One of the scariest things a victim of sexual abuse can do is tell his or her story. It’s also the most powerful.
In Broken Places, a collection of essays and poetry, Rachel Thompson tells her secrets. At times, she is speaking directly to the reader – a friend confessing a dire truth. Other times, she is talking to someone else – a husband or a lover, perhaps. She tells of the neighborhood dad who befriended all the kids in order to prey upon them. She tells of her fear and confusion and the silence so many predators rely on in their victims. It’s hard to read, especially if, like me, you have your own traumatic story. It’s also somehow liberating to witness. Necessary, even.
The book is disjointed, perhaps by design, given the title. The essays jump around in time, interspersed with poems and quotes, as fragmented as you might imagine a child’s mind becomes when she must bear the unbearable. Thompson is telling her story, her way. That feels like a victory. Her voice is clear, and her truth is undeniable.
We asked her to talk about her experiences since she began speaking out about her abuse.
What has been the reaction of the people closest to you now that you are speaking about the sexual abuse you suffered as a child?
Well, I first wrote about the abuse in Broken Pieces, which I released in 2011. The response was crazy – it became an Amazon best seller almost immediately, won nine awards, and garnered attention from several publishers and agents. Since then, Booktrope signed me and re-released the book (in both eBook and print), and I wrote Broken Places (again, for both eBook and print) which has also done quite well, so it’s not a total surprise to those closest to me. I’m working on Broken People now.
I honestly did not expect any of this. I thought, I’m just sharing my story and if some people read it and relate to it, great.
I did ask my mother to be a beta-reader for me, mostly to check the dates of various events surrounding the trials (civil and military), and other ‘grown-up’ type events that might have been fuzzy for me. My folks have been very supportive of my writing, regardless of the subject matter. It’s never been a question of IF the abuse happened, because I helped put the abuser away (even though he only received a two-year civil sentence), and it’s all public record anyway (plus half our neighborhood attended the civil trial). They always believed me, and there were other little girls who were also abused.
My writing focuses more on how the abuse affected me as a person throughout the years; that part was likely more difficult for my family to read.
Have you spoken with your children about what you went through? You talk about crying when you found out your daughter had a male teacher for 5th grade. How have your experiences affected you as a parent?
I did cry! He ended up being awesome, and I became good friends with both he and his wife.
I have spoken to both my kids – my daughter is sixteen and my son is ten. I’ve never gone into explicit detail because they can’t un-know that, and I don’t believe laying that kind of information on a child about their own parent is necessary – but it’s important for them to understand why I have nightmares, jump at small sounds, or have anxiety over certain situations. As a parent, I also feel it’s also important for them to understand how to be safe about their own bodies and surroundings, so the lessons there are crucial ones.
You do a lot of outreach with survivors on social media. What are some of the meaningful connections you’ve made?
After I published Broken Pieces, I truly didn’t expect the reaction from survivors – emails, DMS, private messages on Facebook, even in reviews – heartbreaking stories from people who, in many cases, had never shared their experiences with anyone. I knew then I had to take some kind of action to form a community for survivors to share their stories.
As a lover of Twitter, I created #SexAbuseChat (every Tuesday at 6pm PST/9pm EST), but I also wanted a cohost who was a survivor as well experienced in the psychology field. (I’m not a therapist nor do I make claims to be one.) I’m grateful to have connected with Bobbi L Parish, incest survivor and certified therapist. We started the chat almost two years ago and the response has been amazing.
I also started a private, ‘secret’ group on Facebook for survivors who aren’t ready to discuss their abuse in such a public way. People won’t find it under groups, but if they friend me, I’ll ask them some screening questions. If it’s a good fit, I’ll invite them in. We are all about group support but make it very clear, this is not therapy.
Bobbi and I also worked closely with lifecoach and survivor Athena Moberg to create the #NoMoreShame Anthology (Volume 1), which gives survivors the opportunity to share their essays and poems. We self-published the first volume, titled Discovering True, and the second volume is in process now.
The biggest project I’m a part of now is directing the Gravity Imprint for Booktrope (my publisher). With all of the outreach I do, they asked if I wanted to lead this special imprint that focuses on stories of trauma and recovery. I never expected to direct an imprint, but I immediately said yes! I’m honored to bring these amazingly brave fiction and nonfiction stories to life, and work with such talented authors. If anyone is interested in learning more, visit Booktrope to submit your story, or GravityImprint.com to learn about our imprint, authors, and current releases; and please join us any Wednesday 6pm PST/9pm EST for #GravityChat on Twitter to meet our authors!
What has been your greatest lesson with all of this?
Every survivor has a story, and we all have a right to share our story. Shame keeps so many of us locked away in those deep, dark places, when we did nothing wrong. Connecting with community helps us realize we are not alone.
If the present day you could go back in time, what would you say to the little girl you were then?
That it’s okay to tell your parents, even though he threatened you. That while the fear and guns and threats were very real, your parents’ love for you was, too.
The shame is still here, but compared to love, it’s nothing.