Healing after childhood sexual abuse can take a long time, but I’ve come a long way. The very first step I was able to take on my journey toward healing came because I was inspired by a good friend who had the bravery to face her own history of abuse. For her courage, I will always be grateful.
We met in college, and our friendship grew over several months. One afternoon she revealed to me and a group of our friends that she had been sexually abused as a child. Ever since, she had struggled on and off with a severe eating disorder. She starved herself and vomited up the little she did eat or drink.
I was shocked. I didn’t think I knew anyone who had been sexually abused as a child. For years I had kept my own abuse tightly hidden away and vowed to never tell anyone. I was ashamed and felt worthless. I thought I was alone, but now I realized I wasn’t.
The simple presence of another woman who had the courage to come forward with her vulnerabilities and struggles gave me so much hope. Over the next few months I watched her struggle fiercely with her disease and self-loathing. She believed she was broken and worthless, but I could see that she had a beautiful spirit. I began to wonder if my perceptions of myself might also be skewed by the abuse I had experienced. Maybe I was valuable and beautiful, just like my friend.
I knew I couldn’t let her think she was all alone. At the same time, I realized I needed someone to talk to. I told her about my abuse. She said she completely understood the shame I was carrying around. Even though I didn’t have an eating disorder like she did, we both had shoved our past deep inside and had dealt with it in unhealthy ways.
I wasn’t ready to begin actually dealing with the effects of the abuse, but for the first time I wasn’t pretending it wasn’t there. I felt so free. I wasn’t carrying around this dark, heavy secret by myself anymore. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel completely alone.
Recovery would take several years for both of us, but I’m happy our paths intersected at that crucial moment. She began seeing a therapist and after a while left college to go back home to live with her parents in another state. Eventually she would receive in-house treatment for her disorder. Later on, I began seeing a counselor so I could really begin to heal from my childhood pain.
I learned that everyone needs the support of others who understand their experiences. My friend had the courage to open up about her struggles and to work on healing. Through her example, I would begin to do the same.