“Dear Sister, when I was 13 years old, I was just starting to confront the reality of surviving 8 years of rape and other forms of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse by my father. I felt utterly alone. I read everything I could find about child sexual abuse and father-daughter incest, searching for a guidebook that would tell me what to do. I lingered for hours in the self help aisle of every bookstore and library I entered. I wanted so badly to be normal, to move on quickly with my life. But I learned the hard way; interpersonal violence, particularly sexual violence committed against you by someone you and love changes you forever. And if you truly want to get well, there is no going around your feelings and memories… you have to go through them.”
Amitha tells me the worst part of her estimated 300 child abuse assaults, “The composite worst affect is just the terror and anxiety that I had. I took me a long time to feel comfortable walking down the city street, or alone in my own home. Or able to just sit with my own thoughts in a meditative kind of practice and have peace of mind.”
She goes on to talk about how she sees her father now as an adult. “I’ve gotten to a place of at least being able to humanize him. And understand, for my own healing, that that’s my father; I come from that bloodline, that family. I want to love myself, so that means that I have to not think of him as subhuman or as a monster. I think he’s a very broken person and I don’t forgive him—I write about this in the book actually. I think we put a lot of pressure on survivors to be forgiving and that word is really loaded. I think for me, forgiveness means someone has to want to hold themselves accountable. So I don’t think I’ve forgiven him, but in order for me to move on, I’ve had to let go of a lot of the anger because that sort of thing—I mean we know medically, right—just eats away at you, living in a constant state of stress and anger. I don’t want him to be able to take more away from me than he already has.”
After she participated in sharing her story in the Secret Survivors book by E. Sue Blume, she was able to focus on her healing and center herself in the process; “I’ve learned how to let go and how to be honest with what is and not what I wish could be.”
I ask Amitha what would’ve helped her to hear as a teenager as she was trying to cope with the child abuse she endured. She says, “I think feeling like I could talk about what was happening to me… I think if I had understood how common this is.”
“I wish we all felt a little more empowered as a society to talk about the fact that this violence is so common and that we owe it to each other to be looking out for children in our community.
I like to think of healing as a jigsaw puzzle, so I asked Amitha which piece in her journey was integral to her healing. She talks about the importance of therapy in her path to healing, “I think of therapy kind of like a journal that talks to you. No one else is going to read it necessarily. It’s this person who is holding your experience and is able to give you some reflection on that journey as well.”
Time and time again, I am surprised that people that go through this type of trauma are able to see a gift in their journey. I ask her what was the gift for her. She explains, “There have honestly been so many. I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t gone through this experience and I really—finally am at a point where I love everything about myself. Sometimes I meet people who haven’t been traumatized in the same way and haven’t been forced to confront and accept and love themselves. And I just think, that seems hard.”
If you have been through sexual abuse, I want you to know that you can get to a place where you can work through your feelings. It can be uncomfortable and it can be painful, but if you’re willing to go through it, I know you can get to a place of healing where you can love your life. Start sharing your story and your truth with people that you feel safe with around you. Maybe one day you’ll share your story with thousands like we have. For now, engage in the conversation about this because we need to make sure we that we remove the shame and stigma and start sharing our stories.
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