I dragged them into marriage and motherhood unwillingly: the memories of my childhood. They tracked my steps and lurked in the shadows until it was safe for them to emerge; when my life had settled into the predictable patterns of children’s soccer games, playdates and family dinners.
I remembered bits and parts, but the shadows refused to remain tucked away. They invaded my sleep with images of my stepfather. He was as real in my nightmares as he had been in the dark of my room when I was a little girl. The way he looked at me as he approached my bed. His smile false and threatening; words of twisted love watering the hate I harbored in the unseen corners of my heart.
Within those black dreams, I could sense his anger rising; smell the whiskey mixing with his cologne and the stale scent of Marlboros. Curse words erupted from a reddened face, his fist splitting the tender flesh just above my mother’s left eye; her chin jerking toward the ceiling as if someone yanked hard on an invisible rope attached to the back of her head.
Night after night, my husband awakened to the choked sounds of fear gathered in the back of my throat. Pulling me close, he’d stroke my hair and wipe my tears until the thrumming of my heart settled.
“You’re safe,” he’d say. “I’ve got you.”
But my memory paid visits during the day, too, and I began to think I was losing my mind. The triggers of the smell of Old Spice in the grocery store or the slamming of a door sent me reeling; transporting me to a time and place I wanted desperately to forget.
Anxiety, depression and fear became my constant companions as I crowded my journal with pleas begging God for peace. Deliverance. Freedom.
Before long, thoughts of dying became as much a part of my day as living and I wondered how I could entertain such horrible ideas when I finally had the family I’d always hoped for – a loving, devoted husband and precious, beautiful children.
One bleak, chilly day I wandered into the family room. Without emotion, I planted myself in front of my husband. “I feel like something is dying inside,” I said. I felt as brittle as the brown leaves on the tree outside our front door and doubted I’d ever feel joy again.
Not long afterward, with the help of a counselor, I began the slow path to healing. And, link by link, the chains of my past were loosened. Some required more prying and harder work than others. A few only gave way to counseling or prayer. A remnant held on stubbornly for years and required multiple types of therapy. Many times, the temptation to give up loomed almost as large as my desire to take back fully living. Finally, one beautiful day, the chains lay broken at my feet and I stretched out my arms – embracing freedom – as joy left its trail on my cheeks.
Now, with a microphone poised in my hands, I stand before a room full of young mothers. They need to know. There is hope for freedom. Surprised to discover that my knees aren’t quaking and my voice is steady, I tell them important truths.
“One in four girls,” I say. “One in 15 children.”
I glance around the room and notice women shifting in their chairs, discomfort etched on their faces. I wonder if they’ll rise in unison and leave the room. People don’t discuss child sexual abuse or domestic violence in polite company, yet I’m announcing to a roomful of strangers that I wear a large letter S – Survivor.
I know the ugly side of evil. I’ve been its recipient. Lust. Hatred. Unforgiveness. I understand how it feels to be trapped in a maze of memories. I was the child who believed she had been abandoned. The little girl who doubted her worth. The woman who yearned to escape to a place of promise and freedom from the past.
I tell them what I needed to hear when brokeneness held me in its grasp. When I could barely breathe because the pain of my past continued to twist its hard edges around my life, disrupting marriage, motherhood and mental health.
The words come tripping off my tongue and I long for them to experience the loosing of chains, the breaking of bonds, the freedom of wholeness.
“God sees you,” I say. “Whether you bear the wounds of abuse, divorce or a broken relationship, he sees you. The tears you’ve cried? The silent weeping of your wounded soul? He hears you. God wants to set you free. He can break the chains of the past. Do you believe it? Will you begin to trust him today as he leads you into freedom?”
Perhaps your story runs as deep as mine, Friend. Maybe you’ve tucked the secret of your hurt and shame away, never having shared it with anyone. It could be that only one or two people know about the hard of your story.
Can I encourage you? Tell someone. Invite people you trust to be part of your journey. When you do, you’ll begin to chip away at those chains and you’ll be one step closer to freedom – with God at your side.
Tammy Kennington is a writer and speaker who lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and their children. Tammy blogs at tammykennington.com and has had her work featured in such publications as Thriving Family and The Upper Room.
This article currently appears in the spring issue of The MOPS Magazine.