I was sitting at a cafeteria table reading when a female student sat down across from me. “My step-father has molested me for years and I finally told my mother,” she said, bursting into tears. “She won’t leave him. She just said, ‘It’s a good thing you’ve finally moved out.”‘
We had a long talk and I was able to help this young woman get some help of a more professional caliber. As a campus minister, I was hardly qualified to do therapy. I was in a perfect position to help people like this student find what they needed, however. I thought briefly, “Thank God she felt she could tell me.”
It’s more than an open manner on my part, though. People ask me questions and I answer, no secrets. But there’s more to it. It’s something deep inside of me, something I don’t mind talking about but which I don’t trumpet, either: I, too, have lived through hell.
I’ve spent a lot of time being angry about the abuse and neglect I suffered throughout my childhood. I’ve spent more time than a person ought feeling sorry for myself, too. But I believe I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t survived what I have. And, most days, I like who I am.
A bright spot in an abuse history? No way! Who’d believe that? Who wants to give credit to the abusive perople in their pasts? “Thanks, Mom, for hurting me so often. It sucked for me, but, man, it really comes in handy with my students.”
But, in a way I can’t always explain, it’s the absolute truth. I have found in my life that students who know me a month or a week or even a day–if it happens to be the right day–are amazingly, achingly willing to sit down and share their deepest, darkest secrets with me, simply because they know that I, too, have been hurt.. Some just need to say aloud the terrible secrets they have carried alone for so long. Others ask for and get immediate intervention, which I have learned to provide at a moment’s notice. Most are somewhere in between, needing to talk and to be heard and to be led to more help for the long haul.
If I had it to do over would I forego my abusive past? Probably. Who chooses to be beaten or raped or left hungry? Even so, I’m certain that because I lived through my own particular hell I am someone who can make a difference to people in trouble. Maybe they see something in my face, hear something in my voice. Maybe they sense something much deeper than words could ever convey. Whatever it is, it makes a sometimes hard life more worthwhile, both for me and for those students I’m able to help.
Thank God for my abuse history? I don’t know. But maybe.
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