Sharing a story of sexual abuse
Reema Sukumaran is an Adventist author, speaker, wife, mother of six sons, and an abuse and sexual assault survivor. Her recently published book, Beautifully Broken, tells her story of a life of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her father, an unstable home with domestic violence, and then sexual assault as a young adult. Reema has gone through a lot in one lifetime, but in choosing to be transparent with her personal and difficult story, she has paved the way for others in similar situations to share their truth. I talked with Reema to discuss the process of reliving trauma in order to share an important story.—Wilona Karimabadi.
You had to revisit a really hard part of your life in order to dredge up painful memories to write your book. Why did you choose to do that?
I decided to write this book because I want to be a voice for others who have lived with abuse. We grew up learning that what happened at home stayed at home. Maybe this was cultural or the times we grew up in. Writing this book was really a journey that started 25 years ago. What I didn’t expect was how therapeutic writing would be.
Why did it take you that amount of time?
I have written versions of my book over that time. And yet looking back, my story was not done. I had six boys over that time and life took over. I began blogging at some point, and that fed my need to write. I was still living my story. I still had yet to live so many chapters. God was still writing my story.
You mention being angry and frustrated at your mom. Why was that?
I think because a mother’s love is just so powerful. And I know my mom literally would have done anything for us. I mean, she took beatings for us. She would push us out of the room and say, “Go,” and my dad would say to her, “If you come in, I’m going to kill you,” or that kind of thing. So she took a lot of abuse for us to save us. Yet I wanted my mom to save us from the life of pain and fear we were living. I think that my mom did the best she could do at that time, but it took me so long to come to that conclusion or understanding.
How were you able to put these feelings away for good, and yet still remember the pain to write about it?
My mom got really sick two years ago. I went and lived with her for the last six weeks of her life. That time I spent with her, looking back now, was a God thing. It was one of the hardest times in my life. I was separated from my husband and my boys. I was staying with my mom, not knowing when her last breath was going to be and how I would handle it. That time with my mom allowed for us to remember and share. We talked a lot. My mom shared her regrets of the pain that we had to live with. She shared her memories and how much she loved us, her children, and her greater love for her grandchildren. Once my mom passed, I felt peace and healing that came from that time that I was blessed to share with her. I came home and knew God had written the last chapter for this book. And so I started writing. I actually finished my book on the anniversary of her death, and I realized that the ending of my book came so naturally. I could not have written it before my mom passed because I could not have been as honest as I needed to be.
As you were reliving this painful experience and going through it every day, what was going on in your mind in terms of your faith?
God has always been there for me. And I think when you’re in an abusive family like I was, you have no option but to go to someone. God was my invisible Friend because I had to have someone to go to. That’s something I think my dad was actually able to bless us with. As obnoxious as he was about religion, my two younger brothers and I have a very strong relationship with God. For me, it wasn’t an option. I think that I just needed to know that I had God there beside me through my whole journey. I think my mom instilled that faith in us too, because my mom never questioned God. And I didn’t understand that. She never became angry at God; she never questioned Him. That might be a generational thing too, I’m not sure; but her faith was very simple, and she just trusted Him and believed in Him.
You have mentioned that you are in therapy. Did writing about these difficult moments of your life impact the work you were doing there?
I only started writing after my mom died, so that was two years ago. I’ve been in counseling for four years. Beginning counseling was a big step. It wasn’t easy to dig deep and work through big hurts from so many decades. I think writing about these difficult moments was therapeutic for me to see the healing that was taking place. I have been learning to take care of myself as far as how to deal with something that may trigger me. As I now share my story, my counselor has helped me learn to share and yet protect myself from carrying pain of others that I am not equipped to carry. When I share, it is incredible how often someone will share with me “This is my story” or “You’re telling my story.” Initially, I didn’t know what to do with that. Yet what I have learned is that it is OK to say, “I’m really sorry for your pain. I’m not equipped to help you with this, but this is what helped me,” and then steer them toward someone who may be able to help them.
In reliving so many unhappy memories, do you have any good ones?
My brothers and I lived with fear and abuse. Yet we had the normal childhood memories of playing in the park, picnics, visiting family that lived in other states. Meeting Muhammed Ali was an amazing memory. We loved going away to the beach or Disney World. Life with my dad was unpredictable, so any day that wasn’t one with any drama was a good day.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I have poured so much love into this book. I asked God a long time ago to use my pain. It’s all about God’s timing. Decades later I now see how God, in His time, has made and continues to make something beautiful of all the brokenness.