|| Where It Burns
by Teresa Joyce, NAASCA representative in the United Kingdom
Growing up with the horrific memories of child abuse is unimaginably difficult to comprehend for those who have never experienced its devastation. A child abuse survivor has, for so many years been within the dark side of life. Finding any light within their abuse was never possible, and oppression was the order of that life. For many, even today, feel that it is just not possible for them to find that light.
We think about the light and the dark in many ways: e.g., the daylight hours in which to occupy our minds before the arrival of the night. There is the light that just appears, simply by the flicking of a switch. Spiritually, we talk about the light in which we see others differently, as denoted by their actions. If we look upon it from the other side of that spectrum, whilst within the darkness of the night, we see it as a time in which to relax the day away, to sleep, and to recharge. It is regarded as a quiet time, within that peacefulness, and then we awaken refreshed and ready to start another day. Both bring with them those experiences in which we encounter a difference, simply known as day and night.
What I'm talking about above is the cycle of the 24-hour clock and our planetary position in relation to the sun, spiritualists finding peace within their belief, and the invention of electricity. We can use these examples and so many others to compare and explore the difference between the light and the dark. But there is a completely different kind of darkness that cannot be so easily explained, although I will try my best to do so here, within my own experience.
What if that has never been your understanding or consciousness with regards to the light and the dark? What if those differences were never experienced? What if the clock never altered ever? What if peace could never be found or love was never felt? What if Spiritualism was unknown, without the experience of life? What if prayers were never answered, no matter how practised? Well, we have now moved so far away from the example of the sun's presence and the arrival of the moon or any other noted veritably.
What if we are to think about those what if questions above as being someone's reality? Well, we are about to enter into the mind of a child abuse survivor. A dark place in which they were forced to remain where the sun never shone, night or day. Within that place, there was no differentiation between the two; they were always experienced as one. How do you explain remaining within the darkness when there is no escaping it and the light is never present? No matter how many years continually pass you by, just how can that darkness be escaped or any perception of the difference be altered?
For a child abuse survivor striving to find any differential between the two, where can that differential be found? Quite simply, wherever the sun chose to be, they were locked within the darkness that goes far beyond my explanation above. They have always been within the darkness because they were placed there by their abuser, and that darkness followed them into adulthood. Peace was something that was never felt, and any belief that it could be found amounted to nothing, only an unanswered recurring dream. Every day, they live within such a dark place of complete terror that, at times, even the dark was not enough in which to hide. The only hope would have been to search for the shadows surrounding that darkness a short revival, if found, but only ever experiencing a glimpse before the darkness returned.
I'm going to use an analogy here that may aid my writing and its purpose. Hopefully, I will create a deeper understanding of child abuse and the damage it creates for a lifetime. That pain is forever felt continually burning within, creating so such devastation one in which a forest fire would look upon with envy.
So, let's stay within that theme.
Before firefighters enter a burning building, they can only see the flames and the smoke from their outside view. It is not until they enter that building that the true extent of the destruction is seen. Their mission is to gain control of those flames, but just how do they gain that upper hand? There are so many variables to be taken into consideration with an inferno which could, at any time, switch direction. The smoke surrounds them and the heat is felt throughout even with their protective clothing. But the fire is dealt with in unison through acquired knowledge, their training, and their colleagues. They are prepared for all that may be in front of them, but still, there are times where they have to withdraw, regroup, and reassess the situation. Many heads are better than one and they look to the chain of command and those with greater experience.
At any time, that building may collapse and the way they went in may now be closed to them and is no longer a safe exit. There they stand locked within the heated smoke and imminent peril, because the situation they had been facing has altered. But they were never alone in this situation and their safety is always paramount. Firefighting was always a professional career choice and they understand its perils, but there are many safe hands in which to rely. They are all working towards the same agenda: to take control of the situation and put out the flames.
Moving away from the real-life today situation of the above, I will now, hopefully, arrive at the point I'm trying to make within this analogy.
Children suffering within the heat of sexual abuse will, of course, never have had the experience of a firefighter. But they had never needed to stand within the flame to feel it burn. The protection and aids in which to keep them safe were just not there: within that place, there is no one upon whom they could rely, to guide them out of the impending devastation and formidable danger. The smoke stings their eyes and, no matter which exit they choose, they cannot escape the flames. There is no access to any breathing aid as they continuously choke upon the smoke. There is no clear way forward because their vision is always obscured. They walk alone in the ever-expanding ashes as their world continues to burn and they are always unaided. Whilst always aware that no one is coming to help, nobody ever did.
They are trapped within the solitude and gagging for breath just as if it will be their very last which it may be, within the haze of that swirling smoke hanging above them. They crawl around on the floor where any available air may still be trapped below that ever-increasing toxic cloud. But, even if they were able to find it, they know that it is just a temporary reprieve. It will only be a matter of time before another fire ignites and the process of their survival will once again need to be repeated.
At times, we can be forgiven for asking if escape from the dark is ever actually a reality for any child abuse survivor? How can that be the case if another fire will ultimately implode? So, will there ever be a complete retrieval and recovery for them? The answer to that question, without hesitation, is a firm yes. I have been humbled to witness many journeys were child abuse survivors have done just that and continue to do so. In truth, the continued succession of this repetitive painful scenario can be halted, by simply taking back control of the matches. I'm sure that you are fully aware that I am not talking here about being handed the box. In truth, all child abuse survivors, when ready, have the ability within in which to do so, simply by taking back the control of the life in which they still have to live. But it will never be done as so easily said until a point is reached where it is felt. With the passage of time, that fire dominating their mind will become nothing but a cinder. We are also no longer talking here about bricks and mortar in which to rebuild a structure, but the inherent strength which exists within every one of those child abuse survivors. No matter the pace or passage of time in which they have travelled,-extinguishing that fire is possible for all.
Child abuse is not so very different from my choice of analogy above because every child abuse survivor has been deeply seared within, and they carry within them the scars of that entrapment within the fire creating the effects that any fire would leave in its wake when there was no clue as to how to put it out. For the child abuse surviving adult, it was never a job choice to be within all of the variables given above. But just like those firefighters within this comparison, they continually transverse within the heat and unclear vision that their child abuse has created. They were never able to touch anything tangible or real without being scalded, or expect help from the outside, as they transverse from one place to another trying to outrun the flames. Gingerly at times, placing their hands blindly towards the darkness to find something, anything, with the bellowing sound of the fire which surrounds them and its ever-changing direction.
So much time is spent trying to address the atrocities that child abuse has created, but what is surely needed is to find a way to put out the fire.