Thriving After Sexual Abuse
Through the years, I have worked with many sexual abuse survivors. My hope is that they not only survive, but thrive...that they become stronger at the broken places. I teach them things about managing triggers and trauma reactions and bear witness to their story and they teach me things about the power of the human spirit, about triumph and victory. Not long ago, I became acquainted with one of our readers, Carissa Magras, who happens to be a childhood sexual abuse survivor. I invited Carissa to write a letter to herself as a 15-year-old, of what she wished she could have known at that age (since many of the survivors I work with are in that age range.) She rose to the challenge. Here is what came from her heart:
I see you there, lying on your bed listening to music; talking on the phone with your friends; hanging out at the movies. I know how on the outside you look like a typical teenager, but on the inside you feel ragged, broken, and bruised. I see the smile on your face, but I know the deep pain that hides behind it. I want you to know a few things that no one told us at that age, during that time. I know these things I have to say might feel so far out of reach, or incomprehensible at this moment that you are in; but trust that they are true. I have been where you are. I am you. And this is what I wish we would have known back then.
Hindsight is 20/20. As an adult now, I see our childhood in a different way than when I was immersed in it. As a child and teenager, it was impossible for me to see the truth because I was to close to it all; like trying to read a piece of paper smashed up against my face. I couldn’t see clearly or know how to accurately make sense of situations. It was our parent’s job to see that truth for us. And our teachers. And therapists. And all the other adults who are supposed to be safe, and care for us as kids growing into adults. But some of those people failed us. Some of those adults weren’t grown up enough to see the truth for us, and therefore take action to protect us. Because of this we felt the blame, shame, and guilt. It messed with our head when dad violated us at just five years old, in a way that is meant for a husband and wife. There was something wrong with that 19 year old guy who took our virginity when we were 15, even with our “consent”. But it was not our fault. No matter the age, no matter the act. You were too close to be able to see it for what it was. It wasn’t your responsibility to protect yourself. It was the responsibility of the adults in your life. And I’m sorry that they failed us. Some did it intentionally, but most were clueless. I have found since then that many adults are really just kids still trying to figure out how to grow up. If it makes things any better, many of those adults have realized their mistakes, sincerely apologized and changed their ways. No one is perfect. We all live, learn, and grow. But no matter what, don’t blame yourself, regardless of the circumstances, for the choices someone else made.
Our dad… our first real boyfriend… and everyone else who chose to use us instead of love us… they were really good at manipulating and making us feel like something was wrong with us. The only thing that was wrong, were the choices they made. What you feel is not who you are. You are not broken or stained. What happened might dictate your emotions, but it does not define who you are as a person. I know you better than anyone. And I have never met someone with as much strength, endurance, courage, and compassion. There was something wrong with what they did, but there was nothing wrong with you. And what you might be feeling or going through right now as a result, is normal given what you have been through.
It is hard to find your self-worth when people who you love and trust, disfigure that self-worth at such a young age. I know you feel like nothing right now. I know you are so insecure even though you come across so confident. I know your fears, and the doubt you feel every day. I know how you don’t think you are worthy of anything good. But do not let the actions or opinions of other people define who you are and dictate your worthiness in this world. In the brokenness, you are beautiful. In the pain, you are strong. You are worthy of someone loving you with a love that is safe, good, and true. Right now it might be hard to find those people, but they are out there. They are waiting to meet you; waiting for their life to be made better by your existence, and waiting for them to make your life better by their presence. There are all kinds of people in this world. You don’t have to let all of them into your corner. You get to decide who stays. Choose the people who see you for what you truly are: beautiful, strong, tenacious, and wonderful; worthy of being loved and respected.
I wish I could tell you that life as an adult is easy and great. It isn’t. I will say that it is 100% better than high school, and even college. But no matter your age, life will still stink sometimes. It will still throw curveballs when the time is inconvenient. There will still be people who hurt you and choose wrong over right. The biggest difference between life as a teenager and as an adult is that you get to choose what you do with those curveballs and relationships. You don’t have to keep every relationship “just because”. You get to choose the ones that are safe and healthy for you. You get to decide what situations you are in or avoid. You get to dictate the path of your healing journey. We may not be able to change the first few chapters of our life, but we can take back the pen and write the rest of our story.
I know you feel broken and messed up. I know how dark and deep the abyss is in your soul. I know that the depression is overwhelming, and makes you feel so weak and small. But I promise you that you are stronger than you know. It is okay to have bad days. As I write this, I am 31, and I still have days when I just want to stay in bed, sob my eyes out, and eat a pint of ice cream. I used to feel guilty when that happened, like all hope was lost and I would never become the person I desire. But one day you are going to look around, and realize that you have more good days now than bad. And that those bad days used to be so much worse. You no longer feel guilty for having scars. You realize those scars are beauty marks that have made you who you are. You refused to quit making progress, and from the ashes you have risen. On the days when you thought you couldn’t take one more step, you had people - safe, loving, trustworthy people - who came alongside you, held you, helped you up, and walked with you. You will get through this. It feels so hopeless and overwhelming right now, but the sun will break the darkness, and the warmth of its light will fill your soul and heal your heart. Just hang in there. Your day and life as you want it, is coming.
Carissa Magras, founder of BlueSpoons.co
Carissa Magras is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the founder of Blue Spoons, a company that exists to give 100% of its profits to fund counseling services and treatment programs for the 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males impacted by sexual inappropriateness everywhere. Carissa resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, kids, and Maltipoo. To learn more, visit BlueSpoons.co or follow @blue_spoons on social media. #BlueSpoonie