This blog post actually started as a photography project. I had visions of survivors being photographed exhibiting the leftover behaviors of their trauma; addictions, self abuse, et cetera. However, something interesting happened when I started asking these brave women to be a part of my project. They all refused, graciously, but refused nonetheless.
No one wanted their image to be associated with their trauma. It was very telling. Silence is a way of many survivors to keep the silence tucked away. I thought of doing self-portraits of some of the shadows of abuse that live within me but it felt really vulnerable and kind of narcissistic. I guess the photo project was a failure. The process was not. It lit a fire within me to share my story and break the silence. Breaking this silence is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Thank you for standing beside me during this healing milestone!
I want to introduce you to Little One. She’s a spunky, bright, funny, loving little girl. She tends to be a perfectionist, she worries too much about what other people think of her, and she is brave. So.Very.Brave. She is a mastermind of pretending that her life is okay.
Things are very much NOT okay for Little One. Her first memories involve being French kissed by an adult man. They include touching not meant for little girls. She goes to bed at night terrified. She wraps herself up in her sheets and then piles on a comforter so that she is not easy to get to. Little One pretends she’s sleeping when she’s very awake. She leaves her body in those moments, while also trying to keep her breathing even so there is no confrontation.
To the outside world she is a typical 3rd grader. She wants to impress her teacher, she enters the talented and gifted program, she loves running. Then she goes home to a world that is not comparable to the rest of her reality. She goes to bed with a pit in her stomach, her soul feeling so guilty and full of evil. Here’s that so very brave part. After another failed attempt at keeping herself safe, her intuition screams inside her to do something and her heart is breaking for what it might mean.
She hears a moment when she knows she is safe. She gets up out of bed, dizzy with emotions and anxiety about what is going to happen next. She forces the evil and blackness and guilt and shame out of her heart and forms them in to words. She’s told to go back to bed. Moments later, amongst tears, apologies, and denial, she is told she must be dreaming all of what she has known to be true. The next morning she is told not to tell anyone. It’s unclear whether she was told everyone would be taken away from each other or if she just knew that would happen.
Little One soldiers on; continuing to be a good student, decent athlete, and mastermind of pretending her life is okay. Evil continues, though less obvious and less often than before. Little One’s only hope is that, though it did not end for her, it would never start for anyone else. Little One put all the evil in a box and shoved it clear to the back of her mind. She hid it under anxiety, perfectionism, eating disorders, and other coping skills she learned.
Meet Little One
Oh yes, some of you might recognize her! She lived a very different life then what you might have thought when you knew her.
You see, Little One tried to make falsehoods her reality. She believed she was dreaming. She believed she was a drama queen and she believed that she must be crazy. For years she thought she was a terrible, horrible person for even dreaming those awful things. She believed for so long that something was wrong with her.
Little One was me. Shadows of Little One still live within me. I’m working to heal her because she was never healed. It is amazing when you start to learn about survivors of childhood trauma, how often they think something is wrong with them. In reality, that inner child, whom we all have as humans, was never able to grow, progress, hit milestones like other children. It was her perpetrators who were wrong.
Five years ago I learned that I was not dreaming and that, unfortunately, I did not stop the abuse for others. Two years ago I finally started therapy for my childhood trauma. All these years I’ve thought I was crazy but through talking it out I’ve learned about Little One. Little One is the name some professionals give to your inner child. We all have one. If you grew up in a loving, safe home your Little One is probably pretty quiet because there is peace and security and you were able to hit all those emotional milestones you were supposed to. When you grow up in trauma and chaos, you aren’t allowed to grow as a typical child and there are pieces of you that are stunted in those moments. While your intelligence, mind and physical growth may all be right where it should be, there are pieces of emotional growth that just kind of freeze. I realized my Little One was still trying to understand and figure out what reality was. I know, it sounds a little “out there” so let me give you some concrete examples.
-For most of my life I’ve been terrified of the paranormal being in my room. I would literally pass out in fear. That is totally over. I’ve learned it was a way for 3rd grade me to cope with the fact that these terrible things were happening to me, yet no one accepted responsibility for them. Someone had to be doing those things but with my reality being questioned, my mind made up the least traumatic story.
-Many survivors have a drug of choice. Mine happens to be food. Yeah, yeah big surprise, huh? I remember taking food in my room when I as young as five. I’d save it for later so I could just be alone with it and be at peace. Throughout my life I’ve struggled with anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating. This is the vice, the coping mechanism, that I’m working hard to overcome (thank you Emily Program!) but it is a long, hard battle.
-I don’t get to be naïve enough to think the bad guy or pedophile is the creepy man on the corner. He could be anywhere. I have to consciously work at not allowing my fears to taint my children’s experience of the world. I, thankfully, have made leaps and bounds of progress in this area.
I’m in group therapy for survivors of childhood trauma. It has been the most amazing experience to see how similar our stories are and that we have reacted in a very normal way to something that is very much NOT normal. It’s a safe environment to discuss how Little Ones still affect our lives. I’m blessed to know how much I have healed in the past couple of years. The blessing in all this is that I’m so clear about what my reality is, what I want for my children and their lives, and who I am as a person. It is an incredible feeling to come out the other side of something so horrific, and to have such confidence about who I really am. I always allowed others to define who I was. I’m happy to say I do that for myself now.
So, what’s the point of this coming out story? Why share something so intimate with the world? The point is this: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18. This figure is cited even higher by some organizations. Some sources even estimate that as many of 90% of that abuse is by people the children know.
Can we just pause for a moment and reflect on that number? 1 in 4 girls, 1 in 6 boys. If this were a disease it would be called an epidemic. We would have institutions, 5ks, bumper stickers and pins aimed at raising money to find a cure or raise awareness.
Instead, in most cases, we find silence. We find it because it’s shameful, because we don’t want to talk to our children about these kinds of dangers and because victims don’t feel safe sharing their story. For a child to have to reconcile that someone who should be loving and protecting them is doing something so evil is a nearly impossible task. So many adults are suffering with the sins committed against them and are too afraid to seek help.
There are going to be a lot of people that are very upset that I’m sharing this. They are going to say I’m doing this for attention or because I’m angry or spiteful. That’s okay because I know my truth. My truth is that I cannot remain silent and protect a pedophile and possibly endanger other children. My truth is that it is not my job to keep this secret or protect others from this story. My truth is that I have already helped other survivors use their voice to heal. My truth is knowing that the longer we pretend this isn’t happening and the longer we let it remain our dirty little secret, at least 25% of our girls will be victimized. Until this epidemic that is sweeping our country is confronted, in the most vocal and proactive way, Little Ones everywhere will reside unhealed in survivors. The coping mechanisms that worked for Little One are almost always destructive to the adult that harbors her.
My truth is that for the first time in my life I feel free of Little One’s anxiety, shame, guilt, fear, and feelings of being unsafe. For the first time I can look at that picture of Little One, the child that I was once and say, “You did good, girl. Look at where we are now.” I wish that upon EVERY survivor.
For more information about protecting the children in your lives please visit the “What You Can Do” page
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