I began this journey of letting go three months ago by publishing a post on expectations. After I received so much positive feedback (internally and externally), I decided to create a series. My goal was to highlight all the ways my life has changed, especially in the last ten years. It’s easy to look at the before-and-after. Instead, I wanted to investigate the journey and explore all the little shifts and changes that led to the bigger turnaround.
From the beginning, I knew when and how the series would end. I decided then that the last post would happen over Labor Day weekend as I prepared to say goodbye to summer—and it would talk about shame. Every post until now has led to this moment. I have tried to be honest, true to my experiences and emotions (both good and bad). I was working to develop the words and the courage to write this next sentence.
I was molested as a little girl.
The abuse began around the time I was seven years old and continued until I was ten. It happened in North Carolina while I was visiting my grandmother for the summers. The culprit was my big cousin who I idolized.
I have said those words aloud only a handful of times to a small number of people. For so many years, it was a secret that I needed to keep—a shame that I was trying to hide. I felt ugly, dirty, guilty and unwanted. I also felt confused, lost and alone.
Child sexual abuse is a big secret to hold in at seven. I developed a number of coping mechanisms to survive:
Denial: I pretended that it never happened. I blocked the memories out of my mind completely. Unfortunately, my mind wasn’t sophisticated enough to distinguish between good memories and bad. So, whole portions of my childhood were lost, and I have absolutely no recollection of what transpired during many periods.
As you can imagine, my childhood was pretty rough emotionally. I was miserable most of the time. I was so full of shame that I never let anyone in or let people get to know the real me. I built an impenetrable wall of defense around me and wore my armor at all times, prepared for battle whenever I interacted with anyone—be they teacher, supervisor, friend, or love interest. It was hard to build lasting relationships or even allow my family members and friends to love me. I didn’t really date or trust guys. I also didn’t develop the social and interpersonal skills needed for success in life. As a recent college graduate, I had academic knowledge and intelligence beyond my years, yet emotionally I was like a ten-year-old. Professional success remained elusive.
For years, I was haunted in my sleep. I would dream that I was being chased. Just as I was about to get caught, I would force myself awake. The nightmares occurred daily for most of my twenties.
Things began to turn around for me in 1999. It was the year my grandmother in North Carolina turned 75, and I threw her a big bash. As the preparations were being made, my nightmares worsened. One day, I picked up a pen and wrote a poem. It was all about being molested. I read it to a friend, and the floodgates opened. I cried as all the memories come storming back after 20 years. I had gotten so good at denial that I had completely repressed the memories. Knowing He would be at the birthday party, and I would have to face Him for the first time since the sexual abuse ended, triggered the return of very painful memories.
After the party, I started talking about what happened to me. I would estimate that one in three (33%) of the women with whom I shared my story had similar experiences—child abuse, molestation, incest, date rape—we all had been violated in the past. Knowing I wasn’t alone took away some of the shame, but not all of it.
Shortly after that, I started therapy. For about six years straight, I had weekly psychotherapy appointments. I cried, and I cried, and I cried. All the tears and emotions I had repressed for 20 years finally were freed, and it took a long time to get them all out. I grieved all the things I lost as a child—my innocence along with the ability to trust, laugh, and enjoy life. But I still struggled with shame.
Moving to DC five years ago forced me to find a new therapist. When I told her about the molestation, she shared that she, too, was a survivor of child sexual abuse. We formed an immediate bond, and I began a new journey with her over the last four years. We started off at the beginning, and she recommended I work through a book called The Courage to Heal—written for and by people who have been molested or raped in childhood. Then we moved on to The Self Esteem Workbook.
I had to face every negative, critical and judgmental though I had about myself—plus all the irrational, fatalistic and sabotaging emotions. The goal was for me to let go of my anger, doubt, fear, sadness, and depression. As I worked with my therapist to try to dislodge each of these negative emotions, I kept coming back to what lay at its roots—the child sexual abuse. Eventually, I realized that they were the result of my coping mechanisms. The denial, defensiveness, distrust, and disengagement were helpful tools for a young girl dealing with a major life trauma. They gave me a way to move forward in life and do well in other areas. But they were no longer serving me, and it was time to let them go.
Along this letting go journey, I have learned several important lessons:
I have value.
There’s a lot of stigma and misinformation about depression. There’s even more about sexual abuse. I hope my musings on letting go—the chronicling of my journey of transformation—helps to dismiss some of those misconceptions. I pray that my words speak to other hearts, meet the emotional needs of others and help them know they are not alone.
Thank you to all who have set sail on this journey with me. I have loved every minute of writing about letting go, and am inspired to take it to another level in 2015. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a step back as I consider where I want to go next with the blog. I know it will maintain its focus on highlighting my wellness quest. I’m just not sure how. See you real soon.
In honor of all those brave souls who shared their sufferings with me…
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.