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.

IMG_2958

 

 

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.

secrets-vs-surp_44312313-31024_1

 

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.

img_4530

 

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.

way-1371027_1920

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.

tunnel-3915169_1920

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.

IMG_0342 (1).jpg
The purple marks indicate the places where the abuse occurred

Life: 1 Year After Facing My Abuser in Court

It is so hard to believe that an entire year has passed since I returned home to North Carolina to face my abuser in court for the second time. Hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal from the sex offender was absolutely devastating. It is still infuriating and feels like a major injustice. It is terrifying to think about how he now attends little league baseball games as he stated in court that was one of his primary motivators for wanting to be removed from the registry. However, with time and healing, I have been able to turn those emotions into motivation and fuel to advocate for change. In this last year, God has opened doors for me that I believe are a direct result of my time spent in court a year ago.

I have had the incredible opportunity to begin speaking with a senator’s office in North Carolina. One of the primary goals I have set in advocacy is for victim notification of petition hearings. If I had not communicated with the District Attorney’s office in the years leading up to my abuser’s petition, I would not have been notified when my abuser was returning to court. North Carolina has an extremely helpful victim notification system that informs those who are registered to receive updates when the status of a sex offender changes. However, it does have a flaw. I received an update once when my abuser’s address changed. Then, I did not receive another update until I got the automated phone call letting me know my abuser was removed from the sex offender registry. There was no automated call to inform me of my abuser’s scheduled court date. I believe this will be a fairly simple “fix” to ensure that victims who want to be notified when his/her abuser petitions the court to be removed from the registry, he/she is informed in a timely manner. I fully support individuals who never want to be notified by a court again once a case is closed. However, I will stand firm in my beliefs that if a victim wants to be notified, he/she should be guaranteed timely notification. I will be forever grateful for the Assistant District Attorneys who listened to my concerns and promised to notify me as soon as my abuser was granted a court date for his petition. Even though the ruling was devastating, I will always rest knowing that I had the opportunity to speak truth in that courtroom.

The Lord has continued to ignite a passion in me to share my story so others can learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of victim services I received through the years. God has opened doors for me to engage with individuals on the national level. This October I will travel to Ann Arbor, MI to lead a breakout session and give a keynote speech for a statewide child abuse and neglect conference. In December, I will have the opportunity to lead a breakout session for the Center for Victims of Crime’s National Training Institute. I first attended this specific conference in New Orleans eight years ago. I never imagined that I would be given that same platform to educate people from across the nation about the impact petition hearings have on individuals who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

In the days following the judge’s ruling, I flew back home to New Orleans and tried to launch back into my routine. Life did not fall back into place gracefully. I did not feel like the same person I was prior to the judge’s ruling. I felt like I had lost myself. Those feelings were a symptom of the trauma of reliving the abuse as I looked at my abuser from the witness stand. I was changed through that experience. Some of the plans I had for my life had to be delayed while I took some time to heal. God is so faithful and His timeline is always much better than any we can ever imagine. Six months after I appeared in court, I began seeing clients for counseling as a provisional licensed professional counselor. A couple of months after that, I was accepted into the Ph.D. program at the same school where I received my master’s degree. Later this month I will attend my first course as a Ph.D. student.

I know I have mentioned this before, but I believe it is worth mentioning again. If you had told 13-year-old Kendall who had just talked with a social worker at school about the abuse she was experiencing at home that one day she would be standing where I am now- I would never have believed you. Abuse teaches us that we are unworthy, ruined, dirty, and shameful, among other things. You don’t grow up believing you have a voice because it has been silenced by an abuser.

God redeems. God heals. God loves. God will lift the voice of those who have been silenced.

For those of you who have joined me on this blogging journey, your support means the world to me. For those of you who have prayed for me over the years, I can not thank you enough. For those of you who think no one will hear your voice, I am listening.

This journey continues. Stay tuned for more blog posts, updates on legislative activities, and future speaking engagements. If you ever have any questions or want to know how you can advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse in your own community, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

36875903_10217044405647163_6562815044533354496_o

 

Not My Shame

I’m fairly certain one of my earliest blog posts shares the same title as this one, but the words have been a truth I have held tightly through the healing journey. Not my shame. I remember my therapist telling me when I was around 17 years old that the shame I was carrying did not belong to me. Diane Langberg, a respected counselor/researcher/author/speaker, calls this type of shame “inflicted shame.” She defines it as “the shame of one person inflicted on the self of the other. It is the shame belonging to the perpetrator but carried by the victim” (Langberg, 2015, p. 133).  Many, if not all, survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience this type of shame. And it is not even ours to begin with.

Shame attacks the identity of an individual whereas guilt attacks the behavior of an individual. Guilt is quite often justified, the result of a sinful action; however, shame is one of Satan’s tactics of holding a person captive. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” Shame infiltrates every aspect of our being and prohibits us from being able to see ourselves and our world as God desires.

When I reflect on my inflicted shame, it began the night the routine abuse started- when I was eight years old and quietly, but quickly, walked from my abuser’s bedroom to my bathroom sink and attempted to scrub his semen off my small hands. That is the first time I felt dirty. Not a muddy, been playing in the woods all day dirty, but a soul-penetrating dirty, that doesn’t wash off under the faucet. It was more than a physical dirty. The shame told me that I deserved what my abuser was doing to me. Shame said that I was unworthy. The shame was compounded by the secret I was instructed to keep. It could not be spoken, “or else.”

The impacts of shame continued to manifest in my life during my disclosures of the abuse and in the years following. When I would speak up about some of the things my abuser did, shame reminded me there were some acts that were unspeakable. Shame said, “you can’t tell anyone about that or you will be judged forever.” Shame during my teenage years told me that “no one will want to know the real you. You are only good for what your appearances can offer.” Shame led me to believe that rather than becoming a doctor, I should aspire to become a playboy bunny. Shame, that was not mine to begin with, tossed me into some deep, dark valleys. It was only the spiritual light that could lead me out of them.

My therapist and my youth pastor are the two people who initially helped me see the light. It took literal years of them pouring truth into my heart and mind before I began to recognize that I did not have to live with the shame my abuser inflicted on me. Here are some of the truths that helped me step into the light.

  1. Psychoeducation on abuse and trauma. I had to comprehend the dynamics of abuse and the power my abuser had over me. I had to see the little girl that was being abused, not the woman I seemed to become overnight who I believed should have stopped what was happening. I had to understand the impacts of trauma.
  2. Talking and trauma narrative. Shame festers in silence. I had to be able to speak the words of my experiences. I had to take back the power which silence had stolen. I told my story at my own pace and in my own words in a therapeutic environment with trusted individuals.
  3. Reclaiming my identity. The identity shame gave me became normal. Even though it was unhealthy and often resulted in more pain, it felt safe because it was what I knew. I had spent more time with the identity of shame then I had as a normal little girl. I had to recognize that it was not the identity God gave me. I sought scripture passages to reveal how God viewed me. I had to make lifestyle choices that would align with God’s view of his daughter.
  4. A whole lot of prayer and accountability. I pray for God to help me see myself and others through eyes like His. My youth pastor, therapist, and others prayed for my healing in the years after the abuse ended. When I feel myself starting to slip into old thought patterns that lead to a place of shame, I reach out to someone I know will hold me accountable. Have people in your life who will speak the truth even when it’s hard to hear and believe.
  5. Take back power. A pivotal moment in my healing journey occurred when I recognized that I could take back the power my abuser and Satan had over my life. I decided that I didn’t want to live according to the desires of my abuser and Satan. I decided that I would grow into the person God designed me to be. I decided to follow God’s will for my life wherever it led. I found my worth in simply being a human that God created for a purpose. I decided my purpose mattered.

I would be lying if I said I never struggle with shame. It is not a “follow the directions and fix the problem” kind of experience. However, I hold on to God’s truths tightly and they have the power to lift me out of the valley when I allow those truths to permeate my entire being. Shame will not be a part of my identity.

img_4865

Langberg, D. (2015). Suffering and the heart of God: How trauma destroys and Christ restores. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press

A Decision I Will Never Regret

I can still vividly recall the shakiness and fear that seemed to consume me when the Assistant District Attorney called me to the stand to be sworn in last summer. Based on television shows, you would think the swearing in process is a piece of cake. We regularly see people place a hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How hard could it really be? Just get up there and tell the truth, right?

I will never consider testifying in court as a “light” event in a person’s life. I can remember my heart racing, my hands trembling, and my voice shaking as I was sworn in and took my seat. Testifying in court is not guaranteed to end in the survivor’s favor. That lack of certain conviction is what played the most significant role in accepting a plea agreement when my abuser was initially charged. I experienced only a glimpse of what a trial feels like when I testified at my abuser’s petition hearing. But that glimpse was enough to help me better understand the trauma that will occur in the courtroom.

Over the years, courts have implemented trauma-informed approaches to reduce the impacts of courtroom testimony on victims. But there is no way you can expect testifying in court to not have impacts on a person as he/she relives the trauma. We should be prepared to walk with individuals in the days, weeks, or months after the court has issued a ruling. Whether the ruling is favorable or not, there will be major impacts.

Facing my abuser in court and testifying on why he should not be granted a petition for removal from the sex offender registry is one decision I will never regret. I don’t have to wonder if there was anything else I could have done to prevent my abuser’s removal from the registry. I had the chance to speak the truth in public in front of my abuser and his family as they sat by his side. I got to reclaim the voice of “little Kendall” and stand up for her. And even though the court’s decision was not in my favor, I would make the same decision again.

I do believe there are times when allowing a plea deal to be reached is best for the case, especially when there has not been a prior conviction. When the case against my abuser was first heard it court, it was the best decision to accept a plea bargain. I believe that plea deals protect children from further trauma. But I also believe that there is power in having the opportunity to testify- especially at petition hearings. It is kind of like the saying “it has to get worse before it can get better.” Testifying is going to be worse (but not worse than the abuse endured), but then you can come out on the other side stronger and braver. It is awful to do everything in your power to influence a decision yet still have it not result in your favor. It is unspeakable to hear a judge say “Therefore, based upon the findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court orders, adjudges and decrees the relief requested by the petitioner is granted…” But, I have absolutely no regrets.

If your abuser is petitioning the court from removal from the sex offender registry, I would encourage you to reach out to the District Attorney’s office and seriously consider appearing in court to make a statement. I am more than willing to talk with you more about the experience.

sworn in_LI