Abuse is Not a Contest of Who Had it Worse

“It wasn’t so bad.”
“Others had it worse than me.”
“I have a good life; I should be grateful.”
“Get over it, just bury it again.”

These were the things I told myself for many years about being sexually abused at 4 years old. I kept myself so busy that I didn’t allow time to face it. I was able to bury it deep, keep it hidden for decades, until a chain reaction of events occurred that forced me to dig up those dreaded memories.

Becoming a mom.
Learning of my company’s mission.
Hearing stories of other survivors.
But the biggest factor that led to finally taking action was my daughter turning four. Vivid memories flooded me, fear and anger dominated each day. I couldn’t stop reliving the past and felt my daughter was doomed for the same fate as me unless I controlled her every move. And her older brother–in my mind he was destined to be a predator, simply because he was male. What an awful daily cycle, to not be able to fully enjoy my children. I had to make a change for my family. For me.

By opening up and facing my past, I found myself surrounded by friends, a counselor, a church, and teammates that helped me realize I deserved hope and happiness too. That abuse is not a contest of who had it worse, we’re ALL worthy of healing.

At The Haven Retreat in August 2018, I was introduced to a network of women like me, the 1 in 4 that refuse to remain silent. The strong voices that will make a change. Women that no longer fear, but instead live each day with courage and hope. Ladies that hold one another up on the tough days and cheer each other on through the daily victories. I didn’t know them before the summer of 2018, but I now feel like I’ve known them forever.

We had various healing experiences and education at the retreat, such as yoga, Muay Thai, art, and educational courses. The most impactful moment for me was learning this: trauma in early childhood impacts the brain, and one’s brain isn’t finished developing until your mid-20s. The brain has two main parts: the emotional limbic system, and the rational prefrontal cortex. Childhood sexual trauma causes the limbic system to be on overdrive, and it often overshadows the logical part of the mind.

I’ve had the toughest time understanding why my heart feels one way but some of my actions as a young adult didn’t align with my morals and beliefs. Learning that my brain was wired to emotionally react vs use rational thinking… this fact brought me to tears as it was a proverbial “Get out of jail free” card. Not that I don’t still hold guilt and regret for some of my behaviors, but I learned it wasn’t all my fault.

This journey is just that. A lifetime journey that will have its ups and downs. But in 2018 through The Haven Retreat, I can say with certainty I made more progress than I ever have. Thank you is not enough, and words can never express my full gratitude. To show how thankful I am, I will forever use my voice and reach others that need this healing experience, just like me.

-Keely, Survivor