When it comes to sexual abuse, we are not one, we are many. How do we rise above it and become Survivors instead of victims of sexual abuse? We share THE STORIES WE WEAR.
It was a typical Friday night in my life, sitting home alone, doing homework, longing for a social life again, but understanding the bigger picture. I’m where I need to be right now, and I’m working towards something; something that sitting on a bar stool won’t offer me.
The alarm tone sounded off on my phone reminding me that I had a “date” with a speaker about Sexual Abuse Survivors, and how to TAKE BACK OUR LIVES. I had forgotten all about it, and for a moment I thought about skipping it because I only had 20 minutes to get ready and get out the door. I looked down at my sweats and thought, “hey, I’m clean, my clothes are clean and they aren’t ratty and ripped up, my hair is okay…” to hell with it, I’m not going to a fashion show, I’m going to listen and learn, my clothes don’t make or break the experience unless I let them, right? So I made myself a quick bite to eat, grabbed a bottle of water, and out the door I went. It’s a beautiful thing the way GOD leads us to where we need to be at just the right moments in time, because I know in my heart that I got led there with a definite, undeniable purpose.
My work as a Sexual Assault Advocate has led me to some incredible people along the way, some life altering experiences and some deep heartache, and let me tell you that last night was a combination of all that.
You know sometimes we look at people on the street and we see this gruff, hard assed exterior of a person and almost immediately make a judgment about the type of person that they are, without truly knowing anything real about them. Sometimes, the people who seem the most unapproachable, are the ones who need to be approached the most, because they are hurting somewhere so deep inside and all they need is a gentle hand to reach out with some compassion and kindness. It’s dangerous to judge to quickly, because often the stories we wear on the outside are masking the real story inside like a protective coat from the harsh winter winds. We all need to really start believing that we don’t end up anywhere, or encounter certain people by accident. NOTHING IS AN ACCIDENT in this life! Each person and experience is intricately interwoven into the fabric of our lives, of our Beings, of our very souls; God doesn’t have accidents, so even when we don’t know what the hell is going on, or WHY, you can rest assured that He does.
I am a sexual abuse Survivor. I realized last night that I have this platform to stand on, these words inside of me, and even though my internal healing is solid and strong, I have been afraid to really come out and write about it to the world, and it made me wonder how healed I really am if I am still afraid to speak it out loud to people other than those close to me. In October of 2009 when I began my journey as a rape advocate, I remember sitting in training one day listening to other women open up about their wounds of sexual abuse and assault, and all of these thoughts were screaming in my head that I wanted to say to them but I was so afraid to open my mouth, (public speaking has never been a desire of mine…) but something willed my mouth open and I heard myself encouraging these women, talking about empowerment and self healing and self love and respect, and then suddenly I was sharing something so private and hurtful about my own past with a room full of strangers! Just as quickly as I realized what was happening and felt so completely exposed, I looked around that table and saw compassion and people nodding their heads in understanding, and knew that it was okay; even more than okay, it was purposeful and healing in and of itself!
As I have begun to open up more to people in my life, old friends have come to me and shared their own stories, and we talk about healing and growth. I’ve had people come to me after years of no contact, and apologize for the wrongs they committed against me as a young girl, and take ownership of the shame that I have carried, or the guilt for feeling like I somehow deserved it. There is no greater healing power in the world for a survivor, than to have a perpetrator honestly and genuinely own what they did, releasing us of that burden once and for all. Real healing happens in those moments, I am here to tell you.
None of my victimizers were ever brought before a judge or held accountable by any law, and I cannot tell you why because only my parents could truthfully answer that question; but I know that before God Almighty those people have and will pay for the sins they committed against a defenseless child, and I take great comfort in that.
Something else I have learned about sexual abuse over time is that no ones is worse or easier than anyone else’s; there are no comparisons to be made, no trophy for enduring more than another, and it sure doesn’t lesson the pains we feel just because maybe it only happened once. The only difference may be in whether or not it comes from someone we know and should be able to trust, or a stranger that we have no expectations of kindness from anyway. As a child when you look at your father, or your uncles etc…you see a place of safety and security, or so we should; when that is stripped away and replaced with fear and mistrust, the paths that follow become twisted and chaotic.
At a very young age, around 3 to the best of my recollection, I became the object of desire for men around me, and it’s here I suppose that I will begin my story to you now. I’ll admit that I’m feeling a little scared and a whole lot nervous because there are people out there who can read these words that have never had a clue about this part of the story I wear, but I imagine great things have never been accomplished in dark closets hidden away from the light either. I was led through those experiences because my Higher Power knew that one day I would be given the strength to share it with the world, and would hopefully be able to reach someone else in pain and shed some light. So put on your seat belt, the ride gets a little bumpy.
I have memories of sitting in a highchair at my babysitters’ house, an older woman with a teenage son, minding my own business and being a 3 year old. I’m not sure what the hell ever provoked a 16 year old boy to find anything sexual about me, or to be so inclined to want to explore my tiny body in such perverse and twisted ways, but he did; and it was there in that house that I first learned that people were not always going to be nice to me, or be trustworthy. There was a sun-porch at this house where an upright freezer stood in a corner, leaving a space about 2 feet wide between the wall and the appliance and I was a very tiny girl so it was a perfect place to run to and hide, or so I believed; he was soon to make that a prison where he could trap me and I couldn’t run away while he touched me and said disgusting things to me. The words, “you better be a good girl and not tell anyone or you will get it worse the next time” were as powerful as a punch to the face, and fear became my constant companion. I think it is in those moments, in those words, “be a good girl,” “don’t you disappoint me,” or any other myriad of sick manipulations that an abuser uses against us, that we become people pleasers, because every child wants to make people happy, we don’t want to cause trouble, or be the source of despair for people in our lives, so we buy into the bullshit that our moldable minds are being fed, and we do as we are told, at the expense of our Self.
Over the years my perpetrators all came in the form of “friends” of the family, people my parents drank with, neighbors who seemed so genuinely thoughtful that they were able to convince my own parents that they were too good to really ever be able to hurt me, (at least that’s what my father told me then), family members who were able to get away with it, because the ugliness of it all was too much for my mother to accept, so instead she called me a liar and abused me further in emotional ways. * I need to pause here for a moment, because there are family members who will come across this now and it may open up old wounds and cause pain; please understand that it is not my intent to hurt anyone, but instead to use my story to empower others. I hope you will understand that and know in your heart that you and I have already crossed these bridges and made peace with one another, but if I can spare just one person a moment of suffering by exposing my own, then I feel an obligation to do it.*
Sometimes when we, as victims, have been pushed as far as we feel we can go and are ready to just give up, feeling like there will never be an end to the physical, emotional and spiritual attacks, a miracle happens. My miracle at 16 years old, after 13 years of sexual abuse on every level it could be encountered, was a man that I called my boyfriend, someone who had known me from 8 years old, and who felt that his job in my life was to protect me. It was him whom I finally opened up to and found safety in. He BELIEVED me. From that moment on, I was never sexually violated again. That man became my husband fresh out of high school, and at that place in my young life, gave me what I had needed for so long, a safe place to be. Looking back, I don’t think I was ever “in love” with him, because for one, I don’t think I even knew what real love looked like, but I knew that I had never felt safe until then either and that looked close enough to love for me. Out of that bond, came two of the most amazing human beings to ever bless my life; my son and then my daughter; and it was then that my life really changed. Any woman who has ever been sexually abused and becomes a mother knows what I’m talking about, especially when one of those children is a baby girl. Something fierce and protective was born inside of me, with the birth of my children; and I vowed that no one would hurt them like I had been hurt. I became hyper-vigilant over these precious souls that God had entrusted to my care, and to this day, I would rather slice your throat and watch you bleed to death than allow you to harm my babies and get away with it. I know now that their father was a seasonal character in my life, meant to offer me a safe haven for a time, and for a time, he did and I am thankful for that much.
But one day something happened that would begin to change the shape of all that I knew.
After years of therapy, meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics, and well meaning people who had come along and left an imprint in my world, I thought I was healed. I had faced my parents with all of the horrific details of my abuse along the way, forcing them to take the burden from my shoulders and carry it on their own. Yes, in my mind, I was already well and would never have to deal with any of those icky feelings again.
I was about to find out how un-healed I really was.
My mind is fuzzy now as I try to recall which came first, the “encounter” or the blood, and I suppose it really doesn’t matter because the point remains the same regardless…I believe it was the blood though, so there is where I will paint the picture from.
I woke up one morning of my seemingly happy life to discover blood on my sheets, which sent me into a terrifying episode of crying and hysteria, which as you can imagine I had no explanation for(the blood I understood, mother nature had made herself known, it was the rest of it I couldn’t explain away), for myself let alone my confused husband, and it led to frustrated anger on his part which was of no help to my already chaotic and scared heart and mind. The blood took me back to being 14 years old, and being held down on my bedroom floor while a “friend” of the family raped me. My mind was flooded with the memory, swirling, sick, afraid, and the sight of the blood that he had caused to flow from my tender young vagina; it was all there in bold color and graphic detail and it was then that I knew something was still very wrong inside of me. My spirit was still very wounded, and the child in me who had long since found a corner to sit in, was screaming to be heard. My husband pretended to understand, but how could he? How can someone really understand what kind of deep seated despair that is, unless they have experienced it, unless they too have been robbed of their innocence and pure heart? They can’t, and I will not believe anything different. He proved to me later that night that he truly had no idea what I was dealing with when he annoyingly pressured me for sex, and then got angry when I had to stop in the middle of it to throw up. I was broken and wounded and not a very good wife…at least that’s what the devil told me. My husband was angry and hurt and rejected, and there was nothing I could say to make him feel better because I didn’t even know how to make myself feel better.
Some weeks later, as my luck would have it, the Good Lord decided to push me further because I still wasn’t getting it, so as I sat in a small local cafe enjoying lunch with my husband and children, that very same monster came walking in to grab a bite, and sent me into a tailspin emotionally. I was forced to leave the table and retreat to the bathroom to vomit, and then made a swift exit from that place. I knew right then that I still had a very long way to go, and that I owed it to myself and my children and husband to get working on it.
I have been blessed enough to have been sent many angels in my life, but there are a few who will always stand out above any others, and one of them was a therapist named Bonnie. For the first time in my life, someone saw through the laughter that I used to mask my pain. For the first time in my life, I really felt like she got it, and that she could honestly help me…I just don’t think I realized how much she would help me. She kindly, lovingly and gently, stripped away all of the defense mechanisms I had built around me, and I never looked back for those hours in her office. In some of those first appointments, she would repeat to me over and over that I was safe there, and that I could say anything I needed or wanted to. I think she knew she was speaking more to the little girl in me, than to the adult me sitting there. I got to know that child inside of me in her room, I learned how to nurture her and how to heal her wounds. That child had been robbed of so much, and carried so much pain; it was a long, excruciating emotional process at times, but somehow I brought that tiny girl in me to the light and showed her that I would never allow her to be so hurt again. I learned about trusting myself.
Eventually, my marriage dissolved, I guess I’ll just say that we outgrew each other, and sometimes that just happens, because not everyone is meant to stay forever. He served his purpose in my life and I hope that I gave him something positive also, in addition to the beautiful children we share. Fast forward to one year ago, I felt like it was time to reach out and help others who are on this journey and became part of the Sexual Assault Advocacy Program. As I have stood by victims of rape, old and young, I’ve learned even more, I’ve healed even more, and I think I have given something positive to people I have encountered along the way. I have, and am, raising a strong beautiful young woman, who has my respect and admiration because she is so much stronger and wiser than I was at 17, and honestly? I have to be thankful to some degree for all that I endured, because without it, I don’t know that I would have been the kind of mother to her that I have been able to be.
The beauty of life is that when you open your heart to the world around you and give freely from it, incredible things happen and you find yourself learning just as much from others as you are teaching them; and wow, what a powerful freeing gift that can be!
I’m still touched by the profound resilience of Survivors when I encounter them and hear their stories, and often I am moved emotionally, because whether we all embrace it or not, we are bound together by a common thread. We were stolen from, but we learn that we don’t have to let them win. We have the power, and the Right to take back what’s ours.
Last night as I listened to a woman talk about her 11 year old daughter’s abuse, she said something that struck many of us very poignantly; after the perp was brought to trial and exposed, and the child had testified against him face to face; the judge told the mother one day in the girls absence, “tell your daughter, SHE WON”
That man got 32 years in prison for his crimes against that child, but even more than that, she won because she was brave, and she stood up and spoke it out loud and little does she realize yet at the tender age of 13 now, she paved the way for someone else to be brave and face her offender, by showing her own courage as she has.
It is my RIGHT to take back what was taken from me when I could not fight or defend myself; It is my duty as a woman, a mother, a SURVIVOR to speak out about it and not feel shamed, because I never know who may be listening (or reading) and will be able to draw strength of their own from someone who has been where they are. Yes, the ties that bring us together have been painful and so unnecessary and have felt like they were burning us alive at times, but from those ashes we will rise strong and healthy and use our own journeys for the purpose of healing and helping others as we go.
So here is to You, my fellow Survivors, for being brave enough to come into the light, and for being willing to share the stories you wear!