Creating a Culture of Healing and Empathy

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When Learning an Adult Child Was Sexually Abused as a Child

Coming to terms with our abuse has been painful, even excruciating. We are so thankful for our mother and her guidance to both of us during this process. We are grateful that her number one priority was to always love us. Her support is invaluable. We thought it would be helpful for other parents to get her perspective on things. We appreciate her willingness to share her story and help others:

The very first feeling that I had when I found out Ben had been abused was disbelief and an intense desire not to believe; but underneath was the sure knowledge that what I was hearing was true and that, even though I had never mildly suspected anything or had any reason to, I suddenly knew the man involved was capable of child abuse. When I was able to grasp what I was hearing I felt hurt and betrayed by someone in a position of trust. I felt tremendous anger at the perpetrator and immense heartache for our son. I was angry that the school hadn’t protected him. I was frustrated that my husband and I hadn’t realized and intervened or known to help sooner with the aftermath. As I began to understand all the trauma that Ben had experienced (beginning when he was hardly more than a baby) I was grateful beyond words that my husband and I had loved him and reached out to him, even when he was making choices we couldn’t understand and that hurt us so deeply. I hadn’t judged him, but loved him and wanted to have a relationship with him in spite of any pain or disappointment I felt in the life he was living. All that he had been through, without me even knowing, has reinforced to me the importance of not judging anyone—ever.

Ben had tried so hard to forget his agony that he had buried the experience so deeply that he didn’t remember much at first. As he talked with his sisters who were at the elementary school with him they reassured him that nothing had happened to them. Even though Ben and Annaka had some similar and strange memories I was only too glad to accept her assurance that nothing had happened to her. She wasn’t ready to deal with her trauma and only had a few vague memories, including being alone in a dark hallway at the school and being frightened and disoriented. I don’t think I was ready to deal with the fact that two of our children had been so hurt and damaged.

A year later Annaka saw a therapist seeking help coping with the challenges presented by her severely ill and challenging son. When she told us of her diagnosis of PTSD I knew immediately it meant that she hadn’t escaped from elementary unscathed and had been abused by the same man.

One of the feelings that has made me the saddest is that I was so oblivious—oblivious to what had happened to Annaka and Ben in the first place and oblivious to the fallout they had been dealing with ever since. I have wondered why I didn’t pick up on what was happening at the time or the pain they have felt through the subsequent years. Why wasn’t I inspired to know that something was so terribly wrong? One of my biggest regrets in life is that because my husband and I were unaware, we couldn’t intervene sooner; help our children start healing sooner; spare them the pain and difficulties that have come from living with and suppressing this trauma for so long. I have learned that dwelling on these thoughts is counterproductive. All that has happened is the proverbial water under the bridge. It helps to concentrate on going forward and doing what I can to help them. I have also learned to include myself in the people I am not going to judge. I’ve learned not to worry about my parenting. I remind myself to focus on doing the best I can going forward. I have learned not to blame myself, but to believe that I am just the right person to help them now.

I believe that I have listened to Ben and Annaka each time either has wanted to talk. The process of healing is not quick and has lots of ups and downs. I have spent hours listening. I have been so grateful to be able to do at least that much for them, but it hasn’t been easy. I haven’t wanted to know the details of what they have endured or the struggles that have followed. Over the past few years I have been able to better endure the pain and sadness I have felt and can listen more easily.

I have gone through all the stages of grief. I have mourned all that was taken from our children and all that they have suffered. I have forgiven the abuser, but am astounded by all the emotional damage that he has caused for so many people and feel great sorrow that his life, knowledge, and talents have been put to such devastating use. What a tragedy. What a loss. What a waste.

Of all the emotions I have experienced the emotions that have surprised me are relief and gratitude. When Ben and Annaka were children and teenagers my husband and I noticed behaviors that concerned, but did not unduly alarm us, because they weren’t extreme and seemed typical of children and teenagers. Some of those behaviors included careless driving, some phobias, self-centeredness, the need to be in control. Ben and Annaka have succeeded in accomplishing a great deal, but as they moved through their young adult years they seemed to struggle more with life. They were more visibly depressed, angry, defensive, withdrawn, overwhelmed. It has been a tremendous relief to know that there was a reason for this, and the issue could be addressed and dealt with. One day I was walking through the elementary school with Annaka and Ben as part of their therapy. The secretary of the school was opening various rooms and closets and as horrible memories returned they would respond physically with tears or gagging. It was hard to watch, and the secretary was expressing her sorrow to me at the tragedy of the whole thing. As she spoke I realized that I probably wasn’t feeling as distraught as she thought. I was beginning to see healing and feel hope. I was beginning to feel the assurance that things were getting better.

Through the emotional roller coaster I have continued to feel the reassurance that they can and are healing and finding life more manageable and joyful. This has been a source of comfort and gratitude. I am in awe of Annaka and Ben’s strength and resilience. I am impressed by the people they are becoming. I am also grateful for their courage and desire to reach out and help others. As they have done this it not only has helped them heal, but has helped our whole family heal. As trite as this sounds I wish I could find words to express my gratitude for kind and knowledgeable people who have helped us and for our faith which has sustained us. I have never felt more profound gratitude for the Savior of the world and His healing influence. There is hope. We are all going to make it.

If there is anyone reading this who would find it helpful to talk to me I would love to talk to you.

*Meg can be reached through the “Contact Us” link on the blog.

Blessing

Mom and Annaka


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Mom and Ben

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