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Imagine Hope

Jan 27, 2015

The question is often posed to me: “How can you do the work you do—hearing such painful stories—isn’t it depressing?”

Morgue file dandelion.jpgWith sincerity and truthfulness my answer is always the same: “Actually, I find this to be very hopeful work.”

The possibility of healing, of change, and of growth after decades of holding in the pain and shame of being sexually abused as a child is very hopeful.

That is why Shepherd’s Counseling Services exists—to hold open this space for hope and to move that hope into healing.  We continue to turn the light on this topic as a reminder to the community that there is this deeply uncomfortable reality of sexual abuse and that there is also the bright reality of hope—hope that the belief in oneself and trust in others that was lost through abuse can be restored.

To be certain, it is difficult to hear the stories of adults who have carried the raw hurt of childhood sexual abuse for most of their lives. Sexual abuse in the course of the development of a child leaves a deep and lasting trail of suffering. The violation of ones body and the betrayal of trust that accompany sexual abuse cause a ripple effect of suffering that compounds as the years go by.

In a moment, or worse, in a numbingly repetitive pattern of abuse, a child begins to let go of what they believed they could trust about themselves and about the world. And in this deep and profound way, a child’s life is no longer his or her own—overtaken by what is necessary to keep the pain at bay and somehow manage to get through each day.

Imagine keeping all of this pain a secret, holding the fear that speaking about something that feels so wrong and so bad will bring punishment and more shame. Imagine growing up each year with the alternate hope for help and the greater fear of being found out—guarding the secret and bearing the shame—silently. Desperately wanting to outpace the shame and self-doubt, to just get on with life, hold a relationship together, holding onto a gradually fading hope that somehow the future will be better than the past.

This is a deeply difficult truth to tell and to hear. And yet to acknowledge the possibilities of hope with authenticity, we must first open our hearts and minds to this painful truth. No one finds it easy to stand in the overwhelming and destabilizing reality of the sexual abuse of children. We reflexively turn away from this profoundly disturbing picture of suffering—at great cost to ourselves, our community, and especially to adults who bear the scars of a tragic story that is not their own. We know, however, that as we turn away from suffering—our own or the suffering of our fellow human beings, we pay a terrible price—we become less than who we are—we step away from all that is possible—we turn away from hope.

Yet as we do this difficult and courageous thing of daring to see and acknowledge the suffering of others, we find an opening in our hearts and in our spirits and we, as individuals and as a community, become more than we were before as we hold open a space for healing and for hope.

Acknowledging the hard and painful truth of the effects of childhood sexual abuse marks the beginning of hope. There are the stories of pain, but there is also the journey to healing. The legacy of childhood sexual abuse need not be the ending.

And so it matters a great deal that Shepherd’s Counseling Services exists to bear witness to the reality and the pain of adults who each day carry the heartache of their past and the fragile hope that healing can happen. And it matters a great deal that as a community, we choose to acknowledge the suffering of adult survivors and to honor the possibilities of healing.

We look ahead with anticipation and gratitude as a new year brings new opportunities to bring our imaginings of hope to reality in the lives of those who come to Shepherd’s seeking healing. We are sincerely grateful to be engaged in this amazing healing opportunity with the support of those in our community who also dare to imagine hope.

 

Janice Palm, MA, LMHC

Shepherd's Executive Director



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