signs of hope: emerging from the darkness of sexual abuse

this is part of an easter series here at the carnival, celebrating signs of hope–real stories from my friends, signs that out of death and darkness, hope and new life are emerging.

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abuse really pisses me off.  any form of it–emotional, physical, verbal, sexual–is so damaging.  and more pervasive than many of us probably realize.  one of the most difficult parts of my role as a shepherd/pastor/spiritual guide/friend is that i hear a lot of bad stuff about things that have happened to my friends.  so many i know are carrying painful stories of sexual abuse.  and without letting some of these stories out into the open and exposing what’s in the darkness to the light, healing can’t really happen.  but it takes a lot of courage to say it out loud.  and even more courage to then take the steps toward forgiveness, acceptance, and transformational healing.

my friend rachael* is coming back to life after being blocked by past sexual abuse.  she is in her 20’s and did the work now that so many of us waited until our 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s to do  (it’s never too late to start, that’s for sure, but the sooner we let light in, the better off we are; everyone i know who’s stuffed it for decades can attest to that).  her journey is a “sign of hope” for me, and hopefully for us.  i have been journeying with her since she was in high school, and let me just say this:  out of death and darkness, hope and new life is definitely emerging. i feel honored she would let us all into what the past months have been like for her.

  • this past season you’ve been working your butt off on healing from childhood sexual abuse by working through wounded heart by dan allender. what was the experience like for you?

The experience really was a whirlwind of emotions for me. There were times I thought the experience was wonderful, and other times when I thought the experience was awful. There were times when I would get extremely frustrated for not being able to put words, emotions or feelings to the abuse. It was hard to have people telling me all these wonderful qualities they saw in me because I had NEVER seen those before. Having people tell me that ‘it was a big deal’ and ‘it wasn’t my fault’ was also something that was really hard to grasp as well. I spent a majority of that season still not believing them. I honestly thought that I would continue to ALWAYS believe those two very big lies and look at myself as a dirty whore, who is ugly and unworthy of love. I truly believed there was only one thing I was good at and for. Walking through Wounded Heart was difficult. I was challenged to do things and say things I never wanted to do or thought I could do. Forcing me to share the extent of my abuse was hard and something I fought, however it’s those very things that pushed me and got me to this place I am now. Well, that and the constant love and support I got from those around me who gladly walked through it with me. Looking back now, I’d still say the experience was difficult and awful at times.  Abuse will never be a beautiful, wonderful thing to walk through. Yet, now this new place I am living from is wonderful and beautiful. I never thought it was possible to feel this much freedom, joy and peace. My past no longer dictates who I am. The shackles are off, and I am free to dance now!

  • how was the past abuse–and the stuffing of its realities–affecting you?

Contempt was a huge piece. I knew I always had self-contempt, but I didn’t realize how much. I also never thought that I had any contempt for others, until I started walking through the abuse. My contempt for others played out in the sense that I didn’t trust others. I refused to let them know most of me and my heart, because I had control and power and couldn’t get hurt that way. Something else I learned was just how much I minimize things; while that was a gift at the time as a little girl, it had become a curse. I didn’t think I ever deserved good or happiness, either, so I always sabotaged that in my life in whatever way that looked like in a situation.  I wasn’t ever sure why I did that until I started walking through the abuse. There are plenty of other realizations I discovered on the journey,but these are probably the biggest ones–contempt, minimizing, and sabotage.

  • what were some of the things you cried out to God during this season of more intentional healing ?

I cried out numerous times for him to take away the pain. I cried out for him to wake me up from the horrible nightmare. I cried out for strength to get out of bed, or to talk about things I had to talk about that I really didn’t want too. I constantly had to cry out for ways to deal with the pain, all I had ever known was cutting, drugs and alcohol.  I knew if I was going to walk through the healing I couldn’t do those things. I cried out the ‘WHY ME?” question continuously as well. I cried out for forgiveness for the things that I had done, and for not trusting him and blaming him. I cried out for his mercies and grace to be new every morning. Now my cry out to him is different, it’s a cry of joy and thankfulness, for he truly is a wonderful God who loves us, who weeps with us, who hurts with us.

  • how have people around you responded to some of the changes you are making in your life?


Most people around me have responded really well to the changes I am making in my life, I am constantly being encouraged and reminded of those changes by those people. However, there are those few people who haven’t responded well to the changes. Not that those people aren’t important to me still, but their opinions matter less to me than those who have responded well, because those are the people who walked through it with me.

  • what are some of the ways you are finally emerging from the darkness personally, spiritually? what does that look like, feel like?


I am learning to let some things be a “big deal” and allowing myself to feel even if that feeling is sadness. I have learned to trust people and myself. Spiritually I have learned to let God have more control and have learned to trust that He is a good God who hurts with me and that was comforting to know and has helped me emerge from the darkness. It has been difficult learning and allowing myself to come into the light since I have spent most of my life in the darkness, but getting to this place I am now has been a wonderful journey. There are most definitely days when I struggle still and the effects of the abuse creeps back in, but because of this journey I have learned to give up control, admit that it was a “big deal” and it did damage me, but it doesn’t control me anymore. For me that is truly emerging out of the darkness!

  • what are some things you are leaving behind? what are some things you are walking toward?


I am leaving behind lies I believed such as: it was all my fault, that I was dirty,ugly and unworthy of being truly loved and that it wasn’t a big deal. I am leaving the self-contempt behind as well. I am walking toward freedom and peace. I am walking toward being real with myself and with others and being more trusting of them. I am walking towards the truth.

  • what does hope look like for you right now? what’s surprising you about it?

Hope for me right now looks lighter. It means I am not carrying the burden anymore. I am not living in the darkness but in the light. There is joy and peace in my heart instead of loneliness and self-contempt. Hope look like me embracing my mistakes and learning to not take the blame for things that are not my fault. Hope for me is living in authentic relationship with the people in my life and learning to be honest in those relationships, even when I am failing. Hope for me means giving up the unattainable expectations I have of myself. Truthfully, hope has surprised me, I always heard people talk about ‘there being hope’, but I could never even imagine what it would look like IF I ever reached it. I had pretty much given up on ever experiencing hope and for me sacrificing hope for living in denial of the abuse seemed like a fair trade. I have been surprised to see that was not at all a fair trade and that now I am truly living.

thank you, rachael.  your courage, your honesty, your hope brings me more, too.

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ps:  two other past carnival posts specifically focused on sexual abuse – out of the darkness:  lingering damage of sexual abuse and i hate shame.

pps:  as many of you know, the refuge supports a lot of single mommies, daddies, and hurting families in need. we are really part church-part social services agency-part-the-ones-people-call-when-they-are-struggling.  we have no big budget, no denominational support, no good fund-raising skills or marketing strategy–nor do we ever plan to.  we get by on a wing and a prayer and i am always thankful that our needs are met some way, some how.  at the same time, it’s stressful.  and sometimes really challenging to work this hard and not have that regular infusion of support that would strengthen us.  so i wanted to give anyone who wants to be part a chance to be part from afar.  we have an advocacy fund that we use for gas, food, other little fees and support along the way.  you can check out our nifty love catalog that we created a few years ago but haven’t really publicized here. you have no idea how far a little extra love can go…

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Thank you so much for this post, Kathy!

    There are so many types of abuse and I am very grateful that you listed them specifically and separately. With the exception of drug abuse, I suffered every imaginable abuse as a child. In order to survive, I “stuffed”, to the point that I didn’t even remember most of what had occurred. Then, when I was 33, I said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of life and relationship and, for the next two years, He loved on me until I really began to trust Him. Good? Yes, although once the trust was established my life started to unravel and I didn’t know why. All of a sudden, I could no longer function effectively at work. When the Human Resources Director at work pointed out (at the same time I was being discharged) that some of the things I thought of as “no big deal” really were, and they needed to be addressed, I took her advice.

    For the next three years memories surfaced, and the grieving and anguish were appalling as well as exhausting. Unable mentally and emotionally to invest in something long-term and permanent at the same time as I processed my experiences, I had to resort to filling temporary positions. It was an awful journey but once it was complete I was as emotionally healthy as someone can be this side of Heaven.

    Reading this post, I thanked God for you and the refuge, helping Rachael and many others who so desperately need support and assistance. It is an invaluable service, a true act of love and commitment.

    May God richly bless you as you continue to care for His sheep, irrespective of where they’ve come from or what they are currently experiencing.

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours,

  • Thank you for doing what you do and sharing the stories of both you and your friends through these posts…like a light in the dark.

  • my precious friend!! no one should ever had to endure what you had to endure. or to feel the way you did about yourself, for all these years. or have to work so very hard to find healing for something that wasn’t, in any way, your fault. that being said, i’m so very, very, very proud of you for doing the incredibly hard work that you have done. you are one amazing young lady!!! i am so thankful that God brought you into my life. i’m honored. just keep remembering that you are a precious treasure to be honored, respected, cherished and loved. love you dear!!!!!!!!!!!

  • learning to trust … discovering the Fatherheart of God … I find it strange that those who have been hurt are the ones that feel dirty and self contempt, abuse of any kind pisses me off too as it destroys innocence and dirties and cheapens Solomon’s Song.

    Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods,
    So is my beloved among the sons.
    I sat down in his shade with great delight,
    And his fruit was sweet to my taste.

  • Rachael, I am so ridiculously pah-roud of you, and honored beyond to get to be a part of your life. Really, though, the incredible impact that you *conciously *made for your future is priceless. SO many paths are going to be less thorny, and more clear along the way, because you did hard work of taking the hard trail!! Love you girl, and I am SOOOO looking forward to the rest of your lighter and more authentic life. 🙂

  • margret – thank you for sharing a piece of your story and for being part of the conversation here. i do hope that there are more and more safe spaces for men & women to heal from the ravages of sexual abuse. that’s a significant piece of what the church is supposed to be about–healing, hope & redemption–a place to see beauty come from ashes.

    skylark – thanks for reading…i am glad it shines a little bit of light amidst the darkness

    mike – yes she is amazing. and what a privilege to get to do this nutty life together

    mark – yes, shame and self contempt have gotta go, and may the body of Christ be a place that helps facilitate its exit!

    stacy – i love what you said about the conscious choice that rachael made. it was an incredibly scary one, and the timing has to be right, but it takes so much courage to say ‘i’m ready and i am going to go there no matter how freaking hard it might be.’ she is brave. and so are you!

  • Dearest Kathy- Blessings to you/these ppl as they cont. to heal!!
    By God’s grace my Sis and I cont. to heal as well….somedays 2 steps 4ward/ 3 steps back!! Aren’t we gr8ful our Heavenly Father never counts the faltering steps?!! ;p
    Neil T. Anderson is another author whose bks. are powerful!!- on overcoming the darkness of our past etc. !! ( some even written towards youth)
    Has anyone experienced heightened anger towards their perpertrator(s) if they are nearing the end of their life? (ex. if the abuser was a parent or other fam. member) It’s baffling me …”WhY now”…am I exp. anger…when I didn’t really before?…
    could it be a hidden sense that I felt that my Father got off ‘scott-free” ?( he’s never asked for our forgiveness)


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