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Healing from Childhood Abuse: Get Help and Take Your Life Back

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an account of sexual abuse and may be triggering to some people.

“No one loses their innocence. It is either taken or given away willingly.” ~Tiffany Madison

Childhood innocence. When I think of it I always picture a baby lying on their back, playing with their feet. They are laughing, cooing, smiling, and lost in a sense of wonder. Full of joy, love, curiosity, and awe. When you look at them you can’t help but smile, and their joy and laughter are infectious. At this moment, they are perfect.

Now have all that taken away from them through abuse, abandonment, or neglect, removing their ability to feel safe, joyful, loved, and whole. You have taken their soul and spirit from them. Imagine the handicap that this child has to live with. I’m sure for most it’s hard to wrap your head around it.

Well, let me tell you what I have learned through my experience of being sexually abused, neglected, and abandoned in my childhood. I grew up lost, scared, on guard, and alone. I found it hard to fit in or connect with people. I was unsure of everything, especially myself. I did not know who I was, what I wanted, or which direction to go in.

I bought in to my father’s harsh criticism of most things I did. I never felt like I could please him or live up to his expectations, so I just stopped trying. I didn’t just stop trying to please him; I stopped trying anything. However you want to frame it, I gave up or gave in.

Childhood abuse makes it impossible to sustain all those things that make life worth living. I feel that it was only through the grace of god that I didn’t take my life. Just existing is no way to live. Dragging yourself through your life can be exhausting, tedious, and unfulfilling.

I became a casualty of the abuse I endured. Today I know that without the help that I needed my downfall was inevitable. It was the natural conclusion of the path set forth for me in my childhood.

I hear the redirect all the time—stop being a victim, just get over it, and your parents did the best they could. Do we tell rape victims to stop being a victim and just get over it?

Some might be appalled by this comparison. It’s easy to do when you, yourself, have never suffered abuse or neglect.

When I was sexually abused at age five, I was as powerless as any rape victim. I didn’t have the physical ability to protect myself, or the cognitive ability to understand what was happening to me or put it into words to tell someone.

The same can be said for any child that has suffered neglect. If they have been neglected all their life, it becomes the norm for them. They don’t even realize that it should or could be any different for them. And if they do, there is almost nothing a child can do to change it.

I understand it is hard for those who have never experienced abuse or neglect to wrap their heads around it. What they need to know is that it happens all the time and is more prevalent than anyone wants to admit.

What amazes me about child abuse is how it seems we have ducked our head in the sand about it. Studies show that one in four women have been abused and one in six men. If you average that to be one in five, considering the US population is almost 323 million, that means that there are about 64.5 million child abuse survivors in the US alone.

In the US today there are approximately 22.5 million dealing with cancer at any time. Please understand, I am not comparing the two at all; just using the numbers to make a statement.

More than 65 million people in the US today are suffering the effects of child abuse, and yet it is not really on our radar. Like any horrible disease, child abuse is crippling and debilitating. It affects us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, making the problem hard to detect and harder to treat.

It didn’t surface for me until I got clean and stopped managing my feeling with drugs. By managing them, I mean numbing myself.

At eighteen months clean I found myself curled up in the fetal position on my couch in a tidal wave of emotional pain. I felt I only had three options, which I considered in this order: kill myself, get high, or reach out for help. Through grace I was able to call out for help and get myself in to an ACOA (adult children of alcoholics) therapy group and one-on-one sessions with a therapist.

Children who have been abused or neglected were victims. What keeps them in that mode is that they blame themselves for what happened to them, as if they somehow deserved it. No one does.

If your parents or caregivers physically hurt you, sexually violated you, neglected you, or emotionally scarred you through shaming, belittling, or humiliation, you were a victim. And no matter what they told you—no matter what you were like as a child—it was not your fault.

The process of healing and recovering from what has happened to you starts with accepting that you were a victim.

This will allow you to begin releasing your shame and recognize that those who abused or neglected you were responsible for what happened, not you. And that will enable you to work through the negative emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual effects of your abuse.

I used drugs and alcohol to “get over” what happened to me in my childhood. I used the love, compassion, understanding, and support of the people I entrusted to get through what happened to me and reach the other side.

Finding recovery brought me to people that would care about me and love me as I was. These people brought me to the professional help that I needed. That help brought me to people who understood me and have lived in my shoes. Those people brought me back to who I was and wanted to be as a child before my innocence was taken.

If you are dealing with the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family please, find a support group to attend in your area. If you need more extensive help, the people in those support groups will help you find professionals in the area that can treat your issues.

Help is available to everyone, but you need to reach out and ask for it. I know because I have done it, and I am just like you.

You don’t have to live your life feeling depressed, unworthy, or dependent on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drugs, alcohol, or food, which will only temporarily numb your pain. You don’t need to spend the rest of your days following the trajectory chosen for you when someone else took away your innocence.

It is possible to reclaim who you could have been, but you have to first acknowledge that you were a victim, confront the pain and the shame, and let other people in so they can help.

Are you willing to reach out for help so you can take your life back?

About Paul Hellwig

Paul Hellwig is a Certified Spiritual Life Coach who empowers adult children of alcoholic and addicted families to live the life they have always dreamed of. He is an adult child of an alcoholic and a recovering addict with over twenty-seven years clean. He’s dedicated his life to helping others on their spiritual and healing journey. Visit him at  thejourneytohealing.org.

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  • lv2terp

    Thank you for sharing your story, being vulnerable and spreading a much needed attention on such a severe and sad issue! HUGS and cheers to your recovery, and strength to help others! 🙂

  • David Edwards

    I was sexually abused when I was around 6. A 16 year old neighborhood boy sodomized me. Worse I was forced to watch a female friend raped also. I do not know just what was done. I knew boys and girls were different down there but nothing more. I just knew she was in pain. I really don’t know how I managed to cope with it. I never told a parent or anyone else. I was too scared to. I know now I lived though at least a week afterwards because I remember talking with the girl afterwards before she had a total shut down and I never saw her again though they did not move. The parents had to have known what happened but did nothing about it. Perhaps they were scared too. She just stopped going to school. I said I was too scared to say something, his mother came home while he still had me in the garage. She lectured and threatened me to the point I though she might kill me. The boy was only grounded for a month. My way to cope was to create a mind block of it all. I forgot everything though I was damaged and that continued despite my knowing why.

    I say I forgot it. but sometimes small things did trigger a slight memory that would be reflected in a dream at night. I did not understand them and chose to ignore them as just bad dreams.

    I was around 23 when the personal memory returned. I don’t remember the trigger but what happened to me came back. I went for a week living in Hell as the memories revisited me over and over. The fear, the pain, the lost feeling of not knowing what to do. Finally I reached out to a pastor of a church I sometimes attended. (This still hurts to remember.) Suicide was tops in my mind. He managed to calm me down and helped me get through the next few days. He found a support group for me that helped. I was in the Navy at the time so I was not able to use them for very long but I got enough out of it to go on coping with the memories. I did not want to get help from the Navy. I was too embarrassed by the thought of this going into my medical record. Over time I did adjust and put it largely behind me. I even got to a point where I forgave the boy in my mind. At least I convinced myself that I did.

    However, something lingered that never seemed resolved. It turns out I still had a mind block of the incident. About nine months ago I went through a very emotional and mentally challenging period of depression. Something that happened one day unsettled me so much it acted as a trigger. I finally remembered, the rest of the story. Almost as if I was viewing it through a camera I remembered. I had not remember what had happened to the girl very much before. She was there but just a peripheral thing. Now I remembered many detail. Thankfully, I had been working on depression and had learned many coping skill so I was not quite as effected by it but I still made appointments right away for help. I learned a lot of why I was the way I was from this. Being tied-up and being helpless lead to one of my greatest fear though out my life, Claustrophobia.

    I share this as a healing tool. It hurts but talking about a problem like this is good therapy. Never be afraid to get help. You do not need to suffer. As the article says it is a very common problem, you are not alone.

  • Cynthia_M_V

    The statistics in this article should speak for themselves and everyone should know about epidemic of child abuse in this country. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to it prevents many victims from sharing their experiences- in no large part because the uninformed public has no clue what it’s like to go through this abuse. As one who has, I applaud the author and the commenters who have have shared their stories here. I have been helped tremendously (as have many others) by the support group I belong to – ASCA (Adult Survivors of Child Abuse). It is the only group I know of for survivors of all forms of abuse; sexual, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. There are meetings across the U.S. (and around the world) and there are virtual meetings for those who don’t leave near a meeting site. They also make it very easy to start an in-person or virtual meeting for those who are interested. You can get more info at ascasupport.org Wishing peace and healing to all.

  • Bullyinglte

    So brave of you to share your story. As goes the saying, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. I have lost many friends, due to the abuse they suffered from their family while hiding it all with their masks at school in front of us. My friend, Chris McCandless (yes of the “Into The Wild” book and movie), was one such person. When I learned of his suffering at home, while I hung out with him having no idea, it broke my heart a little. We need to bring it to the open and have no shame. Thank you for starting that conversation.

  • Thank you so much for sharing a part of your life with us. I find that it is really brave. Sometimes, all it takes is to let it out and share your experience so that someone out there who also had that experience can connect with you and you can heal together.

  • Paul,

    I had no idea this was a prevalent as it is. I don’t imagine that this story was easy for you to tell but thank you for sharing it. Abuse, no matter the form, is one of the most despicable things that a human can do to another human. I don’t know if they understand the repercussions of their actions.

    Perhaps you can clarify something for me. Having recently heard of a similar story about someone a friend knows, I was told that Child Sexual Abuse is actually a disease and those that perform the act are doing it because they cannot control their urges. I am curious to know if you have any knowledge about this?

    I hope that you continue to share your story on other platforms. I believe if more knew the statistics, then more might reach out. I imagine the worst feeling is the feeling of being alone.

    Once again, thank you Paul.

  • W.T.

    Thought this was a well written, insightful and sensitive post, however, I was honestly turned off by the very end, because it sounds like an ad. It also felt to me like a challenge instead of an invitation to seek help. Many abuse survivors have trouble reaching out for help, because as this post states, not everyone is receptive to the severity of childhood abuse. And some just don’t know how to move foward, and a statement like are you willing to seek help, feels a little blaming to me, as if victims want to remain feeling hurt. It’s not about willingness always, it can be about a sense of just not knowing how to find effective help. Navigating the system to find support can be extremely difficult/exhausting. And the whole process of discovering that you need help can be completely disorienting. I hope I don’t appear to be hyper critical, I’m just very vigilant about anything that can come across as blaming the victim, which I absolutely believe was not the intent here.

  • Danke Duderoff

    Victims need to take control of themselves. This don’t blame the victim narrative is often used as a shield to mask someone from any criticism helpful or otherwise. You can only help yourself after you stop making excuses for why you cannot change.

  • W.T.

    I didn’t say victims shouldn’t take control of themselves. I commented that essentially the language in this post at the end could be different, more sensitive. Your interpretation of my statement is just that.

  • Shreys

    I’m still working on completely forgiveness. I often have bouts of anger. I Wish I’m done with the screaming because sometimes I’m so upset with My kids.