I used to tell my story solely for myself. I needed to have my voice heard. I needed my words and my experiences to mean something to someone other than myself. They had been locked away inside me for so long — festering, and rotting me from the inside out. Divulging my story of abuse was such a release for me. In terms of what it felt like, the only image that makes sense to me is that of a weight being lifted. I was being crushed under the weight of my secrets and my shame. As far as I could tell, the man who abused me had moved on and enjoyed his freedom while I still lived in the prison he’d constructed around me. The injustice of it all added insult to injury. I felt as though I couldn’t take a deep breath. There was no room left inside me for anything other than my pain.
Over time, as I continued to tell more of my story and speak more about the long-term effects of the abuse, I began to realize I wasn’t just telling my story for my own sake anymore. Without any intention of doing so, my voice had become the voice of others, too. My story, theirs. I am not fully healed but neither am I fully imprisoned, and those who still live within the confines of their shame can see through my story what is also possible for them. My voice may be theirs, for now, but perhaps soon it will be their time to use their own voices and tell their own stories.
That’s the beauty of doing this together. I am carrying a torch in the darkness. There are others ahead of me carrying their own torches, some of which burn with more strength than my own. They are helping to light the way and I follow the light of their torches and I feel their warmth. And there are those behind me whose torches are yet unlit, whose burdens are still so heavy, and they follow the light of my torch. When I stumble I am strengthened by those ahead of me who gently say “Get up. Keep going. There is still so much fight left in you. You are a victor,” and I am strengthened by those behind me who plead, “We need your light. Please get up. Please keep going so that we can, too.”
There is no finish line to reach. There is no stop-watch urging us to speed up our process of healing. There is no rulebook that says if our torch is not yet lit we are no longer worthy of unconditional love.
We are allowed to grow weary and stumble. We are allowed to go at our own pace. We may mourn what we lost to abuse. We may rejoice in our small steps toward healing.
It’s true that I was a victim of abuse. But even in my victim-hood, I was a victor. Each day that I rose and faced mistreatment and the prison bars of abuse, I was victorious. And years later, each time that I raised my voice to tell my story, I was victorious. Even now, much further down my path of healing, when I am on occasion consumed by the pain that wells up inside of me, I am still a victor.
Our victory is not measured by an impossible and unkind standard of healing that others may try to impose on us. Our victory is measured by our voices, whether internal and unheard by others or external and heard by many, which rise with each new day and say,
“I am here. I matter. I will try again.”