‘Healing is a process’: Abuse survivor shares story, offers hope during Child Abuse Prevention breakfast

Hannah Arrowood is familiar with the many obstacles children who have been abused often encounter, including trust issues, living in constant fear and struggling with sleep and handling emotions, as she was abused as a young child.

As a mother and founder/executive director of Present Age Ministries, a local nonprofit organization committed to protecting young people from abuse, sex trafficking and exploitation, “I will spend every day of my life advocating for our children.”

She was the guest speaker at the Butterfly House’s Child Abuse Prevention & Awareness Breakfast Friday at Atrium Health Stanly.

“If we aren’t fighting for them, then who are we fighting for?” she added.

The Butterfly House Children’s Advocacy Center provides evaluation and supportive services for survivors of child maltreatment, which includes neglect, sexual and physical abuse. The organization has served more than 3,100 young patients and families since its inception in 2005, including more than 200 last year, according to director Amy Yow.

It was perhaps fitting that Arrowood was the speaker for the event, considering she is “obsessed with butterflies.” She mentioned while it is rare for the creatures — often thought to be symbols of transformation and rebirth — to come into contact with humans, they have landed on her many times throughout her life.

“They have inspired humans for forever with their delicate nature, with the immense power that they possess. And isn’t that just like our children?” Arrowood said.

She highlighted the ripple effect created when a young person is abused by describing her childhood growing up in Charlotte as a preacher’s kid, when she was sexually abused and learned her father had an affair with a member of a cult.

Despite the chaos unfolding in her life, Arrowood hid the pain of being abused for many years because, like many kids in similar situations, she was paralyzed with fear and did not have the vocabulary to adequately tell someone.

“When you have experienced abuse, things just become normal and you don’t know it’s not normal until it’s not normal,” she said.

She remembers questioning everything in her life, including a higher power.

“How could there be a good God if this is happening?” she said.

Arrowood’s struggles have given her insight into what young survivors of abuse are often going through. The impact of abuse will never go away because, as she told the crowd, it actually helps to form how a child’s brain functions, especially the parts that deal with learning and memory and that regulate behavior.

But a person’s brain is constantly changing in response to what is happening around them, so if a young person can feel safe and they can identify things in their life that need to be addressed, they can start healing. For young girls who have been abused, establishing authentic relationships with men of integrity is vital and will help expedite the healing process.

While it is difficult and can often take a long time, “healing is possible,” Arrowood said. Present Age Ministries has worked with 400 survivors and has impacted more than 40,000, according to its website.

She urged the people in the room to continue standing up for and advocating on behalf of young people.

“I implore you to keep going,” she said. “It’s so worth it and what you’re doing is not only changing lives and families, but it’s changing generations. Continue the work, continue the fight.”

At the end, Yow briefly highlighted a few upcoming dates including a Walk Away Child Abuse event at the YMCA Pavilion on April 27 and the Stanly County Dancing With The Stars fundraiser on Sept. 9.