I can’t even come up with the proper words to use to describe what I’ve recently learned. It’s not just people I know of who have been affected. It’s girls who are close to my heart. Is it me, too? That’s a question I’ve been grappling with, as much as any other.
Repressed memories happen when something so traumatic happens that you block it out. Your body is unprepared to deal with it, so it locks the memory away, in the deep recesses of your brain, to be accessed at another time—or never. Is it possible to go through life with a repressed memory that never resurfaces? How does that affect everything you do? Everything you are? Does it manifest as something unresolved, un-figured out? Or is it inevitable that you will know that something is wrong, and someday, somehow, you will remember and learn to deal with it?
The Actual Story
I can’t say who, as I’ve agreed to privacy. But let’s say a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger, a woman who I’ve talked to—in truth, it’s multiple women at this point—have shared a sad story with me about the time when she was young and was sexually molested by an adult man. She repressed the memory for years. Her mom noticed at some point growing up that she was acting strangely, and she tried to figure out what the problem was, to no avail.
Her mom knew of sexual abuse happening in the church community, by men who were dads, uncles, brothers, cousins, husbands. Everybody knew, it seemed. But they knew without doing anything about it.
Especially damning, no one talked about it. Or if they did, it was in hushed whispers.
Her mom kind of broached the subject with the young girl, saying things like, “If you see this man at church, don’t go near him.” Or, “If you see your brothers or sisters near this man, go get them.” But the girl didn’t really know who that strange man was that her mother was referring to. She only knew her uncle, her older cousin, the family friend who had engaged in an inappropriate tickle torture with her on the living room floor. She didn’t realize that there were others like her, others like him.
It was only after years of feeling shame and guilt, years of covering up her feelings, years of wondering why certain triggers made her feel like curling up into a fetal position and crying like a little girl, that one day the memory resurfaced.
She paused, playing a sad song on the guitar, chopping carrots as she prepared dinner for her family, reading a book at the airport, and realized the tears were streaming down her face.
The memory was clear as day—she was there, at her relative’s house, home with a babysitter, outside playing in the yard; she remembered the clearest details of the patterns on the carpet, the potted plants lined up on the windowsill, the smell of cigar smoke, the way the chilly wind made goosebumps rise up on her bare legs.
And the incident. The inappropriate touching. The cautions to keep this a little secret “between us,” the assurances that this was okay, the cajoling to stop crying, and “Let’s play a game!”
She had come a long way already in learning to be her own unique, authentic self. She was an adult. She was figuring out how to navigate the waters of responsibility that comes with adulthood. She had been proud of herself and her progress in personal growth.
And now she was shattered again. Now she had to come to terms with this part of her history.
She chose to tell a few trusted people in her life.
Some of her friends shared their own experiences. There were way more sad stories than she could have imagined. One other was too much. But two? Three? Four? More than that? She was not alone.
Yet, she felt so alone.
After different types of therapy, removing trapped emotions, trying alternative medicine, talking, journaling, she finally moved on. She felt stronger, more capable. Her life was going to be okay. She even forgave her perpetrator, and put the incident in the past.
But it’s not over.
My worry—which I know I share with all of these girls, and their moms, and the dads, and the young boys, and the elders—is that this is still going on in the church, the tribe, the close-knit community in which I grew up.
No, it didn’t happen to me. But I can’t use that as an excuse to not bring it up.
I can’t pretend to know everything about what has happened in the church. But I can’t pretend not to know anything anymore.
I know that the vast majority of my readership comes from the midwest, where there is a high concentration of people from the church. You all are reading. You all are listening.
Maybe now, we all can start talking.
What has been done to stop the problem? What has been done to punish the perpetrators? What is being done to help them become healed members of society? What is being done to help the victims?
Maybe our hands feel tied. What can we do? With kids, or nieces, or cousins of our own, we can warn them, “It’s not okay to be touched in this way by anyone.” I know that some people are already talking, and for that I’m grateful.
But it’s not enough. A lot of little girls are not being told. They say that one in three girls have been sexually molested in their lives. That’s a scary number.
Little boys aren’t being told, either. But they are being affected, too.
And little boys and girls grow up to be hurting adults who need to deal with the sexual abuse they experienced when they were young.
Let’s stop this from happening.
Let’s open up a dialogue. Now is your chance to be heard. Talk to someone about this. Talk to each other.
If you have a story you would like to share, please send me a private message. In coming weeks, I will help foster the conversation. Additionally, I can guide you to some trusted sources for help if that’s what you’re looking for.
Let’s stop being silent about this. Let’s bring it out in the open so we can do something about it.
You can also leave a regular blog comment down below, or post to my Facebook wall. The important thing is, if you have something to say, please say it.
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