Personal Transformation: Turning My Scars into Purposeful Living

Check out this post with Marlena Fiol author of Nothing Bad Between Us

Crashing Upward

Physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse are all examples of traumatic events, incidents that can make victims believe they are in danger of being seriously injured or losing their life. Such traumas are more widespread than many of us tend to imagine. On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year. It leaves an imprint on the brain for life, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. Experts report that such events can also make victims prone to a number of subsequent health conditions, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

What we know less about is how personal traumas, despite their damaging effects, may positively shape the way victims see the world around them, the causes they take on, and the values they fight to uphold.

My podcast guest this week, Icelandic author, speaker and playwright Thordis Elva, shares her experience of being raped at sixteen. She describes the guilt and shame – as well as the anger and vengeance – she felt for years. For Thordis, these were all important steppingstones on her journey toward eventual forgiveness, peace and her fight for women’s rights.

She holds herself as a survivor, not a victim. And she has spent much of her life advocating for gender equality. Her trauma uniquely shaped her value system and strong commitment to women’s rights and gender equality. In 2017, she gained world-wide recognition for writing the book South of Forgiveness: A True Story of Rape and Responsabillity, co-authored by her rapist. And she was voted Woman of the Year 2015 by the Federation of Icelandic Women’s Societies in Reykjavík.

As another example, just last month, J.K. Rowling wrote a piece about her reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues. In it she shared being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor. Here’s the part that especially struck me: “I’m extraordinarily fortunate; I’m a survivor, certainly not a victim. I’ve only mentioned my past because, like every other human being on this planet, I have a complex backstory, which shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions.”

She holds herself as a survivor, not a victim. And she is going out on a limb, advocating for the huge numbers of women who have traumatic histories like her own.

My father repeatedly physically abused me, his most stubborn and rebellious child. But that wasn’t the end of my trauma, as is so often the case. Psychologists tell us that early childhood traumas are often followed by self-destructive activities later in life. When I was seventeen, “at a time and in a space where I was vulnerable, “(in the words of J.K. Rowling), a much older man capitalized on the opportunity and sexually abused me. Years later, I landed in a very short-lived abusive marriage. Self-destructive activities? Most definitely.

I have written about these traumas in my forthcoming book, Nothing Bad Between Us. I do not hold myself as a victim today. And most certainly, I am a survivor. Through hard work and God’s grace, I may even have made peace with these parts of my past. But I will never forget the wounds and what they have cost me. And I feel a responsibility to live my life in a way that minimizes similar damage in the lives of others.

J.K. Rowling writes, “the scars left by violence and sexual assault don’t disappear, no matter how loved you are, and no matter how much money you’ve made.” But she also writes, “We’re living through the most misogynistic period I’ve experienced. Back in the 80s, I imagined that my future daughters, should I have any, would have it far better than I ever did, but between the backlash against feminism and a porn-saturated online culture, I believe things have got significantly worse for girls.”

I have the opportunity, like Thordis Elva and like J.K. Rowling, to turn my scars into purposeful living. How is it that I can most effectively rise up against the violence around me?

What can you and I do to make this a safer and saner world for future generations?


Nothing Bad Between Us

A Mennonite Missionary’s Daughter Finds Healing in Her Brokenness

This story differs from similar accounts of childhood domination or abuse because it tells the story of the author’s seemingly paradoxical responses to the powerful forces in my life, but doesn’t leave it at that. It sheds light on the social and religious dynamics underlying these responses, giving readers insights into and understanding of her otherwise incomprehensible choices, as she found my way back into loving relationships with her parents and the Mennonite community.