This blog post was written by Audra, a woman in our community. Audra’s story is so powerful and full of forgiveness and redemption. We ask that you please read this blog post with the utmost respect and recognize that each person who has experienced sexual abuse or assault has walked a different journey of healing.
When I was six years old, I told my parents I wanted to be a unicorn when I grew up. Between the ages of seven and ten, I was sure I was going to be one of the astronauts going to Mars. When I was twelve years old, anyone who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up got a non-committal shrug.
The truth was, at that time, I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t even want to be alive. I wasn’t suicidal; I believed in life after death, and that scared me more than the prospect of living. I was sure that when I died, I would end up in hell.
I was seven years old when I was first abused, and eight years old when I first abused another child. I was twelve years old when I learned that what had happened to me, and what I had been doing, was not normal, not okay, and was considered sexual abuse. This was news to me. My abuser had left me with the impression that “all kids do it, we just don’t tell the grown-ups.”
A couple of the kids I abused told their parents and I was confronted. Out of fear, I lied and denied everything. I was grateful that my parents seemed to believe me. I hated myself for what I had done, and out of fear, didn’t tell anyone. I was convinced that if someone found out the truth, I’d be branded a pedophile, lose my friends, lose my family, and spend the rest of my life behind bars.
When I was 15 years old, the weight of guilt threatened to crush me. I came to the conclusion that any punishment would be better than the internal suffering I had been inflicting upon myself. I told my parents everything. Their love and compassion surprised me. I confessed to the parents of the children I abused and was surprised by their frank forgiveness. I felt such relief! “It’s all over,” I thought.
I have gone on to live a good life. I graduated high school, went to college, started a career, got married, had four children, and quit my job to stay home with my children. In all respects, I live an idyllic life, but guilt has continued to be a constant companion. It is a pang of subtle guilt, though, and until recently, I didn’t even realize that’s what it was.
Every effort on my part to stay in shape, take care of myself, or improve in any way has consistently failed. I couldn’t figure out why I never seemed to be able to stick with anything, be it good habits, or hobbies, or healthy living. I battled depression that continued to return as I failed to consistently exercise the self-care I needed to keep myself healthy.
I’ve come to realize that I have not healed from the events of my childhood as well as I thought I had. In mid- 2019, my therapist and I began a focused effort to pinpoint the reason for this. It was only around the end of that year, I started to connect the dots. It was self-sabotage; the recurring depression, the failure to be healthy, or be consistent in any self-improvement undertaking.
It was because I didn’t believe I deserved to succeed, or even to have peace of mind that comes from allowing myself to heal. No matter how many times I told myself that I was a victim, and a child, the guilt refused to leave me alone.
That is where I find myself today, but now I have hope. I WANT to believe that I deserve to heal, to be healthy, to be happy. That desire has become the foundation of a new effort that I hope will succeed where others have failed. My plan is to take care of myself as if I believed that I deserve the things I have been denying myself.
To begin with, I have chosen one specific area for improvement. I am going to work to improve what I see when I look in the mirror. I am taking vitamins, using age-appropriate beauty products, and focusing on staying hydrated. My hope is those efforts will clear and brighten my complexion, allowing me to feel better about myself as I see myself looking healthier.
While these steps seem small, and may not appear connected to the guilt and pain of my childhood, they are the first steps towards being able to love myself consistently, without conditions, shame, or guilt. I now have a little girl who absolutely loves unicorns. If I can learn to love myself the way she loves unicorns, I believe I will be well on my way to finding the healing I seek.