Speaking and Healing
This is the speech that I’ve given to countless clubs, service organizations, church groups and whoever else Tamara’s House or their volunteers organized. It’s a funny thing about sexual abuse and speaking about it – the more I spoke about it, the less dirty, guilty and aberrant I felt. Sometimes when I get to feeling down, I read this again. It helps.
Hello. My name is Naomi. According to Toastmaster’s Club this is a poor beginning, but for me it’s vital. I leave behind the cocoon of anonymity and put myself out front, public, finally speaking my truths as I know them. I want you to look at me as if I were anyone you care about in your life. The sad reality is that I could be. It’s just as possible that I could be your daughter, son, mother, father, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, coworker, boss or close friend.
When I was a child I was sexually abused. I was 34 years old when I finally realized the abuse affected my life. I’m still assessing the damage that was done so many years ago. The harm is very real. There isn’t a single part of me that hasn’t been touched.
It took me over a year and a half of very intense work to be able to say, “I was sexually abused.” To say those four words out loud meant I acknowledged what I lived through and gave up the fantasy of the perfect childhood I created in my head. Saying it tore down the very foundations I based my life on.
For years I functioned on a level that didn’t allow for feelings to enter into my life. I worked, got married, had a child, and had friends and acquaintances. I lived what was to outside observers, a normal, happy life. But I was flat, a reasonable facsimile of a human being. I smiled when it was appropriate, I squeezed out a few tears when needed. I worked at dead end, low paying jobs because I didn’t believe that I was capable of anything else. I failed at school because I knew I was too stupid to succeed. That was what I was taught.
It took me over a year after I found out about Tamara’s to finally darken the doorway and actually knock. In March, 1998, I walked up the stairs and down the long hallway to the doorway of Tamara’s House for the first time. It was across town, a daunting distance for a person who dreads riding buses. I was frightened that somehow my family would find out what I was doing and retaliate somehow. I was frightened of the people at Tamara’s. I was frightened of what they did there. I was plain old frightened. Going to Tamara’s meant that I risked leaving the comfort and security of my spot on the couch at home. I risked meeting people. I risked people not liking or not believing me. I risked a lot of things. All those fears were very real and debilitating.
I sat alone in the reading area and looked around, literally shaking in my socks. It took me nearly two hours to be able to get out of the chair and go into the main area and see the people whose voices I’d been hearing for a while. I plunked myself on the couch, curled up into a ball and carefully watched the women around me. I don’t remember what was talked about, in fact I didn’t remember when I left that day. But one thing I do remember very clearly; I remember telling my husband, “I need to go back tomorrow.” And I did.
At Tamara’s House I began to get my first inkling that I wasn’t an aberration. I’m a normal woman who lived through extraordinary stresses. For most of my life I felt different, like there was something intrinsically wrong with me. The women at Tamara’s House helped me begin to turn that thinking around.
At Tamara’s House I met strong, caring women, who like me had been sexually abused as children. Prior to that, even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t the only one in the world, emotionally I felt entirely isolated. I talked to women who felt dirty, stupid, undeserving, fearful, untrusting, pained and a myriad of other things, just like me. Finally!! I found a place where I fit in.
When I first went to Tamara’s House I was just beginning the work I needed to do before telling my family. I needed to work through every possible reaction they might have so I could be emotionally prepared. Without Tamara’s House, the women, the staff, and Ellen Sagh and her book, I doubt that I would have been able to do that as quickly as I did. I’m not minimizing the importance of my therapist and the work we did together, but it was the women at Tamara’s in whom I found my greatest support and inspiration. So many had done what I was preparing for.
I say I’m fortunate because my family did the exceptional. In so many cases the family reviles and rejects the survivor rather than the molester. The survivor becomes the pariah. That is the double tragedy of sexual abuse in so many people’s lives. The women at Tamara’s House give that acceptance. They give that caring. They give that belief. It’s a very lonely world if there’s no one to care.
Being safe all the time, though comforting, costs a lot. But the women at Tamara’s showed me that taking risks can be a good thing. There, I hear people tell me how smart, nice, trustworthy and courageous I am. I’ve even been told that I’m opinionated. Not too bad for someone who only three short years ago never took sides in any debate. Because of their caring words I’m beginning to come out of an over three decade long shell. I’m finally able to not just hear, but start to believe that maybe, just maybe, they might be right.
And so here I am telling you that I was sexually abused. I’m telling you the damage the abuse did reached deep into my very being. With therapy, support from my family and from other survivors, I’m the blacksmith of my life. I’m making a new me in the image I want.
Tamara’s House is a place of acceptance, healing and resources. It’s a place where I can talk about anything and everything that I need to progress on my healing path. It’s a place to get wonderful new ideas that never occurred to me. It’s a place where I can explore new things I want to learn. The women at Tamara’s House give me strength and inspiration to move on and try to be the best me I can.
Survivors can and do get past the devastation the abuse wreaked on their lives. I can’t say that I’ll be totally healed, no one can. But I have every right to expect that will put the past where it belongs, live in the present and look to my future with hope.
Tamara’s House is a place where survivors can find that hope. It is a place of quiet triumph (and sometimes not so quiet) because in the midst of crisis and pain, just having a place to go, is a triumph.