To be an Olympian is to chronically push beyond one’s limits toward athletic excellence, fueled primarily by an internal drive and the dream of being among the best representing one’s country on the world stage.
To survive child abuse is to chronically push beyond the limits imposed by one’s abusers and abusive conditioning, fueled by an internal drive, moral compass, and self-advocacy. It is pursuing the dream of being truly healed from abuse and its effects.
You may be surprised by these five brave points that the Olympics and child abuse survival have in common.
Becoming an Olympian and surviving child abuse both require a wild dream
Abuse is cyclic in nature and multi-generational. It’s physics—an object in motion tends to stay in motion. When one grows up in an abusive environment, the abuse cycle is set in motion which then, if left on auto-pilot, will perpetuate into the next generation.
To heal from abuse first requires a dream—and a wild one at that. It is a dream that life can feel peaceful, content, even joyous, and that relationships can feel good, healthy, and respectful.
Becoming an Olympian and surviving child abuse both require an immense amount of training
The 10,000-hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, claims that it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery in any skill.
USA Today compares Olympic medalist Katie Ledecky to marathon swimmers, especially given the number of events she’s had in the Tokyo Olympics. Reaching that level of endurance surely must have taken well over 10,000 hours of her young lifetime.
Surviving, escaping, healing, and thriving after an abusive upbringing requires the same extraordinary amount of work. I would argue it’s the equivalent of swimming thousands of miles while sea monsters are attempting to drag you down into the depths below.
Becoming an Olympian and surviving child abuse both require as much individual as team effort
Team sports require individual effort because each team member needs to do their own part to make the team successful. Likewise, individual sports require a team effort because the best individual athletes are supported by a team of people—coaches, family, and sponsors.
Similarly, surviving abuse can be considered an individual sport, because it is such a unique journey for each survivor, as well as a team endeavor supported by a cadre of therapists, friends, books, coaches, and the noble efforts of non-profits like Stop Abuse Campaign.
Both Olympic training and surviving child abuse can be linear or obstacle races
What I mean by obstacles here is not the sort that all sports have, such as recovering from injury or breaking into the next threshold of speed or ability. I mean some sports quite literally are full of obstacles:
- Canoe slalom. Like canoeing down rapids isn’t hard enough, let’s have the participants paddle upstream in surging, powerful waters and navigate the canoe between markers.
- Triathalon. Like running isn’t miserable enough, let’s also bike with sopping wet clothes after swimming in a harbor.
- Modern Pentathalon. For those bored by triathlons who also want to go a little ‘old school,’ trade the bike in for a horse, add a sword fight, and shoot out!
Humor aside, experiencing child abuse is like being catapulted into one of these sports. It requires incredible endurance, strength, and versatility that can leave one longing for the smoother, linear race other people seem to experience.
But the non-linear element of surviving child abuse makes abuse survivors extra strong and dynamic.
We have the capacity to turn the source of our pain into the source of our power.
Every journey and phase of child abuse survival is different.
We are all running our individual races with our own specific sets of obstacles. Some of us are figuratively canoeing upstream, others swimming, biking, or running for our lives. Others are garnering and utilizing our skills to overcome our abuse, combat its effects, or maybe even navigate familial relationships with our (former) abusers.
Becoming an Olympian and surviving child abuse both require doing things other people may not understand
Very few understand the journey required to reach the Olympics’ level of success. Most do not understand the journey of overcoming child abuse, either.
We can all learn from Simone Biles’ courageous decision to prioritize her health by withdrawing from the team competition because it was a testament to the fact that:
- We each have to be our own advocates when it comes to our health
- We must draw on our self-love and be willing to make unpopular decisions even if others will be disappointed, will not understand us, and will maybe even judge us
- We must have a sense of conviction and firmness in setting boundaries like this
These principles that Simone upheld during the Olympics are the same foundational principles required to escape abuse, successfully heal from it, and thrive in spite of experiencing such horrendous hardships.
You are a brave, gold-medaled champion
It takes Olympian strength of will, determination, and power to break free of your abuser and find healing from the devastating effects of child abuse.
So, consider yourself hereby awarded a champion medal in your own category: surviving child abuse. Your brave journey certainly deserves the gold.
Please check some of our helpful resources for Healing from ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences).
If you’d like to donate to help protect children from experiencing child abuse, please help us here.
Writer and Coach
Azure Moyna is a writer and coach about issues relating to food, body, mental illness, familial dysfunction, societal treatment of overweight people, and the healing journey. Azure is the author of her memoir, Fullness.