It’s April and spring arrives in earnest. Rain showers and warm breezes resurrect the daffodils. Lambs frolic like innocent children. Idyllic April when hope is reborn. An ideal month for Child Abuse Prevention.
It may have been later than April, but if my heart had given me permission, I would have remembered the day my innocence was snatched. My older sister and I giggled happily under flowering bushes near our farmhouse. I was five. She was eight.
Young cousins, having walked the dusty lane through orchards, ran up and urged, “Let’s play.” The four of us skipped together toward the barn. If my heart had given me permission, I would have remembered my uncle’s deep voice adding to my excitement, “Come, let’s play in the barn.”
I would have remembered my sister’s wrist gripped by fingers, giant and grungy, and her feet tripping to keep up with long legs that strode to the back of the barn. Meanwhile, I hopped about pleading, “Me too! Me too! I want to play too.”
“No, you wait. Stay here outside the barn, and don’t go back to the house,” my uncle, elder in our church, spoke with calm authority.
If my heart had not told my mind to forget, I would have remembered waiting in expectant, obedient trust, hot and wondering that there was not a sound from within. But it was years before my heart gave my mind permission to remember. Right then, I waited outside that barn with my chin resting on my knees and my eyes on the house. Inside, my mother tended my baby brother. Afternoon shadows lengthened. Soft footsteps came through silken grass. At last!
My sister’s eyes were wet. Her play was over. In an instant, I knew it had not been play.
In fact, I knew it wasn’t the first time. I had had my own experiences that my heart didn’t let me remember. Our silent walk from the barn enforced what had just happened must be ignored. It must never to be mentioned.
A decade plus later, I was a confused young woman who needed a clear mind to make decisions about true love. My heart did not know how. Childhood abuse had repressed its ability to own its truth. Denial was the safest place to stay. It lived there for years aided by a culture where no one spoke the word abuse.
There came a day, in my fifties, when spring arrived and gave my heart permission to remember. April came with healing and rebirth. If only it had come sooner.
Today, we adults have the capacity to make sure spring comes early to an abused child’s life. It takes awareness, courage, and knowledge. It takes following our gut. The abuse may be sexual, physical, or emotional, but, unless you or I intervene, abuse is most often a secret held deep in a little one’s heart.
Repression and suppression may seem like lesser consequences of child abuse, and indeed, they are survival tools, but there is a significant toll to pay for living a life of denial. Wounds untended and pain unrecognized cannot be healed.
“Children are resilient,” writes the Joyful Heart Foundation, “and being able to discuss and guide our children through a recovery process is crucial to their success. It is often the first step towards healing. In most cases, once their safety is assured, children can overcome the effects of trauma through professional counseling or other supportive interventions.”
What does it take for an abused child or an adult survivor of childhood abuse to grow like the daffodils and push towards the light? Sometimes it’s an event. With my sister, it was our mother’s death. With me, it was the experience of God’s unconditional love and my sister’s courage to face her pain and get help.
Sometimes a word of understanding will unlock the pain. Sometimes an act of kindness will open a heart. Most times, especially with the young, it is direct, specific, non-shaming questions.
It is always intervention.
It is April’s sun and showers.
Here are resources to help you talk to children, recognize warning signs, and educate yourself: