TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an account of sexual abuse and may be triggering to some people.
“No one loses their innocence. It is either taken or given away willingly.” ~Tiffany Madison
Childhood innocence. When I think of it I always picture a baby lying on their back, playing with their feet. They are laughing, cooing, smiling, and lost in a sense of wonder. Full of joy, love, curiosity, and awe. When you look at them you can’t help but smile, and their joy and laughter are infectious. At this moment, they are perfect.
Now have all that taken away from them through abuse, abandonment, or neglect, removing their ability to feel safe, joyful, loved, and whole. You have taken their soul and spirit from them. Imagine the handicap that this child has to live with. I’m sure for most it’s hard to wrap your head around it.
Well, let me tell you what I have learned through my experience of being sexually abused, neglected, and abandoned in my childhood. I grew up lost, scared, on guard, and alone. I found it hard to fit in or connect with people. I was unsure of everything, especially myself. I did not know who I was, what I wanted, or which direction to go in.
I bought in to my father’s harsh criticism of most things I did. I never felt like I could please him or live up to his expectations, so I just stopped trying. I didn’t just stop trying to please him; I stopped trying anything. However you want to frame it, I gave up or gave in.
Childhood abuse makes it impossible to sustain all those things that make life worth living. I feel that it was only through the grace of god that I didn’t take my life. Just existing is no way to live. Dragging yourself through your life can be exhausting, tedious, and unfulfilling.
I became a casualty of the abuse I endured. Today I know that without the help that I needed my downfall was inevitable. It was the natural conclusion of the path set forth for me in my childhood.
I hear the redirect all the time—stop being a victim, just get over it, and your parents did the best they could. Do we tell rape victims to stop being a victim and just get over it?
Some might be appalled by this comparison. It’s easy to do when you, yourself, have never suffered abuse or neglect.
When I was sexually abused at age five, I was as powerless as any rape victim. I didn’t have the physical ability to protect myself, or the cognitive ability to understand what was happening to me or put it into words to tell someone.
The same can be said for any child that has suffered neglect. If they have been neglected all their life, it becomes the norm for them. They don’t even realize that it should or could be any different for them. And if they do, there is almost nothing a child can do to change it.
I understand it is hard for those who have never experienced abuse or neglect to wrap their heads around it. What they need to know is that it happens all the time and is more prevalent than anyone wants to admit.
What amazes me about child abuse is how it seems we have ducked our head in the sand about it. Studies show that one in four women have been abused and one in six men. If you average that to be one in five, considering the US population is almost 323 million, that means that there are about 64.5 million child abuse survivors in the US alone.
In the US today there are approximately 22.5 million dealing with cancer at any time. Please understand, I am not comparing the two at all; just using the numbers to make a statement.
More than 65 million people in the US today are suffering the effects of child abuse, and yet it is not really on our radar. Like any horrible disease, child abuse is crippling and debilitating. It affects us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, making the problem hard to detect and harder to treat.
It didn’t surface for me until I got clean and stopped managing my feeling with drugs. By managing them, I mean numbing myself.
At eighteen months clean I found myself curled up in the fetal position on my couch in a tidal wave of emotional pain. I felt I only had three options, which I considered in this order: kill myself, get high, or reach out for help. Through grace I was able to call out for help and get myself in to an ACOA (adult children of alcoholics) therapy group and one-on-one sessions with a therapist.
Children who have been abused or neglected were victims. What keeps them in that mode is that they blame themselves for what happened to them, as if they somehow deserved it. No one does.
If your parents or caregivers physically hurt you, sexually violated you, neglected you, or emotionally scarred you through shaming, belittling, or humiliation, you were a victim. And no matter what they told you—no matter what you were like as a child—it was not your fault.
The process of healing and recovering from what has happened to you starts with accepting that you were a victim.
This will allow you to begin releasing your shame and recognize that those who abused or neglected you were responsible for what happened, not you. And that will enable you to work through the negative emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual effects of your abuse.
I used drugs and alcohol to “get over” what happened to me in my childhood. I used the love, compassion, understanding, and support of the people I entrusted to get through what happened to me and reach the other side.
Finding recovery brought me to people that would care about me and love me as I was. These people brought me to the professional help that I needed. That help brought me to people who understood me and have lived in my shoes. Those people brought me back to who I was and wanted to be as a child before my innocence was taken.
If you are dealing with the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family please, find a support group to attend in your area. If you need more extensive help, the people in those support groups will help you find professionals in the area that can treat your issues.
Help is available to everyone, but you need to reach out and ask for it. I know because I have done it, and I am just like you.
You don’t have to live your life feeling depressed, unworthy, or dependent on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drugs, alcohol, or food, which will only temporarily numb your pain. You don’t need to spend the rest of your days following the trajectory chosen for you when someone else took away your innocence.
It is possible to reclaim who you could have been, but you have to first acknowledge that you were a victim, confront the pain and the shame, and let other people in so they can help.
Are you willing to reach out for help so you can take your life back?
Paul Hellwig is a Certified Spiritual Life Coach who empowers adult children of alcoholic and addicted families to live the life they have always dreamed of. He is an adult child of an alcoholic and a recovering addict with over twenty-seven years clean. He’s dedicated his life to helping others on their spiritual and healing journey. Visit him at thejourneytohealing.org.
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