Finally, she persuaded her parents not to force feed her and starved herself to death.
But a different question haunts me: Could Noa Pothoven have been saved?
The shame of the sexual assaults compelled her to keep them secret. That shame, along with the fear born of being violated, were like poison to her soul. The sexual assaults were not single-events, but the incipience of what would become a slow murder.
Noa wrote on her Instagram page, “…my suffering is unbearable. Out of fear and shame, I relive the fear, that pain every day. Always scared, always on my guard. And to this day my body still feels dirty. My house has been broken into, my body, that can never be undone.”
Her torment is palpable.
When her request for euthanasia was turned down by the Dutch government, she was told that her brain would be considered fully grown until her 21st birthday. She wrote, “It’s broken me, because I can’t wait that long.”
I understand Noa because I, too, have longed for the relief that only death could promise.
The pit I was in was so dark and so deep that I could not climb out. I couldn’t even see the sunlight at the top.
The world was going on without me. I was not needed. Nor would I be missed.
I needed to talk to someone, but who? I dreaded hearing Christian platitudes or admonitions.
It was all too much. I felt like a burden, like even drawing a breath was a waste of air.
My own vision had become so dark that I could no longer imagine a future for myself and saw no purpose in my own continued existence.
Secrets isolate people. So does shame.
One secret shame is particularly poisonous: the kind children experience after sexual abuse.
They feel dirty. Their developing minds make most children incapable of concluding that the abuse was not their fault and means nothing about them. Their limited life experience renders them unable to evaluate the credibility of abuser’s intimidation or threats to keep the abuse secret. Nor can they accurately anticipate how others will react to the news. They fear they will be in trouble, as if they are somehow to blame.
The sexual abuse of a child is a slow-motion murder.
Keeping shame-inducing secrets can lead to isolation, depression, addiction, and ultimately thoughts of harm or suicide.
- You can’t see clearly right now. There is life beyond your depression and suicidal thoughts. Borrow the eyes of someone you trust, someone who loves you and believes in you, by confiding in them.
- There is no shame in seeking help. Really. Anyone, put in the right circumstances, would have the same human response. You don’t have to be the superhuman or the ‘strong one,’ no matter what your job is. Even pastors and missionaries and counselors themselves need help sometimes. This will pass. Just stay alive long enough for it to.
- Put the ‘shoulds’ and spiritual self-judgments out of your mind for now, things people have actually said or that you imagine they would if they were to find out. Even if some Christians might judge you for not being strong enough or joyful enough or spiritual enough to pull up without help, it’s only because they haven’t experienced what you’re going through. Jesus would not and does not. There are many Christians who have been depressed and suicidal and have made it through the other side to tell about it. They will emerge as you find the courage to tell your own story. Right now, you have one job: to stay alive.
- Suicide is an end to the life God gave you and still has a plan for. I say this hesitantly because it sounds moralizing even to my ears. But that belief is the only thing that kept me hanging on to life at times. I didn’t want to arrive in Heaven ashamed that I had cut short the life God had given me. I give this to you not to judge you, but as a life preserver. God specializes in making beauty from ashes. There is a reason you are still here.
- Tell your shameful secret to even one other person who won’t judge you, who will still love you after the revelation. Telling it removes much of the power of shame in it. I recommend telling a therapist to start.