How I Found My Roar, and Gained my Power Back
Fear flooded my veins when I ran into an old friend of my mother’s in a clothing store at the age of 13. My trembling body stared into his eyes, and while my head screamed “RUN”, my feet were frozen to the floor. It was in this moment of absolute terror that my brain was triggered into remembering the monstrous side of this smiling liar.
For the next four years I experienced extreme shame, depression, suicidal thoughts, and felt disgusted by my body. I knew I lived my life in fear. I knew I had such terrifying nightmares it would make Steven King cringe. I knew I was angry. I knew who hurt me. However, I didn’t know exactly what happened. Because I couldn’t answer the “why” question, I felt a lot of anger and confusion throughout my adolescence. It wasn’t until a flashback occurred, that I finally knew why I was the way I was. Once the final piece of the puzzle was in place, I was able to reflect on my childhood and make sense of my fears.
At five years old, I contracted a sexually transmitted disease. This is where some of the deepest shame resides within my heart. As if being sexually abused by an adult man wasn’t enough, I was inspected weekly by male doctors who asked me to “take off my pants”. I was re-victimized every single time I had to lay down on a Doctor’s table. Thank goodness that at five years old I had become a professional at dissociating myself from the present, or I don’t think I could have made it through the checks-ups and operations. How do you tell a child they have a sexually transmitted disease? You don’t. You tell them it came from a toilet seat.
An STD at five years old makes adults cringe with worry. Although professionals tried their hardest, I never spoke of the sexual abuse I had already been enduring since the age of two. My perpetrator had such a strong hold on my voice that his threats of violence and murder screamed in my head as a nice, safe person attempted to get me to speak up.
I remember being interviewed by a social worker. I was colouring while she asked me questions about my life. As a child, I took colouring very seriously, so I know that in my eyes, my picture would have been neat and near perfection. This social worker asked me a question I can still hear loud and clear. “What types of names are there for male private parts?” With this question, I took my crayon in my fist, stated “there are lots of names” and proceeded to scribble all over my perfected picture as hard as I could. The conclusion? I was perfectly fine.
Skipping forward, now, to an eight year old girl who is trying so desperately to simply exist, as she watched her virginity flow down the drain of the bathtub he stole it in. After those horrific days with him, I was never the same. Any sparkle in my eyes was long since put out. Any preconceived notions of love, and what it should be, were demolished. Any chance I had at feeling confident and beautiful were stolen along with the one true thing I could have called my own.
How my perpetrator manipulated me so strongly that I never spoke a word about my childhood sexual abuse until I was seventeen, baffles my mind.
This brings me to today.
Today, I write to you as the Founder of my own awareness initiative called Project Roar. Project Roar symbolizes using your voice to speak out, to rid yourself of the shame and secrets, and free your heart from the pain of remaining silent for so long. When you hear a roar, you listen. The hair on the back of your neck stands up. A roar gets your attention. That is what I aim to do. What I dedicate the rest of my life to doing. My silence no longer exists, or controls my life and my heart. My voice is loud. It is powerful. It is capable of evoking and calling for change.
The very moment I decided to speak out, was the exact moment I gained my power back. My silence was like letting him hold the leash and lead me through my life. Now, I am the leader of my life. I am the one in control of my voice, my thoughts, and my opinions. I no longer have to live in fear. I no longer feel powerless. By keeping silent, by keeping my story to myself, I was letting him win. Now, I am winning. I am victorious over my years of sexual abuse as a child. I am not a victim, silenced by the empty threats of an adult who took advantage of childhood innocence. I am a survivor of my experiences. I am a roarior – a person who speaks about the unspeakable without reservation or fear of judgment.
I never could have pictured the empowerment I could receive from my years of sexual trauma. If I met 15 year old Jessie and told her that in ten years she would be creating a nonprofit organization about childhood sexual abuse, I would have laughed.
I no longer feel like my child sexual abuse experiences define my life. Now, I define how my child sexual abuse experiences fit into my life. I view myself as so much more than a victim of horrendous acts. I view myself with pride, with confidence and with a hope of delivering inspiration to others.
There are so many things my perpetrator stole from me. But, he didn’t steal my voice.
Jessica Lanigan is a victim of child sexual abuse. For the majority of her childhood, she was sexually abused by a male family friend who forced her to perform and receive various sexual acts. At the age of five, she began treatment for a sexually transmitted disease that she contracted as a result of the sexual abuse. After the abuse ended at the age of nine, her memories of the traumatic experiences she endured were repressed for many years. Although the mind can temporarily forget, the body unfortunately does not. Years of experiencing depression, anxiety, behavioral issues and PTSD told her that something wasn’t quite right. Nightmares and flashbacks eventually helped her shed light on years of darkness. What was always in the back of her mind became true – she was sexually abused as a child.
Her healing journey began at Gentle Path Counselling Services, where she met a wonderful counsellor who helped her understand how to begin coping with the memories and pain. She was able to realize that it wasn’t her fault, and that she had the ability to take back control of her life.
Jessica recently started her own awareness initiative called Project Roar, which aims to raise awareness about child sexual abuse, by refusing to remain silent. Sexual abuse and silence tend to go hand in hand, and she is dedicated to speaking out, so that society has no choice but to hear her roar! Project Roar is on the road to becoming a registered non-profit organization.
Jessica speaks in both middle and high schools around Saint John to talk about body safety, share her story of sexual abuse, and how the journey to healing can be empowering. Her future goals for 2015, are to begin speaking Elementary schools around the city, and branch out to schools across the province. A recent graduate from the Bachelor of Education Programme at St. Thomas University, she hopes to put this degree to good use by teaching youth and children about body safety, the difference between good and bad secrets, and power of using their voice.
Jessica is “Ending the stigma, one roar at a time”.
To find out more about Jessica and Project Roar, visit Facebook.com/theprojectroar or contact firstname.lastname@example.org