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Childhood sexual abuse pulls us into a dimension beyond our capacity to comprehend. Though we find our way back to the everyday world and often appear ‘normal’, we are branded by an ominous sensation of being followed by our experience.

Some of us feel a darkness hovering. Many sense a ticking bomb. There are survivors who remain in a constant state of flight and those who are numb. Identifying the over-all feeling we brought out of abusive experiences can empower our healing.

My abuse left me feeling like I was alone in the deepest corner of a dark forest. No sunlight reached the overgrown spot where I lay curled up and lost. There was no path out. When my first memory blew my world apart, that is what I saw. As my healing journey began, I also saw an open, sunny meadow at the edge of my forest; my challenge was to find my way to the light.

This image sustained me. It gave me something solid to focus on during a process that feels so circular, bewildering, and frightening. With this picture in mind, I saw each challenge as tangled vines. Each choice to embrace my truth felt like I was slashing through the under growth of secrets, creating a path. I recognized there was no map, but I imagined my allies carrying torches and walking beside me. Every time I dared to reclaim a memory, I believed I was saving a child I’d left behind, and I would bring her out of the memory to walk beside me. Both of us became stronger as I ‘listened’ her insights and feelings as we continued our journey out of the forest.

I believe in the power of holding an image that represents our healing journey. It might be sailing to an island in an ocean of confusion or sewing a quilt from the patches of painful memories. Any image can be an empowering tool as long as it has deep meaning to the survivor who is finding their way.