“Forgiveness does not override memory. Forgiveness overrules memory.” Bret Legg
Finally, Dorothy and her traveling companions come out of the dark forest. The sun is shining, the air is clear, and the field before them is filled with colorful flowers swaying in the wind. When they come over the hill, they see it! The Emerald City! Gleaming on the hill against the bright blue sky. Dorothy has dreamed about this place and she has pushed hard to get there. The end is finally in sight!
Eager to complete their journey, the travelers joyously pick up the pace. Then something happens. The Wicked Witch of the West casts a spell and they begin to tire. Their long journey catches up with them, and all they want to do is to stop and take a nap. They feel they can afford to take a break, because they’re so close.
They’re so close…yet so far.
The Scarecrow, unaffected by the witch’s spell, knows they are in danger. He instinctively knows if they stop now they will never reach their destination. So he tries to keep them awake and urge them on, but one by one his companions begin to fall asleep.
Then, when all seems lost, Glenda the Good Witch of the East, initiates something very unexpected. In the middle of a spring-like day, snow begins to fall on Dorothy and her friends. This out-of-the-blue event revives the travelers and they rise to finish their journey.
After facing your “lion,” things can seem a little lighter and brighter, as if the dark perils of the journey are now behind you. After all, you have made some good progress and gained some great traveling companions. With the end in sight, you are ready to finish this thing up.
Then, the long and difficult trip starts to catch up with you. You start to feel fatigued and you begin to think, “Why not take a little break? After all, I’m closer than I’ve ever been. I can see the destination from here. Why not rest a little?”
When this happens, you are in danger of being lulled to sleep. The thought of settling for “close enough” will anesthetize you. Yes, you are closer than you have ever been, but you are not there yet. You are stuck between where you have been and where you could be, and if you stop you could stay stuck for a very long time.
Don’t get me wrong. It is important to pace yourself, but pacing yourself does not mean stop.
This is where you need encouragement to keep moving forward. This may come from those further down the road than you. It may come when something completely unexpected (like cold snow on a warm spring day) hits you and reminds you that all is still not well. Whatever it is, don’t let the desire for a temporary respite keep you from reaching your goal. You’re not there until you’re there.
Dorothy leaves Munchkin Land with the encouragement of Glenda and the Munchkins ringing in her ears. With Toto in hand and her destination in mind, Dorothy steps quickly and confidently toward her desired destination.
Then the movie cuts to the next scene. Dorothy is still walking, and so far the trip has been uneventful. She’s still moving at a good pace, and perhaps she’s thinking, “This trip is not going to be that bad.”
Then she comes to a crossroad, and for the first time since starting the journey, she isn’t sure what to do next. Glenda doesn’t show up to give her directions, and though the road is still peaceful, you can see her uncertainty starting to build.
After you reveal your abuse and make the commitment to take the road of recovery, the first steps don’t seem that bad. Initially, you’re carried along by the momentum of your new-found courage and the encouragement of others. You also take comfort in the fact you can still turn to old perceptions and tactics if things get too hard. You hold on to these familiar comforts as if they were your Toto.
So the beginning of your journey is relatively smooth and encouraging. You’re not digging into deep stuff. Your counselor is starting you off at a slow pace, and you find yourself thinking, “This isn’t that bad. I can do this.”
Some victims want to get things over with as quickly as possible, so they start down the road of recovery sprinting. But that’s not the way you need to approach recovery. You need a little time to adjust and build some confidence in your counselor and yourself.
Enjoy the easy pace in the beginning, but know crossroads of uncertainty lie ahead.
“Everyone must have some thought that’s going to pull them through somehow.” – “Rock Me On the Water,” by Jackson Browne
“It isn’t where you come from, it’s where you’re going that counts.” – Ella Fitzgerald
I’ve been helping women* recover from sexual abuse since 1992, and over the years I’ve noticed that women who are trying to decide whether to begin the process of recovery often 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?
- Will I be the same person 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.
I was able to piece together helpful responses and analogies, but I was unable to come up with anything that would be as comprehensive and as adaptable as I desired. This led me to look for a simple, yet sensitive way to explain the process of recovering from sexual abuse.
I began to think about a story from my childhood that might give sexual abuse survivors a simple and memorable way to understand the journey of recovery. That led me to use the well know movie The Wizard of Oz as a type of road map to understand what happens to a woman who undertakes the journey of recovering from sexual abuse.
The use of this children’s story is not meant to cheapen the offense of the 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 Road Out of Oz is not meant to minimize a survivor’s experience, but rather to give the survivor the understanding they need to move forward.
I hope that you, or someone you know, will subscribe to this blog and join me as we seek to better understand what it means to take the road out of Oz and walk the road of recovering from sexual abuse.
*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 book is written from that perspective.
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.
“Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” – Eddie Rickenbacker.
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.
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.