“Reaching for the Light, An Incest Survivors Story”
(Sisterhood of Survival) (Volume 1)
“Reaching for the Light, An Incest Survivors Story” (Sisterhood of Survival) (Volume 1) is an intensely personal memoir by J.C. Christian. She has written about her shattering experience in bold and honest terms, holding nothing back. Child sexual assault is a subject many choose to avoid discussing so it was with great courage that this woman stepped forward to shine a light on a crime many still view as a personal family matter. However, this is not a “family matter”. It is a national tragedy, an issue that must be dealt with by all members of society. Until we acknowledge these horrific crimes against children, both boys and girls, occur more frequently than we want to believe, we will be unable to convict the perpetrators and assist their innocent victims to heal. It is with great honor I present my interview with this brave young woman.
This must have been a very difficult book for you to write. Can you tell us a bit about why you chose to write this book?
This book has been in my heart for a long time. Four years ago, I felt like I have finally reached a good place in my life that I could go back and write about what happened to me in those dark years. I wrote it as a message of hope and healing to other survivors and there’s a lot of us out there unfortunately. I want other survivors to know that you can heal from this and have a good life. Yes, it was a very hard book to write but I’m glad I did and I’m really proud of it.
How did you choose the title?
The title comes from what I did to escape when Michael came into my room. I couldn’t physically escape so I would mentally escape, disassociate from what was happening to me. There was a window in my room next to my bed where the early morning light would stream in and I would imagine myself reaching up and running away into the light where nothing could hurt me. This is where the cover design comes from too.
Can you tell us a little about your initial relationship with your abuser?
After my mother divorced my father, she started dating Michael and he would do fun things with us like the zoo and the circus and then take us for ice cream and things like that. My siblings and I thought he was great. I learned through therapy this kind of initial behavior from the perpetrator is called grooming.
How old were you when the abuse began and how long did it go on?
I was 8 years old when it started and it continued for the next 10 years until I was 18.
Did you tell anyone what was happening?
I wanted to but as the years went on and the abuse continued to escalate, I was too terrified of what Michael would do to me if I told. This is very typical of most victims of incest especially if they live with the perpetrator like I did. These monsters trap their victims in a psychological stranglehold they can’t escape from. The other part is the intense feelings of shame I had because Michael convinced me it was my fault for letting him do it.
How old were you when you first realized what was happening was abuse?
I was 16. A couple of speakers from a domestic violence program came to my school. I talk more about this in the book.
Who was the first person you spoke to about the abuse?
It was one of the counselors at the high school I went to. That part is in the book too.
Was anyone else in your family abused by your step father?
Sadly, yes my two sisters, Becky and April, were also victims. Until recently, I didn’t know much about what happened to them. In the second book I’ m working on now, Becky and April’s stories will be included there.
Where was your mother when these horrible things were happening to you?
The short answer is she failed to protect me. As hard as the chapter on my step father was to write, the chapters on my mother were even more painful but in a different way.
What kind of problems did/do you experience problems resulting from the abuse?
That’s a great question. It affects every aspect of our lives. Some survivors act out their abuse by becoming prostitutes. Others go the other way and avoid men entirely. I was one of those women for a long time. Trust issues are huge with all survivors. Even today, despite all the therapy I’ve had, trust is still hard for me. I tend to be very suspicious. Healthy relationships, especially physical relationships, are one of the biggest and most challenging areas for all survivors. I am happily married today and the story of how that miracle happened is in the book. Drug and/or food addictions are very common with survivors. Other survivors become bulimic or anorexic. I used food to comfort myself and today, despite years of therapy, I’m still an emotional eater. Depression, low self-esteem/self image, PTSD, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, are all things survivors struggle with to one degree or another. The other problem is people’s attitudes towards survivors. How many times has someone said to me “It’s in the past, it’s over, it’s not part of your life now, let it go, move on, etc” This is really insensitive and disrespectful. What these people don’t get is that survivors don’t have the luxury of being able to be so dismissive. What happened to us changed our lives for all time. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a great life but it does mean we can’t erase what happened to us either. It’s a part of our history and deserves respect.
How old were you when you first sought professional help for the repercussions of the abuse?
I was 29 years old. I had managed to hold it in until then, although my life and relationships showed all the tell-tale signs, I was not consciously aware of this. Seeking professional help was not a deliberate choice I made one day so much as it was the result of a sudden set of circumstances I describe in the book.
How long did you receive therapy or counseling to deal with what happened to you?
I spent about 12 years in therapy collectively but the truth is the healing process for survivors is always on-going. As we move through our lives, there may be days, weeks, months, or even years that pass without something reminding us of what we went through. But then something may trigger those memories. It’s not uncommon for survivors to sporadically return to therapy from time to time.
How important are recovery or support groups for survivors to heal?
We all need supportive people in our lives. For survivors, this need is especially critical. I am so blessed to have some incredibly supportive people in my life and they mean everything to me. If they are run by experienced leaders, incest support groups and group therapy offers survivors the chance to share their struggles and receive validation and support in an environment free of criticism or judgement. It was in group therapy that I first met another survivor and that story is in the book.
If you could give advice to anyone being abused what would it be?
Tell someone. A counselor, a pastor, a teacher, a doctor, a therapist, a trusted friend are all good choices but tell somebody. Don’t believe what the perpetrator tells you, they lie to protect themselves and scare you into being quiet. The best way to make it stop is tell someone. Get connected with a good therapist with experience in treating survivors. Then you can begin to heal. As I say in the book, the healing process isn’t easy or quick but it is absolutely worth it.
I assume you have done some research on this subject. Can you share some of the statistics on child sexual abuse? Boys vs girls. Ages.
Sure. The stats are frightening. To say this crime is a national tragedy is not an exaggeration. In the United States today, there are approximately 40 million women who are survivors of child sexual abuse, women who were robbed of their innocence and childhoods, women whose lives were changed forever. 1 in every 3 girls in this country will be a victim of child sexual assault before their 18th birthday and most will know the perpetrator. And it isn’t just girls who fall prey to these monsters. 1 in every 5 boys will also be victimized and, like the girls, most will know the perpetrator. And just like the girls, their lives will never be the same. And the scariest part of this is these are just estimates.
How common is it for children to be sexually abused by a family member?
Far too common which is tragic and we, as a society, need to give up our collective denial that family members actually do this to the children entrusted to their care.
Who typically commits this kind of crime against a child?
In families where this crime occurs, it is nearly always a male family member. Female perpetrators are rare. The most common perpetrator is the step-father but there are also fathers, uncles, grandfathers, etc. The profile I have read is that most offenders are white, well-educated with an above average to superior IQ, heterosexual, and married. These guys could be the soccer dads, the popular football coach, the respected teacher everyone likes, the guys no one would ever suspect because “he’s such a good father” My step-father fits this profile perfectly. People who don’t know what he did think he’s a great dad, a nice guy.
How frequently are the perpetrators exposed, charged with a crime, and punished? What is the usual punishment?
It should be a simple issue. If you sexually assault a child, you go to jail. The reality is as reprehensible as this crime is, these cases are seldom a slam dunk. One of the biggest issues is there are usually only two witnesses to this crime: the victim and the perpetrator. This leads to a host of issues in securing convictions for these monsters. I discuss some of these issues in my book. My state has taken an important step towards helping survivors prosecute their offenders. In 2003, child sexual abuse joined kidnapping and murder as crimes without a statute of limitations. This allows survivors the chance to heal enough to withstand the stress of a court trial.
What is the most important thing you want readers to take away from reading your book?
For survivors, my goal in sharing my story is to inspire hope. I want them to know that with time and the right kind of help, they can heal and have the life they want. For healing professionals reading my book, I hope it gives them an added understanding of what goes on in a survivor’s world and maybe some ways to help them. For others, I hope it gives them an understanding of what really happens to the victims of this crime. We, as a society, are not very good at looking at or talking about this crime. Say the word “incest” and watch people cringe. This reaction reinforces the sense of
shame all survivors struggle to overcome especially early in our recovery. This makes it difficult for survivors to talk about our experience with the people in our lives and yet talking about it is one of the best ways for us to heal.
I understand this book is the first of a series you are working on. What is the next book about and when can we expect it to come out?
I didn’t originally plan for this book to be a series but after I finished Reaching for the Light it occurred to me that there was so much more to this issue than I could fit in one book so the series was born. The next book is called Searching for the Light Together: Incest Survivors and the Challenge of Relationships. It looks at the areas survivors struggle with as we work to rebuild our lives. At this time, it is tentatively targeted for release in February, 2017.
Thank you Elizabeth for giving me this opportunity to talk about my book and the crime that inspired it.