As a child, I thought my abuse occurred and continued both because I wasn’t enough of something and yet was too much of something else. Not good enough to be treated right but too pretty to be left alone. Attracting too much attention but not outspoken enough to tell. Too smart for my own good but not smart enough to avoid what I knew was wrong.

I existed in a constant state of confusion, never knowing what I was going to get and why. Did I do too much and ask for it? Or was I not enough and deserved it?

In fact, there were times when I was with my abuser and for whatever reason the abuse didn’t occur. But instead of being relieved that he was kind and gentle towards me, I fretted over what I could have possibly done wrong. Too worried about what he thought and yet not concerned enough with how what he thought (and did) made me feel.

It led to hard-to-break perfectionist tendencies (both to protect myself and my secret) and a deep-seated fear that one misstep on my part and everything would crumble…my family, my reputation, my relationships, and my life. I grew up scared to be seen and at the same time convinced I wasn’t worthy enough to be noticed.

I evaluated everything that came my way based on the experiences of my past and it kept me paralyzed. Frozen in fear. Too scared to engage, to speak my mind, and to be authentically me. I did what and lived how I thought everyone expected me to and tried to maintain the darkest of secrets all the while.

But I wasn’t truly living. I was surviving on the outside – poised, obedient, well-mannered, a star-student – and completely dying on the inside – plagued with anxiety, an eating disorder, and absolutely no self-confidence.

Instead of healing myself though, I set my full focus on healing others and threw everything I had into my education working all the way up to a medical degree and board certification in pediatrics. Ultimately, I made myself into the person I always wanted and needed to have in my life as a child and adolescent.

But even after I started releasing the secrecy and shame and tried to earnestly begin my own healing, I still felt those long-held survival techniques anchoring me to the past like shackles. I felt like I was living on the sidelines of my own life unable to fully participate in the present.

In previous years of working to heal from my traumas, instead of making a lengthy list of New Year’s resolutions that would likely leave me with more guilt and self-struggle if I was unable to see them through, I chose to simply focus on one word for the duration of the twelve months with no expectations, no pressure, and no stress – just growth and grace.

Last year, I chose the word BRAVE to focus on and tried to break out of those aforementioned abuser- and self- imposed restraints. It was certainly easier said than done. I distinctly remember a therapy session at the end of 2016 where my counselor asked me, “What are you afraid of?” My first thought and totally honest reply….”Everything!”

As a survivor of long-term sexual abuse and multiple later episodes of rape between the ages of four and thirteen by one perpetrator and a separate rape at the age of seventeen by a different perpetrator, it was true; everything did scare me. Even seemingly good things left an imprint of fear on my heart because I knew from my past how quickly they could go bad.

And so it was then that my one word for 2017 came to me. BRAVE. I needed to practice the art of being brave; the art of being scared of everything but giving everything a chance to change me….to make me bolder, to make me better.

After clinging to control (or at least the illusion of it) for decades, having lived through so many experiences where I had absolutely none, I needed to let go a little and step out of my uncomfortable comfort zone. I wanted (needed!) to grow my inner strength, and I desperately wanted to go from the voiceless victim I felt like I was to the valiant victor over my past that I truly wanted to be.

I didn’t have a clear path of taking this on in mind, however, so I just started off small: first telling my family I was going to counseling (for my most recent miscarriage they assumed) then transforming my teenage patients’ whole demeanors when I responded with a quiet “Me too” statement of solidarity to their tear-filled disclosures of having been sexually assaulted.

I told my trusted friends that were in the know more about the sexual violence wrought against me, especially the aftermath of surviving it, and I let myself start to love and care for that younger girl within who had endured so much pain. And what I thought weeks before might endanger me – breaking the silence, telling the secrets, releasing the shame – surprisingly began to empower me.

So I ventured a step or two (or a thousand) further and told my whole truth to my parents (with a heart as prepared as it could be for any reaction I might get) and then took on Sexual Assault Awareness Month with gusto publicly sharing that I was a survivor of sexual violence on my social media and encouraging my friends to “Believe Survivors.”

Though I did get complete silence from some people I didn’t expect, what I got more of was statements of support encouraging me to keep speaking, keep standing up, and keep being strong. And I found so many people willing to share their story because I first shared mine.

Was it easy? Not. At. All. There were trials and tears, frustration and fears. But each small step away from what my abusers/rapists made me believe about myself gave me the confidence I needed to take the next one, ever closer to the me I wanted to be and always with the word BRAVE in the back of my mind.

Was it worth it? Absolutely! What I discovered on the other side of all the fear I had been living behind was a sweet, sweet freedom. The shackles of shame, silence, and secrecy were gone and I was able to continue truly healing in ways that hadn’t been possible to me before, all while helping others do the same, which was another level of healing in its own right.

And now that I’ve torn down hundreds of walls and gone public with my history of sexual violence, I’m working to not let it control who I am today and what I’d like to be tomorrow. So presently, in the beginning of 2018, I move FORWARD (this year’s one word)….not limiting myself based on the playlist of my past but empowered by the potential of my future, all the while never forgetting, and continuing to take, those BRAVE baby steps that led me from surviving to thriving in the first place.

Brittney Drames, MD

Brittney Drames is a wife, mother, board-certified pediatrician, and survivor of sexual violence, who has a passion for helping others both personally and professionally. She enjoys reading, time spent at the beach, being with family and friends, decorating her home, and delicious food. Though she likes travelling (albeit briefly) to big cities, Brittney and her husband happily reside on several acres of sprawling countryside near the coast of Virginia/North Carolina and are the blessed parents of two wonderful boys she loves to hold in her hands and four precious babies she lives to hold in her heart. She credits her faith, family, friends, and fellow survivors for helping her bravely get this far and is looking forward (pun intended) to what’s next on her healing journey.