Over the weekend, we spent some time in New Orleans, and stopped by the sculpture garden in City Park. One particular installation grabbed my attention as a metaphor for childhood abuse and trauma. Often, when speaking to survivors, I hear them describe being “stuck”. I understand this, as it is common for many of us to have taken certain beliefs about what happened to us from our childhood, right into adulthood. Stories like “I’m a bad person”, “Trust no one”, “I’m unlovable, that’s why they abused me”, etc.
I’m sure you all have your own stories to add to the list as well, but the point is that many times, child abuse leaves us feeling less than, broken.
But, that’s not the whole story. It’s just the part we can see from our limited, childish, worldview. After all, it takes time as a child to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around us, and that everything that happens in it isn’t necessarily a reflection of us. Some of us, because of the abuse, just never get to that stage of childhood development.
That’s why, as adults, it’s important that we not allow ourselves to continue to be limited by those stories.
This piece that you see above is a part of a display designed by Olafur Eliasson. The glass inside each of the balls reflects a part of the larger room, but only a part. The description talks about how the artist wanted to show that if you stay stationary, you only ever see part of the room, that in order to change your perspective you have to actually move around, when you start to see more of the room, and different angles, as opposed to the one view that you can see in my photo.
Abuse survivors who are “stuck”, remind me very much of someone standing in front of one of these balls and not moving. Yes, you can see something, but it’s not everything. It’s but a small slice of the world, limited by our inability to move around. Yes, it may feel safe, and moving around to see more of the world might very well seem like the scariest thing in the world, but healing comes from movement. If you only ever see yourself through the glass of child abuse, you will miss all the other things you are, beyond being a survivor of abuse.
I’m a survivor of abuse. That is a fact, and it’s been a struggle to overcome that. As I have, though, one of the first things I needed to do was to see myself as more than that. I needed to move, to have experiences, relationships, roles, that were not “survivor”. Some of them didn’t feel exactly safe at first. Some mistakes were made, and I had to experience pain and sorrow as a result. I lived though, and the more I lived, the more I have grown. Had I not had those experiences though, I may not have learned what I have, I may not view the world, and my abuse, in the same ways.
I might still be stuck.
But I moved, in small ways at first, until I learned that I am not destined to be hurt and abused, always the sufferer of bad things because I’m a bad person. The world is much larger than all of that. If you move a little, you too might start to see that.