"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
July 17, 2015
Survivor: Child Abuse
by Sarah Hancock

I grew up in a great family. We're as dysfunctional as everyone else. I mean, is there such thing as normalcy when referring to one's family life?

We love another and did our best to support each other in the best way we knew how. Part of growing up was waving goodbye to my parents on Friday nights as they went on whatever creative "date" a shoe-string budget could create.

Like all children, my brothers and I were probably not the easiest to babysit. My cousins babysat us. When my cousins couldn't fill in, the ward youth were the next obvious choice and when they weren't available, the older neighborhood kids were. It was an idyllic situation -- until it wasn't.

Up the street, there was a family who had three kids. The youngest one was a couple years older than I. I enjoyed hanging out with her. She had an older brother. He began babysitting us when I was about six or so. He liked to "play games," which included forcing himself on me.

I'm not sure how many times it happened, but I know it happened several times and finally stopped when my parents came home from their date night early and basically caught him in the act. I still struggle with PTSD symptoms related to the abuse I experienced.

Through my healing process, I learned to see my abuser through different light. I began to do so when began to separate myself from the past and strive to see things from a different perspective. As a six-year old, I was a victim of heinous acts. I was unable to do anything about those acts at the time because I was just a kid -- a first grader.

I didn't talk about it with anyone -- that I recall -- until after my first psychotic break. At that point, I was interrogated by a person trying to obtain my history. From that point on, it was in my file. Something that every single provider wanted to talk about, something that they wanted to "explore."

With each new counselor, it was like ripping off a tightly fastened band-aid held secure by staples. I'd get all nice and almost healed entirely -- and then rip! The next counselor, case manager, social worker, nurse, doctor, whoever, would want to start the process again.

It was a cycle of healing, ripping, bleeding out, bandaging, healing, ripping, bleeding out, bandaging, healing and ripping. It seemed like just when the flashbacks and nightmare would abate, I'd get thrown into a new treatment setting due to insurance changes, internship endings, retirements, reshuffling of staff or any number of circumstances. Rip.

The more I talked about the abuse with the next person, the more I would feel helpless, angry and guilty about what had happened to me as a six-year-old -- some twenty, twenty-five, thirty years earlier. It didn't get easier. It got worse.

And then I decided to end the cycle. I decided that I was an adult and was the author of my own life story. I could choose which characters in my life story would get a reprise and which would be written out of the script.

I chose to write my story with the characters I wanted and ditch those who had done their part. I wrote the last chapter including that stupid character. I finished the last sentence, punctuated it with a "period," and turned the page to begin a new chapter.

I was free -- free from the ties that bound me to the abuse. Free from being a victim of someone else's actions. Free to love again -- free to move forward with my life regardless of the ugliness which I had experienced. Free. Unbound to the past and ready to embrace the future, whatever it might hold.

Abuse is real. I know there are two sides to every story. A couple of years ago I ran into him at a reunion. I asked him why he would ever do such a thing to a child. He denied knowing anything about it, calling me a liar.

My journey from victim to survivor began with hurt, shame, guilt, fear, instability and hopelessness. But there came a point in my own journey when I realized that my abuser still had power over me, decades after the abuse occurred, because I allowed myself to continue to wear the shackles created by my abuser.

Once I figured out how to unlock those shackles, I was able to move beyond my own feeling of injustice, guilt, shame, hurt, insecurities, resentment, bitterness and anger.

There are times, like today, when I reflect on the abuse I endured, and feel those feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness again. It makes me wonder whether or not I have truly freed myself from the painful and binding shackles created for me as a child by my abuser, but then I decide again that I won't let him continue to hurt me by reliving all the guilt, confusion, shame, hurt and pain.

I choose to move forward -- the best revenge I can have -- and not let it affect the way I see myself now or in the future.

My abuser? Well, I've learned that most abusers learn their behaviors from someone else and not in some friendly, peachy environment. Undoubtedly he was a child at one time too, as innocent as I was.

I still have arguments with my Savior in prayer struggling to see the "why me," but Christ hasn't asked me to understand the abuse, He's asked me to let Him carry it. I have never been tortured as He was. Somehow He found it in his heart to forgive those who tortured him.

I still haven't made it to the point of complete forgiveness, but with my Savior as my guide, I've begun to see Hope through His eyes. He knows the truth of all things. He knows what it was like for me, and you, your family, and everyone else.

Knowing that He knows, makes it easier to keep removing the heavy shackles, place them back in their box at His feet and walk away with peace in my heart that all things will be made right in the eternities.

Yes, the oven that burned my hand might be still hot, but I don't have to touch it daily in my own mind and heart by reliving my own pain by dwelling on the graphic and vivid memories of the hot fire. Instead I choose to walk away from the heat.

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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isn’t just possible — it’s probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying — not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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