The Curtain Opens

What do you remember about the beginning of the movie The Wizard of Oz?

Maybe you remember Dorothy fearfully looking over her shoulder as she runs home. Or perhaps you remember the family and farm hands ignoring Dorothy as she tries to tell them about mean Almira Gulch. Or maybe you remember Almira Gulch, menacingly pedaling her bicycle towards Dorothy’s house.

It may surprise you to find the movie actually begins with a musical overture. A swell of grand and glorious music that sings with the expectation of what’s to come.

Funny how we remember other things about the beginning of the movie and forget that part.

If you’ve been a victim of sexual abuse, you tend to remember the darker, more threatening parts of your story and forget that your story began with the swelling overture of hopeful expectation that meets every new life that breaks forth from the womb.

There was a time of innocence; unmarked by the dark scars of sexual abuse. A time when you were shown love and protection. A time when trust came easy to you.

In light of what you’ve been through, pointing this out may feel like rubbing salt in a wound, but it’s a part of your story. Your story is not solely about a wicked witch and flying monkeys. It’s also about a little girl and good friends. It’s not solely about fleeing, but also about skipping.

It’s easy to make your story all about the trauma and forget there’s more to the story. Your story opens with a swell of innocence and excitement, and no matter what happened in the middle of the story, there’s always hope for a good ending.

She Seemed Like She Had it All Together

She was married to a successful businessman, and was the mother to some great kids. She was well known in her community and her church. She was active in helping other women overcome various struggles. She loved her husband, her kids, and her God.

She seemed to have her life together, so as we began the first counseling session I couldn’t help but wonder why she was coming to see me.

After some small talk and general information, she revealed that she had disciplined one of her small children out of anger. Not the kind of anger that results in physical abuse, but the kind that startles you and makes you wonder, “What’s wrong with me?”

As she talked, I began to hear some patterns and themes that I had heard before from other women. Things like…

  • Difficulty trusting people – even those close to her.
  • An excessive need to control things and people so there are no surprises.
  • Fears related to being intimate with her husband, both emotionally and sexually.
  • Strong emotional walls in place to keep others from getting too close.
  • Eruptive overreactions to relatively small and insignificant things.

About mid way through the session, I looked at her and said, “This question may seem a little weird and random, but I want to ask it anyway. Have you ever been sexually abused?”

Almost before I could finish the question, all the blood seemed to drain from her face. She became uncomfortable, as if someone had suddenly pulled back the curtain on something she had been trying to keep hidden.

She looked at me in stark surprise and hesitantly asked, “How did you know?”

This began an arduous counseling journey that would lead her through the dark places of abuse and eventually on to the bright places of recovery.

It has been years since that first counseling session and she no longer comes to see me. Is everything perfect in her life? Not hardly. She’s like the rest of us. There are good days and bad days, but now she’s no longer controlled by the abuse of the past. Now she controls the directions and decisions of her life. She is self-aware and able to relate to others in healthy and productive ways. In short, she is able to enjoy life, rather than hide from life.

I share this story with you as a testimony that someone can be picked up by the traumatic cyclone of abuse, taken somewhere they do not want to go, and still find their way back to where they want to be.

This blog is about is about taking that journey. It’s about taking the road out of Oz.

Why "The Road Out of Oz?"

MGM’s movie adaptation of Frank Baum’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was intended solely for entertainment. Yet this movie can also serve as an allegory to guide those on the journey of recovering from sexual abuse.

Early in the movie, Dorothy encounters a frightening twister that threatens her existence and turns her world upside down before leaving her unconscious. Then, she is dropped with a thud in a strange place where she no longer feels safe or secure. Everything is unfamiliar and uncertain. She’s not in Kansas any more and she must decide what she’s going to do.

The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that in 2003, 14.8% of women had fallen victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, and 90% of all rape victims were female.*

For these women, sexual abuse tore into their lives like a cyclone, turning everything they knew upside down and rendering them emotionally unconscious. Then one day they awakened with a thud to the realization that life as they knew it was gone. They were “not in Kansas anymore,” and they had to decide what to do.

This realization is the beginning of the road out of Oz. It’s the point where a woman stands at the threshold between the sepia tones of the past and the bright possibility of a new life.

Searching for a Way to Explain It.

I’ve been helping women* recover from sexual abuse since 1992, and over the years I’ve noticed that women trying to decide whether to begin the process of recovery have some common questions…

  • How long will this take?
  • What do I need to do?
  • What will happen?
  • What if I can’t handle it?
  • How will I know when I’m done?

For years I have tried to answer these questions as best I could, but questions like these are not easily answered. Each woman is different, and each woman’s experience of sexual abuse is unique. There is not a one-answer-fits-all response to these questions. Though I was able to piece together helpful responses and analogies to explain the process, I was unable to come up with anything that would be as comprehensive and as adaptive as I would have liked.

This led me to look for a simple, yet comprehensive way to explain the process of recovering from sexual abuse.

While on a walk one day, I began to think about a story from my childhood. A story about a girl who suffers trauma, gets lost in a confusing world, and has to find her way back home. It was then I realized that the well know movie The Wizard of Oz could serve as a type of road map to help women understand what happens when they undertakes the journey of recovering from sexual abuse.

My use of this movie to illustrate the journey of recovery is in no way meant to make light of the tragic experience of sexual abuse. The road to healing is not a fanciful children’s story. It is a tragic children’s story. Few things are as dastardly and as damaging as being victimized in this way, and it would be just as dastardly and damaging to trivialize it. The use of this children’s story is not meant to cheapen the offense of abuse, but rather to bring understanding to the process of recovery.

I hope you, or someone you know, will subscribe to this blog and join me as we seek to better understand what it means to choose the path of recovery and take the road out of Oz.

*Though many of the themes and issues discussed in this book are common to male victims of sexual abuse, my experience has been that of working with women, and so this blog is written from that perspective.