News and Tribune

April 16, 2013

BEAM: The bonds that stick

By AMANDA BEAM
Local columnist

Funny things happen when you mix oil and water. Any elementary science fair participant can tell you the results. You can shake and stir the concoction, but without an emulsifier they will never blend. Before long, the irregular blobs of oil join together, attracted to their own likeness. Although sharing the same glass, the slippery drops of lipids bond and form a layer above the rest.

Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is no different. Something indescribable within us invites people of similar backgrounds to enter our worlds. In the darkness, our lights attract one another like fireflies meeting in the moonless night sky. It’s rather odd really. 

At a counseling session once, I asked the therapist about this occurrence. Of all the super powers to attain, having radar for pain isn’t the one I would have chosen. But, according to the doctor, it is common in those who have experienced abuse. Survivors, she believed, can pick out others who have shared a similar past with remarkable accuracy. I have yet to find any concrete scientific data to explain, or even corroborate, this notion. But deep in my gut, I know it’s as real as the abuse itself. 

Take my own relationships. Two of my very best guy friends were sexually molested at a young age, both by family members. The world likes to think that only diabolical strangers hurt children. Not true. Eighty to 90 percent of abuse cases are perpetrated by either a family member or someone else the child knows and trusts. Until we understand that this sickness happens under the supposed safety of our own roofs, we’ll never be able to truly come to terms with its devastating consequences. 

Back to the point at hand — for my friends, the after effects have been profound. Romantic relationships, including marriages, have suffered. That underlying need for an unrelenting love can never be quenched, so they hopped from one girl to the next in hopes of discovering something that only lies within their own mind. The glass can never be filled as long as the bowl of self-acceptance and understanding remains empty. As the saying goes, it takes one to know one. And I know. In my early 20s, I did the same. 

One of my friends doesn’t agree with my theory on survivors finding one another. He says I give the perpetrators and their acts too much power. They didn’t change us on the inside. We’re friends because of our other likenesses, not because of the traumatic experiences we had as children. Then, he argues, there are the statistics. One in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. One in five men will suffer a similar fate. With those high numbers, how can you not be friends with a sexual abuse survivor? 

OK, he has some valid points. But maybe I wanted something good to come out of the abuse. These friendships have helped me cope. I can’t help but to wonder if there’s not something more to it than just blind luck. Everything happens for a reason, right? 

Of course, we are each on our own separate journey. No one knows the pain another is going through. But we can talk about it with people who have experienced similar circumstances. For those survivors who do not have anyone to discuss their feelings with, groups like SOAR ministries here in Southern Indiana (www.soarministry.org) help foster the healing process. 

Likewise, R.I.S.E is another organization that promotes exorcising those hidden demons by letting go of your secrets. Telling your story and opening up to others is one of the first steps. Visit their website riseaboveabuse.org to discover more. 

Most everyone knows what oil does in a glass of H2O. But did you know enough oil slicked over tumultuous waters actually has a calming effect? Only relatively small concentrations of the liquid are needed to spread out over the waves and quiet their crashing roar.

Survivors are the same. We too need to ban together and help each other soothe the anger and hurt of childhood sexual abuse. Like a drop of oil, a little spot of friendship could go a long way.