The pain of keeping this dirty little secret buried took a tremendous toll on my body.
The reaction was not unique.
Victims of sexual abuse – male and female – become stuck in both an emotional and physical time frame. The body shuts down physically and emotionally, and actually becomes unable to function as it should.
As a young teenager, I felt lifeless inside but didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was filled with shame, so scared and sad that my smile became forced. I had few close friends, and my schoolwork suffered. I struggled with math and history; I just couldn’t connect with those subjects. I studied so hard for tests, but because of the post traumatic stress disorder because of the years of abuse and the chunks of memory it forced me to blank out, I had an extremely difficult time remembering information for tests.
I resorted to cheating just to pass. But I liked English, literature and writing and did well in those subjects. I never dreamed I would become an author, but it shows that God can make something out of what appeared to be nothing.
Then, as I grew into young adulthood, I felt as if a wrecking ball had come down on my head and shattered my life like a mirror into a million pieces all over the road of life. I have been trying to pick up the pieces of my life ever since.
On, here’s another piece over here and another over there, I would say to myself. Piece by piece, I picked them up, thinking it was all my fault! Just like all the king’s men in “Humpty Dumpty,” I had no idea how to put myself together again. This huge puzzle with its scattered pieces – my life – had been created in the image of God, but in my shattered state, it was impossible to realize that image.
I had been betrayed, and because of that betrayal and the thirst the perpetrators had to “feel good,” I will never be the same!
My freedom day was October 1998.
That day was a huge step of courage and setting my soul free from shame.
After our son’s wedding I was finally able to relax.
Everyone except my parents had left our home. Dad was in a different room while my mother and I watched television. The Oprah Winfrey Show was on. I don’t remember exactly what the program was about that day, except I do remember that part of it was about confronting your past. I admired the courage and boldness it must have taken on the part of those who were speaking. My mother and I were agreeing with Oprah and her guests about the importance of coming clean from whatever harm had been done to you.
I felt as if I was living a lie.
I remember thinking to myself, I wish I could do that! How I wish I could openly tell my mother about being molested by her father. But the secret of that hideous humiliation had been locked inside me by tremendous shame. Years of doubts and fear had bound me for decades!
How come I don’t have that kind of courage?
What is it going to take for me to tell?
Questions I had asked myself over and over again.
My mother was now in her early 80’s, and I was an adult, thirty-three years into my marriage. Just that summer I had mustered all the courage I had and finally told both of my parents about the youth pastor who had sexually touched me when I was eleven and twelve at a church youth camp all those years ago.
But, this deeper secret plaguing me was too close to home because it involved a family member. The secret had been buried for a long time, but was now creeping to the surface. What energy it took to keep it under wraps. Would my mother believe me anyway if I told her? Besides, I was living with the fear my father had impressed on me when I told him about my grandfather just three years earlier. He had said, “Don’t tell!” Funny, that’s exactly what my grandfather told me after he molested me so many times. It felt as if I were being victimized all over again by my own father. He went on to say, “You can’t tell her, it might kill her!”
“Daddy,” I said at the time, “I know without a doubt that she was also a victim!” Two of my cousins had already told me that they too had been victimized by him. I knew from what I had read that child molesters don’t stop at one victim. They usually hurt many in their family. The sad part was that this dirty little secret lying just beneath the surface was killing me!
An abuse victim suffers in silence.
By remaining silent, and with the fear of anyone discovering my “secret,” the effects of the abuse on my adult life were something far more devastating than the actual abuse! I had been trying for years to get free from my addiction to a life of denial!
When The Oprah Winfrey Show was over, I turned off the TV and my mother went upstairs.
Soon my father came into the family room and began to chide me about my ministry to those “crushed in spirit” – the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, ex-cons – those people the world sees as throwaways. They were invited into our home out of prison and drug treatment programs. My husband and I had gone into a minimum-security prison and a crack house to minister to drug dealers.
We had started to mentor those steeped in their addictive lifestyles. In beginning to climb out of the pit I was leading others out with a trauma support group. I think he was concerned I might be putting myself in jeopardy and it was his way of saying he cared about my well-being. No doubt he was afraid for my safety.
Suddenly on that day in the room with my father, all the suppressed venom, like a poison from a viper, came out with an overflow of tears and sobs that I didn’t even realize were coming from me. I had never seen myself as an angry person. But what I failed to see what that unless anger – whether it shows outwardly or is deeply suppressed – is dealt with, it has the ability to destroy you!
When it is released, it doesn’t mean that those horrific memories are forgotten; it means that you are released from the hatred that has settled inside your soul.
I had never acted this way before and was so afraid my mother would hear me. I heard myself say, “Daddy, you don’t understand! The pain the people I work with are in is the same as my pain; they aren’t any different than me!’ Why can’t I tell my mother? My grandfather is dead. I did nothing wrong to deserve my being so dead inside my soul!”
By now I was weeping as my mother came back downstairs, thinking my father and I were arguing. I heard my father say, “Maybe you should tell her now.” Words I never thought I would hear. They would free my spirit forever. I immediately ran to the basement where my husband was working. I grabbed his arm and told him, “Pandora’s box has been opened! You’d better come upstairs, because I’m about to tell mother the dark, dirty secret of my past!.”
I sat weeping, grieving deeply for the loss of my childhood innocence. I also realized the importance of what was about to happen in relation to the healing of my family. I took my husband’s hands as well as those of my father and mother.
They were intently looking at me, wondering what I was about to reveal to them. I started by telling my mother that I was a victim of abuse, not only by a youth pastor, but also by someone very close to her, my grandfather. Before she could respond, I went on to tell her I believed that she, too, had been a victim of his.
My dad, not wanting to hear the truth, put his hand on her arm and questioned her, “Honey, no, it didn’t happen, did it?” She nodded that it had indeed happened. As my father looked at her with disbelief, she said to me, “Why, oh why, didn’t you tell me years ago?”
Fear chokes the soul just as weeds choke the most beautiful flowers in the garden. As this fear was beginning to be released, I realized that this the garden of my life could now bloom in the mission I was now on. When fear comes uninvited, it needs to become an offering to God and to yourself to work through that fear in order to free your soul to live!
Barbara Joy Hansen’s story is true and documented in her published book, “Listen to the Cry of the Child. . . the Deafening Silence of Sexual Abuse” Rostrum Publishing 2018 The author’s website is www.listentothecry.org Contact author for her book, Beauty Out of Ashes support group material, Scripture Tee Shirts, Com Cast TV Interview, Tapes, Speaking Engagements and Training
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“We’ve been there, experienced that. Trauma, Pain, Abuse & Rape. These are the lessons that we brought back.”
–Tonya GJ Prince has been a leading subject matter expert (SME) in domestic violence and sexual violence.
For over 25 years she has helped people heal, prevent, and overcome domestic and sexual violence.
In order to accomplish this mission, she founded several diverse & inclusive platforms designed to allow Survivors to use their own voices including;
WESurviveAbuse.com, SurvivorAffirmations.com, & BraidtheLadder.org.
Tonya is an author, activist, advocate, Survivor, speaker, counselor, & mentor.
B.S. Organizational Management & Development/Bluefield College
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