Published on September 19th, 2013 | by Mary DeMuth
10 Things I Learned About Myself After Sexual Abuse (by Mary DeMuth)
Forty one years ago, two neighborhood boys, brothers, offered my babysitter some free time. They’d take me out in the neighborhood and play with me. I imagined the swing set at my elementary school or maybe a walk on the beach. But what they wanted was something I didn’t want to give. For months during my kindergarten year, they stole bits and pieces of me.
I eventually told my babysitter, but she chose not to protect me. I learned how to sleep in order to protect myself. We moved away from that neighborhood and those awful boys at the end of that year, but the scarring remained.
Here are ten things I’ve learned about myself in the aftermath of that painful year:
- I have believed I have no worth, other than to be used for someone else’s pleasure. I’m thankful this has faded quite a bit, and Jesus has healed me of so much. Still, it lingers. I can easily feel used in so many different areas of my life.
- I have been extremely afraid of the dark, of sleep, of storms, of scary situations, of seedy areas of town.
- I get sick to my stomach when I’m around someone I perceive to be a perpetrator. This actually served me well when I was younger and ran into folks like this. It made me freak out and run away.
- And yet, I seem to be a magnet for people like this. And if I don’t initially perceive the danger, I can tend to trust folks who are predatory (not necessarily sexually, but anyone who is bent on relational destruction).
- I’ve turned the abuse I received into an excuse to abuse myself. If you could live inside my head a bit, you’d see how relentlessly I chastise myself. I’m learning, slowly, that this is not normal or good behavior. Once my hubby said, “I would never treat you the way you treat yourself.” I sensed God ask me, “Would you treat your best friend the way you treat yourself?” I had to answer NO, which meant I realized I’d been abusing myself.
- I have believed the lie that I am how I look. How I appear to others and myself is the most important thing. I only have worth if I appear pretty. As I grow older, thankfully, I’m seeing how destructive this is. And since beauty fades with age (outer beauty, that is), I’m learning to let go if this ridiculous notion. I want to have a heart that’s beautiful, anyway.
- I used to deeply fear my kids would be abused. I pray for my kids that they’ll never, ever, ever have to go through what I went through.
- As I mentioned in this article about the marriage bed, I’ve had a hard time connecting myself in the moment with sex.
- I don’t view the world with rose colored glasses. Very quickly a bad day can plunge me into an Anne of Green Gables-like depths of despair. While God has healed so much, I still tend to fall rapidly when bad things happen.
- I’ve learned to pray for my abusers, which has given me a lot of freedom. Usually those who have been abused abuse others, so I’m guessing those boys were also abused. And if they carry that secret with them, they must be carrying a lot of raging shame. Lord, please heal them. (I wrote a letter to them here.)
So now you know what a mess I am. And yet, so much healing has taken place. Astounding healing. I am whole. I am alive. I am free. I still carry scars. The mark is faded, but it’s still there. And, hopefully, I see the mark not as a sad story of abuse, but as a testimony of how outrageous God’s rescuing love is.
Mary is crowdfunding a new book to help other survivors of sexual abuse. To be a part of her project and bring healing to abuse survivors, check out her Indiegogo campaign for Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing After Sexual Abuse. There’s still one week left!
To comment on this article and to read more links from Mary DeMuth about healing from sexual trauma, see our blog post Hope-filled Resources for Sexual Abuse Survivors.