I’ve struggled a lot in life to maintain stable relationships and to launch myself onto a career path. What I didn’t understand was that so many of those struggles were rooted in early childhood trauma that I had suppressed for decades. My inability to finish an elementary teaching degree in my 30s; the emergence of a rare neurological disorder that prevented me from completing a masters in counseling and left me disabled in my 50s; and the fact that I’ve been married and divorced three times are all examples of the impact of incest.
You see, for decades I had hidden something from myself: early childhood sexual abuse. When I began experiencing recovered memories at age 47, I was overwhelmed with contradictory thoughts & emotions. Finally I sought therapy to help me begin the recovery path. I’m still on it.
As the years have gone by, more recent studies have shown the very real impact of sexual trauma on the brain/body connection. Instead of blaming myself for not being good enough, I now have compassion for the struggling child, teen, and adult selves which have constituted my life path. I didn’t know I was dealing with PTSD. I knew I’d grown up in an alcoholic family, but the extent of my injuries were hidden until the recovered memories surfaced, demanding to be dealt with.
Though I missed fulfilling the career of my dreams—my own counseling practice— and grieved what was not to be, something else came along in my mid-life years. As my mind/body healed from the neurological disorder, I discovered hidden artistic talents when working with glass and mosaic arts. I became an artist!
What has become important to me is to use my hard-earned knowledge about sexual trauma to help those who have already been wounded. Now age 62, I invested time in volunteering with The Manasseh Project, a residential program here in Grand Rapids which helps teens age 13-17 who were rescued from human trafficking. I’ve been exposed to how widespread this travesty is in our society, and I know first-hand how debilitating it can be.
During ArtPrize 7 this year, I combined my artistic abilities with my compassion for victims of sexual trauma. My entry was titled “Cutting Edges,” and was dedicated to those who are at the forefront of addressing difficult social issues such as addiction, suicide, and sexual trauma. I sought to inspire both dialog and action.
Even though I missed the traditional career boat, and live on a fixed income, and deal with disabilities, I have value and worth in this world. And I seek to share them with others. That’s what’s important to me now.
This story was written by Mary Helmic out of Grand Rapids,Michigan.