If you or someone you know was sexually abused, you or they may still be suffering from one or more of the following symptoms: unhealthy or unfulfilling relationships, issues with low self-esteem, alcohol or drug addiction, difficulty trusting others, poor self-image or body image, sexual addiction or sexual anorexia, problems with anger, and finding it hard to accept the love you deserve.
Sexual abuse means being forced to give or receive unwanted or inappropriate sexual touching, petting, fondling, oral sex, or intercourse. Sexual abuse happens to people of all ages, including children, adolescents, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. It occurs within every socioeconomic class and every religious group. Some perpetrators of sexual abuse have a known criminal history. Others serve our country in public office. Perpetrators of sexual abuse have included men and women working in the noblest of professions. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, alcoholics, addicts, neighbours, friends, girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives, parents, distant relatives, siblings, priests, janitors, teachers, movie-producers, politicians, and total strangers. There is no such thing as a stereotypical abuser.
Please make this book your own. Write in the margins, make notes to yourself, and personalize it as much as you like. Re-do the exercises and re-read each section as often as you need to. Continue to work towards healing, whether that takes a year or a lifetime. Agree with me, disagree with me, but get involved and do the healing work. I hope this book will help you identify whatever issues you still struggle with. I hope you will make a commitment to overcoming them. After all, this work is for you.
Throughout this book, I make occasional references to God. It is not my intention to alienate agnostics or atheists, and you do not have to believe in God to complete the exercises. It is my deepest hope that you will use whatever information you find to be a source of strength. Discard anything that does not fit for you.
I urge you to take responsibility for your own healing process. You will likely identify with many of the issues presented in this book. Others will seem unfamiliar to you. Your healing process is your own. No two survivors are exactly alike. In the realm of sexual addiction, for instance, I believe that men are more likely to view pornography, while women are more likely to engage in prostitution.
It is not my purpose to condemn the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Most perpetrators are survivors themselves. They experienced the same, intense feelings of powerlessness, shame, and anger that we did. Unfortunately, they chose to repeat the cycle of abuse.
To break this cycle, we need to heal ourselves and take ownership of our pain. We must vow to never pass this pain on to others.
You may be wondering, “Am I ready to look at these issues? Am I ready to face this?”
I can tell you that I never felt ready to face the pain of sexual abuse. I chose to work on myself because I was tired of moving from one unhealthy relationship to the next. I was tired of feeling lonely and miserable. I was tired of being stuck. For most of my life, I believed that I would never be able to heal the pain of my past.
I have attempted to address the issues most commonly experienced by survivors of sexual abuse in order of ascending difficulty. The first three chapters focus on how to approach this healing process. Chapter four begins the “real work.” I hope you will move into the more painful subjects slowly and carefully. It is important to address those deeper issues with plenty of support from counselors, family, friends, and self-help groups. It is important to remain safe during your healing process.
Signs that you may be getting overwhelmed emotionally include crying for more than half an hour, feeling very depressed, experiencing recurring flashbacks or nightmares about the abuse, increasing drug/alcohol use, or feeling an increased desire to engage in other forms of self-destructive behavior.
Recovery is a process, not an event. It is not realistic to believe that we can heal all of our issues in a single day, week, month, or year. Healing requires patience and a steady hand. It requires that we cultivate greater love for ourselves over time. We need to develop a gentle way to deal with our pain and our grief.
If you start feeling emotionally overwhelmed, take a week off. Take some time to feel more centered and balanced again. Do something that calms your nerves and reduces your stress, like engaging in hobbies or getting lots of rest. This process will still be there for you when you come back to it.
If you experience an increase in feelings of depression or anxiety, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. This may include seeing a doctor or psychiatrist who can prescribe appropriate medication, or a counselor who can help you process your issues.