Coping with Trauma: the First 6 months
After releasing my story of clergy sexual abuse, I was asked how I got through the first six months after the incident. For those of you who may not know, my experience of abuse occurred while I was a missionary in Tanzania, Africa. I stayed for the following six months after the abuse, and completed the mission work I set out to do. Some ask, why?
My abuse happened the second day I was in Tanzania- I was in shock- I didn’t have another plan. I was alone in a developing country, so I did the only thing I knew to do: keep moving forward.
With that being said, it was far from easy. I battled the emotional effects of trauma. It took me time to process and accept that the abuse happened to me. But mostly, during my time in Tanzania, I buried my anguish. I had not the slightest idea of how to cope. I was overwhelmed, going through culture shock, and wished for someone I could talk to that I could trust, that would also exhibit compassion. However, when you’re in a new environment, establishing new relationships, and have the challenge of language barriers, it’s an entirely different ball game. After experiencing a sexual wound, I didn’t know who to trust, and I was most certainly uneasy about trusting clergy or consecrated religious. Obviously, I was shaken.
Needless to say, my coping mechanism during those months was to block everything out (which I do not recommend). That is how I managed. I put my grief on the back burner and tried not to think about it. I waited until my return to the U.S. to deal with this newly opened wound. Upon my return, I shared my experience with a close friend, and thought that would be sufficient. I thought that if I just kept praying, remained faithful, and kept my head up, that perhaps it would drown out the hurt. Over time, the emotional weight became too heavy for me to bear, and I felt crushed beneath this weight I was carrying. I eventually told my family, and I’m so glad I did. Having a community of support behind me was essential in helping me move forward. My family helped carry my burdens during that time, and assisted in figuring out my next steps. A couple months after sharing the news with my family, I started counseling, and that is really where my journey of healing began.