Powerful, Emotional Writings: An Aid to Adult Child Abuse Survivors

A Road Less Traveled

Sometimes we are called upon to do the very things in Life that we would rather avoid the most. By saying “yes” to these deep emotional and spiritual impulses, we find that the very things that make us believe we are weak or defective, can become our greatest assets.

Many of us feel a deep call within ourselves to “put ourselves out there” to advocate for a particular issue that resonates within us. For those of us who were previous victims of abuse, whether experienced as an adult or as a child, our advocacy is part of our recovery from that abuse.

Over the years I have written many articles about child abuse, and child abuse recovery, many of which are highly regarded. When I write, I move forward. When I don’t, I feel like I slide backwards, because I am not giving voice to a part of myself that will cry out to be heard as long as I live, and as long as there is someone out there who still does not understand the repercussions of child abuse, or the process of child abuse recovery. Even though this voice inside us cries out to be heard, allowing this voice inside us is also sometimes very painful, and seeing the magnitude of denial in our society is daunting. I sometimes despair, not wanting to put effort into something where I may never see results. But giving up on this voice is an abandonment of my truest, most honest self. I will not do that!

For the second time in two years, I have met a local doctor who confided that he advises child abuse survivors that “They just have to get over it” …. “What are you going to do, let it ruin your life?”, he says. I was shocked that I would run into more than one doctor in the same town who thinks this way. Although his statements were not directed at me (I don’t believe he knows my history), I was very uncomfortable. I knew that although discussion of the subject would probably not be very productive, I also felt my silence would convey assent. I waited a while for an opening (and for my own insides to calm down), and gently responded, with an attitude of “waiting to see what would happen”. I pointed out that a person must be careful when dealing with someone struggling with their past, because we may not know where they are on their recovery path, on a spectrum between victim and survivor. He gave only cursory acknowledgment of this, moving quickly to his next point of conversation. His next point was an intellectual remark about percentages of molesters in churches, and why people shouldn’t worry about a particular church. He had no idea that both my wife and myself were abused by priests when we were children, and that safe clergy are extraordinarily important to us when choosing a church. I guess it never occurred to him that we might be child abuse survivors, or clergy abuse survivors. We are both. Ever since that day in his office, I have noticed a need to write about it within myself that I cannot ignore.

Twenty-four years ago, I stood at the brink of choosing recovery. I was drawn out of my protective shell of frozen emotion, self medication, and fear by the weight of the pain I carried, but also by folks who knew how to provide the safety required to draw me out of my self imposed prison. They were proper advocates of recovery. I know absolutely what works because my history reveals what works.

What Works

In order to respond effectively to the needs of adult child abuse survivors, a number of things must be present in order to be effective advocates:

  • An advocate should have a true understanding of child abuse and child abuse recovery. They should be well versed in the emotional nature of abuse and recovery, and understand the monumental task that some survivors face. A survivor may avoid dealing with the abuse that they suffered for most of their lives, because they are avoiding pain that they believe will be too much for them. For a survivor, understanding abuse does not heal them, although it provides a map of where they’ve been, and where they must go, but recovery is truly an emotional process. One must go through the pain to get to the other side of it.
  • An advocate must practice emotional availability without intellectual constraint. They need to be relaxed and present. We are not present if we are involved in complicated intellectual constructs. Language should be emotional rather than intellectual, simple, not complicated. Doing so shows the survivor that you may be a safe person to open up to. Trust is the most important component. All abuse is a breach of trust, and damages our ability to trust.
  • An advocate must have good boundaries. Knowing instinctively where to “tread lightly”, knowing how “close” to be (emotionally, sexually, physically) depending upon the relationship with the survivor is an absolute must, or the survivor will sense the lack of safety.
  • An advocate listens, never lecturing or explaining. The survivor is the expert of their injury, not the advocate. Gentle encouragement toward treatment can be helpful, but only if they are ready.
  • Mirroring is very important. Saying things like “I see you are very angry (or sad, or fearful, or ashamed)” work well.
  • Advocates should be careful with their questions; being willing to give up their controlling need to understand, and allow the survivor to tell his or her story at their own pace, in their own way. Relinquishing controlling behavior often provides a sense of safety to the survivor. Safety is the fertile soil in which trust blooms.
  • Being absolutely non-judgmental about how the survivor has responded to the abuse, where we think they are on their recovery journey, and the speed with which they recover. Response to abuse is individual. Parts of a person’s recovery and the length of time they take before confronting their abuse are individual, and are affected by the environment they are presently in, and the severity of the abuse. Also, recovery is not linear. As a survivor proceeds, they may “revisit” a particular theme or event, gradually gaining mastery, letting go of more pain or fear. This may happen over and over, and is not an indication of where they are in recovery. Recovery takes a long time, and is a process, not a destination. That’s why we shouldn’t judge.
  • From the time I was 4 or 5 years old, I was beaten with an open hand on an almost daily basis. Later, I was punched, kicked, tackled, thrown down, and had things thrown at me. I was yanked by my arms until I thought my shoulders would dislocate. I was tied to chairs, beaten with metal vacuum cleaner pipes, and threatened with a butcher knife. When I was 9 or 10, my mother confided in a rage that she would kill me if she could get away with it. I was sexually abused by at least two men, one of them the parish priest. I witnessed my sisters being chased, screamed at, and beaten. The abuse that I suffered was extreme, but I am fortunate. I entered recovery at a time when we knew very little about how to help victims recover, yet here I am. If you are uncomfortable with what I have to say, then I am sorry, but I think that I have earned the right to be heard.

    I am a survivor. I am grateful for all the help I have received. There are others like me. It took me 35 years to get to a doorway that led to recovery. I have been in the process of recovery for 24 years. I look inside myself, and I see the astounding amount of patience it has taken me to get to where I am. We survivors must call upon that same patience when dealing with those who offer no such patience towards us. Nevertheless, we must speak out until there is no one left who does not understand the journey of a child abuse survivor.

    ©2010 Ken Scully

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