“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Weisel from his Nobel prize acceptance speech in 1986.
“Forgiveness does not override memory. Forgiveness overrules memory.” Bret Legg
Dorothy began as a wide-eyed, little girl; innocent and dressed in gingham. She loved her family, she loved her dog, and she dreamed of a wonderful place beyond the rainbow.
She didn’t plan a fearful encounter with Elmira Gultch, and she didn’t expect the unsympathetic responses of her family and friends. She wasn’t prepared for the cyclone that would sweep her away and leave her in an unrecognizable place called Oz.
Everything that happened to land Dorothy in Oz was not of her making and completely out of her control.
But once she was there…like it or not…she had to decide what she was going to do. She had to decide whether she would listen to those who said they wanted to help her. She had do decide whether to stay where she was, or begin walking towards a hopeful exit. She had to decide whether to allow others to share in her journey, or try to go it alone. She had to decide whether or not to take the road out of Oz.
Once she made the decision to leave Oz, she quickly found it would not be an easy road. There would be times when hope would seem just within her grasp, only to cruelly slip out of reach at the next stop. On this road, bright meadows and the lush cornfields would suddenly be replaced with dark woods and ominous castles.
The road out of Oz didn’t bring Dorothy to a place where everything was made right. Instead, the road out of Oz brought her to a place where things were made better. She was wiser, stronger, and no longer needed to run away when she felt threatened. She came to realize that what she needed was already with her. When the final credits rolled, Dorothy hadn’t left the farm, but she was in a better place.
The road out of Oz is the same for victims of sexual abuse. Though every woman’s experience is unique to her, there are some things about the road that are the same for all.
You didn’t plan to be victimized sexually. You didn’t plan on the wide variety of reactions your abuse would produce in you, or in others. You didn’t plan to get caught up in this whirlwind, nor did you plan on winding up where you are now.
But now that you have awakened to what has happened and where it has left you, you have some decisions to make. Will you decide to listen to those who can help you, or will you decide to reject their help out of distrust? Will you decide to stay where you are, or will you decide to start walking out of your Oz? Will you decide to let others who are in need join you on your journey, or will you decide to go it on your own?
Like Dorothy, your road out of Oz will not be an easy one. There will be times when you will experience the bright meadows of hope, and times when you will experience the dark forests of despair. There will be times when arrival at the Emerald City seems within your reach and times when the dark castle of resistance stands in your way.
And when you come to the end of your journey, everything will not be “right” or “fixed.” The horrible injustice of your abuse will not magically evaporate. Your abuser may never pay for what they did, or even acknowledge it. But when the credits roll, you will realize that you have what it takes to find your way. You will be better. You will be stronger. You will be in a better place.
If you have been the victim of sexual abuse, I know the thought of making this journey can be fearful and overwhelming. I know there is a level of uncertainty about the journey that can feel unnerving.
But I also know you can make this journey. I know you can take your road out of Oz. I’ve seen many women reclaim themselves and their lives by making this journey, and it’s my prayer that you will find what you needed to step out of the rubble of the cyclone of abuse and start taking steps on the road out of Oz.
The credits are one of the most neglected parts of a movie. Unless you’re a true movie buff, when the credits roll you probably feel the movie is over and get up to go. It’s a rare individual that stays and reads all those names and positions racing quickly up the screen.
But if it weren’t for the people listed in the credits, there would be no movie. Each one of those people played a specific part in bringing the movie to the screen. Directors, actors, script writers, costume designers, special effects artists…there’s a long list of people who added something to the making of the movie. Recognizing these people is important.
As you work through your sexual abuse, a lot of time and attention is given to the antagonist of your story…the abuser(s). Early in the process, the abuser(s) tend to get top billing and most of the screen time.
Then later on, as you move through the process, the attention tends to shift to the protagonist of the story…you. As you learn new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, you get more of the billing and more of the screen time.
As you come to the end of the process, it is really easy to feel like “this movie is over,” and quickly move on to something else. But there is still one more part to your “movie” that you don’t want to ignore. You need to take the time to credit all the people who have played a positive and helpful part in bringing you to this point.
This could be counselors, doctors, spouses, family members, close friends, or total strangers who unknowingly offered you words of kindness and acts of support. This supporting cast of people is an important part of your story and should not be glanced over. Their investment in your life, both big and small, have contributed to you arriving at this point in your movie. They deserve your recognition and gratitude before you move on.
Take some time to think about everyone who has contributed to your care and growth. Make a list of the people and their contributions…big and small. Think of their good gifts to you. Express your gratitude, if not to them, then to someone else. Don’t leave this movie without rolling the credits that are due.
After their brief respite in the poppy field, Dorothy and her friends finally arrive at the gleaming Emerald City. It is a happy, carefree place where they can relax, refresh, and refuel. It is a place where they can get some final brush-ups and touch-ups after their long journey.
Then, just when they are ready to see the Wizard and complete their journey, they are reminded that their enemy is still alive and well. The Wicked Witch of the West, the biggest enemy of them all, invades their merriment, writing her demand for surrender across a darkened sky.
With fear and intimidation literally hanging over their heads, they run to the Wizard, hoping he will protect them from the witch and make everything right. But the Wizard is not as benevolent as they had hoped. Instead of protecting them from the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard tells them they can’t get what they want until they face her. They are heart broken and frustrated. They thought they had escaped the witch, and now they are told they must face her and bring back her broom stick. In other words, they must defeat her.
You have already journeyed long and hard. You have faced the frightening memories that you have avoided for years. You have not only gained an understanding of how your abuse has affected you, but you have gained some control of the thoughts and reactions that have mystified you for years. You are learning to trust others, and you are getting more comfortable with intimacy…both emotionally and physically. Looking back, you feel you have accomplished a feat comparable to climbing Mt. Everest. You have gotten better.
And though you almost settled for “better,” others encouraged you to push on and complete the journey. Now you feel like you have reached your goal. You finally feel you have arrived.
So the thought that there is one more thing to face can be a frustrating belly-drop…but you still have to face the witch.
The witch is different for different people. It the may be the underlying unfairness of what happened and how the perpetrator has gone unpunished. It could be the abuser(s) and the place they currently have in your heart, head, and life. Maybe the witch you need to face is those who should have known what was going on and protected you. Or it could be the difficult questions about God and His seeming lack of attention and intervention.
Whatever it is, there is no getting around it. You must face your witch once and for all. Otherwise, your witch will still be out there writing threatening messages over your head.
“Growth itself contains the germ of happiness.” – Pearl Buck
“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” – Orson Welles.