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Sexual Abuse: My Story

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

This really shouldn't come as any surprise because, well, I am female. While not every woman has a history of rape or child molestation, I don't know of any female who hasn't been made to feel very uncomfortable by a man at some point in their life, or violated in some way. It does sometimes take some healing to really identify this as your story though, and then even more healing to share it because along with sharing comes the condescending, dismissive and dehumanizing comments. In my clinical practice though, sexual violations and #assault, as part of a woman's history, is more common than essentially any other finding. It is the norm.

I want to explore how I create a safe space for this history, or rather herstory, with my clients in clinical practice. I also want to share what I feel my responsibility is when #herstory is shared, and how it can impact the health and wellness of women, as well as, share a bit about how we heal. That will all come in subsequent posts.

Certainly this isn't to say that all men are bad, or that all men are sexual predators, or even that boys and men are not sexually violated. I love men. I care for them in my practice, maybe two of which have shared a history of sexual abuse. I have four boys and my best friend, my partner, is male. Sexual abuse for the male though, is not the norm, but alas, my intent today is to share about my own personal experiences so you have context for my future discussions on #sexualabuse. It is also my intent to put this into the universe, so that more people are aware of these testimonies and that they occur to people they know, and I know well, that it is these sorts of stories that help others connect and heal.

When I was in second grade, I was a year younger than all my classmates, so a mere six-year-old. My mother had recently left my father, rightly so, and moved my sister and I across the country to her hometown in the Midwest. We lived with her grandparents for a period of time, until she could establish herself and get a job. A fiercely independent woman, she soon secured an apartment for herself. Her newfound freedom was maybe the first time in her life that she could really explore what she wanted and run after things she enjoyed. As it turns out, mothering wasn't one of those things.

My mother became pregnant with me when she was just a sophomore in high school. She has never been a woman with any shame. Any other teenage mother in the 1970s, would have avoided the public eye, more often withdrawing from school to escape judgment and criticism. My mother, however, crafts her own form-fitting dress for her high school prom and shows up on my father's arm, making me, tucked within her womb, the star of attraction. My mom is all fire and fury. She rocked prom like Cher would have, pure guts and glory.

My parents were soon married and moved across the country, to Colorado Springs where my father was first stationed in the army. After the birth of my sister, they made a home across the world, in Holland, before my mother was even twenty years old (still carrying her money in a bandaid box to the grocery store, but like the badass she is, she was also carrying that bandaid box into town hall meetings and finished her high school diploma riding back-and-forth to school with me on her bicycle).

My childhood was hard, damn hard. She wasn't a loving mother. She wasn't even present much of the time, but she was a warrior and there is a lot about that woman for which I am deeply proud. We are far more alike than she would ever admit. Her strength runs in my blood and I am cognizant of it every single day, but it isn't warm and fuzzy; it isn't even safe. Her childhood was maybe even more challenging than my own, so I am sure when she learned of my presence within her womb, this was a burden much more than a blessing. Maybe she resented me from day one.

After seven years of marriage, she discovered men who excited her, who noticed her, who made her feel sexy and wanted. She was free to have fun, to party all night long, to abandon all the responsibility she had always carried as the oldest child of five - her own mother only fifteen years older than herself. My mother chased her worth in the arms of men, many men, all the men. Her children remained the burden she had to return to when she sobered up.

Often these fun nights were within our home. There were often circles of young adults, barely into their twenties, sharing joints in the living room. More often than not, there would be a couple fornicating in a bedroom and too often, there would be a random man blacked out drunk either in mom's bed or on the chaise lounge so that we had to whisper as we got ready for school in the morning. These parties often left lots of fun evidence in the morning, like large bites taken out of the hand soap or a completely empty refrigerator. My sister would cry all night those nights. We shared a bed and I'd have to figure out how to help her sleep or stay up all night long, and then exhausted at school the next day. Sometimes I'd play out some skit with my stuffed monkey and make her laugh, but sometimes I would get angry at her and threaten her to be quiet, to not make any noise, to help us disappear and not get noticed.

This was better than the times my mother took us with her to parties though. Cruising the strip broke up her boredom. We'd end up at someone's house, someone my sister and I didn't know, and we would have to figure out what to do with ourselves as my mother became increasingly drunk into the evening. I would become the caretaker for all the little children also abandoned at these parties. Sometimes my mother would forget us there. Sometimes she'd drive home with us, black out, and we'd be in the backseat absolutely freezing into the night. Sometimes they would make fun of us as we slept, more often it was me that she criticized. Once I shut my finger in the car door, a compound fracture - bone was sticking through my thumb. She was too drunk to manage first aide, so her friends wrapped me up with popsicle sticks until someone sobered up enough to take me to the hospital. Her friends witnessed the neglect. They recognized we were burdens. This is how it became so easy for them to also treat us as animals, less than animals, using us for their own pleasure.

My mother's best friend would often take my clothes, shoes, records, even my tickets that I purchased with my babysitting money to see Rick Springfield, because again, we just didn't matter. We were of no value. If I ever stood up for myself, I was harshly punished. My mom liked to slap me. She'd just swing, hitting whatever made contact, chipping teeth, busting my lip; she didn't care. My things were always destroyed. I learned to own and value nothing of material value. I also learned to never share my feelings about what did matter to me, because this only gave her, and especially my father, ammunition to later hurt me for their entertainment.

When I was Six

That night, when I was six, asleep in my bed, I'd heard my mother come home late from work - her dinner break apparently. We lived in a small, one-bedroom apartment. My sister and I shared a bed in the one bedroom and my mother had a bed just outside our door in this sort of cove in the wall. Her boyfriend was asleep there when she came home and he tried to get frisky. This woke me. I heard her tell him she had to leave, to stop, she had to get back to work.

Soon after she left, he started to call my little sister's name. It's odd how we can step back into these childhood memories and see through the lens of our child self, but have the wisdom of our adult maturity. I don't believe I had any awareness of sexual assault, childhood molestation, #rape, or even sexual experiences at the time. I had seen quite a bit of fornication though, at my mother's parties, but not that I have memory beyond groping, kissing, and getting handsy. However, when he called my sister's name, "Megan? Megan? Meeaaa-gannnnn???" I knew. I knew it was bad.

Megan was younger than me by two-and-a-half years. She was cuter with her big chubby cheeks. She was also much more of a gentle spirit. She's a virgo, an earth sign. I am all fire. Like my mother, and grandmother, I am a Sagittarius through-and-through. Where I was more fierce, a bit untamed and oppositional, Megan was endearing. Everyone seemed to dote on her, pamper her.

On this night, she was asleep on the other side of our bed, the other side of me, farther away from the door. After he called for her, she laid still and I didn't move. I don't believe she was even the slightest bit woken. I didn't even breathe. I hoped he would give up, go to sleep, black out.

I could see through the slit in the door though that he was getting up. As he pushed open our bedroom door, he called her name yet again, "Megan?" My life had become about protecting my sister. She would adamantly deny this today, because no doubt from her lens, I was her bully. She's not wrong either. I was often afraid. I often didn't know what to do. She became my burden, so I threatened her. Sometimes I was bored and I aggravated her. Sometimes I took all my anger out on her, maybe even rage. No doubt, I did bully her, but still today, not having any contact with her in eighteen years, I still call her name when I am going through my list of children. She was my responsibility as if I had birthed her myself. I would have done anything to protect her.

When Joe stepped through that door, calling my little sister's name and she didn't move, I knew my role. I started to rustle. I made it known I was already awake. I made it easier for him to take me than to walk all the way around the bed for Megan. He took the bait, walked right up to my side of the bed and lifted me into his arms, carrying me back into his bed.

Memories Reveal Themselves When We Are Safe

I remember telling my mother the next day about the events of the previous night. My memory was then, and remains today, more like clips from a picture film. There are segments of clear vision but I don't even remember the order. I know he forced me to perform oral sex on him. I know I climbed out on the roof to escape him. I know I cried for my mom.

I have memory of my father's family being informed of the event. I remember having to tell them what happened. They already thought we were dirty kids so I am sure they just swept this under the rug. I know one of my mother's sisters was horrified and told my father who was living in California at the time, and I feel somewhat sure that my aunt told the authorities. This was really more about her need for drama than it was any effort to protect me though. I remember there was lots of inquiry, which today seems more about curiosity than any real concern. Most every one was eager to understand if he penetrated me, if I was raped, or if I was "just" molested. This was often the focus of later therapy, but I could not remember those details. If I didn't know, it must not have mattered.

The pictures in my mind only showed me that he sat with his back up against the wall, on the edge of the bed, near the window. He pushed my face onto his genitals. I can still see that grotesque, hairy figure today. I know I pulled away to the corner of the bed and curled in a fetal position. I know another time he was pulling me back through the window off the roof. It's all out of order and it's all as an observer, very disembodied. I don't remember it ending or my going back to bed, or even waking up the next morning. I do remember he was there when I told my mother.

Just a few years ago I was having lunch with my high school sweetheart; he remains one of my most favorite people. In conversation we were making jokes about our distant past, and I poked fun at him, saying he was the only guy who ever gave me a sexually transmitted disease. He immediately gave me a look and said, "I've never had an STD."

I reminded him, "Yeah, remember all those cold sores in high school. You gave me herpes." He said, "I don't have herpes." I was stunned for a moment, but then a flood of memories poured into my realization. I had to go back and edit the timeline of my memory. While I do get occasional cold sores on my lips today, when I have my worst breakouts, they are all along the roof of my mouth. In fourth grade, I wore a retainer to widen my upper jaw and on occasion I would have bubbles on the roof of my mouth so that I couldn't wear the retainer. It was then that I realized what these bubbles were and where I got them, way before I ever kissed a boy. It was also then that I realized, I was most likely only penetrated orally because no where else did I ever present with lesions. I realized I finally had the answer to our mystery.

Looking Through My Adult Lens

What is interesting to me as an adult is that my family - both my father's and my mother's family were aware, yet Child Protective Services was never involved. I have also always known that the police were aware, although have little understanding of those details. My teacher and later, my therapists, were also aware. My predator's brother though, was the police chief. Maybe a report was made. Maybe there was some level of investigation, but I've always had this awareness that they just didn't care. We were always trashy, dirty, and poor so it just didn't matter. My mom was the drunk, the sleaze; what did we expect, right?

When my mother purchased a home right beside this police officer, many decades later, I remember asking her how she found comfort in living next to the man who didn't even care that his brother was a pedophile. She responded that he felt she should have taken better care of her child, so it really wasn't Joe's fault. Even she bought into this phenomenon that somehow it is never the man's fault when women, girls, even baby girls at six-years-of-age, are violated. This "noble" police officer is now "protecting" the elementary schools in his community, as their security officer.

My memory then of this event, at six-years-of-age, has always been - that is until yesterday when I had lunch with my grandmother - that my predator took advantage of a vulnerable child whose mother was a bit neglectful, and that the police didn't care, which is super supported by today's reality because as you are all aware, men almost never see time for sexual assault. Child sex trafficking is the second most profitable crime in the United States and most of those children come from the Department of Child Services. Our society is not one who cares about women and children. I am part of that story - this reality is my reality.

What I didn't realize though, the memories that hadn't spilled forward until just now, is that my mother continued to date this man, to build a relationship with him, and that he continued to pursue me even after this initial event, or at least the event I see as a picture-film. Memories burned into my brain previously thought of as disordered from trauma, are more likely multiple pictures accumulated from multiple scenarios.

Ancestral Hate: My Grandmother's Lens

My family is full of hate for one another. I've distanced myself from them for most of my life. My extended family on my mother's side really hasn't been part of my life since I was about ten years old, but even my own mother and sister, even my father - I haven't spoken to them in nearly twenty years. I am good with this, and often I am reminded that this is still the right approach because they all continue to work hard to destroy each other still today. I hear rumor of the horrible things they do and say to one another and I just can't imagine living that life anymore. It seems so foreign to me now.

My grandmother though, who I haven't spoken to more than once or twice in the last forty years met me for lunch yesterday. I always did really like her; I felt like we really were at peace with one another, and thank god because I've seen her not at peace with some of her children and she will kick your ass, literally, and scratch your eyes out if you upset her. She has great pride in the bruises she has put on the faces of various men in her life. She really did spoil me as a kid though, and made me feel noticed, and wanted. She is incredibly enjoyable in her authenticity, still today at 79 years of age. She makes me laugh. One of the first things she mentioned yesterday was that she came to town with only her one suitcase so of course she has a white blouse on with a black bra beneath, and she had no shame. Her and my mother are also more alike than either of them would ever admit (but also exceedingly different). My grandmother lived an authentic life right in the face of all her family who cared more about what the neighbors thought than of cultivating loving relationships.

I wish I had gotten a picture of us together. Much of our visit was about her sharing the hate she had for her family, for each and every one of her kids, for how much she wants to hurt them, even still today, but ironically, in spite of all the crazy I've witnessed and she continues to validate, I know her as a very motherly woman. I know with complete confidence that she wants to be loved and accepted by her children, by even my grandfather, but she was driven into madness him, and even her own parents. One doesn't need any real familiarity with our family to see that we have a cycle of narcissistic relationships and women having gone mad from their lived experiences with these pathologic people. My grandmother's pain is palpable. It's heavy and sad and it will follow her into the grave. There will be significant hate and destruction into future generations because she has not known healing.

What she offered me though, with respect to my own sexual abuse, was a significant amount of excavation of my own memories. I remember as a teenager, my grandmother and aunt harassing my mother. My grandmother doesn't shy away from sharing this even still today. My aunt left a note at the back door (before we could text and cuss one another out or shame them on social media). I was able to read bits and pieces of it, and my aunt held back no ounce of disgust for my mother. She gave much evidence to her righteous feelings, but among those were that she found it deplorable that my mother would continue to sleep with a man who had raped her young child.

Fearing the answer, I didn't ask her directly if this was true, but she knew I had read that and didn't deny the accusation, as she had many others. Not knowing one way or another, I just tucked that away in the depths of my traumatic memories. Seems unfathomable, right? While speaking with my grandmother yesterday, I mentioned it and she confirmed, "Oh yeah, your mother continued with Joe long after, until the family had to step in and take care of things. Your uncle forced him to Florida to protect you. We had to get him away from you."

Of course, this was a bit hard to swallow. Even after a really awful childhood and even after fully accepting that my mother never loved me and acknowledging that today, even after no real contact for two decades, she continues to really despise me, still, I really never thought she would have continued to seek an intimate relationship with a man who had violated me in that way. But then, I remembered the letter from my aunt and her lack of response. I remembered my father being in the front yard screaming at her to get "that man" away from me, and this event occurring at a completely different home we lived in after the home where the assault initiated.

Did my mother not believe me? The thing is that I didn't even tell anyone but my mom. I didn't recognize how horrific this was at the time. I remember telling her and later repeating it to my family in a pretty nonchalant way, only after they asked. That in itself seems some of the more weird parts of my memory, seeing myself fairly unfazed by the event. But she did know. She told others. Or he did. She didn't question it. The timeline of these memories, even those out of place, tell me this was ongoing because we lived in two separate homes during these events. I know as well, that many family members spoke to me about the abuse, on both sides of my family tree. This would have taken time, and for my father to be so outraged in wanting "that man" away from me, and for my grandmother to share that "we had to finally get him away from you," all implies there was ongoing abuse and an ongoing relationship.

What I know today though, through therapy, is that I haven't really had any significant consequence in my intimate relationships because of that sexual abuse. Maybe I anticipated it and worked really hard to heal that area of my past trauma. Today, sexual intimacy and dysfunction is an important part of my clinical practice today. I want women to experience the depths of intimacy that can be had in a safe relationship. Where I have had rather profound consequence is in having a sense of not being protected by those who should have protected me. I have long had a sense of deep abandonment. I have also had to really heal a sense of not being valued and heal that need to have my story believed.

It's as if I've always known my mother didn't care that I was sexually violated by her boyfriend. My body knew I wasn't being protected, and covered that awareness in effort to help my psyche survive. It seems today, where sexual abuse seems so insignificant to so many, that we are told to just lay there and enjoy it, or victims are blamed or told to get over it, that the real damage hasn't been that I fear men, or my subsequent sexual experiences, or that I don't enjoy intimacy, but rather, that I don't feel safe in the world.

I have felt a desperate need to protect others, because that's the one thing I can claim from that experience; I saved my sister from being sexually violated. I allowed myself to be the target. She was spared and her hate today towards me is about annoyance, emotional immaturity, and parental manipulation. I didn't treat her well. I had no model for that. But her dislike of me today is far more comforting to me than knowing her story was almost very, very different. She did not become a victim of sexual trauma, nor does she even recognize herself as having also been neglected by her parents. She didn't know the void. She hasn't the same memories. She had me. She didn't have to live in fear, scramble to figure out how to survive, at least until she was a bit older and just ran away. She didn't have to be the volunteer, to hide in the corner, to crawl out onto the roof. She had someone show up for her, even though that older sister was a turd to her, often.

Sexual trauma is pervasive so even when we think, "No, that hasn't really impacted me much," or "I've healed," the reality is that this is a violation into the soul of who we are. There isn't really a more profound way to violate someone. Our psyches, our bodies, react and respond in ways that don't make sense, that we can't comprehend, and that we often fail to recognize but one thing I know for sure, that healing is ever-lasting. It's a lifetime of work no matter how much we try to bury that truth.

This is my story.

This is my lens.

From here is where I connect with others with similar stories and work to help them heal.

I wish it were the end of my story of sexual abuse, but like many more women, many of us have had more than one predator. If you need a safe place to share, know that we have room for this. We have time to hear your story. We want to connect with you. I want to connect with you.

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