I’m a survivor. I was raped repeatedly for several years of my childhood. I speak of that trauma in my memoir, You Have Such a Pretty Face, but it is still something I have difficulty discussing with anyone except my therapist and my friend, Lori. It is a painful, horrific truth that controlled me for decades of my life. It’s hard to get over a fear of the dark, when your monsters were real.
I kept that devastating secret locked away in the halls of my heart for most of my life. Pain, however, is like a dense fog that is gray and ominous. Refusing to dissipate, it patiently lurks, waiting for the precise moment to roll in, suffocating your soul with it’s weightless, thick fingers. It’s an inescapable silence that is deafening.
Everybody wants to know your secrets. Reporters want details, but don’t understand the horror associated with those memories. The turn of a doorknob, footsteps in the hallway, cars pulling in the driveway, followed by the laughter of men–all sounds associated with the doom of what is to come. Frozen in fear, you lay in your bed with that twisted knot in your stomach, knowing the horror is imminent. There is always the question, who protected the little girl with the big, brown eyes?
The answer? A resounding no one.
It takes an intense refusal to settle for anything less than happiness in your life to begin to heal. Honestly, there were times it seemed as if the easier route might be to just give in to the pain and allow myself to be absorbed by the ever-lurking darkness that was always right there, waiting to consume me. When I first began to shovel through all of the long-repressed memories that had haunted me for so long, the pain was overwhelming. I couldn’t sleep without having nightmares and it was as if a portal had been opened that flooded me with heinous flashbacks that had me drowning in agony.
I was trapped at that point. Once a secret is spoken, there is no going back to the pain of silence and denial. I would sit on the floor sobbing, broken and devastated, attempting to reconstruct my fragile heart, which was shattered and in pieces. I was angry and would scream at God wanting to know where the hell he was when all of this was happening to me and what kind of God allows a child to experience such atrocities. If it wasn’t for that amazing moment of angels that I discuss in my book, I would have been certain, at that point, that God didn’t exist.
But when you’ve been in the presence of and touched by angels, how do you not acknowledge that the one who created them exists? I struggled with making sense out of why God didn’t intervene on my behalf, but as my healing continued I came across the message of Genesis 50:20, stated simply by Max Lucado, “In God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good.” Throughout the course of my life, the devil has certainly bombarded me with repeated obstacles. The master of evil is a cunning one and sends cleverly disguised roadblocks, to attempt to get us off course. Nonnie always cautioned me if something seemed too good to be true, “remember, God isn’t the only one who hears your prayers.”
It actually took a lot of work to change the unhealthy patterns I developed for dealing with life. When you are tearing down wall after wall that was built for self-protection, it can become scary and unsettling. After having been traumatized on so many levels, the many defense mechanisms I employed to safeguard my soul were severe and complicated. At the root of it all, though, I wanted to change and I didn’t want joy and happiness to forever elude me. In one major aha! moment my entire life began to make sense to me. God wanted my life to shine and in order for anything to shine, there must be darkness.
I certainly traveled a dark path for many years, but it ultimately brought me to a beautiful place of peace. People always ask me if I have issues related to my past? Of course I do. NEWSFLASH: WE ALL HAVE ISSUES. The key to discovering genuine happiness is learning how to live with your issues in a healthy manner. It’s essential to my well-being that I surround myself with people who have tender, loving souls. I can no longer have people in my world who deceive me, betray me, or manipulate me to get the things they want from me. For many years so-called friends used me, mooched off of me, and took advantage of my kindness repeatedly. I previously allowed that to happen, but I have since learned that my soul is very uneasy in the presence of those types of people.
I openly tell people now that all I have to give is my heart. It’s funny how quickly some people drop off the radar when they realize the well has gone dry. Even better, though, are the ones who respond with, “that’s all I want.” Those people understand that I have endured much in my life and they love me just as I am. They know my fears and they accommodate me in those small ways that make a huge difference. They walk inside the house to say good-bye, they wait until my car starts before they leave, they respond to a late-night text because I woke up screaming in fear from a nightmare. That’s love and friendship in action.
I’ve found that when you’re honest and you explain things to the people who care about you, they respond to you with an entirely different approach. For example, if I have a friend who is an alcoholic, I’m not going to invite him to the Beer Festival. If you are open with people who love you they won’t intentionally do anything that would be potentially hurtful to you. I obviously don’t want to go to haunted houses and have things jump out at me and try to snatch me. I had real beasts in my life for a long time, that was enough for me.
My friends understand that I am sometimes overly sensitive. I know that is an issue I struggle with, so as I continue to work on it, I call Lori all the time and ask if I’m being too emotional in my response to someone else’s behavior or words. I value her opinion and if she tells me that I’m overreacting I take the time to work that through mentally and adjust. A few months back I was with my friend, Allie, and I was feeling overwhelmed by some very stressful events. As I was sobbing and trying to catch my breath, she sat there calmly, let me cry, and told me to breathe. She then asked me to tell her out of all the things I was worried about, which things I could control. I looked at her and through my tears replied, “none of them.” She cried with me, hugged me, and told me, “then you have to give them to God.”
That type of support has helped me so much in my continual journey of healing. I don’t think we ever arrive at a destination of healed. I believe healing is a constant friend we walk with for the rest of our lives and one we need to embrace. One thing I know for sure is life will continue to hurl difficult and painful situations in our direction and we need to have the skills in our little backpack to deal with those circumstances. The most powerful tool I have acquired is simply knowing what works for me.
I spend a great deal of time with my dogs. When I am hurting, they instinctively know and they don’t leave my side. Their silent presence is powerful and incredibly gentle at the same time. They have helped me through many painful nights and lonely days. They have absorbed countless tears and licked away the salty sadness from my face far too many times to count. They don’t see my flaws, they only know my heart and in that unconditional acceptance is the clear message that my brokenness is welcome with them.
Most things do, in fact, break. Sadly, this includes the human heart. I can tell you, though, that being broken, being flawed, being imperfect is okay. It is unnecessary to hide your secret wounds any longer. Uncover them, clean them up, and allow them to begin to heal. I have been broken into a million, tiny little pieces and I can tell you that the most powerful glue in the world is love. I began putting my fragments back together by loving God, slowly learning to love myself, and beginning to allow others to experience and love the genuine, unedited version of me. The Lebanese-American author, Kahlil Gibran, said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
It is my hope and prayer that by revealing all of my scars, others will embrace the fact that they, too, can heal.