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Jan. 1, 2017

There is No Such Thing as Darkness

I remember very little about the Principles of Light and Sound class that I was required to take as a Communication major at Southeastern College.  Some people might try to blame the 7 AM start time for my lack of information retention, but I tend to be a morning person. That leaves the truth, which is that my creative brain was simply bored to tears by both the scientific subject matter and the monotone with which it was delivered to my ears.  I probably spent between 53 and 58 minutes of every hour-long class daydreaming about cute boys, and the other two to seven minutes wondering why my professor didn’t brush his hair. I don’t even remember the man’s name, only that he was tall, old, and he loved to tell us to shut our “pie holes” when we made too much noise during lab experiments.   The entirety of scientific knowledge that I gained from that class—a class for which I am still in debt almost twenty years later, mind you—can be summed up in one sentence:

“There is no such thing as darkness.”

When Professor Pie Hole spoke those words, my ears perked up for the first and only time in that semester-long class. I was fascinated, at least momentarily, that according to science, darkness isn’t actually a thing. What I had always thought of as “the dark” was really just the absence of light. Dark, as imposing as it seemed, had exactly zero power in the presence of light.

Darkness isn’t actually a thing. What I had always thought of as “the dark” was really just the absence of light.

My mind was absolutely blown (for like five seconds, and then I probably went back to daydreaming about a certain tall dark and handsome senior).

Fast forward to some 16 years later when I actually found a way to apply one of those pricey principles of light and sound to real life…

When it comes to sexual abuse, the vast majority of us live as though there is such a thing as darkness. Sexual abuse seems like a secret that should be tucked safely out of view where it can’t contaminate the brighter, light-filled things in life. Burying the single most traumatizing, damaging thing that can happen to a child often feels like the right thing to do. Because there are some things we just aren’t supposed to talk about. There are some things we don’t even want to think about. The problem? By keeping light away from sexual abuse, we make darkness a “thing” and we give it power in our lives.

Denial is a brilliant coping mechanism, so it’s not exactly surprising that people use it to deal with sexual abuse. No one wants to think about the fact that at least one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18. No one wants to think about the power that just a moment of inappropriate sexual contact can have in a child’s formative years, or that its effects can (and often do) last an entire lifetime. And we definitely don’t want to think about the unsettling fact that more than 90% of all sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone that is trusted by the child and his or her family.

90% of all sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone that is trusted by the child and his or her family.

We don’t want to face the ugly truth. So we strike a compromise with darkness: we protect it from the light, roped off in specific areas of our lives, provided it returns the favor by shielding our eyes from realities we don’t have the stomach to face.

And we don’t stop there.  We actually go a step further than denial and do our best to dress up the dark to make it seem like a good thing. We even try to spiritualize our alliance with darkness so we can excuse keeping it around. God doesn’t want us to worry about the “what ifs.” God doesn’t want us to dwell on the past. God doesn’t want us to focus on the evil in this world. So we feel justified when we close our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and yell “la la la la la” over the cries of hurting children.

We can come up with a lot of pretty, even “holy” excuses for our denial, but the real reason we compromise with darkness and give it valuable real estate in our lives is because we’re afraid of the price we will pay for the light. And in truth, for all its goodness, light does cost us something. When we turn on the light, it forces us to face what has been festering under cover of darkness. It obliterates the comforting notion that sexual abuse by trusted members of society is rare and unlikely to affect us directly. It causes us to acknowledge the millions of innocent children–some that we know and love–whose bodies and souls are being crushed by the people they should be able to trust the most. Light makes us face reality head on. And frankly, the reality of sexual abuse hurts.

The real reason we compromise with darkness and give it valuable real estate in our lives is because we’re afraid of the price we will pay for the light.

So why choose to allow the light in if it’s painful? Because if we stay where we are, one day we’ll discover that our deal with the darkness hasn’t actually protected us from the pain of reality. It has simply given that painful reality an unchecked breeding groundAllowed to stay cocooned in the darkest places, the evil of sexual abuse doesn’t lay dormant, it thrivesWhen we turn a blind eye to sexual abuse, when we choose not to acknowledge that it is happening in our homes, schools, churches and other “safe spaces,” we are essentially giving evil our blessing to multiply.

For nearly three decades, I kept a giant “KEEP OUT” sign on the truth of my childhood sexual abuse. I made a deal with darkness because I felt safe and protected away from the light, and I could protect others there, too. Or so I thought. Then one day, when the pain of darkness became too intense and I had reached the very end of my rope, I cracked open the door to allow light into my deepest, darkest places.

What did I discover there? I hadn’t actually been protecting myself or anyone else by banishing the light. I had been protecting evil. When I allowed light to illuminate the truth of my past, darkness began to lose its power in my life and my healing process finally began. It hurt, yes, but it was beautiful.

This blog is born from my lifelong struggle with the effects of childhood sexual abuse. It’s a refusal to settle for the darkness that only magnifies that struggle. It’s about defying that darkness and opening ourselves up to allow The Light to shine into our murkiest places. It’s about healing from the past instead of hiding from it. It’s about hope for the future–for me, and anyone else whose life has been affected by the evil of sexual abuse. Most importantly, it’s an invitation on a journey toward wholeness–a wholeness that is only possible when we are willing to accept no less than light.

I hope you’ll join me.