Everyone has something that defines them. Whether it is something heroic, or a challenge they’ve overcome, or a spectacular failure they vow never to repeat, we all have something. It’s the yard stick we measure all else against, but sometimes it’s a pain we fiercely hold onto lest we forget its lessons and find ourself knee deep in the very thing we’ve spent our whole lives running from.
I call mine, My Story.
It was a long time ago now, but My Story begins when I was ten years old. I was sexually abused by someone with authority over me. He raped me once, and I remember staring at the corner of the doorframe as the world crushed against my chest and my legs, while I willed my mind to imagine what it would feel like to be a tiny bug crawling up the doorframe. There was no option to scream or cry for I’d been manipulated into making a deal – one that I carried the weight of for years to come – where I would do whatever was asked of me if it meant my siblings would remain unharmed and oblivious. Despite the breaking of my character, and the theft of my innocence, I learned a long time later that he’d actually kept his word.
My parents suspected. The abuse went on for many months until one day I said that I didn’t want this person’s authority over me any more. They respected my wishes, but they never asked for details and, for years after, I never told them. When I finally broke my silence, at an age where I was old enough not to be removed from my home, things in my life began to fall apart.
There was a lot of guilt and shame when people suddenly learned My Story. There was the close friendship of our families to deal with. There was the deafening silence from those who knew the truth but didn’t want to get involved. Then there was the chipping away at my story and my soul with words like “if that’s what really happened”, or being expected to get over it without structure or support. Amidst it all, it was hard to consider myself a victim of his abuse for I’d helped write the rules: trading me for them. Unprotected and alone, I struggled through My Story now loose inside our community, but with my trauma being a private anguish nobody wanted to help me through.
I look back on My Story, and I’m desperately sad for the child-me that went through all of that with nobody there to defend nor protect them. I’m angry at the family who let the perpetrator do these things, and at those who revealed I wasn’t the only person whose childhood was stolen by this terrible person. I’m angry for the friendship between our families that went on through the years until long after I was married and living in America, in spite of My Story. But mostly I grieve for thinking that God, Himself had left me in the midst of it to fend for myself.
Last week was a powerful one for me. I learned that I don’t have to carry the weight of My Story with me everywhere, all the time, by myself. My beloved church family and I were at our regular bible study, and testimony was being shared of how God had brought different people through the horror of Their Story, and transformed them into people of grace and forgiveness, and hope.
It was hard for me to process though, for hearing other people’s pain from being abused hurts those parts of me that want to take their pain away, but knows it isn’t possible while my own is out of control. The tsunami of guilt and grief overwhelmed me and I had to leave the room lest I unravel completely and let the ugly stain that is My Story wash into the room and ruin everything.
Unbeknown to me, my beautiful church family heard a little of My Story, and were – at that moment – praying for me. I found a peace and a courage growing inside me to be able to walk back into the room and sit among them, puffy eyes and all.
God filled me with such warmth and gentleness that I didn’t feel the pain of My Story weighing me down. I even got to share my gratitude for this beautiful family He has given me, and acknowledge that I’m not alone.
I know it’s going to be a long journey before I can unpack it all and leave My Story at the feet of Jesus. But that’s okay. This week I got to take the straps off my shoulder and see that I’m closer than I think. It’s also dawning on me that I’m not alone at all, but the enemy wants me to think I am. An army of God’s warriors surround me, in flesh and in spirit.
Now here is why I’m sharing this with you. I know what it’s like to allow yourself to be defined by your story. My Story is a part of me but it’s not the whole sum of who I am. It’s a small piece of an intricate puzzle that is me, and it’s not the only – or even the first – thing people see when they look at me. When I smother it into silence, it grows in power until the darkness of My Story is like a deafening roar determined to destroy everything it touches. But here’s the funny thing. My Story is a liar. It’s a little part of me that those who love me can already see, yet they love me anyway. The only one who was truly afraid of My Story was me.
But no more.
When I shared this on Facebook, a friend said to me, “Live in the lower case.” What a great motto to adopt, don’t you think?
My name is Annie Bergin, and I survived rape and sexual abuse. It’s my story (lower case), but it’s only a small part of who I am. I’m a fighter. I’m a warrior. And I have an army.