“Thank you for speaking out” she said as she gently took my hand and squeezed it. She was barely able to choke out the words through the flood of tears streaming down her face.
I had just given a speech at the regional competition for Toastmasters International, and I suspected this was the first time in the organization’s 50 year history that anyone had taken the stage unveiling a story of sexual abuse and recovery. I took second place in the competition whereby missing the opportunity to advance to the World Championships – but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was looking into that tear-stained face and knowing I gave a voice to her pain.
I live to speak out.
With the exception of my love for my two beautiful children, there is no greater joy in my life than sharing my story of incest and the hope for recovery. During the years when I was curled into a fetal position sobbing out the pain of abuse, I never imagined I would someday be telling my private story very publicly. It seemed like I was in a dark hole with no light, no end, and no purpose. But when the day finally dawned when I cast aside the shame and gave it back to my offenders, I began to speak – and I discovered that I was very good at it. People listened and they cared. They were able to take pieces of what I said and apply it to their lives and, most importantly, to the lives of the children in their care. I had found a way to take this pain and give it the power to heal others.
I live to speak out.
I have spent fifteen years refining my message and speaking my experience to those who are in a position to dramatically affect the course of a child’s life – teachers, daycare providers, foster parents, social workers, college students… the list goes on. And as I have discovered, those helping professionals are often the children of yesterday who silently hold their own burdens. Each time before I speak, I pray to my Higher Power that I am given the right words for the person(s) in my audience who need to heal. I have the honor of watching miracles unfold through my sharing and union with the Great Force of Good. I hear the silence end as the pain cries for healing…
I hear it when the teacher comes to me after a child abuse recognition workshop and says, “Now I understand why this child in my class room acts this way, and I know I need to do something.”
I hear it when an angel foster parent of 43 long, enduring years gives me a hug and says, “You have inspired me to keep the faith and keep fighting for these kids.”
I hear it when the young daycare provider timidly walks up to me after class, and her trembling lips say, “I have never told anyone about this before…”
And ever so poignantly, I hear it when the agonized woman who just happened to get my business card calls me begging for a good therapist referral. Her sister-in-law is an incest survivor and drug addict who has been hospitalized for her third suicide attempt. This survivor’s perpetrator father conveniently shows up to visit during every psychiatric episode. And worst of all, her life is so out-of-control that she is about to lose custody of her children. The frantic family member says to me, “Bonnie, I am afraid we are going to lose her.” I sat in silence after this call for a very long time, and then found myself inundated by my own tears and dropping to my knees in sobs of gratitude. I knew this could have been my story had I traveled another path.
I live to speak out, because I know not everyone will live. Someone must speak for them.