Category: Survivor Stories

Ivy

Last month, I traveled outside of the country for the first time. I was so excited. I have always wanted to travel, explore somewhere new, and I was finally given that chance. We went to Germany, for a wedding, right outside of Munich. It was a beautiful country, honestly, and I had a wonderful time. The wedding was beautiful. We did a bike tour of Munich, and another of Salzburg. We went and looked at castles. I stared up in awe at the Alps, and went into old cathedrals, and just took in the beauty of it all in total awe. The pictures don’t do it justice.

My family left on a Tuesday, and my flight left on a Thursday, so I had some extra time to explore. I decided to devote a day to check out Dachau, a concentration camp not far from the city. It was something my parents had done early in the trip, while I took my sister to the aquarium, that I had decided was especially important to see.

The sadness was like a heavy blanket

After a few glitches with the trains and some language barrier issues, I eventually found myself looking at the at the gate, with those famous words written above. The hair stood up on my arms as I walked in. You could feel the sadness, heavy like a blanket weighing you down. As I turned to the left, I saw all the foundations of the barracks, where people were imprisoned, and I wondered how hopeless they had been. I walked down the side, along the barbed wire, counting the foundations, imagining how many people it held, my heart beating out of my chest. I went over a small bridge and found myself looking at the crematorium, and it hit me just how real this was.

Just for some clarification, some of these things were original. Quite a bit was a reproduction. Germany keeps these things so we can remember, and has also done things to honor the dead, and all who suffered there. I decided to walk and check out the garden near the crematorium. It was well worn, with a gravel path, the trees light around it giving it an ethereal feel. As I walked, I saw the markers for the mass graves. It seemed so strange to have something that horrifying in a place that was so beautiful. Along the path was a wooden wall. I’m not sure whether it was original or not, but it had been there long enough for ivy to grow over it. It twisted and bloomed so beautifully. I commented to the person I was walking with, about how strange the juxtaposition was.

csa survivor ivy

The ivy showed me what I have accomplished

I took a picture. It moved me. I couldn’t say why at the time, but I think I understand it now. That wall was me. The wooden slabs were my abuse and the immediate aftermath, losing my family, losing trust and hope, and forgetting what true joy felt like. But the ivy was beautiful, and showed what I have accomplished. The first time I let my Father hug me after my abuse. Seeing my little sister again. Being moved by the music of the worship team. Going to Disney and remembering true joy. My courage and strength to speak out. That wooden wall will always be there. It may crack, or crumble, but it is permanently a part of my existence. But the ivy needs a place to bloom, to show it’s beauty. Wherever you are in your healing process, I promise, it gets so much better. You will bloom like the ivy, and oh, what a sight it will be.

Stronger in the Broken Places

I have spoken before about how my abuse as a child has caused me to have moments in life that lead to me shutting down. I’m learning that this often happens as a self- defense mechanism.

A survival tool I was never aware I had built into my skill set. A direct response to a threat.

What I neglected to mention and what is equally if not more important, is that each time I resurface from these dark corners of doubt I come back ten times stronger for having been there.

The resilience and the sheer will it takes to face past experiences head on and to continue to claw out of the hurt and keep going holds transforming power. Power that can only be gained from experiencing a specific type of pain.

Guilt, denial, and strength

Since I began publicly advocating for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse, it often feels as if the more I try to move forward, the more circumstances see to it that I remain cemented in the shameful place I had been in previously. Encased in guilt and denial. Quiet, complacent and afraid.

If there is one thing I know to be true, it is that the people in this world that have been repeatedly and intentionally broken and yet continue to get back up are far stronger than the ones trying to keep them down.

Every assault, manipulation, and situation that any abuser put me through has made me stronger. Every defeat supplies me with tools to fight the next battle. Every shameful experience I name out loud creates new ways for me to know that I did nothing wrong and that I have nothing to feel ashamed about.

Every person that tries to make me doubt myself or make me feel that I what I fight for is not worthy of bringing awareness to gives me continued resolve to make sure that my voice will never be silenced again.

Don’t ever assume that my occasional retreats into darkness have not given me the power to light sh*t up when necessary.

Sweeping it under the rug

For most of my life I have been an open book. I like swapping “war stories” with friends/strangers and hearing other people’s life mistakes and successes, and how they have grown and learned from each experience. I’m proud of where I am and who I have become, so I like telling stories about my past experiences and reflecting on where I have been, where I could have ended up, and how far I have come. I guess it’s not a surprise that I’ve come to share this experience, but it is not something I thought I would ever do. This was one experience in my life that I didn’t know how to talk about. For a long time, I didn’t know what I had learned from it besides being exposed to way too much way too soon. I didn’t know who I could tell because I didn’t know what they would think, say or do. Also, I really just didn’t want to talk about it. I just tried to “sweep it under the rug”; forget about it. The thing about sweeping anything under the rug is that the dirt/dust doesn’t really get cleaned up or dealt with. And this dust is not something you just forget about. Eventually you will just have a really dirty rug. I had to learn ways to deal with the reality that my rug was becoming dirty; myself, my well being – I was not healthy.

Dealing With the Memories

I’m going to stick with the whole tidying up thing for a minute. Like thoroughly cleaning a room – and I guess we can just pretend this room has a rug in it now- you have to put in work to deal with the memories of abuse in a healthy way. This work has to become routine to maintain a clean room; healthy mind. You have to have tools and supplies to clean up the mess and dispose of the trash.

For me, it took meeting people through different stages of my life to acquire the tools that would help me effectively cope with what had happened to me. I found that therapy, anger management, mindfulness meditation, journaling and staying physically active were the most important tools for me to remain physically and mentally healthy. They helped me learn how to treat myself and others with respect.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

If you come to this site and relate to the stories that are being shared – I am so sorry. No one deserves to go through the things that we or our loved ones have. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s not okay. But here we are, and we are okay. Everyone’s experience is different and the same is true about how we cope. No matter how long things were bad, how disturbing our experiences were, or how much it sucks that we will never forget, there is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And to bring it back one more time – There is a way to make our messy rooms clean again. I am glad to finally be in a place where I can share what has worked for me to overcome my anger and depression that was leading me down a dark path, and I hope my words can help you know you’re not alone.

I use the “tools” I mentioned above every day and I will be sharing more about how I found them, and how practicing them as routinely as possible has helped me view my life in a more positive way. Thanks for reading – Treat yourself nice today.

Weighing Forgiveness

It seems hard to conceive. Forgiveness? Why should I give him forgiveness? In my case, he’s not around to apologize. He’s not even alive to benefit from it. Why should I bother, when he hurt me without my consent, and left my family alone to pick up the mess?
The concept of forgiveness isn’t new to me. Back in college, during my happiness seminar, we were supposed to work on letters of forgiveness. She told us not to forgive our level ten pain, but instead to choose a five or six. I didn’t have a level five or six pain. I had a level ten. That day in class, I was antsy, my heart raced, as I prepared to sit down and work through things I hadn’t worked through in years. A classmate decided she wanted to work outside, and a bunch of us joined her. We talked about anything other than forgiveness, and fulfilled a different class objective. I dodged my bullet.

But now, it seems to keep popping up everywhere. At church, my Pastor preaches about it, about giving our burdens to God, and letting Him carry that weight. I’m ignoring. A song comes on the radio telling me to forgive and forget. I’m intrigued. I skip two weeks of church due to travel. An article shows up on facebook about forgiveness. I’m annoyed. When I come back from travel, my Pastor does an entire service again about forgiveness. I’m listening. Every time I hear it, I shake my head and laugh to myself. The signs are all there, will I listen?

Forgiveness Isn’t Something for Our Abusers

It turns out, forgiveness isn’t something for our abusers, it’s really not about them. It’s something for us. It allows us to live our lives to the fullest without being held back by our pain. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have pain. It manifests in funny ways, but it’s there. It’s there when I hear that stupid nursery rhyme that triggers me. It’s there every time I lock my bedroom door. It’s there in November when I don’t sleep because I’m afraid of the nightmares. I hide it really well, but it’s there.

Should I work on forgiveness if it will help me with all of these things? Maybe. But maybe I’m putting too much stock into an abstract thought. Maybe expecting all this will set me up for failure. If I’m being honest, the idea of forgiveness scares me. I’ve been holding on to my feelings for almost eleven years now. I’ve taken them and channelled them into something good, into my activism. Will this little seedlet of thought change my whole outlook? If I’m no longer holding on to pain, anger, and fear, will I be the same person? It’s easy to stay the same, it’s hard to grow, and I think my fear of forgiveness stems from this ease. But the truth is, all people must change, no one ever stays the same, and if I must change it might as well be for the better, right? I think I’m ready for this next step. God, I hear you. And I am listening.

He Was My Older Brother and I Trusted Him

Warning: May contain triggers for survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Starting at a very young age , my brother would show me my dad’s adult magazine collection. One story, told by my father, places me around the age of 3 when my brother was caught showing the neighborhood boys that month’s Playboy edition, which he had cleverly hidden in a Boy’s Life magazine. He is 6 years older than me. My brother had found the key to a locked cabinet in my fathers sock drawer and would retrieve it as soon as the coast was clear and my parents weren’t around. This key unlocked a treasure chest of porn magazines and videos. I remember my brother was allowed to start baby sitting me, he showed me the hidden cabinet. I was around 6-7 years old. I remember knowing that we were being sneaky and I couldn’t tell mom and dad, but I don’t think I really know we were doing.

This behavior continued for a while until he started asking me to perform acts on him like the people in the videos. I remember feeling very uncomfortable, but he was my older brother and I trusted him. He told me that what we were doing wasn’t wrong because we didn’t “like each other like that” and we were “just having fun”. This continued until I was about 8-9 years old. Then, I vaguely remember telling my mother about what was happening but it was swept under the rug. I don’t think my mother was trying to hide anything in the sense of not believing me; I think she was scared to tell my father and of the beating my brother, and maybe even me would have taken.

Haunted By Memories

Once my brother got to high school, the behaviors ceased happening between us. I have a feeling he upgraded from his younger brother to a few girls or guys at school. I held on to the memories for a long time, but they did not start to really bother me until college. Vivid flashbacks and unwelcomed memories started flooding my brain. I can still remember specific instances where we were almost caught and he would somehow lie his way out of it or convince me everything was fine.

One night after a few hours of binge drinking, I was haunted by the memories and became furious that my mother never did anything about it when I told her many years earlier. So I called her. She remembered. She was devastated that I remembered. She was so sorry that nothing was done and we cried together. She called a cab company and had me dropped off at my house. I haven’t opened up to my mother about that situation much more since then and I’m still not sure my dad has any clue about any of this.

Around the time of the phone call to my mother, I started to spiral our of control. I did not seek help or someone to talk to. I would mask my depression with whatever substance I could get my hands on. On two occasions, these benders lead to me sharing my story with “trusted” friends. I think sharing these experiences with friends can be very powerful and healing thing, but not when you are blasted. Those convo’s were one and done’s.

It Never Feels like a Good Time to Have “the Talk”

Over the past few years I have become much more accepting of what happened. I have talked to someone who went through a similar experience, a therapist who knows me very well, and a girlfriend who was more understanding than I could have ever imagined. One person I still have not talked to about any of this is my brother. I don’t even know if he remembers. I have thought about approaching him about it, but there never seems to be a good time. He is constantly addicted to another drug, getting fired from a job, cheating on his wife, losing custody of his child…. It never feels like a good time to have “the talk”. Sometimes I think, if I told him, he would kill himself. I feel like he is so mentally broken from everything else in his life that being reminded of what he did to me would push him over the edge. If that happened. I think I would feel responsible. That frustrates me because I feel like he is responsible for so many of the negativity in my life – why should I even care.

I Don’t Let It Control My Day Anymore

For me, I am okay now. I have become better at letting myself feel sad if those thoughts arise, and then I let them pass. The feelings of depression, anxiety, wanting to know why or if my brother even remembers are still here everyday and just as real as they ever were, but I don’t let it control my day anymore.

I am more than my past and will not be held back by the memories of my abuse. It feels good to talk about this in this setting and I’m thankful for this group.

Coping

Coping

Some of you may be wondering why I have shared this picture of frogs. Others, who are disnerds like me, may be wondering why the photo of Tiana and Naveen. They are not my favorites, it’s not a covert message that I thought I would share. Instead, last night, they were a coping mechanism.

Will I be ok this time, or will I have a meltdown

I was triggered last night at the Magic Kingdom, the one place in the world that my problems don’t tend to affect me. Part of it was because I have discovered one of my triggers in the last year. That nursery rhyme that starts, “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight.” It was part of our nightly prayers with my abuser, and the day I heard his voice in my ear is the day I realized why I hated that rhyme. I hear it and immediately want to be sick. It makes me angry, and afraid, and my reaction tends to be out of control. Part of me thinks that being consciously aware of it should help, but I fear the anxiety that grips me every time I hear it, wondering whether I’ll be okay this time or if I’ll have a meltdown.

Last night, I had a meltdown. I called my Mom in hysterics, unsure of what to do with myself as I waited for my bus home. Now, I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again now. My Mother is the best. She talked me down, reminded me of my strength, and made me tell her all the wonderful things I had done with the rest of my day, even though I’m sure it wasn’t easy to listen to me like that. And when I got home, she told me to get some sleep, and reassured me that she loved me.

I didn’t sleep though. Instead, I grabbed the coloring book I have of Disney animals, and colored a page, blasting Carrie Underwood’s So Small in my ears until my roommates got home. I talked with them, and continued my coloring after they went to bed. I colored and listened to that song until all traces of him were scrubbed from my conscious thought.

Healing is a process

Now you may be wondering why I am telling you all this. I tell you this because I worry that I am falling into a trap that I don’t like. When I created my blog, I did it because I always wanted people to know that someone out there gets it. Because we don’t always see how this may affect our favorite celebrities who have been through the same thing on a day to day basis. And I worry that by being an activist, people may not think that I struggle with the healing process. How outspoken you are or aren’t doesn’t show all the work that you’ve done. Having a bad day doesn’t mean that all the work you have done is invalid. Healing is a process. It’s never the same for any one person, and I never want anyone to discount their healing because they think that someone else is doing better.

Today is a better day. I made food for the week, I’m going to work, I got to know one of my roommates a little better, and I’m still in a better spot than I was a few years ago. And I want to thank every single one of you for listening to my ramblings about a subject people don’t want to talk about. I’m thankful for you, I’m thankful for life, and I’m thankful that I’m in the spot I’m in today.

For anyone having a bad day today, you’re so much stronger than the shit that life is throwing at you. I believe in you.

This post was originally published on June 26, 2016

Nothing Poetic

Warning: May contain triggers for survivors of childhood sexual abuse

I was raped when I was 8
Over and over
When I should have been safe
There is nothing poetic here

They always call us crazy
They always deny, say we lie
As recent as last year
I was called a stupid “victim”
By a Buddhist thinker
Who called the memory of my rape
And the flashbacks, my illusions
Symptoms that he called my fault
Nothing new, this sanity assault
I know you’d be more comfortable
If I locked it in my body vault
But I will not
My honesty does not mean
I still feel like a victim
It simply relays the truth of
What he did to me when I was,
And he did, and I was 8
And now I fight, and I heal, and it’s real
And I say clearly this is me
Because brutes and blind society
Cannot scare or quiet me
Ever again

This post was originally published on February 4, 2014

Gone. But never forgotten.

When I received a phone call informing me my abuser had died, I can’t remember if sorrow or relief won as my initial emotion.

I would like to say it was sorrow. Maybe to make myself appear as if I’m not completely desensitized to the death of someone I loved. I honestly believe it was relief that flooded me first though. Relief and then anger. Sorrow coming in a distant third.

Anger because there would never be any closure for the death of my childhood. No apologies for what was taken from me. How do you mourn the murder of innocence? Put to rest the death of what I could have been?

I do strongly believe that sexual predators cannot apologize for their actions. They do not feel that they did anything wrong and build their lives on lies and manipulation. Admitting guilt or feeling apologetic for any acts they have committed is not part of what makes them tick. Even knowing that, there will always be a part of me that yearns for that admission of guilt. Knowing I would never receive that closure made my hatred come back full force, regardless of whether or not those words would have come when he was alive.

I still don’t know how to mourn his passing, though it has been well over a year since he has been gone. None of what I have expressed above negates the fact that I did love this person. The emotions expressed by others that it was better for him to be gone or that his lack of remorse should release me of my feelings of sadness did nothing to lessen the fact that it was incredibly painful for me to say goodbye. That was my reality and it was valid, regardless of how others may have felt when they experienced the news of his death.

The rational adult that is somehow able to coherently express any of this will always be at odds with the scared and defenseless little girl that just wanted someone to save her. To love her without hurting her. That child will always miss her father. The woman writing this now is grateful he is gone. Feels safer knowing he will never be able to hurt anyone again. Both of those feelings are valid and neither is easy to live with.

An Open Letter to My Abuser’s Former Victims

An Open Letter to My Abuser’s Former Victims

I’ve oftentimes wondered if you exist. I find myself sometimes, combing through the young women in his life, wondering if he ever did the same things to you. Maybe you don’t exist. Maybe you’re just my imagination running wild, my yearning to find someone else who gets it, creating stories in my head. Sometimes I imagine you coming to me, and whispering in my ear, “Me too,” and I would instantly get it. Sometimes I imagine a message sent from miles away because it is just too painful to say out loud. Whether you exist or not, I have a few things I want you to know.

1. I don’t blame you

I never will. I never have. And it doesn’t matter if you never say anything to me, or if you do tomorrow. I don’t blame you. The only person to blame for my abuse is my abuser. Not me. Not my family. And certainly not you. And if you honestly don’t believe me, I want you to repeat the words “It’s not my fault” to yourself every day until you know it in your head and in your heart. It’s not fair to put that kind of burden on yourself every day. Lighten the load, know that I don’t blame you, and keep moving forward with your own healing.

2. I believe you

I’m reminded of a story I heard, where a young girl told her mother that her father, who had abused his niece years earlier, also abused her. Her mother didn’t believe her, just thought she was competing with her cousin for attention. Because that’s the kind of attention we want, am I right? I will never understand why people treat you like you’re riding a bandwagon, trying to get your fifteen minutes of fame, why we can’t believe that an abuser may have hurt more than one person. I believe you, like I believe every survivor, with every fiber of my being. I believe you because, if he did it to me, it just makes sense that he may have done it to you. And I’m sorry, because no one deserves it.

3. You are brave

Do you know that? Do you believe that? Because I do. I know that any person who endures this particular kind of trauma is brave. If you are out there somewhere, breathing, alive, thriving, then you are brave. If you have to push away the thoughts that creep into your subconscious like I know I have to, then you are brave. If you never told anyone, you are still brave. If you have stumbled a few times in your healing, you are brave. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you aren’t, especially if that someone is you.

4. I love you

More than you know. And I want you to know, from one survivor of sexual abuse to another, I support you.

How Sweet the Sound

Originally published 3/3/2018

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

I am still getting used to writing those words.

Admitting to my past and sharing my story has led to multiple moments of what I can only describe as tiny fracture breaks within what I thought was my semi stable reality. I thought I was doing okay. I saw no reason to reopen those old, pulsating wounds. I felt they had been stitched up adequately enough.

The ability to see beyond where I was and imagine where I could be was nearly impossible due to the inflicted abuse from my childhood. Survivors of trauma know this feeling well. There is a darkness that takes up residency. It becomes so much a part of us that we wouldn’t recognize ourselves without it. Maybe we don’t even want to. Who are we without this pain?

Sometimes the hurt from past experiences is so achingly unbearable it immobilizes us, rendering us powerless. So many people are locked deeply in the clutches of pain from past events or encounters. Agony and shame intermingled and running so deep in our veins we cannot fathom being able to fight it.

Recently I starting exploring the terrible, irresponsible and hurtful choices I was making as an adult. Choices I was making myself, not something that was being done to me or against my will like when I was a little girl.

I decided to take some accountability for my very real and incredibly fast fall from grace. I started to dig, unearth and attempt to reconcile with the actual reasons leading to my abysmal life choices. I started confronting the shame that lived inside of me. The things that are and always will be a part of who I have become today.

I decided to accept them.

Sometimes it is the very worst things that have happened to us in the past that can in fact be our most empowering tool of hope. How can we ever authentically relate to and make real, honest connections with those that need our voices the most if we don’t claim our most horrific moments?  The ones we attempt to hide, forget, deny or numb away?

Understanding that your past actions do not and will not determine your legacy begins with not trying so strenuously to will them away. It begins with acknowledging that those pieces are a part of you and they should be nurtured, not dismissed.

John Newton and William Cowper are two voices from history who perfectly help convey the message I am trying to deliver. Newton, a reformed atheist turned Ordained Minister challenged Cowper, a crazy misunderstood Christianity loving wordsmith to a hymnal duel.

Write a new Hymn to a familiar tune in time for each Thursday’s bible study.

Newton and Cowper made change happen by owning who they were and sharing their pain with others. Easier said than done but it eventually led to penning Amazing Grace, a song undeniably powerful in the simplicity of its message and one most can readily identify with.

They were from different backgrounds but they lived with the same ghosts so many of us struggle with. Pain, loss, confusion, sorrow, anger and the desire for redemption to name a few. Through their salvation and their ability to forgive, they each felt a desire to grow from their past experiences and become better because of them.

I’m guessing that neither of them ever would have expected that a former atheist slave trader and a suicidal poet who had been institutionalized for insanity would someday be the ones to collaboratively write a world changing, soul reaching and universal identified with hymnal lyric.

Somehow that happened.

What better voices than those who have come from complete darkness to help others see the light that can be found within it?

As I struggle with my own past and attempt to make amends with the abuse I endured and survived as a child I am often overwhelmed by emotional ferocity of it. Facing these experiences and sharing them with others is terrifying.

I am grateful for each and every prayer I have been blessed with. I do believe in a higher power. A force larger than myself. I just don’t think that simply putting my trust in any given faith blindly will help me or any of us find the answers.

Step outside of what you think you know and listen to the people around you.  No matter what you believe or who you pray to or what you have been told. Honor your personal truth while trying to embrace the truths of others. Explore ideas you may be less comfortable with and try to discover what is causing the aversion behind those thoughts.

Fight.

Talk.

Understand.

Listen.

Connect.

Heal.

Forgive.

Make change happen because of your experiences. Don’t stand around and wait for it to happen or place blame when it doesn’t happen the way you thought it would or use religion as a way to not see what is right in front of you.

Use your voice; however it feels right to you.

Shine your light.

Embrace your dark.

Tell your story.

Write your song.

Challenge your best buddy to a hymnal writing contest.

You never know what could happen…