There was always a wrongness to our relationship, but I could never figure it out. He died in 2001. Good riddance.
In 2005, when my mother had been diagnosed with dementia, she would say things that were inappropriate, to people that didn’t need to hear them, at totally inappropriate times.
One day, while I was taking a friend across town, another friend showed up at my apartment. Unable to live independently, my mother lived with me, and she entertained my friend until I got home. In that 15 minutes, she had nonchalantly told this friend that she “always knew that he molested [me]. [She] caught him fingering [me] when he was changing [my] diaper.” Really, Mom?
Who knew what she had muttered to my friend would send me into shock? It was awful. I knew from my baby book that I had potty trained myself at 20-months old. What the fuck? It all fit together at that point. It explained the promiscuous behavior I displayed in my 20’s. The nightmares became more intense and more clear. I could see him.
He was such an asshole. How do you look at your own child like that? Or any child for that matter.
I have put many of the nightmares together, and remember things that I wish I didn’t. I remember that when I was 8, he lived communally with 3 other guys from Alcoholics Anonymous. They were like him. Perverts. And he passed me around. After my parent’s divorce, I would go visit him in Florida for all of summer vacation. And went through hell.
AND MY MOTHER KNEW!
I was appalled. I still am. Not only did my mom know that he was molesting me as a toddler, but she also stayed with him until he left our family when I was 5. And she continued to let me go visit. She didn’t protect me. She didn’t tell him to keep his fucking hands off her daughter. She failed me. She actually did quite the opposite. Until her death, I believe that she blamed me for the breakup of their marriage. Because he couldn’t keep his hands off me. And apparently at the tender age of 2, I was seducing him.
It screwed me up. Oh, but I’ve had a hell of a lot of sex. Because when that’s all you’re good for, you practice A LOT, and you get really good at it. I don’t trust men. I don’t love men. I have never been in love. I don’t know what it feels like to be loved because I won’t allow myself to be loved. I have never, and most likely will never, associate any kind of sexual act with love. Yet I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on anything.
It was always good for them but not for me. I will often flash back in the midst of sex, can only count on one hand the number of times I’ve had sex sober, and afterwards would often finish by curling into the fetal position. Because I was violated, not because I was tired.
Teach your children YOUNG about good touch/bad touch PLEASE. You never can trust someone 100%.
I’d started EMDR with a therapist at the VA for trauma when a co-worker at the assisted living center physically assaulted me. My reaction made me realize it was time to start some work I’d buried for decades; the relatively small action of him violently twisting my arm behind my back stimulated a response that had me making mental plans to kill him, and I am a strong believer in ahimsa.
Ed.-In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist traditions, ahimsa is a respect for all living things and avoidance of violence toward others.
During the first few sessions last year, I made a list of small and large traumas in my life: being born with a cleft palate and the years of surgery, my father’s death in Vietnam when I was two months old (I blamed his death on my imperfection), the father and son who molested me when I was eight, being gang-raped by my peers in the army when I was 20, and the subsequent break and burying of that for 20+ years.
We chose to focus on the smaller, more recent trauma. After working through it, I realized I didn’t need to carry those unfortunate events. I returned to school and work, avoiding intimacy and instead allowing my large, no-longer-carried, but still present damage to sit in my cluttered room, a “Monster in a Box,“ as Spaulding Gray put it so well.
I knew I would return to therapy, but also knew I had to pay the mortgage, stay well, and wait for that mythical time when I was ready. A dear friend whom I had a brief relationship with a few months back sent a text near the end of December saying something like “help, this is killing me.” I didn’t even think about whether or not I would help her, despite how poorly things had ended just a few months back.
I loved her really since the moment I met her, and went, not expecting anything but to somehow help her survive the recent loss of custody of her son. Being with her, loving her, gave me the push to re-enter therapy. Last Thursday I spent two hours cycling through the largest, most painful personal event in my life.
Sexual assault is a common enough experience that the VA mental health clinic has a pamphlet about Military Sexual Trauma. Prior to starting the job, I self-reported the experience as an eight (where zero is nothing and 10 is death) 25 years after three soldiers sexually assaulted me, drunk, in a shower.
During this session I was vibrating with disturbance, weeping, and asked not to dry my tears, over-intellectualizing, referring to myself in the third person, returning to the scene, again and again until I imagined myself as each of the perpetrators.
In the end, we decided that “survivor” reminded me of that song from Rocky, so instead I’m just a human, a human who happened to be victimized by other humans and who wasn’t to blame, wasn’t raped because of anything but the fact that humans occasionally do horrible things for reasons we will never know. I ended up a one on the scale of 0-10, unable to believe I could ever be at a zero for such a profound violation.
Instead of an out of body experience or dissociation, the thought of the event now causes a vague flutter in my gut that I am very, very willing to tolerate. I wasn’t willing or interested in completely letting it go; the thought of completely removing it as significant felt unnatural, as it did happen, was real, and has caused more disturbance, illness, and pain than any other event in my life.
We ended the session with the standard wind down. I left the VA center feeling strangely taller, breathing more deeply, and at the same time feeling like I was missing something, something awful, but familiar, something indelible and old.
I return next week and every week until the work is done.
When I began counseling for childhood physical and sexual abuse, I was broken.
A broken heart, a broken spirit. I had carried the guilt and shame of my childhood abuse for so long that it was like an old winter coat. So heavy to carry around each day. So hot that some days it was stifling. And yet it had the comfort of the known.
It was scary to throw off that old heavy coat of guilt and shame and face what else was under there.
I thought we would begin slowly. I thought I would share just a bit at a time. My counselor agreed to go at the pace I set. But once I began talking, I kept right on talking. I told her EVERYTHING I could think of. If I thought of something in between sessions, I wrote them down so I could tell her next time. It seems that once I felt a crack in the dam that I’d built to protect myself, the floodwaters couldn’t run fast enough.
I let it ALL out.
It was scary. I shook like a leaf in a hurricane the first session and sometimes after that. But the overwhelming feeling was relief. My need to let it all out was greater than my fear of what my counselor would think of me (of course, that was my insecurities and had nothing to do with my counselor). It was such a RELIEF to release all the secrets I had been carrying.
Once the rush of information was over, we started working on issue after issue.
At some point in counseling, my shame and guilt turned into anger.
ANGER that the abuse occurred. ANGER at those adults who knew and did nothing to protect the little freckled girl with long braids that I had been. ANGER that I carried the guilt and shame of the abuse for so long. ANGER that my stepfather never was held accountable for his actions. ANGER at the days and nights of fear and pain and abuse I endured as a child unable to protect herself. ANGER at the bruises, welts and blisters I had to hide outside of our house. ANGER. ANGER. ANGER.
My counselor encouraged me to feel the anger, but I was terrified of the anger. I remember one conversation where my counselor asked my what about the anger made me so afraid. My reply was “I am afraid that the anger is so huge and so overwhelming that if I tap into it I won’t be able to control it.”
She asked me what I thought losing control of the anger would look like.
I told her I was afraid that the anger would take over and I would just scream and scream and scream until my throat was so raw I wouldn’t be able to scream anymore or that the anger would take over and I would break every single thing in my house. I truly was afraid to let myself feel the level of anger that I knew was raging inside of me.
Then she told me she had a plan, if I was willing. She took me out to her car in the parking lot. She opened the trunk. There in her trunk and in her back seat were huge plastic garbage bags of glass bottles. She had been saving glass bottles for a month or so. Not just hers, she had also asked friends, relatives, and neighbors to save their glass bottles for her.
Her idea was for me to find a place and time where I could be alone (or have a trusted person with me if I chose) and break the bottles. I could scream, cry, or “talk to” the people who I was angry at with each bottle I threw.
Her only “warning” – wear safety glasses.
I won’t lie. It sounded kind of corny to me. But I really trusted her by this point and I was aware that I really needed to deal with this anger before it exploded in some uncontrolled way.
My husband took the kids for a Saturday to go to a park, out to lunch, etc. I went into our basement and set the stage for a safe anger experiment.
I wanted to be able to contain the flying glass so I could avoid anyone being cut later on an overlooked shard. I hung up some plastic sheets so the glass would stay in one area of the basement. I lugged bag after bag of glass bottles to the basement, knowing there was no way I could break all of these bottles at once. I put on long sleeves to reduce the chance of me being hurt by flying glass and donned the ever-so-lovely safety glasses.
I felt stupid. I felt ridiculous setting all of this up. Do “normal” people have to go through all of this just to deal with some anger? But I soldiered on. I wanted to at least be able to say that I tried.
I threw the first bottle. It shattered, but I felt nothing. I threw the second bottle. Again, nothing. I threw the third bottle with some real gusto. Oooh, that felt GOOD! I started throwing the bottles as hard as I could. I eventually started yelling things like “THIS IS FOR NOT PROTECTING ME” or “YOU BASTARD, ROT IN HELL” or “YOU SHOULD CARRY THE GUILT AND SHAME” as I threw the bottles. IT. FELT. AWESOME.
Oh, I was ANGRY. REALLY, REALLY ANGRY.
But I can’t even describe how it felt to have an outlet for that anger.
Bottles were flying fast and furious! There were clear bottles, green bottles, amber bottles and blue bottles (the blue ones had the most spectacular shatter for some reason).
When I had thrown EVERY. SINGLE. BOTTLE. I was breathing hard and exhausted. But I realized I had felt my rage, really felt my RAGE, and the world had not stopped turning. My house was still standing. My family was fine. All was well. Better than well. Not only had I started my anger work in a very satisfying way (I can not describe the satisfaction of yelling out “YOU ARE A SICK FUCK WHO TOOK ADVANTAGE OF A LITTLE GIRL ” and then hearing the shattering of the bottle) but I had also proved to myself that I could handle the anger without losing control.
I know it sounds a little “nuts.” I know it sounds kind of corny. But I am here to tell you – this exercise opened the door for me. It helped me get past my fear of the anger and bring it out in the open so I could work on it.
So thank you SR for being such an awesome therapist that you collected bottles from far and wide for me. Thank you for showing me a way to tap into that anger safely.
I saved a little glass jar of the multi-colored shards of glass. Blue, green, amber, clear. I smile when I walk past it now. Beautiful reminders of my righteous anger and SR’s lesson that helped me release it.
I wish I could write like our Aunt Becky, but I can’t. My words will be misspelled, my commas will be out of place, and there will definitely be run on sentences, but I swear like a trucker, so somehow I think I will fit right in.
So the back story is this: BAD shit happened to me when I was a kid. You know, the dad was an alcoholic, “show me on the doll where the bad man touched you” (I never told my parents, by the way), sister got preggo at 14, and eventually my Mom could no longer deal with it all, so I had to take the bulk of the bad shit. There were days I didn’t know if I would make it. Some days I wasn’t able to deal. I would burn myself or punch a wall just to feel…something. Still, it’s not as bad as some have dealt with and not the purpose of this post. I made it through, bruised but not broken. I just wish I could tell the young girl who dealt with all of that what I know now.
I have been talking to a friend who is quite a bit younger and going through so much in her life right now. She (like me) puts up a strong front, but if you dig just beneath the surface, you can see the hurt and self doubt. She sometimes reminds me so much of my self that it’s scary. When asked, we will both say we are “fine.” Every time she says it to me, my heart cracks just a little. You see, I know when she says “I’m fine,” what she really means is ”This hurts like hell!! My heart is breaking. Somebody please just take away the pain.” But no, it’s always “I’m fine.” I just want to give her a hug and tell her it will all be OK. I won’t, mind you, because that would make me seem weak or soft, or whatever my fucked up mind thinks.
Still, talking to her I got to thinking what would I tell my younger self? So I wrote myself a letter today. Maybe it will help her or some other young girl who needs to know it WILL BE OK.
So, here it is.
I know it’s hard right now, but experience brings knowledge, adversity brings strength.
None of that makes a damn bit of difference when you’re hurting, but faith gives you hope. The hope that there is something greater brings a small amount of peace, even in the darkest times.
When you find love, it calms. Love doesn’t hurt, it heals, it comforts, it expands. Love gives, it should not take away.
If life seems to be spiraling out of control, find solace in the small things. Family, friends, music, words. These are your armor against all that will stand against you.
Remember that the lessons learned from the mistakes we make, and the paths we choose, make us who we are. Never regret them. To do so would mean you doubt yourself. Nothing or no one should make you doubt your worth.
Though it’s sometimes easier to forgive others than yourself, YOU ARE ONLY HUMAN.
Be as kind to yourself as you are to others, and love yourself as much as you do others.
Stand tall without being cocky and be proud of who you will become.
I know I am.
P.S. If none of that shit works, there is always vodka.
My story all begins in August of 1976. My birth mother was 17 years old and pregnant with me. My mom already had one child, my sister who was four years older than me, so my mother was 13 when she gave birth to my sister. My sister was taken by the state and was considered unadoptable because she sat in the corner and rocked back and forth.
Fast forward to 1976. I have been told that my birth mother’s parents informed her that she had already made one mistake (my sister) and if she had me they would disown her, so she threw herself down two flights of stairs. She went into labor from the fall and, because she was only seven or so months along in her pregnancy, I only weighed 4 lbs. 5 oz. at birth, but I survived.
My birth mother took me home and life began. It was said she was a drug user and abuser, and while she was under the influence, she would hold me underwater to watch the bubbles come up. I was told she used my bottom as her personal ashtray, and that she used her food stamps to buy drugs (at that time food stamps were like paper money, and were traded for real money or drugs).
Elsewhere, my adoptive mother was telling her best friend that all she wanted for Christmas was a baby. The best friend had a sister and that sister knew my birth mother. One day, when my future adoptive mother’s husband was at work, he came out to his car and there I was. I was dressed in a dirty T-shirt that had been used as a makeshift diaper. He zipped me up in his coat–it was winter in Charlotte, NC–and took me home. He walked into the house and unzipped his coat to show me my future adoptive mom.
Adoption proceedings began, but I was returned to my birth mother. She burned all the dresses my adoptive mother bought and didn’t use the burn cream for my bottom. My birth mother tried to stop the adoption because she would lose her welfare benefits. The judge approved the adoption and at 14 months old and 11 pounds, I was finally adopted.
When I was about two, my mother’s marriage ended; her husband threatened to kill me because I wouldn’t stop crying. We moved back home with her parents and we lived with them until my mom remarried. Her husband adopted me to give me his last name.
Every time I was adopted, my birth certificate was legally changed to represent my current parents and their respective ages at the time I was born. However, many years later I told my mother than I had been abused by a family member and she confided in me that her father, my granddaddy, whom I called daddy for years, had molested her. Only after she returned home with me after the end of her marriage, did she confront him and say it was over. I think she got pregnant by him, moved away, remarried and had me.
Every time I tried to talk about my adoption and wanted to search, she would tell me to talk to my granddaddy; he was supposed to have all the paperwork. When I asked him, he would tell me to go see my mom, that she had the papers. This man never threw anything away, so it’s odd to me that the papers were never found, which also makes me think something shady happened. But no one in the family who is left will talk about it.
My granddaddy was a raging alcoholic for years and only stopped drinking when the doctor told him if he didn’t he would die. He abused my uncles and my mom.
My records are sealed, as it was all considered a private adoption, and unless I have a terminal illness or need an organ that my children can’t provide, I’d have to petition the courts to unseal my records, and they can still deny the request.
I don’t know the truth for sure and it doesn’t really matter, I guess, other than to finally have answers. I hold no ill will toward anyone involved, no matter which story is true. I feel bad that my mom suffered that abuse. I’ve been abused sexually and I know how that feels. I just wish I could know the truth just so I’d know where I belong. I have an awesome husband and three great kids, so I have a family. I’d just like to have medical information. So there it is my story I hope it helps.
Now 8 years later, my eldest son is 10 and I now have 4 children with my husband. Our marriage has been emotionally difficult and I don’t trust him. Somehow, thank God, we have lasted.
We separated after 11 years and we now live apart, but we’re still married. I cannot cope with the emotional intimacy of living with him, I need to spend long periods quiet and alone in my own thoughts. At the time I didn’t realize the catastrophic abuse happening to me, but now as a 40 something adult I look at homeless alcoholics and drug addicts and think, yes, I know what happened to you.
When someone molested you, hurt you, as a child, you are broken.
This abuse has made me compassionate and deeply religious in a very private personal way. My relationship with God is very strong, but less so with the congregation as I still have trust issues. God has kept me alive and not dying by suicide over the years.
To all of you out there, all I can say is put your life in God’s hands. Whatever has happened to you broke you so that God could shape you more perfectly. Life is teaching you horrific lessons, but you will be stronger and more compassionate about other people’s suffering.
Work hard on your marriage if you are married and don’t give up.
And above all else, work on forgiving the parent that didn’t protect you. The abuser chose your parent so they could abuse you. Abusers are evil, cold, and calculating; anyone who could hurt a child is stupid and evil.
But let that go.
Leave them to God and move on with your life AFTER therapy. I will say that you can’t get rid of these extreme feelings without a therapist; it’s the best investment in your own health.
I cherish these times with her, after I forgave her. She’s now a devout Christian and is doing lots to heal herself after 25 years with her abusive husband. I thank God that I’ve been able to connect with her finally, at the end of her life, to heal.