“…For a survivor to put words to their worst memories and to let the world see what they have spent their whole life hiding, takes a lot of courage and...
“…For a survivor to put words to their worst memories and to let the world see what they have spent their whole life hiding, takes a lot of courage and fortitude.”
At the end of 2014, I was admitted to an inpatient mental health facility for trauma and severe depression. I was engulfed by darkness with no hope in sight, praying for it all to end there and then. I did not want to die but I was tired. Too tired to live.
Little did I know, that was just the beginning. Little did I know, I was about to start living instead of merely existing. 2014 was one of the toughest and most testing years of my life, but I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. I am grateful for every part of my life, for the abuse that happened and for every wrong turn I chose to take because it all led me to this moment right here and now. Today is all I have and the rest will tend to itself.
Writing my experience is part of letting go of the past, letting go of all the secrets that I have lived with for so long. The dirty secrets that I thought I could make go away with my determination but which ate away inside, destroying me with their poison.
This story is about part of a journey filled with tremendous pain. Yet it is also a story filled with the resilience of a little girl wanting to survive.
I write in hope that my survival of the horror that was my childhood will give hope to others who are recovering from or are still in sexually abusive situations. If it helps one person, I will have accomplished what I set out to do. As a good friend once told me, even if that one person is me, it will be worth it.
— Janet Bentley, February 2018
Abuse is ugly. Child Abuse is uglier still and Childhood Sexual Abuse is the ugliest of them all. The horror is not just in the image of a child being forced to experience something that they cannot make sense of but that it is, in almost every case, perpetrated by someone that was known to and trusted by the child. To destroy that trust and to replace it with such horror and pain is, to me, one of the worst forms of abuse one human being can inflict upon another.
For many years, the subject of sexually abusing a child has lived in the shadows of shame and guilt. People will speak of their child’s struggle with bullying or illness but refer to any sexual abuse simply as ‘trauma’. Child victims of Sexual Abuse are already deep in their own shame and when the adults around them do not validate their experience, it adds significantly to the damage.
In many (if not most) cases of Childhood Sexual Abuse, the emotional damage done by not being able to deal with it appropriately, lasts significantly longer than the physical damage.
Once traumatized by Childhood Sexual Abuse the victim carries the shame and trauma through the rest of their childhood and on into their adult life. No survivor escapes the pain of carrying the burden of their terrible ‘secret’ and the catastrophic impact it has on their ability to have healthy and loving relationships.
Those Who Survive
Survivors are statistically more likely to experience issues with depression, addiction and even to suffer fatal diseases.
The trauma that a survivor carries is an emotional time bomb just waiting to explode into their life when triggered. For many survivors, this occurs without warning and can drive them to deep depression, anxiety and, in some cases, to suicide. Some people experience dark memories flooding into their consciousness — memories that they did not even realize they had hidden away as a child in order to survive the horrific things that were happening to them.
Our society’s inability to face the realities of this awful form of abuse, forces the victim to carry the weight of shame and not the abuser. The victim is a helpless child and yet many value what others might think (our family would be shamed if people found out that our child has been abused sexually) over making sure that the child is cared for and helped through the critical early stages of trauma.
It is this deeply-rooted stigma that makes it so difficult for an adult survivor of earlier Childhood Sexual Abuse to seek help and when they do, to be able to talk of their experience. And yet, being able to bring the abuse into the open and tell their story is exactly what is needed in order to begin the process of recovery and to remove the power of the abuser that they have carried for almost all of their lives. The ‘secret’ cannot survive once it is brought into the open.
The recent public focus on Childhood Sexual Abuse in high-profile cases involving well-known people has helped to make people aware of how prevalent this is in our society. Campaigns encouraging people to identify themselves as victims of early Sexual Abuse have been making headline news around the world. Hopefully, this attention will help remove the stigma and allow people to address Childhood Sexual Abuse promptly and make it unacceptable in all cases.
Good though this publicity is for bringing the subject to the forefront, it does little for the survivor. Indeed, the very publicity which is so important can itself be a trigger to someone who has buried their ‘secret’ and would do anything not to have to face it.
The best hope for a survivor is to be able to associate with people who understand the crippling agony of ‘the secret’ and who they know will not judge them as somehow ‘to blame’ or as ‘a bad person’ for being abused. As one survivor stands up and tells their story, others will realize that they are not actually alone and that there is hope.
This book, then, is one such story.
At times, the book may be uncomfortable for some readers and potentially triggering to others. It is important, however, that Janet details the horrors of the abuse, in order to be able to describe why it had such a lasting impact. This is a book about hope of recovery. It is a beacon of light to other survivors who still suffer the effects of the trauma of their own childhood experiences.
Even without the stigma that follows Childhood Sexual Abuse, for a survivor to put words to their worst memories and to let the world see what they have spent their whole life hiding, takes a lot of courage and fortitude.
If just one person reads this and finds the courage to start to face their own trauma then not only does it bring value to this book but, for Janet, the abuse will have been given a purpose greater than anything the abusers could do. — Simon Bentley