A few years ago, as a survivor of incest, I completed a five year program of recovery. Part of what I did was to work a 12 step program called CoDependents Anonymous. If anyone has ever worked a 12 step program they will confirm that the hardest part is getting through the first step: "I admitted I was powerless over others and that my life had become unmanageable." I wondered how this was going to work since being powerless was one of the biggest bugaboos in the life of a childhood sexual abuse victim. Somehow I made it through that first step. Some of the others weren't easy either. Having to make a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves, Step Four, when we were so filled with shame we could barely stutter it out was another high wall to scale. I pushed on. Step Eight was having to make a list of all the people we had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. And, of course, on Step Nine we had to make direct amends wherever possible. I kept thinking, Don't these people know how bad I really was? Didn't they understand that the very fact of having to think of all the people I had harmed was so overwhelming that everytime I tried to do this step I dissolved in tears and loaded shame on to shame? Deeply determined and a persistent person by nature I made it through all the steps.
So there I was, finished with my recovery. I went to my meeting and spoke about what had happened in my life, my father raping me when I was thirteen, and how miraculous it was to go, many years later, from being married to my third abuser, suicidal, filled with despair and living part time in a women's shelter to being the happiest person I knew. My motto at that point was, "If I'd known life was going to turn out this good I would have started it sooner.
So there I was, sharing my story, the same story I had told and wept over so many times before in that little room with a handful of other survivors with their own stories. Only this time I had my happy ending. After the meeting as I was beginning to leave a young man came over to me and asked if he could speak with me.
The young man told me his story. A couple years earlier, having been sexually abused as a child and living a life filled with his own despair, he was preparing a suicidal ending. There was a knock on his door and when he opened it a good friend stood there. He was getting ready to go a Codependent meeting and wanted to know if the young man would go with him. Extremely annoyed (who wouldn't be if they were getting ready to end their own life and was interrupted) he told his friend that he was too busy. The friend persisted and finally he said he would go. He could always take his own life when he returned. What difference would a couple hours make. And his friend had had an equally horrendous childhood and desperately needed help. At least he could do something meaningful at the end. Once he got to the meeting and sat down he looked around the room. No one was shaming, no one was blaming.
I was at that meeting and began my story, telling of how the repercussions in the life of an incest victim rippled like waves in a body of water, ones that eventually turned into riptides, undercurrents and sometimes tidal waves. I spoke eloquently of how hard the road was and how many times I'd wanted to give up. I talked about my many failed suicide attempts and my nervous breakdowns. I shared the anguish of having a daughter who was raped at gunpoint when she was seventeen and finding out half way through recovery that my two older daughters had been sexually abused by my second husband when they were four and five. Then I spoke of getting into recovery, about the program I had created called REPAIR and how between it and the CoDependents Anonymous meetings I had found my way and that now I was the happiest person I knew.
The young man told me of how he'd come to that meeting with every intent of committing suicide after it was over. He said that as he listened to my story he became so engrossed in it and after the meeting he went home and thought about all I had said and how I had empowered him to change course in his life. He began going to 12 step meetings regularly. Here it was, more than two years later and he was doing fine, almost finished with his own recovery. He said that if he hadn't heard my story his ending would have been different. He said he'd been going from meeting to meeting looking for me so he could thank me for saving his life.
We gave each other big hugs. I was humbled and amazed at the thought that my story had changed one person's life. I thought if I could change one, I could change many. We both left that room with strong resolutions at the direction our life was taking and how simple it was to affect another's life for the good.