This is part one in a two-part series dealing with the theme of abuse and how to heal from it — for both the abused and their loved ones (particularly their parents) who strive to comfort and care for them. The next part will come out next Friday, the 19th.
As I learn more about the skill of making agreements and choosing to make commitments based on those agreements, I marvel at how unaware I was when I chose to participate in behavior that would prematurely move me into motherhood. The details of that choice are perhaps not as important as the learning I received.
I had no idea what being a mother was about. I had some beliefs about the importance of making sure nobody took your kids away and put them in foster homes, but beyond that, it was a mystery. I used to think being a parent just meant you were supposed to teach your children to be good, to contribute to society, and earn a living. I knew love was supposed to fit in there someplace.
I now understand that giving birth to children also means you have created the opportunity to learn, as you attempt to teach your children, all the things you didn’t (or refused to) learn when you were a child, plus a lot more.
I have developed a deep gratitude and respect for the resiliency of children as they survive the maturing process of their parents.
Looking back at my parenting process is embarrassing. And sad. And rewarding. I recognize the pain I created with my lack of skill. In some ways, my sons are still healing. I also recognize I did some really wonderful things.
My sons and I lived through years of uncertainty and loss and change. I was very self-absorbed in my own pain and I rarely noticed theirs.
That self-focus shifted… finally.
Having just gone through several exhaustive months of emotionally supporting one of my brothers who was sent to prison, I had renewed my interest in studying about human development in my attempt to find peace of mind.
As a part of that study, I was involved as a trained volunteer in an incest treatment program for high school girls. As volunteers, we were required to attend numerous training sessions which included working through our own issues. Since we were “survivors” of sexual abuse, we wouldn’t be able to assist the girls past the point where we were willing to deal with our own pain. The idea of using trained volunteers was to allow the girls to see that there is “life after abuse.” Our willingness to prepare ourselves to assist the girls was a wonderful opportunity for our own healing.
As I trained and participated in the group sessions, I became more and more aware of how to recognize the symptoms of sexual abuse. In view of the story that was about to unfold, I will be eternally grateful for this training because it allowed me to understand how to come to the aid of my sons and open a doorway for their healing to begin.
Beginning the Healing Process in My Family
During this time, my oldest son was in his first year of college and my youngest son was just completing his junior year in high school. Since my youngest son was living at home, he became aware of the volunteer work I was doing and the training I was receiving. I remember sharing with him some of the concepts I was learning.
Soon we were visited by an out-of-town friend. My son shared with her that I had been asking him questions and he figured that I was wondering if he and his brother had been sexually abused. Although he was uncomfortable about telling me directly, he did share with her about the abuse they had experienced by a trusted family member over the past several years. She asked him if she could tell me and he said yes.
In the days that followed, I know I was functioning solely through the strength and guidance of unseen angels of mercy. I did not know what to do. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of pain and guilt. I was caught in an emotional rip tide. Somehow, I finally realized my pain was insignificant compared to the needs of my children. I am amazed at the size of the lightning bolt required to shift me from self-pity to compassion for my sons and the great pain they had been carrying for years.
I am grateful for the profound strength my sons possess and for their willingness to bring me the gift of compassion.
I finally began to understand certain things about being a mother. I finally realized that my children had a right to expect me to protect them. If I didn’t have the skill, it was my responsibility to find someone who did have that skill and learn it!
Through the fog of my pain, something inside me said they needed to know the abuse wasn’t their fault. They needed to understand they were victimized by someone who convinced them they couldn’t say no.
I don’t remember much about the details of those first few days. I do remember calling my son at college. I remember telling him I knew about the abuse. As I listened to him crying, I told him it wasn’t his fault. “Thank you,” he replied. I said I would have protected him if I had known. He thanked me again. I said “I love you,” and he said “Thank you” a third time. We were both hardly able to speak through the tears.
He was scheduled to return home for the summer and was planning on sending in his papers to go on a mission. I told him I would have appointments for him and his brother to see a counselor as soon as he got home and we would do whatever it took to begin the healing process.
I remember my youngest son going through a lot of anger and I worried whether he would self-destruct before the healing could begin. As the years have gone by, I have watched each of my sons choose a different path to deal with the effects of the abuse.
We were blessed to receive the help of a wonderful counselor who understood the importance of rebuilding their sense of self-worth. He was kind and gentle and straightforward with them. They allowed me to be in their sessions although, to this day, both have protected me from any details. I believe they feel it would serve no useful purpose for me to know.
Let It Go
“My innocent babies,
Sacrificed on the alter of my ignorance!”
“My precious sons…
I would have protected you
If I had only known.”
Will my guilt and pain ever go away?
He said the pain will go away
As soon as I forgive myself…
How does a mother forgive herself
For not knowing how to
Recognize the signs of abuse?
She dries her tears
She heals and helps them heal
She shows them by example
How to protect their babies.
She teaches them of the importance of forgiving their abuser,
So that he would have no power to do to their souls what he did to their bodies.
Then, knowing she did what she could
To stop the chain of abuse…
She loves, she forgives,
She loves, she lets it go,
Sonja Lorrigan Hopkins
May 20, 1994
Sonja lives with her husband, Dale, on Anderson Island, Washington. She and her husband are Church Service Missionaries serving in the Addiction Recovery Program, focusing on pornography and sex addiction. She is also a certified life coach and teaches "Life Skills for Emotional Self-Mastery" in her stake twice a month. She does not teach you only to process something traumatic done to you in the past; rather, she helps you learn to feel it, heal it, and LET GO of whatever you still do to yourself and to others in order to cope with what was done to you in the past.