Widening the Lens
Widening the Lens
By Randy Ellison
We had friends over for dinner last week and they shared a story that made them slightly uncomfortable and sent me into apoplexy. They get together with their neighbors a few times a year for a potluck dinner and visit. At the latest gathering someone asked the group about their first kiss. This seemed to bring up some fond childhood memories for most of them and made for some shared laughs.
Next they asked about their first sexual experience. Evidently a few stumbled on this one since they were sitting next to their spouses and partners. Even though this is a subject most of us would not readily discuss, it seems to be a new “fun” game for oldsters to play at gatherings.
A little background on why I found this so disturbing. My therapist recounted a story for me in therapy one day. She was speaking at a sexual abuse awareness conference for faith communities and several of the attendees went out for refreshments at the end of the day. The group proceeded to ask a similar question that the neighbors had. “Where was your first sexual experience?” After a few of them had responded my therapist spoke up and told them she had a slightly different perspective. She shared that she had a client (me) whose first sexual experience was in his church, in his minister’s office. Mouths dropped open and people were rather shocked. Blown out of the water more like it.
None of those people had ever pictured anything like that before. But I’ll bet it does not surprise a lot of you, does it? It is real life experience for many of us as survivors that most people cannot even begin to picture. I’m sorry if that is your memory and I’m sorry it’s mine.
Last fall I was a speaker at a conference on sexual violence. My topic was “Why Boys Don’t Tell” about being victims of abuse. Although the talk was quite well received I did one thing that upset more than a few of the audience. In my desire to get people to understand some of the trauma that many of us have lived through I tried a little exercise. I ask everyone to close their eyes and picture the person they admired most as a child. I then asked them to picture that person performing sexual acts on them…… repeatedly…… over time.
I have no doubt that this was more than a little unfair and upset some of them enough to let me know in no uncertain terms on their evaluations. But my hope is that people begin to understand what it is like to live with those memories and that there are an estimated 20 million men and 30 million women who have similar childhood memories. Therapy goes a long way to heal these wounds. So does the understanding of our peers of what it means to live as a survivor and the effort and work it takes to heal from the trauma. I also hope that sharing stories like these helps pull back the blinds a little bit to shine a light on child sex abuse.
So next time you find yourself in a conversation about childhood sexual experiences, maybe it’s time to widen your lens. They are not all fond memories for everyone. And if you are a survivor, sharing your story in a safe environment goes a long way towards healing and understanding. May we each find the grace of sharing our pain in a healthy way and to be compassionate listeners.