By Holliann Hartman
That morning, I stared at my reflection for what seemed like hours, unable to recognize myself. I felt 90 years old. I still looked nine years old. I was nine. A family member raped me the night before, and I was never the same.
I remember my fourth-grade teacher telling me to remember her when I was famous. She saw me when I felt safe at school.
I never grew up to be the next pop star everyone expected. I believe the reason may be that I was born into an environment devoid of consistent love and care.
I entered my adult life unaware of the damage the abuse had caused.
Luckily for me, my personality comes with a big mouth and a brewing volcano inside. I believe in equality and justice. When I realized I was a rape victim at age 15, I plotted my move to California. At 18, I moved to Los Angeles.
I wanted to use my story to motivate other victims. I did not care about my career, so long as I had a voice for survivors. I also put 3,000 miles between “he” and I.
I began to tell my story, which led me to motivational speaking; often finding survivors asking ‘when?’ — ‘when will it stop hurting,’ ‘when will it stop affecting our behavior?’
I always start by explaining everyone is different. In my case, I had to accept the abuse and the neglect. None of it was my fault, but I had to accept it.
“So, am I just a victim forever?”
No. You are a survivor the moment you make that decision — when you accept that person in the mirror — past and present included.
Children who grow up with a fight-or-flight mentality enter adulthood with this same pressure. The isolation this creates continues into adulthood. I know I struggle with loneliness but the abuse inadvertently bestowed wisdom, compassion and empathy for other survivors.
I finally found a solution. I was able to proudly speak out about sexual abuse to anyone who would listen. Childhood friends reached out on Facebook to tell me that simply by sharing my story, I had given them the courage to stand up to their own abusers.
Learn to love the gift the experience of being a victim has given you. This is where the power lives: To make a difference and become a survivor. And just like a phoenix rising from its ashes, you too, will find your identity as a survivor and rise from this trauma.