I think I may have arrived at that place I’ve been trying to get to my entire life. The far side of the pain, shame, and secrets that weren’t mine to keep – a place called peace, but it’s taken me a long time… a lifetime.
I’m 64 and I always add, “I know I don’t look that old”. My abuse started when I was 3 years old and it’s one of my very first memories. My dad had left my family and my mom started dating this man who would come over for dinner. He would offer to bathe the baby (that was me), while she cooked. I remember his hands on me. I remember hearing that it was a secret. My mom married this man and the abuse continued for years. He had convinced me that if I told on him, then he would kick me and my mom out and we would be homeless, so my role became that of a protector because I knew I had to do whatever I could to protect my mom. On my 8th birthday, I did the math and knew I only had to endure this for 10 more years. 10 years to an 8-year-old is a longer than life sentence. It wasn’t until I was old enough to keep everyone’s schedule in my head so I would never be alone with him that the abuse stopped, but the vigilance never ended. At 17, I married an older man to escape the abuse. As I went out the door of my house, I promised God that he could always use my home as a safe place for any kid who needed it.
About 2 weeks after the wedding, when I was beaten and raped, I knew what from the frying pan to the fire meant. That marriage was a cycle of separations, promises to never do it again, and then doing it again, which lasted three long years. During one of the last separations, I met a man who convinced me that I deserved much better and, in fact, probably saved my life. I left for the last time and life became much more normal for me, or as normal as it could be for a 21-year-old who had known nothing but abuse. I was blessed to find a man who loved me and we were married for 10 years. The divorce came because the scars in me made it very hard for me to trust or to be trustworthy. Another failed marriage. At 32 I married again for the third time, and while I would love to say I had it figured out now, sadly I did not.
I did at least break my silence and go to counseling for my childhood abuse. At this time, the counselor and my husband were the only ones who knew the secret. I was 35. The message I heard from the counselor that stuck was this, “tell your story, tell your story, tell your story”. I had found my voice and began to tell my story to safe people. Telling my story those first times were very hard, heartbreakingly hard, sobbing as I talked, hard. And then one day I realized that the more I told my story, the less power it had over me, the less power it had to make me feel ashamed, and the less power it had to hurt me. Eventually, it completely lost its power to keep me silent!
So what does this place called peace look like? It is a place where I accept that what happened to me was not my fault; it wasn’t fair, but it happened. I was an innocent bystander who got hurt badly.
Peace is a place where I have been able to be that safe place for many kids.
Peace is a place where I consider myself blessed to be able to speak up for others, to encourage others to speak up, and to know that I survived something in order to be a voice.
Peace is being able to be thankful for my experience if my story can bring value to someone else.
I hope you will find your place called peace and I encourage you to “tell your story, tell your story, tell your story” until it has lost the power to bring you shame and it simply becomes your story.