I got this letter from my soul sister Kathy. It came a short while after an article I wrote was published in Elephant Journal entitled How to Tell Your Lover You Survived Childhood Sexual Abuse.
Her response was private.
It both moved and surprised me.
It challenged me and helped me realize how contrary her words to what I feel and think others feel most of the time.
Even when I’m in the most empowered and self-loving side of myself.
Of course, I didn’t fully realize this until I read her words. That’s one of the things I love about writing.
Let me get to her words which I feel might soothe any survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I don’t think there can be too much love surrounding this topic.
These words are my own soul munchies from Kathy that I have to nibble, devour and treasure.
It’s from my real-life friend. But the words themselves, the mere ideas they suggest and the love conveyed, make a soul soup which I hope is universally nurturing.
My hope is that this letter helps you in some way to think or feel something new or release some shame or pain maybe ancient and old.
I’ve never found that someone loves me more after finding out about childhood sexual abuse. I mean they might not love me less after I disclose it. They might even think I’m strong or resilient or better understand my trust issues after it’s been said.
No one has ever said, “I got me an incest survivor—how lucky am I?”
Well…so this line has been ringing in my head since you wrote it. Because, as all calls to the soul do, until I respond, it lingers in the air waiting.
I beg to differ dear girl. In fact, I am certain I DID love you more after finding out about your childhood sexual abuse. Because if what I love is beauty and truth, courage and resilience ~ then seeing more of those qualities in a person would incline me to love them, appreciate them, even more. It was like seeing you with new eyes. You weren’t just this amazing, intelligent, funny, compassionate, complex woman. You were all of these things alongside of every reason not to be.
I think this is what non-survivors can teach survivors who hide in such shame that isn’t theirs. Who have such fear that the best they can do is “pass” for someone “normal.” Who maybe hope to get their story so far in the rear view mirror, that they can become a different person who never needs to tell anyone about their history.
But I think, they deserve to bring on all the love.
Take the leap of faith, that there are many hearts in this world who will understand that trauma survivors have the potential to be among the most beautiful people on the planet. The most compassionate. The most indicative of just how much a human spirit can come back from. Just how much beauty can come from germinating time in hell. They can be our spiritual warriors who prove that with love all things are possible.
Survivor community gives the first vital empathic understanding. I totally get that. The shorthand of speaking the first language. The comfort of knowing that in the ways you feel “broken”, others do too. The ease of acceptance and belonging to a tribe. That comfort and safety is mother’s milk.
But having vital connections with non-survivors who know your history gives the felt experience that you can be loved for the very one you are, in all the particulars. That you are not someone to recoil from, or a difficult package to unwrap with all your “issues.”
That you are in fact a gift.
You in particular Cis White ~ are a gift to me. And I don’t think I could love you more than I do, but the way you keep blooming in that lotus heart of yours I’m not ruling it out. Please, please, please soak in gratitude for yourself for all the ways you have transformed, and continue to transform pain into purpose, service, and Love.
O.k., I know I’m so friggin lucky. If you have a “Kathy” in your life I bet you want to call or hug her. If you don’t, I’m sorry because the world actually is easier with friends like this.
But know they exist.
These people truly do exist.
And… Plus… Yet…
I have to be honest. For weeks, I couldn’t read her letter all the way. I kept hesitating, almost in disbelief. And then when I could read it took me time to feel it, believe it or take it in. I pushed it away and aside and honestly, it made me see how sometimes I resist love and support.
It made me feel how gut-wrenching it was not to be held, embraced, loved, wept with and supported when I disclosed abuse. That too.
That ache which is ancient and deep and can still surface and sting. We can feel all the love in the world, at times, and still want it in and from people and at specific times and places where it couldn’t, didn’t and will never be able to go back and come.
The kid part can still freeze, clench and hide. The kid part can still find it difficult to stand up straight, lift chin to the sky and inhabit a new posture.
She’s also who I am.
Despite how much I wish it were otherwise I am still capable of feeling the pain of being disbelieved, questioned first about the facts and then later, and often, about the significance.
It’s not new. It’s not news. And yet it can feel both.
How bad was it really? Could it (abuse) really cause PTSD? Is maybe something else wrong? Could you think of it as inappropriate as opposed to molestation Maybe if you dwelled less, were more forgiving and less serious.
Maybe if you were less you and more not you.
Maybe if the facts were more false and less true or you could pretend too?
I only knew it didn’t feel like love or acceptance or concern or parenting.
It didn’t feel fortifying or helpful or warm.
Not to the child I was for days, years, almost decades.
Or to the adult she became and that I am.
Later, I would get so much love, luck and good fortune.
The boyfriend with the parents who loved me, the friends and their family members, the boyfriend who wiped tears and especially and always the lifesaving aunt who showed me family.
And then therapy too and learning.
Later and now the past mixes with more than pain but it’s not erased.
It was the abuse first and then the reactions I got and didn’t get that were equally traumatic.
My child self thought: Childhood sucks. I suck. Life is hard. And even, I suck at being a survivor.
I didn’t know where to put my friend’s words. To take them in meant to knock other parts of me out.
To keep them close was not all warm and soothing.
Not at first.
But about a month after Kathy sent them, when she went away to P.E.I. on a vacation did I let myself read them out loud and hear-feel-ingest them.
And believe them.
There may always be some part of me wishing to transplant today’s love into the past? Some part who imagines the me who might have been had I been well attached and confident or felt supported.
Maybe I will always wonder what it would be like to feel anchored rather than orbited.
I know not everyone has this ache only that I do and can’t be the only one.
It’s not that I can’t be present to my blessings now.
There is no flashback or pain in every moment. I pour dog food in a bowl while half awake and am here. Yet, there are days in the timeless emotional realm that I smell the odor that is the burned pan of childhood. I am hungry and can’t heat the now without that taste.
I attend to bills and chores and activities and life. But feelings are a background song. Not all of the time but more often than I would like.
“Maybe if you had a different attitude” my sister says. I only shrug. I can’t argue. I’ve tried. That would be nice.
If I’m angry I want it to be more clear and less passive.
I want to stop feeling new love as only a table salt poured on an old open wound. I want it to be healing ocean water that mends and does magic and I can dive into with my whole being.
This stunning gift is love. This letter. These words. They are here.
My friend is giving me love for all of who I am excluding nothing.
Can I let it in?
That’s the work of healing now.
Can I warm my skin and soul and bathe in this?
Can I be my cat by the window when the first patch of warmth hits the rug? Can I claw into it and claim it before it spreads through the rest of the room?
Kathy’s letter is personal and private and friend to friend.
It’s also love to be shared, popcorn to be passed around.
I hope every survivor of childhood sexual abuse benefits from reading her words, feel more acceptance and less shame.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.