Friday night I found it impossible to sleep. I had been anticipating the Darkness to Light workshop that would be held the following morning. I was keyed up. I’d waited a long time for my first child-sex-abuse-awareness training. It would be my first time talking to people “in the flesh” about what we could do to advocate for children and hopefully prevent them from being sexually abused. I never dreamed I’d come away feeling impotent.
I don’t know why I had it in my mind that the attendees would be child sex abuse survivors like me. And I didn’t expect the feelings of shame to return when we watched the film of adult survivor stories. But that’s what happened when I saw the attendees shake their heads in disbelief and disgust. I felt myself withdraw and I wanted to leave. “I can’t do this,” I kept thinking. There was very little class participation. When the facilitator asked, ‘Are there any personal examples of places we might think are safe, but that we still need to watch out for to protect our kids?’ no one spoke. So I had to: ‘Many years ago I got my son involved with the Big Brothers/Sisters program. They unknowingly partnered him with a suspected pedophile. Luckily, I listened to my son’s instincts when he told me the guy made him feel creepy.’ When I finished speaking everyone stared silently at me. I felt those old feelings again—when I had felt I’d been a bad mother for putting my son in harm’s way. I couldn’t shake it. (I know I’ve been told not to use the word shame when you feel guilty, since shame means you feel you are bad. But it was shame that I felt.
It was empowering to listen to the survivors in the film tell their stories. I connected immediately. It felt like I was with my blogging survivor friends—people who have lived a lifetime of personal wreckage, yet are telling their stories to bring awareness to this end of the child abuse spectrum. We are examples of what happens when a child is not protected from predators. I especially related to the former Miss America, Marilyn Van debur. She told the story of her father being in her bed and hearing her mother’s footsteps coming toward her bedroom door. The footsteps stopped. All three of them froze and were silent. At that moment, all three of them KNEW. And then the former Miss America heard her mother’s footsteps turn and walk back down the hall to her own bedroom. That was the moment she knew her mother had made a decision. And the decision was not her daughter.
The discussion, the real meat of the class, began, and my anxiety kicked into full gear. We had worksheets with questions to answer: Write the name of a child you think is being abused or might have been. (I wrote down a name.) What would you say to the child? (It’s okay to tell.) Then, the facilitator said, ‘if you even suspect a child is being abused you MUST report it. You HAVE to’. I wanted desperately to curl up into a ball and disappear. I felt sick. I felt impotent.
I came home feeling depressed. In my mind, all the work on my recovery was gone; I hadn’t made any progress; and I would be unable to help anyone else. And one thing that I knew for sure: I didn’t want to work with young abuse victims. It would trigger something in me that takes me back to my childhood. I would become that young victim again.
Over the last few days, it has become very clear to me that I must find a therapist to guide me through the inner child work I have always refused to do. This weekend’s workshop brought out that small girl who is still terrified of telling. I found that, even as an adult, thinking about reporting suspected sex abuse, my inner child kicks in. And I hear her crying, “No, don’t tell! You’ll get in big trouble! They’ll say you are making it up. They’ll say you can’t be part of the family!” Now, the rational adult me, away from that workshop is saying, “What the f****! Of course you’ll report it if you know a child is being hurt!”
So, Here’s what I know today:
1. I’m looking for a therapist that does inner-child work.
2. I do not presently know a child that is being sexually abused. (There is a part of me who wonders, when I see a child, if there might be abuse. But, I’m suspicious of everyone because no one knew about my abuse (except my mother), and I always try to look behind the tears or smile of every child’s face to see what my gut tells me.)
3. A person doesn’t have to work the entire spectrum of child sexual abuse to advocate for victims/survivors. I think my strength is talking with adult survivors. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing his or her story. I am. Or at least I’m getting better at it. Staring a child in the eye who is experiencing abuse triggers my inner child. I want to grab them and say, “Run! Hide!” That means I am not ready to work at that end of the spectrum. At least not until my inner child has recovered and healed. And that’s OKAY.
There is still a lot of help needed in any organization that deals with sexually abused children. Another group called me a few days ago to say they are putting on a big fund-raising theater production next month. They wondered if I could work as a host or in the concessions. I jumped at the opportunity. Isn’t it ironic, the name of the play is “Telling”.