“You get up again because the alternative sucks.”
That quote is one of my favorites, because it is so true about my life and the lives of so many other victims of abuse who fight every day to overcome their tragedies.
My abuse started when I was eleven years old when my new nanny, Waldina Flores – “Waldy” to me – walked into my family’s life. For six years, she sexually, physically and emotionally abused me right under my parent’s noses –- in my own house. The abuse continued every day, 24/7. I felt like I would never escape the hidden life Waldy had created for me, but I eventually found my voice.
With the help of my then-boyfriend, my family and my therapist, I worked – and continue to work every day since the day I revealed my abuse – to heal by addressing my scars and choosing to wake up every morning to a renewed life.
As I continue to heal from my years of abuse, I encourage all of the children, families and survivors that I meet to always know that it is okay to talk about their abuse. By addressing the dark places in our lives, we can heal and help prevent abuse for others.
Here are four key steps that I teach to help people heal from abuse:
- After getting safely away from an abuser, it’s critically important to obtain treatment for any addiction, mental disorder or other life-threatening condition that’s afflicting us as a direct result of the abuse. In my case, that meant dealing with anorexia and self-mutilation.
- We must acknowledge and release the painful memories of abuse. This is so important, and so hard! To accomplish this step, we have to return emotionally to the experience of the abuse and realize that we did not “deserve it” and that there is nothing we could have done to stop it or prevent it. That’s how we come to understand that it’s not our fault. With this step comes the realization that any shame we’re feeling is misplaced. It belongs with our abuser. This is also called empowerment: It’s about me as a victim taking my power back from the perpetrator.
- Next, we must challenge any core beliefs or ingrained patterns of thoughts and feelings we’ve formed as a result of the abuse. Examples are “I am worthless” or “I don’t deserve to be loved.” In many cases, we also feel the need to mourn the years of childhood we lost to the abuse.
- Finally, we need to seek help and support from others. This might be a trained counselor, a member of the clergy or a sympathetic family member or friend. For many abuse victims, Twelve-Step programs or other groups specifically for survivors of sexual abuse are valuable for long-term recovery.
Just because you have a wound, it does not mean you’re broken or bad. We are all cracked in some way, but there’s a crack in everything that lets the light in. The light that helps us mend those broken places comes from telling and hearing the truth and getting up again.