The teenage girl said it over thirty years ago. My shock and grief are as strong today as if I'd heard her, held her, yesterday. Since then many girls and women I've met in many places have told me similar stories.
"When it finally caught up with me as a young married woman," another woman friend told me, "I lay on the couch all day, day after day, unable to move because of deep depression. I just kept thinking of that group of male relatives who sexually abused me when I was young."
Two sisters finally told me about their childhoods when they were in their thirties. They'd been sexually abused by their drunken father night after night.
When the girls, now adults, confronted their parents, their father denied it vehemently. They couldn't figure out if he was lying or didn't remember doing it because of the alcohol. Their mother, a gentle soul, simply couldn't believe that her husband could do this. She was upset with her daughters for even suggesting such a thing. The family was broken apart for quite awhile.
Yes, sometimes the Truth acts as a sword, severing our lives, as a surgeon's instruments have to cut us before we can heal. But, regardless of the immediate outcome in our families, nothing ever happens for good unless we tell the truth, the stories of our lives. We can cover up sores, but they don't heal until eventually we expose them to the light. Saying something out loud makes it incontrovertibly real to us. Having to form the words causes us to understand our story more deeply and know what the next leg of our journey has to be.
Yet it can take years for a woman to be able to tell the truth. To confront the reality that she had been sexually abused as a child and then to be able to talk about it with a trusted counselor or friend or clergy person often takes a woman until she is well into adulthood. Often she's married an abuser - someone who at least abuses her verbally. And the scars from being at the mercy of an older, stronger person's violent hands and violent body affect any relationship she's been in.
Her psyche's inhabited and imprisoned by a hellish legion: Depression. Self-blame. Needing control. Inability to trust. Flashbacks. Inability to have a healthy sexual relationship. Inability to believe in her own goodness and worth.
Sometimes, there's anger at God. If God is good, how did God let this happen to me? Why did God just stand by and watch? Questions about Mystery that none of us know the final answer to - only God does. Questions hidden within the further mystery of why God gave human beings free will to begin with, knowing the evils we're all capable of doing. And do. All anyone can say, humbly, hesitantly, is that yes, God was there, - inside you, giving you the strength to endure and eventually heal and triumph.
In the case of all the women I've mentioned, it was their eventual inner reconciliation with God that led to their healing. Their inner decision to take their psychic lives out of the past, out of memories of the violent hands of the sexual abuser, and place themselves into the Now - the Hands of a healing God. God doesn't have to be found in a Church because God, however someone names God - is universally accessible. But a Church is a wondrous community of spiritual supporters. For Christians, Jesus said "Wherever two or more are gathered in My Name, there I am in the midst of them."
My Friend on the Couch, for example, through the help of a loving, understanding husband, went for counseling and then joined a Church. Today she's a Minister in that Protestant Church and gives talks to women on sexual abuse. At every talk, women come up to tell her their stories about being abused, stories they've suppressed for years. Her scarred life has now become the instrument of healing for untold women.
The sisters I mentioned humbled me with their insights into their mother and father. They too joined Churches, prayed, and eventually forgave their mother - who doesn't believe their story to this day - because they realized that she was as much a victim of their father's abuse as they were. Psychically she didn't have the strength to face the truth. And their mother loves her girls, in spite of her loyalty to their Dad.
So often we have a general stereotype in our minds about a sexual abuser. The sisters however eventually forgave their father, not only to relieve themselves of the burden of anger and bitterness, but because they were able to see their father as a whole person. They could remember the good times, the vacations, the times they'd laughed together. Their father was outwardly tough, but inside he was a fragile man, himself the victim of a terrible, abusive childhood, who drank to deaden the pain of terrible memories of the war he had fought in.
Years later, the girls gathered with their family around their father's death bed and prayed that God would take him to heaven.
A different story was told me by yet another friend, who told me over lunch one day that she prayed her father would rot in hell for what he'd done to her life by sexually violating her. I could never begin to understand the depth of her pain, anger, and bitterness. All I could see at lunch that day was how her emotions were weighing her down, suffocating her.
But people heal in their own time frame, and no one can tell another how or when to heal from this most private, silent pain and grief. God waits on each one of us in our painful moments, waiting for us to invite Him in, to allow Him to pour His Love over us. God tells each one of us in our pain that we are beautiful, pure, treasured, a gift to the world. God whispers that telling the truth to a relative, counselor or friend can begin that process of healing, of belief in oneself as good, innocent, strong, and worthy of love.
If you are ever honored by being told the truth of someone's sacred story, hold his or her fragile life in tender, prayerful hands.