One of the things I love about the Olympics is hearing the incredible stories of some of the athlete’s lives. I have been following the story of Kayla Harrison, who just won the Olympic gold medal for Judo. Here is a small piece of her story.
Yet winning gold has not been the most difficult challenge of Harrison’s life. When she arrived at Pedro’s training center in 2007, she was an emotionally devastated 16-year-old who had suffered years of sexual abuse by a former coach. She lacked self-esteem, had suicidal thoughts, and hated judo because the sport’s small community whispered about the abuse.
Like many survivors of sexual and physical abuse, she found someone to trust and help her heal from the abuse. She found a champion to help her fight. Then she found the courage to share her story. In the article she says, “I wanted to tell my story and I wanted to get it out to victims all over the world,” said Harrison, originally from Middletown, Ohio, who first discussed her sexual abuse publicly last fall. “I wanted people to know it was OK. It was definitely therapeutic. The first time I told the story I cried the whole time. It got a little bit easier every time.”
Social media and the press have shared her story since the Olympics began. Someone made this comment on a site yesterday, “The key word here is: SURVIVOR… She chose to NOT be a VICTIM!” I often hear this type of statement when someone shares a story of healing. It is a statement that while I believe to hold truth, is also a statement of condemnation for someone still struggling with their life.
I had my choices taken away from me the first time someone sexually abused me as a young child. I had no choice when an adult hit, slapped, or threw me down as a little girl. As the abuse continued, my choices disappeared. When I was an adult, I only knew what I learned as a child. I had no defenders. Those who might have made a difference, made their own choice not to interfere. I did not CHOOSE to be a victim. That was a CHOISE someone else made for me as a very little, scared, helpless child.
I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I think I will be done with this crap and be a survivor.” Like Kayla, someone came into my life and helped me find a way to heal. Yes, I had to make the choice to do the work. I had to find the courage to tell my story. When I was an older child, I tried to tell someone but they didn’t (or chose not to) hear. The biggest fear is sharing my story is the fear of not being believed.
Today I am a “thriver.” I am also a victim of childhood sexual, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse. For me to say, I am not a victim, is to deny what happened to me. I survived. Surviving means I lived through it and continued to exist; just exist. Then someone reached out, believed me, saw my pain, and helped me tell my story. I became a “thriver”. I started to flourish and grow. I found support and I found a way to reach out and support others in their journey.
This is my truth and this is how it works for me. If you are finding your way or have already become a “thriver”, find what works for you. Most of us will never win an Olympic gold medal, but we can fight to reclaim our right to choices. Today I have the choice to live my life as a “thriver.”
“We can’t control what happened, we can’t control what has been lost. What we can control is how we fight to take that control back, and the voice within us is powerful in doing so….” Cathy Gipson