I have read many, many books on this subject--too many, I sometimes think.
Most of these books do an admirable job of describing the feelings a survivor may be left with. Did I feel angry? Yes. Did I feel sad? Yes. Did I have conflicted feelings about my abuser and the people who failed to put a stop to it or to protect me in the first place? Yes and yes.
But I could never let go of these feelings or move past them into acceptance and healing like the the people who told their stories so eloquently and articulately in the books I read. I was only three years old when the abuse took place and at that age I had no words for what was happening.
I'd look back as an adult and ask myself WHY. Why had I been singled out for the abuse in the first place? Why didn't I fight or scream? Why didn't I tell anyone? I was caught in an endless loop of "whys" and I never seemed to make any progress.
I simply could not take the memories and feelings of my traumatized three year-old self and translate them into a story with a straight, simple narrative the way other survivors who had been older when they were abused could and did. My thoughts and feelings on the matter were hopelessly muddled and they had me in a chokehold.
This book has some very simple exercises that have helped me to at least begin to make sense of it. It includes a checklist of possible ways a person may be affected by sexual abuse and some of the coping strategies that children develop and may bring into adulthood. They run the gamut from positive to negative to neutral.
This checklist is great because survivors are not a homogeneous group who share a single profile or a single clear-cut path to recovery. We may respond to and cope with the abuse in very different ways and have different issues to work out. The authors of this book acknowledge and understand this.
The bulk of the book consists of writing exercises in which people are asked to describe how they feel about the abuse, themselves, and life in general.
I was surprised to realize just how many aspects of my life have been colored and shaped by the abuse--far more than I had previously acknowledged or admitted, even to myself. I was even more surprised to find that some of the people interviewed for this book were also abused as toddlers and very small children. They hadn't known what to do either and some of them grew up feeling just as confused and as lost as I had.
While I was sad to realize that what I had believed to be a very rare occurrence is not, reading these people's stories made me feel less alone in the world. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude and I admire their courage and their desire to help people they will never even meet.
One simple exercise was worth the whole price of the book as far as I'm concerened. I had to draw a picture of myself at the age when the abuse took place next to a picture of my abuser. Then I looked at the difference in size and I finally had the answer to all of my "whys."
Realizing that I never stood a chance against my abuser brings its own kind of heartbreak. But the relief I feel now that I can finally stop interrogating and blaming myself for what happened is beyond description.
I still have a lot of work to do and a long way to go before I can say that I've "recovered." But for the first time in my life I truly feel like I am on my way.
If you were sexually abused as a child and feel hopelessly damaged or ruined by it, please read this book (along with its companion, "Survivng Childhood Sexual Abuse" by Carolyn Ainscough and Kay Toon) and do the exercises. It won't be easy, but you'll come to find that hope is not lost after all.