I am stronger than I have ever been, but I still deal with haunting memories of yesterday. Things I want to forget. They barge into my mind like an unwanted guest. I take a deep breath. It’s only a trigger I remind myself. You don’t have to go back. You are safe. My body tenses. I begin to feel the dark creep into my pores. GO AWAY! I scream. I sing songs. How much he loves me. How my chains have been removed. How I no longer need to be afraid. I manage to calm myself down. These moments are getting easier to overcome.
I cannot keep the words silent. They must speak. Despite my shaking hands I sit at the table. I am safe. I can speak these words. Others cannot. I will write the things that must be said.
I spoke about my experience with modesty teaching as a teenage girl. The words just came flowing out on paper, like they usually do. I shared what would make others comfortable, keeping the deeper stuff inside. I felt it was enough. In three days I received more comments than I ever have. Perhaps it is time to speak what I must say.
Like a familiar friend fear tells me to keep those words locked. Don’t share. People don’t want to read those things.
Abba asked me to share. To share the realities. The insight of a teenage girl, sexually abused, raised in a church that idolized holiness. “You’re not alone.” he tells me. “Some girls will never feel safe enough to speak about their experience. You need to speak for them.”
So I speak. Even if it makes you … me … uncomfortable. I speak because somewhere a teenage girl sits alone in her room crying. She thinks she is damaged and no one will ever love her. She contemplates ending her life because she feels she’ll never be enough. She is invisible and voiceless. But her Abba sees her and he is giving her a voice. For now, I will be her voice.
The premise behind modesty teaching is to love your brother. As a principle, I embrace the idea of modesty. I have no desire to dress in a manner that suggests I’m available. However, I’m a 40-year-old women in a safe relationship and have 12 years of counseling and therapy under my belt.
The 13-year-old me was reeling from 6 years of violation and abuse. My ability to trust, love or feel security was non-existent. Essential critical thinking skills were undeveloped. I took everything as a personal condemnation of who I was. The modesty teachings, designed to keep me ‘pure’ only confirmed I was anything but.
Things said to me:
- You cannot wear that. The boys will see your curves. They will fondle you.
- Your body can make a man lose his spiritual walk. You are responsible to make sure that doesn’t happen.
- You want to be careful what you do, because if you find yourself alone with a boy and bad things happen, it will be your fault.
- Girls who wear short skirts deserve what they get.
- You can’t play with boys. Your body looks too good. (said by a man)
Truly I understood what they said was what they meant … right? Here’s what I heard…
The boy. The one who asked if you could come over and play. It’s your fault he made you do the things he made you do. You know it’s true. Your body responded. You liked it. Bad girls do bad things. You are a bad girl.
The dress you wore. The one that was 1 inch shorter than it should be? You shouldn’t have worn it. Then that boy wouldn’t have grabbed your crotch as you walked by. Or your breasts. Or told his friend that you’d be an easy … I can’t even write the word he said.
When they told me that what I wore on my body, what I did with my body, how I moved my body would make a boy react sexually … they shattered me.
I had been abused and abuse causes some less-than-holy side effects. I had turned to masturbation (I can’t even type or say this word without feeling horrible) and mental splitting (*See note) to deal with the overwhelming distress I felt every day. Every bit of me felt dirty and I couldn’t escape. Because we valued holiness more than anything, I was certain that I would never ‘make the bride’ or ‘perfection’. My life was a big nightmare I couldn’t wake up from.
*Note: When things happen to me physically, I am able to block out what is happening. I found a way to separate my body from my mind. I developed a fantasy world and I usually live in that world. My psychiatrist explained to me that it’s a coping mechanism the brain develops and it’s common in sexual abuse victims. It keeps them safe. However it just doesn’t go away the minute you become an adult.
But it was the secret they didn’t know. The one that sent me spiraling into suicide. The one that has taken me ALL these years to overcome. The one that has robbed me of intimacy in my marriage and a deep abiding relationship with my Abba. The secret about my father. About the time he caught me and I was embarrassed and he spanked me for it. And how he held me and wouldn’t let me go … and I knew … I had turned on my father. I was pure sin.
That thought has tormented me most of my life. Even with all the years of therapy, the hours blogging and the amazing support of my husband, I still feel the emotions of the teenage girl.
The way I hate the way my body looks. The hips. The ample breasts. The way my face lights up when I smile. My long hair. I hate it all. I hate that boys look at me. I hate God for making me a female. I hate myself.
I am terrified of boys … men. My father. My grandfather. My brothers. My uncles. My cousin. My neighbor. My pastor. I am terrified. Terrified that I’ll cause them to look at my body and it cause them to think bad thoughts. I’m irrationally afraid of being raped so I refuse to go anywhere by myself or sleep in the dark.
I struggle because my dreams and thoughts are not pure. This I know. I don’t understand why my body has to even react to things. Why couldn’t I just be born a boy? If I was a boy, then this would have never happened.
But it’s the way I feel that torments me the most. How I feel like I’ll never be clean enough. There’s no way to wash away the way he made me feel. There’s no way to remove the memory from my brain. There’s no way to make that moment disappear. I am forever tainted by one moment. And it’s ALL MY FAULT. I caused him to do this.
The saddest part is there was no adult I trusted. I was scared to hurt my momma. I was asked by my mentor if I had been abused by an uncle or cousin. When I told her no, I guess she believed me. I couldn’t have said yes. In my mind, I wasn’t abused … I had made the boy and my father sin. There’s no way I could admit I had done the very thing she was telling me to not do every single meeting!
There’s nothing wrong with teaching a girl to be aware of how she affects others. There’s nothing wrong with promoting modesty and dressing to be beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with trying to raise girls to honor themselves and their creator. I believe those things are good.
But you cannot continue being ignorant of what your words do. What they do to a girl who has been violated in such a devastating manner as sexual abuse. Because what I think, yes even at 40, is that if what I wear is responsible for a man wanting me sexually, then I think that at as a girl I was responsible for what my father did. That thought … is going to send me into a mental hospital.
So when you speak, speak lightly. Use your words carefully. Understand that for these girls, your words can shatter them and they may never recover.