living hope amidst suffering and abuse

“If only I could undo the trauma of my past…”

This heartfelt cry is common. For far too many people, the innocent happiness that was our right as children, was ruthlessly stolen from us, most often by those we loved and trusted.196% of abusers have a relationship with the child, 72% being the natural parents. Only 4% fall into the other/stranger category. Ref: (AIHW) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2000).

Whilst statistics vary, and instances of childhood abuse are most likely under-reported, it is estimated that one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.2Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse. (2005). Issues Paper 10.

Such statistics are tragic. But the real tragedy is the ongoing and long-term traumatic legacy that child abuse survivors must grapple with – living out a narrative that often shapes and determines our lives decades after the initial assaults took place.

It would indeed be miraculous if such deep and pervasive trauma could be undone!

But the reality is that it can’t. Childhood sexual abuse profoundly affects its victims throughout a lifetime – psychologically, emotionally, relationally and physically. As Blue Knot Foundation explains:

“Research has consistently shown that adult survivors have high rates of mental illness, suicide, substance abuse and poor physical health”3NCOSS. (2004). Better social results for NSW. Social and economic priorities for a fair and sustainable community: 2005-2006.State Budget.Council of Social Services NSW, p. 69, as quoted on Blue Knot Foundation website..

“An established body of knowledge exists, clearly linking child sexual abuse with higher rates in adults of depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, substance abuse disorders, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders.”4Briere & Runtz. 1988; Winfield et al.: 1990; Bushnell et al., 1992; Mullen et al., 1993; Romans et al., 1995:1997; Fergusson et al.: 1996; Silverman et al.: 1996.

Given the long-term damage from childhood sexual abuse, how is it possible to even talk about “hope” without such a concept sounding platitudinous or an expression of denial?

The deeply-ingrained reality of the effects of trauma, sits within a paradoxical and disconcerting tension – an inclination towards life and healing. Survival from childhood sexual abuse entails more than just endurance. It necessarily involves courage, strength and commitment. This means that every child who has survived a traumatic beginning to life, already has at least a fledgling grasp of the adaptive tools needed to grow and heal later in life.

The process of healing from deep and early trauma is long and often painful. But the hope that can grow inside survivors as we embrace a healing journey, is the recognition that whilst our lives can never be undone, they can always be redone.

The hope of healing from abuse is the knowledge that as we commit ourselves to grieving the pain of our past and learning new ways of living, we can grow into the future in different directions, above and beyond the constrictions of our past.

Abuse does not need to have the final word.

Whilst we can never undo our past, living hope amidst suffering and abuse means increasingly knowing that we can redo our future.

Please Undo

Alone in the corner
She watches her mother
Disappear from view
Crushed by her terror
She helplessly, silently
Cries out for help
Cries in vain
But she’s learned so well
So she disappears too
As her safety is driven away
Her emptiness begs:

Please undo

Alone with the memories
She swallows the promise
To disappear anew
Crushed on a stretcher
Hears monotone questions
Tries to unscramble her mind
Tries in vain
But she’s learned so well
So she finds the right words
As the ambulance drives her away
She screams:

Undo this hell that’s done by you
Undo this hell I’ve learned to do
Undo this hell I’m driven to
Please undo
Please undo

Alone in her bedroom
She watches tomorrow
Appear, life renewed
Crushing her pillow
She blocks out the sunlight
Tries to ward off the day
Tries in vain
Can she learn so well
When the lesson is hope?
Persistent, insistent
Drives her to her knees:

Redeem this hell I can’t undo
Replace these lies, transform my view
Drive me on to roads of truth
Can I redo?
Can I redo?
God let me redo
God help me redo

Words and Music by Monique Lisbon5© Living Hope Resources 2006, from Fragments of Home: Piecing Life Together after Childhood Sexual Abuse.

… Learn more about this topic in Monique Lisbon’s various resources (books, CDs and DVDs), available here.