I will no longer be shamed into carrying the burdens that my abusers should carry

I wish I could pinpoint the sexual abuse I endured to one day, and group it all together to a horrific event, so that I could label it and acknowledge it as one day in my history. So that I could declare, on X day I was murdered. But the truth is my body and soul were murdered over and over and I merely was on this earth for years, existing and not living. When a child is sexually abused, the abuser murders the child’s body and soul, with a weapon of shame, disgrace, ugliness, failure, and guilt. As the child grows up, if the child grows up, he or she grows with that shame, disgrace, ugliness, failure and guilt, but still never lives. He or she only exists by breathing.

One abuser was mostly inappropriate and present at inappropriate times, as opposed to always touching me, and the other abuser threatened and bullied me into performing sexual acts on her. These are my truths. I confronted both abusers with my truths to gain what I thought was closure. But there’s no such thing as closure with sexual abuse. Thinking back to those times when I felt uncomfortable and the little voice in me didn’t know she could scream or walk away or tell someone, makes me want to time-travel and save her. I want to save my little self of the pain and heartache and memories. I want to burst in and strike down the abusers. But I can’t time-travel, and I can’t undo what was done. But I can still save her, and I have been saving her for the past 5 years.

I’m not writing this to tell of the sexual abuse I endured, but I am writing this to give hope to those who were abused. I suffered for years, hiding the sexual abuse to the point that I blocked so much out. I went on existing, not realizing the dysfunction I was living. (I have to say that the dysfunctions rooted in me from childhood were not all due to the sexual abuse that affects me, but was also contributed by other childhood experiences. So, don’t think sexual abuse attributes to all the dysfunction those affected by it carry.) I went on carrying this heavy burden no child or adult should have to carry. It weighed me down in so many ways: low self-esteem, low value, guilt, shame, failure, etc. It led me to addiction from a very young age. It affected my way of thinking and affected my teenage years. It messed with my social life and my sexual life. I didn’t know how to love in a healthy way, or to have sex in a healthy way, for my body, mind and soul were darkened with the blood of that old wound that was never cleaned. And even after I gutted my conscience and cleaned it, it still affects me because I have scars that will never go away.

God was never in my equation of the fallout of the abuse. My life as it is today, in regards to Judaism and God, are what they are because of how I connect to Judaism and God and not because of the abuse. But I do recognize the implications of sexual abuse when intertwined with religion. It messes you over even more. The rituals of Taharat Hamishpacha make me feel unclean and feed into the shame of my body, to this day. But my inner peace is more important than religion, and I therefore do what I need to have that peace.

Many people impose a stigma on those affected by sexual abuse, claiming us as tainted and damaged goods, not suitable for friendship or a shidduch. Many people shame us as addicts who should be and are shunned and forsaken, when all we’re doing is numbing pain in the only way we know how. (I would like to clarify that there are many forms of addiction; not just drugs and alcohol.) Many of us have spoken our truths just to be slapped with denial, cover-ups or have had our truths devalued. This dehumanization pushes us further into our shame and guilt, and takes us deeper into mere existence. I realized I am human. I am a human being who breathes and has a life that was forgotten. You are a human being and you are breathing, and you have a life that was forgotten. But that life is YOURS! It’s YOURS to live.

I got my salvation the moment I no longer saw myself as a victim but saw myself as a human being. When we allow ourselves to live life from the viewpoint of a victim, it dehumanizes us and doesn’t let us see our value. The victim status further binds you to your abuser, by not letting you free yourself from them. We carry hate and anger and self-pity. When I no longer saw myself as a victim I was able to remove myself from my abusers by forgiving them. Not forgetting their murders of me, but by absolving—removing—myself from the murders and not re-living them each day. I forgave myself for not saving my little self, and I mourned her lost life. I acknowledged the horrors and acknowledged that I was not the abuser, that I was the victim of the murders but am not a victim today. And what a waste it would be if I lived each day as if I was still being abused.

I am not a victim today. The little girl who was murdered over and over again was a victim. The little voice in me who felt trapped was a victim. I am Kayla Erenthal and I am a living, breathing human being. There is nothing wrong with me. I am not tainted. I will no longer be shamed into carrying the burdens of my murderers’ weapons, or shamed into carrying the burdens that my abusers should carry. I will no longer care for what society has labeled me, for they are not MY labels. I will no longer exist and breathe; I am beautiful and worth living. I am no longer afraid. I have talents and a bright future, a smile that glows and warms. I have dreams and aspirations. I have places to travel and games to play, and friends to make memories with. I have a husband who adores me and children who look up to me. I have a family who loves me no matter what.

I realized, with the help of my Higher Power, a therapist, a 12-step program, another program, and kindness to myself, that I can revive myself and live again. I ignored my weaknesses and harnessed my strengths to get me through. I saw what living meant and decided I have a life worth living, simply because I am breathing. It was so hard and painful but I wanted to live. So, I fought through the pain and heartache; I fought through the panic attacks and shame; I fought through the guilt and horrors of reality until I found my salvation. I put my name on this testimony instead of being another “Anonymous” in hopes to give you courage and strength to free yourself.

You are amazing. You are worth living. You are special and gifted and are capable of love. You have aspirations and talents and a future that waits for your brightness. You have joy and laughter that are waiting to be released. You have strength. You have courage. You are a warrior. You have compassion and grace. Your body, heart and soul are sacred, and are all waiting for redemption. Reclaim your gift of life and revive yourself. There are people and organizations, like JCW, that are ready to help you. Find your voice and reach out. Save your little self. He/she deserves to be revived.

Kayla Erenthal

Posted in media, survivors-letters.