I’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer. Though it was unexpected and obviously uninvited, I’ve been journaling many valuable lessons and embracing some new perspectives. Because of my work in Marriage Reconstruction Ministries, I began noticing parallels between a diagnosis of cancer and being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. In this article I hope to specifically highlight three vital truths from my experience.
I am the spouse of a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve interacted with many other survivors and have interviewed and offered care to many spouses of survivors. Each story is unique, but some common experiences among survivors of childhood sexual abuse can be identified. In keeping with these commonalities, I will state three vital truths as a person with cancer that are also applicable to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I believe these reflections are vital for healthy living. For each reflection, I’ll first speak of its relevance to a cancer diagnosis and then link its importance to a survivor of sexual abuse.
1. We benefit by being aware of the effects.
I have Chronic Lymphocytic Cancer (CLL), a slow-growing cancer. Currently, I am not experiencing any effects that call for immediate treatment. It would be easy for me to deny that I have cancer. But I must accept three truths:
- I have cancer.
- I am vulnerable to specific effects that could be part of my future.
- It’s best if I become educated about the effects I might experience.
Some survivors of childhood sexual abuse would say that they are not experiencing any known effects of that abuse. It would be easy for these survivors to think, “Well yes, something happened when I was a child, but I am not experiencing any effects.”
But again, there are three truths:
- You were sexually abused.
- You are vulnerable to specific effects that could be part of your future.
- It’s best if you be educated about the effects.
The effects of childhood sexual abuse have a mind of their own. Many effects come and go. Some effects can be latent, surfacing in the life of survivor at a later stage in life. Regardless of timing, a survivor of abuse is vulnerable to a set of effects.
2. We are Victims.
I have a cancer that I did not bring on myself. There was nothing I ate, drank, did, or neglected that caused this cancer. This cancer came unwanted and uninvited. I am a victim in the sense that I’ve been powerless to avoid it.
If you were sexually violated as a child, you too are a victim. As a child, you were small, powerless, dependent on someone who should have been dependable, and trusting of a person who should have been trustworthy. All of these factors caused you to be paralyzed and prevented you from ever being able to stop the abuse inflicted by someone with greater size, power, and influence.
We are victims in the sense that we’ve been
powerless to avoid the cancer or sexual abuse.
Sadly, there are characteristics connected with sexual abuse that could keep you from accepting that you were a victim. One characteristic common to sexual abuse is that someone might have blamed you. Perhaps the perpetrator told you that the abuse was your fault. Or maybe someone inferred or bluntly stated that you must have done something to cause the abuse. If either of these accusations has happened to you, it is heartbreaking that you’ve had to bear such an unjust burden.
The truth is that sexual abuse relies on power over vulnerability. Your perpetrator had power over you by their strength, authority, size, and possibly reputation. On the other hand, you were vulnerable, because as a child, you were dependent, trusting, and innocent.
Sexual abuse relies on power over vulnerability.
Another characteristic of sexual abuse that might keep you from accepting that you were a victim is the confusion that occurs from your body experiencing a sensation during that abuse, even a pleasing sensation. Your unspoken thought is that since your body had a pleasing sensation, you must be innately bad, deserving of the abuse, and punished in some way.
The truth is that the sensations you experienced were involuntary. Various parts of our body were made to experience pleasure. And, that feeling of pleasure happens not because we are good or bad, but because we are human.
The sensations you experienced were involuntary.
You may not want to see yourself as avictim of sexual abuse because then you have to acknowledge your weakness and vulnerability. But if you can accept who you were as a child (weak & vulnerable), you will more readily be able to accept who you are as an adult.
You are not deserving of abuse.
You are deserving of respect.
Being victims does not mean that we live in a victimized state with a victimized attitude. We can also live as survivors.
3. We can be survivors.
I don’t know how long I’ll live as a survivor of cancer. Some people with my cancer live for years, even decades. Others are not as fortunate. But I know I am a survivor today, so there are several things I’m going to do.
- I am going to enjoy today as much as possible.
- I am making sure that I’m getting the best help possible.
- I am doing what I can to keep myself strong.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, you too can –
- Live a day at a time, enjoying today as much as possible. Yes, there will certainly be down days. The cloud over you can be dark and thick. But don’t let the darkness define you and do your best to find a few things for which you can be grateful and spend a few moments focusing on those things.
- Make sure you are getting as much help as possible. Don’t settle for a counselor who is convenient. Find one who is capable and let that counselor speak into your life
- Do something today that will prepare you for better health tomorrow.