Systems of power and oppression are difficult to break.
“Abusers rarely stand on their own,” Rachel Denhollander stated on a recent episode of “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast.
She was one of the first to speak up about her abuser, whose name is not worthy of mentioning here, and watched as so many people insulated and protected her abuser.
I knew her words to be true, and I find this to be true in my own life.
My childhood was less than ideal. My family of origin was abusive both mentally and emotionally.
I was often told that I was too overweight, that I was not good enough, that I could never do anything right. I was called every cuss word in the book, and my family of origin was quick to remind me that I had it way better than some people, and if I wanted to keep it that way then I needed to “shut my mouth.”
I would express these issues to different people in my life. My grandparents, some trusted teachers and other trusted adults in my life.
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky where everyone, unfortunately, knows each other. So, most of the time, my sharing was met with voices telling me I was “complaining” too much and that I needed to cut my mother some slack. She was only 18 when she had me, and I did ruin her plans for graduating, I was told.
The system insulated her and placed further abuse on the victim.
The first person to believe my story and see the weight of that abuse was my youth minister. I didn’t grow up in church and, truth be told, I only went to youth group as an escape from the pain I felt at home.
I cannot begin to express how it felt to have someone validate my experience and hear me. Honestly, my life has not been the same since.
Because of that validation and relationship with my youth minister, I poured my free time into that church and ministry, and, through that, I began to feel a call to ministry.
When I expressed this to my family of origin, I was met with more abuse. “God would never call you,” I was told. “God could never use you.” When I turned 18, I was kicked out for following the call to be a minister.
In the years that followed, the people in the system protecting my abusers have continued to pour on to the pain. I will receive messages out of the blue that say, “The Bible says to honor thy mother and father. … How can you go against that? Some minister you are! You are a blasphemer!”
If I’m honest, their attack finds its mark. It hits me at my core (Enneagram 9).
I want to throw all the biblical knowledge I have back at them and explain why they are wrong, but I know it will fall on deaf ears.
So, I find myself frozen because I am brought back to that little kid who was told he wasn’t good enough and who believed his voice didn’t matter.
I share my story because our stories are important. There is power in speaking truth to systems and people that want to bring others down.
No, my story is not one about toppling bigger systems of injustice like racism, sexual abuse, discrimination based on gender, sexual identity, etc. but it is an important story to tell.
I know there are countless others who struggle with their own families of origin. Please hear me: you are not alone.
Just because they are your biological family does not give them the right to speak evil, hateful and destructive things over you or towards you.
I am also reminded that family does not have to be the people you were “born” to. My chosen family is strong and loving; they empower me daily. They lift me up, encourage me and help me get through these troubled waters when folks come and try to rock the boat.
My chosen family also includes an amazing counselor! Getting professional help is not a sign of weakness; it is a needed and seriously important part of my own self-care and support system.
I hope that your chosen family includes people who lift you up and support you. And I hope you have an amazing counselor as well.
Abusers rarely stand on their own. I find that to be true, but I also know we have the ability to empower and support those who have been abused.
When we listen to victims, believe their stories, support them and build a system of support and trust behind them, then we can topple those who have kept abusers in power for so long.
If we work to advocate for victims and to let others know they are not quite alone, perhaps we can change this truth.
Perhaps it could be said that victims rarely stand on their own because their system of support helps to topple their abusers. May it be so Lord.
Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Sizemore is a graduate of Georgetown College and the McAfee School of Theology. He and his wife Abby have two awesome daughters, A.T. and Edie.