From Snail to Slugger
“Everybody move in. Snail’s up next.”
I cringed to hear those words during a game of kickball at recess. Athletic prowess wasn’t something I possessed, especially when it came to running, so the other children on the playground nicknamed me Snail.
My uncle, who had been offered a baseball scholarship to play for the minor leagues before Vietnam, worked with me to teach me how to hit a baseball. I returned to the playground for a game of baseball, only to hear the familiar announcement.
“Aw, it’s just Snail coming to bat. Everybody move in.”
Suddenly, a crack was heard that hadn’t been heard before when I was at bat. I didn’t just hit the ball; I smacked it out of the playground! As I ran the bases and heard my teammates cheer, I knew the kids on the playground would view me differently in baseball from that moment on. It wasn’t long before my nickname was changed to Slugger.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), I find sharing my story brings back a sense of shame that parallels with being called Snail. I close my eyes and breathe. In my mind, I see the tears of CSA victims. I know I have to share my story to give them courage. I tell them about the beloved family friend who repeatedly sexually abused me between the ages of four and twelve. I pause to remind myself I didn’t deserve it. No one deserves to be violated. I breathe deeply and continue.
My intimidating perpetrator kept me from telling about the abuse for years. No one noticed the signs. Nightmares plagued me continually. For security, I kept my sweater on at my Christian school. Though I was teased for my sweater reeking of cigarette smoke while the other kids’ clothes did not, I kept it on. Regardless of the heat, I wore my sweater. My legs were whipped with a wooden coat hanger because I couldn’t control my bladder. I see my audience nod their heads.
When I couldn’t bear the abuse anymore, I confided in an elderly lady whom I trusted implicitly. She held me, cried with me, and strongly encouraged me to tell my grandparents who were raising me. When I did, we never saw my perpetrator again.
I share my teenage pursuit of counseling, my struggles with anorexia, my marriage, children and grandchildren, and my nearly three decades as an elementary school teacher. I share one of the strategies I found most helpful in overcoming CSA. I changed my label from victim to survivor. Victim held the connotation of being down for the count, while survivor made me feel like I’d won the most difficult fight of my life.
Sure, it takes guts to reveal something so personal, but I swallow hard and get through it. After all, opening up about CSA is like being at bat. It only takes a split second of courage to smack the ball out of the park, but that split second can change your label for the rest of your life.