protects children, towards completing my degree in counseling so I can hopefully impact lives like my counselors impacted my life, and towards removing the stigma surrounding sexual abuse and creating conversations that need to occur.

Some say the pivotal moment of forgiveness occurs when a person reaches the point of being able to extend appropriate grace to the perpetrator. I’m not there yet. And honestly, I’m still trying to figure out whether that is something I agree with or not. Maybe one day I will reach that place. For now, I have peace with my level of forgiveness for you. So, whether you are wondering or not, my life is not ruined. I forgive you.

Sincerely,

A Very Brave Woman

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For anyone struggling with forgiveness, please know that it truly takes time. Don’t beat yourself up for not being at that point yet in your journey. Healing takes time. Forgiving takes time. In one of my favorite books, Mending the Soul by Steven R. Tracy, the last chapter is on forgiveness. The LAST chapter. In a coming post, I hope to further explore what forgiveness has looked like in my life.

A Plea for Justice, Impact Statement Pt. 3

In the final part of my victim impact statement I decided to begin with the day I was freed from my abuser. While I was so thankful to have someone believe me and take action against my abuser, it was also one of the scariest days of my life. Things did not get better on that day and at the time it felt like life became immensely more difficult. I want the judge to see that my abuser’s actions did not just effect me, but they also significantly impacted my family.

What I call my “Freedom Day,” came on November 10, 2004. I was a little over a month shy of turning 14. While I was freed in a physical sense from the hands of my abuser, I am still learning today that healing is life-long. Over 250 counseling sessions, a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, antidepressants, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, shame, low self-worth- these are just some of the things I’ve dealt with in the last ten years. When physical freedom from the abuse happened, my entire world was turned upside down even more. My siblings, mom, and I were forced to leave a house we dearly loved, our belongings ended up ruined in storage, our precious pets were left in the care of my abuser, and we moved into a single bedroom in my grandparent’s house. And that was only the beginning.

Next I wanted to convey to the judge my concerns regarding the potential of my abuser harming another child. I want the judge to see that my abuser was very skilled in manipulative tactics. It provides me with some peace of mind that my abuser is listed on a public sex offender registry. I also want the judge to look at the picture below and see what I looked like a year after the abuse began. I want the judge to see that I was just a child.

I could spend a really long time detailing the last ten years of my life. There have been highs and lows but I’ve made it through them all, just like I survived the years of abuse. But that is not why we are here today. For nearly two years I have been anxious about this day. It absolutely terrifies me that there is a chance my abuser can be removed from the sex offender registry. There are hardly words to describe the peace of mind I have knowing that law enforcement knows where my abuser lives and that people who have children around him can know that he is a predator. It brings comfort to me to know that the likelihood of another child being abused by him is at least decreased some by him being on the sex offender registry. I am not his only victim. He also assaulted my XXXXXXX. The abuse was not a one-time incident. I can look back at when I was an eight year old child and see just how manipulated and controlled I was by my abuser. He was brazen enough to abuse me not only in his bedroom, but also in the living room, in the swimming pool, and in the cab of his truck. The fact that he abused me despite the rest of my family being one room away shows just how capable he is of grooming another child and abusing them without anyone knowing- for years.

In conclusion, my abuser added me to a list that I never wanted to be on. If I ever go before the judge, my plea will be that my abuser remain on the sex offender registry for the duration of his life.

Not only does a denial to my abuser’s petition for removal from the registry protect other kids from the potential of being abused by him, but it also serves as continued justice for the crimes he committed against me. That August night when I was just eight years old, hoping to watch a television show and bond with my XXXXXXX, I was forever added to a list I didn’t choose- child sexual abuse victim. My XXXXXX chose to put my name on that list. I will forever live with all that list brings. Just as I will always deal with the effects, I believe that my abuser should have to live with the ramifications of his actions, which landed him on a list. Even if my abuser is one of the very few predators that never abuses another child, it would be an injustice for him to no longer have to face the consequences of his choices that forever altered my life.  

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