Not in Kansas Anymore

When the cyclone finishes with Dorothy, it leaves her disheveled and disoriented. Covered with the dust of the old house, Dorothy makes her way to the front door. She grabs the door knob and wonders what she will find on the other side. Will her family be alright? Will there be anything left of the homestead? What about the farmhands?

She slowly opens the door to discover she’s not in Kansas anymore. The cyclone has moved her from the brown, dusty sepia tones of Kansas to the strange and confusing colors of an unfamiliar place. Dorothy stands there on the threshold between two worlds; the world behind her and the world ahead of her.

Verbalizing your past sexual abuse can feel like getting caught up in a cyclone. It’s a dizzying and disorienting experience that can leave you feeling off balance and nauseous.

After you shake off the dust and regain your balance, you wonder if anything will be the same. You realize you have opened the door to to something. You now stand at the threshold between two worlds; one that is dilapidated but familiar, and one that is promising but uncomfortable.

You feel you need to choose between staying in the old run-down house or venturing out into a strange new world, but you really don’t have a choice. The genie’s out of the bottle. The story’s been told and you can’t un-tell it. You know you can’t go back to the way things were. You’ve already crossed a threshold. Now your only viable option is to move forward.

The journey is about to begin.

The Big One Hits

Life on the farm gets progressively harder for Dorothy, as she feels Elmia Gulch breathing down her neck. She starts to run away, only to be reminded by Mr. Marvel that there are some things you just can’t run away from.

Just when she decides to give it another try, she sees it. A twister, dark and ominous on the horizon. She knows there is no way to stop it. All she can do is look for shelter and brace herself.

The twister shakes her, spins her, and  disorients her. She begins to see things that start off benign, but suddenly turn dark and frightening.

As her terror reaches a fevered pitch, suddenly there’s a thud followed by a blanketing silence. Dorothy has survived the twister, but something tells her there’s more uncertainty to come.

As a survivor of sexual abuse, you know internally that something’s not right. Maybe you’ve known that sense of disorder and confusion that mounts and makes you want to run away. Perhaps you’ve tried to run away through work, caring for kids, shopping, religious activity, sex, and many other types of distracting activities.

When running away doesn’t work, you decide to buckle down and make things work. You go back and focus your efforts and energies on behavioral problems and surface level issues. But all you’re doing is learning to walk with a limp, rather than deal with the rock in your shoe. The root cause still remains.

Yet, no matter what you do, the cyclone of your abuse keeps coming. You can feel it growing larger on the horizon, and you know it’s unstoppable.

Then it happens. The story comes out. The feelings rush to the front. Confusion and fear begin to spin you and create images that are familiar and frightening.

But just when it seems unbearable, it stops. Like un-kinking a garden hose, the pressure has been released and there’s a relief you hope will last.

You even tell yourself, “There! I’ve done it! I’ve survived letting the story out. Now, on to better things.” But inside, you know there’s more. You know the journey’s not complete. It’s just begun.

Skipping the Backstory

Did you ever notice how The Wizard of Oz  jumps right into the story. After the opening music fades, we immediately see Dorothy and Toto anxiously running home after an altercation with Almira Gulch.

In other words, the movie skips the backstory.

We don’t know what happened to Dorothy’s parents or why she’s living with her aunt and uncle. We don’t know why Dorothy seems closer to her aunt than her uncle. We don’t know what makes Almira Gulch so mean, or how long she’s been that way.

It’s as if the past has been lopped off and all that seems to matter is the present moment and the present crisis.

This is often true for survivors of sexual abuse. If you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse, you want to fix the current problem or crisis and not delve into the painful backstory. You would rather stay away from those memories and feelings and not open that can of worms.

Some survivors have ignored their backstory for so long it’s hard for them to even remember their backstory.

But the backstory is important. It holds the keys to why you’re feeling what you’re feeling and doing what you’re doing. Your present trajectory is impacted by your past experiences. That’s why a counselor will ask you to review what has happened to you, rather than just helping you “fix” your current problems.

Don’t skip the backstory. If you’re serious about healing, you must be willing to look at the reality of your past. It’s a part of your journey on the road out of Oz.