Opening Up About Sexual Abuse
Words by Shay Morgan
When bad things happen, it is easy for us to keep it hidden instead of talking about it. These things build up over time and are often let out in frustration to someone we care about and don't intend to hurt.
My abuse happened when I was just ten years old - a year younger than my daughter is now. I was molested by two people who I knew all too well because they were my step brothers. Most little girls look at their brothers as protectors, but I didn’t see them that way. They became people I didn't want to be around, and I was never comfortable around them after that night. It took years for me to forgive them, not because they needed it (because I never told them to their face), but because I needed it. I needed to look in the mirror and see myself as pretty instead of unwanted and full of shame.
I remembered telling my mom some years after it happened and she didn't believe me. Our relationship wasn't the same after that. I was so upset that I decided that I didn't even want to live with her anymore. She thought it was because I was starting high school, but I just couldn't be there any longer knowing that my own mom didn't believe me.
The first time I ever talked about it in public was scary because I didn't intend to ever speak about what happened to me. I was a part of a panel that was dealing with sex and relationship questions for young adults. Questions came in via text message. Then there was a question that came up about moving on and not carrying hurt from being abused in the past. No one else on the panel even attempted to answer the question. At that moment, I felt like it was God's way of telling me: "Here's your chance to use what happened to you to help somebody."
My heart was pounding, but I picked up the microphone in a room full of people and began to speak about the experience. The takeaway that I hoped the person who asked the question would get is that no matter how much shame she still felt, she needed to forgive the person who wronged her, because she needed the freedom from the past. I stressed that it wasn’t about reaching out to them and telling them “I forgive you", but to find the inner peace that was missing. It's easy to go around feeling numb to everything, but it shuts off who you are as a person. The peace isn't for them to feel okay, it's a chance for your heart to move on.
Too often I let what happened to me be a reason why I wouldn't get close to men. Why I didn't want any serious relationships, I didn't think much of myself, and didn't think they would either. Having fun and keeping it casual seemed to be the only power I felt like I had. I could feel the light fading from the person I was and that led me down a pretty dark road. I didn't know who I was because I was holding on to so much anger and unforgiveness. I drank to ease the pain but that didn't ever work. It was only when I heard someone say that to be truly free you have to let everything go - all the hurt, all the anger and bitterness, and forgive those who have done you wrong. Let it go. I think I cried my eyes out for a few days because I didn't want to let anything go, but I also desperately wanted to be free from it. When I finally surrendered the anger it was as if a heavy weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. For the first time I could stand to look at myself in the mirror at 23 and be happy with the person who was staring back at me. It wasn't easy but it was worth it.
If I hadn't been asked that question that night I don't think I would have ever been able to speak about it. But I have heard so many times before that there is power in the telling. Telling a testimony isn't just for our personal freedom, but it's for someone else. Who knows if the person who asked that question opened up and finally told someone and that led to someone else coming forward. I mean, I have no idea what happened, but I'd like to think that there are more people out there opening up and setting themselves free from the shame that they may feel, and that makes feeling vulnerable so very worth it.
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Shay grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. She studied exercise science at Youngstown State University where she obtained her bachelor's degree. She is also an aspiring poet/writer.