Note: This is a real experience shared from a survivor of abuse. Names and identifying information have been changed.
I was repeatedly sexually abused starting when I was 6 until I was approximately 14 by a cousin who is ten years older than I am. I was very close to this cousin and his family. I was constantly at their home. I loved them more than words could say. As is common in cases of child sexual abuse, my young mind didn’t fully comprehend the impact of the abuse until I reached an age of understanding—in my case, this was around 16 years old. Instead of understanding that the abuse was not my fault (how could it be—a 6-year-old boy should not know or have experienced the things I was taught and that were done to me), I internalized the abuse and blamed myself. My feelings of guilt and disgust with myself were enormous! The only way I could escape the self-hatred was to find an avenue that allowed me to feel more in control over my life (even though I wasn’t). As a teenager, this “control” manifested itself in the form of eating disorders—anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
I deteriorated both physically and emotionally. I “bottomed out” at around 100 pounds in weight and was on the verge of needing to be hospitalized—my heart and internal organs were beginning to fail. As a result, I was home-schooled with the help of supportive teachers. My medical doctor worked to help me get to a healthier weight and also referred me to a psychologist. He was a wonderful man who helped me tremendously! During our counseling sessions, I began confronting the abuse that had occurred and the feelings of confusion and hurt that remained within me. My long road of healing had begun.
A few months later, I finally made the decision that things could no longer be “swept under the carpet” within our family—something like this should not be hidden, ignored, or kept secret instead of dealing with it. I feared my cousin would be doing the same thing to other little boys, and I also knew he was engrossed in child pornography. I knew the deep scar abuse had caused me, and I didn’t want any other little boys to suffer because I didn’t have the courage to tell what happened. So I reported the abuse.
Unfortunately, reporting created problems in my family, which caused even greater feelings of guilt for me. When news first broke that my cousin had sexually abused me, family members shared that they didn’t want to “take sides.” However, I never thought there was a “side” to take. I didn’t want anyone to ostracize my cousin or disown him. The only thing I wanted was an acknowledgement of what happened, that it was a horrible thing for me as a child to have gone through, and that my cousin had to face the consequences and accountability for the choices he made—and in the process receive the help and support he needed. Ultimately for me, through counseling and the support of my bishop, I have forgiven my cousin and those in my family who have not supported me—it is no longer my burden to bear. There is One much greater than I who paid the price so that I would not have to carry that burden; how grateful I am for my Savior.
For any who have been wounded, I ask you to please don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t stop moving forward. Healing does not happen overnight. Sometimes wholeness may not even come in this life, but the path we walk was never meant to be perfectly straight and smooth. There are always going to be bumps and divots, ups and downs, twists and curves. Ours is the opportunity to set our sights on the horizon and to keep walking, if only one step at a time (even if there are a couple of steps backward now and then). Although my sexual abuse ended many years ago, and I have walked a long path of healing, I still occasionally wake up having relived a reoccurring nightmare of my abuse.
Does this make me forever broken? Not at all. Scars may always remain from the wounds of the past, but they don’t define me. Wounded? Yes. Broken? No. As an adult who has in great measure healed, I have learned to comfort that wounded child that still lives within me. Drifting back to sleep after one of those nightmares with words of comfort seeping into the subconscious of a scared little boy: “It is not your fault. You are not to blame. Don’t take the weight of this pain on yourself.” I believe those words and encourage any who have been wounded to remember, it is not your fault! You are loved. You are not broken. With time, all wounds heal and all wrongs will be made right because of “him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19).
If you or someone you know has been abused, seek help immediately from civil authorities, child protective services, or adult protective services. You may also seek help from a victim advocate or counseling or medical professional. These services can help protect you and prevent further abuse. See the “In Crisis” page for more information.