Are You Angry? That's Okay.
I used to hate hearing stories of my husband's teenaged years. I wanted to know about his past but hearing stories of high school, prom, dating, and all the other young adult experiences I had never known left me feeling empty and angry.
Those years were taken from me, and even after the sexual abuse ended I'd still spend years being consumed by guilt, shame, secrecy, and trauma aftermath.
When I was in my early twenties, newly married and pregnant with our first child, the weight of the abuse began to truly set in. I had finally turned to face some of my suffering instead of perpetually burying it and the result was a tidal wave of anger. I was angry with my abuser -- how dare he think my youth and my innocence were his for the taking? How dare he use me that way, with no regard for my own well-being and future? I would sit and think of all the terrible things I wanted to happen to him and all the awful things I would do to him if I had the opportunity; the ways I would make him suffer. I was soothed by thinking of him burning with pain.
More than anything in the world, though, I wanted those years back that he took from me. I wanted to know who I would be if he hadn't destroyed me and poisoned me to the world. What would I would be like without this clawing, hissing anger inside me? Who would I be without crippling anxiety and depression?
I wanted to sleep with the lights off and not have a panic attack. I wanted to look at myself in the mirror and not be consumed with self hatred. I wanted to stop the flashbacks and nightmares. I wanted to breathe deeply and love freely and slow my mind that couldn't ever seem to stop racing. I had been altered by him and it felt horribly unfair. No one asked my permission to harm me. My voice was taken away before I had even learned how to really use it and I was left with a silent scream that only I could hear.
As I began to work through my PTSD and depression, I realized the anger I was consumed by was actually a healthy, normal part of healing from abuse. My kind therapist told me I was allowed to be angry. That in fact the anger I was feeling was an integral part of my grief process, and the sooner I recognized and embraced that, the sooner I'd be able to cope with its intensity and function through it. And yes, that's a lot harder than it sounds.
Another emotion that arrived early on in the abuse and settled in to stay was guilt. Victims find every possible reason in the world to feel guilty. During and after abuse, guilt becomes like a siamese twin. It takes serious, careful work to detach from it. Guilt became such a familiar part of me that it felt more comfortable than almost any other emotion. It ate away at me like an acid and I was addicted to its destruction.
After the abuse ended, I felt guilty about everything. Guilty for being sad, guilty for being secretive, and later, guilty for being angry about it all...So naturally, when I finally came out about my abuse and was told by my church leaders that I was at least partially guilty for what happened, it fit me like a glove. Only this time, I didn't want to wear it. I knew enough to realize that shame and guilt were destroying me and keeping from being able to heal. I saw those accusations for what they were, secondary abuse, and I wasn't going to let myself be robbed of my voice another time.
I should mention, I do think there are appropriate times to feel guilt and that it's not an emotion that should be entirely done away with. The problem with abuse, though, is that guilt is used as a tool by the abuser to continually disempower and dehumanize the victim. When you're made to believe that everything is your fault, you accept the abuse you're being subjected to because you don't think you deserve anything better. It's a cruel game and one not easily overcome.
When we begin to understand abuse, it's easy to see why victims often experience extreme anger in the aftermath. In the same sense that we can't tell a victim the pace at which they should heal, we also can't condemn the wide range of emotions they'll experience in the process of healing. They all serve a purpose.
Supporting victims of abuse as they heal takes great care and patience -- it's not an easy journey for anyone involved. At its highest points it's hopeful and rewarding, and at its lowest points it's heartbreaking and feels fruitless. It's not any wonder most people would prefer to look the other way and keep from getting their hands dirty, but the truth is there's profound beauty and connection in helping others, and it goes both ways.
Victims cannot simply forget their suffering. When those around them forget, it feels like abandonment. It feels like we don't matter all over again.
It's so important for victims of abuse to understand that the suffering they have experienced does not determine their worth. When someone chose to harm them, use them, abuse them, and discard them, it did not diminish their value and it didn't change the fact that they deserve love and healing the same as anyone else.
Shaming victims must end. We must stop blaming, devaluing, abandoning, and judging those among us who have suffered so much.
When victims take the risk of sharing their stories and revealing their pain, the only message they should be met with is this:
Do you need me? I am here. Do you feel guilty? You are not. Are you angry? That's okay. Are you breathing? Then you are worthy.