The story revolves around a letter I wrote to myself 2 years ago.
When I was 4 years old I was sexually molested by a neighbor. I was 18 before I told anyone about it. I came from a very catholic background, a village mentality. There were a lot of taboos. The culture was very much about secrets; there was a cousin who had a baby out of wedlock, she was thought of as a pariah.
We were very well known in the community; involved in the church, seen as this model family. So anything to do with problems or sadness was never ever brought out because it would bring such upheaval and shame to the whole family.
It was a once off occurance and that’s part of the reason I felt so upset with myself going into adulthood. I told myself that other kids have experienced worse, I just had a moment of it and yet, it affected my life for such a long period of time.
When I did come out and tell my parents nothing really came of it because they weren’t really equipped to handle this kind of situation.
I was really flirtatious when I was a teenager, but very catholic too. I always had this dichotomy; whenever I was approached with love or affection, I pushed it away as fast as I attracted it. I stayed single for a long time without realizing the truth of it. I thought I was a very strong individual and there wasn’t anyone strong enough to be with me. Deep down inside me though, I knew there was something that needed to be kept safe. I shifted away from relationships because I felt I wasn’t strong enough to keep it alive – the ‘me’ that I knew I was. I couldn’t preserve my own joy in the face of someone who was cynical or not joyful.
I was very much like a magic child. I would be the kid who would imagine taking juice into the kindergarten and telling the sick kids it was medicine, knowing it would make them better. I knew there was a life of purity and joy to be lived and I felt very alone growing up. I was always looking for someone who would be my play mate and I would hold out for him.
In my late 20’s I began to realize that there was something wrong within me. I had become so guarded and cautious and I started to feel like I was actually weak for not being able to be in a relationship and facing the fear that I had.
There were lots of justifications for not being in a relationship; but when I started to look at them I realized that it was all just reasons to not love and be loved. I started beating myself up about this; I felt I should have cleared this up a long time ago. I thought, here I am living my life thinking I’m this strong person and that there isn’t a guy strong enough to be with me. In reality, I was scared. I realized that a lot of stuff had to shift but didn’t quite know what.
Eventually, after my mom died, I went to speak to a counselor for the first time. He told me to write to my 4 year old self that had experienced the trauma.
This letter was a most empowering thing for me because I was able to see how strong my 4 year old self thought she was. At 4 she didn’t know how to process the trauma. She knew she felt really, really bad and instinctively that she shouldn’t tell anyone about what happened.
I was able to see that she was the one who decided that I needed protecting; she was going to protect her entire family from the shame and me from it ever happening again. She would take it upon herself to carry the secret. She was also going to protect anyone else who came into her path who experienced that. I even became the fighter for other people’s rights most of my teenage years.
Whatever weaknesses I thought I had, that 4 year old thought she was strong enough to carry it all. I realized I had been so critical of her but in that moment of writing to her and seeing how her strength had led me to be able to move through so many other things in my life, I felt so grateful for her.
I thanked her and said, it’s okay you can stop now; I’ll take it from here. Her strength had protected me for so many years but had also probably protected me from things that were inevitably good for me, so I needed to be the one that grew up and told her we were safe.
I had this very beautiful man that had come into my life. He was such a beautiful soul and he wanted to be with me, and I knew her fear was protecting me so I couldn’t be with him. With the writing of the letter, I could tell her, “I see the fear and how you’ve protected me for so long but I’m moving into what I know is the right thing for me to do. And that’s loving him and allowing him to love me.”
We’ve been together for 2 years now. It is the most beautiful relationship. Sometimes my 4-year old self comes in again to try to protect me but the invitation to love is right there and that is where I need to go, so I keep choosing it.
Now I can reframe all the things that happened in my life and I don’t see any decisions that I’ve made in the past as wrong, they were all made out of love and to protect me.
I felt a bit betrayed by my parents at one point. I felt they didn’t fly the banner high enough; that they weren’t courageous enough to make a difference. They saw all the shame on the victim’s side so they had a conversation his parents and assumed something would be done.
When I had the epiphany of the power of the 4 year old, I realized that people will do what they do within their capacity to keep themselves safe – and it’s okay. My parents did what they could from whatever place they were at in their journey and however I had judged them, there was certainly no lack of love for me in their actions.
It was such a release and forgiveness on so many levels . Just as I don’t need to judge myself and the decisions I’ve made in the past anymore, it’s exactly the same for everyone on the planet. You only do what you have the capacity to do at that moment and whatever decision you make, it is always being made out of protection for you and love.
Even with the rest of the world, no matter how heinous the crime; it all stems from trying to protect some aspect of yourself and using the tools you have at the time.
That was the gift I received from the little girl who thought she could carry the whole world on her shoulders. The joy I feel inside is something I can share with anyone now because I don’t need protection anymore. I know now that that joy connects the whole world. I’m not alone. The joy in our connection with each other is what will transform the world.
– Chantal Herman is a performer, author and facilitator of deep change in the world. http://chantalherman.com