the ghosts of the past

When you live with a secret like mine, it’s bound to manifest itself in a variety of ways. I didn’t even recognize all the ways my life was tainted with the memory of my past. In counseling they say, “the body never forgets.” True. So very, very true. Your body doesn’t forget and your mind certainly doesn’t forget, even when your conscience can’t doesn’t remember. I thought ghosts were in my room. True story. From the time I was very little, I believed I was haunted. I believed that these beings came in to my room at night to harass me. Now, I didn’t believe they were doing to me what my dad was doing to me, but they were in my room and they were scary. Very, very scary. I never saw them. I never felt them physically but in my mind they were there. The tiniest of noises could spark the anxiety. For years I thought I must be passing out from fear when I would “sense” one of these ghosts. My body would go numb, I’d hide under my blankets even though I was burning up with fear. Then I’d wake up in the morning. There were several times (in high school actually) that I screamed out for my parents. It felt like forever until they got there and then of course my fears where dismissed. One of the times I screamed out I was convinced something was rustling around in my make-up. It was a helium balloon that had started to lose its float. The air from a vent was bouncing it against my ceiling. It wasn’t until the lights were on that I could even think rationally enough to believe it was anything except something supernatural. I felt silly after realizing there was a rational explanation but still did not dismiss that there was something else in my room. I went home the summer after my freshman year of college. I was sleeping basically in the utility room since my brother had moved in to my room. I heard, what I thought, was someone sit down on the couch out in the living room. When I yelled to who I assumed was my brother, I got no response. My body was filled with anxiety. As always, I could literally feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins; from my face down to my toes. I started sweating and slowly, so not to draw attention to myself, slipped my face under the blankets. I was in a sweatshirt as my mom always kept the house freezing. I was so hot I couldn’t bare it any longer and as the fear and anxiety took grasp, tried to slowly and quietly take off my sweatshirt. I took it off my right sleeve and slipped the shirt off my head. Then, it was morning and I awoke to my sweatshirt still on my left arm. I never had proof that I was passing out from fear until that incident.

I told in 3rd grade. I knew before that time that what was happening to me at night was wrong but I didn’t really get validation until my dad was standing at the side of my bed, hysterical, telling me he would never do anything to hurt me. He loved me. I must be dreaming. My 9 year old mind decided yes, I must be dreaming. In that moment dreams and reality combined. I lost all sense of being able to trust in my intuition. I started to believe that there must be something so incredibly wrong with me and it terrified me that I could have imagined all of these horrible acts. I felt so bad and dirty that my brain made all these things up. In that moment when I told about the worst of the abuse, the abuse that happened while I slept, and when I was most vulnerable and the abuse that scared me the most…I was invalidated. I was the crazy one. I was the one that had something wrong with her and I felt horrible I accused my dad of committing such terrible acts when really, I was the one that had something wrong with me. I mean, if I was wrong about the worst of the worst then I most definitely must be wrong about all of that other stuff that made me feel yucky – cuddling with my dad on weekend mornings to feel his erection being pushed against me, the french kissing that happened when I was in kindergarten, rubbing my legs that went on too long and too high, things that were very insidious. Acts that made me feel so yucky, dirty, and shameful. If I was wrong… If I was wrong about all those things that happened at night when I tried to be still and keep my breathing like “sleep breathing” and tried not to gasp when he finally untangled the burrito of blankets I kept around me as shield and tried not to tense up when he finally had moved my jammies and panties out of the way… If I was wrong about all of those things, I must really have been wrong about all of those other little things that made my heart scream out to me to do or say something to stop it.

And so, it’s no wonder there were ghosts in my room and that I still have a hard time sleeping alone. I never formally worked through all the ghost/demon issues. They actually just resolved themselves and after a few months of therapy I realized I hadn’t even thought of them. I still have a hard time believing I’m safe at night. I check all the locks and then sometimes ask my husband if has locked them even after we’re in bed. He knows he has but for my sake he goes out and checks again. I still have nights, though far and few between, that I’m too terrified to sleep. I believe someone will break in and hurt or take my children. After all, I lived through the break-ins to my room and someone did hurt me. Someone did take my childhood.

I have worked through a lot of current issues in therapy; dealing with my family, trying to be kind to myself, recognizing why I react the way I do in certain situations. I’ve worked through a lot of the repercussions. I have not worked through what actually happened.  I call it that a lot: “what actually happened.” It’s easier that way. I know I have to work through what actually happened. I know it still has a major effect on how I feel about my safety and my worth as a person. You see, I was not important enough to save then. I wasn’t even important enough to my own parents to save. As a child, that teaches you something that you don’t easily get rid of.

And so I march on; correcting the faulty wiring of my brain that “nurture” screwed up. I march on and help other little ones save themselves. I march on and refuse to be silent even when it is painful. I’m not healed but the ghosts in my room don’t exist anymore and for that I’m thankful. I’m excited to move forward, heal, and help others. I’m excited you all read this and I’m excited to share my journey. I love getting your comments, they mean so much. Stay tuned, my friends. I am quite confident this journey will only get happier and happier. With this awesome crew with me, how could it not?

happier and happier

days like these

After posting about the process I’ve been kind of numb. There has been some movement on that but it is all so disheartening learning how our system is set up. I thought we were a nation that protected its children but I question that after all of this. When mandatory reporters who fail to report on such a GIGANTIC level are allowed to practice, I question it.

I’m tired of trying to understand the insanity of my dysfunctional family. I’m tired of people who supported me when I came out, being filled full of lies so that I look like the crazy one. There are so many things that have been said by my parents that are so untrue (or exaggerated or completely out of context) and are spoken only to make themselves look okay. That this somehow was just all a big mistake. I try really hard to keep some details out of the public. I try to respect that some of the details are not mine to tell. It sometimes is so tempting to just throw it all out there and call out other victims and others that are protecting him, then I realize it is because I’m weak and I’m tired of standing alone. It will never cease to surprise me that people can make the irrational sound rational when reality is too hard or too scary to accept.  These loved ones of mine hear these falsities and choose to believe them instead of ask me about them. It’s easier for them. I get it… I do, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

So I stand alone, in the context of my family, resetting the cycle for my own children. It’s hard. It’s heartbreaking. I cry. No one should have to live without parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. This is not an easy decision and although I try to be strong in knowing that I am doing the right thing (and I believe that whole-heartedly) it does not erase the fact that I grieve the loss of the family that once existed, if only in my mind.

I’m going through this journey for all the right reasons. Since cutting ties, I’m off of my once much-needed anxiety meds. Mentally I’m a very different person then I was before starting therapy and then ending these relationships. I’m learning not to be afraid to be me- the good, the bad, and the beautiful. My children know not what family dysfunction is. They have been kept safe from the drama and are surrounded by husband’s extended family, my dearest friends, and their pretty darn amazing parents all who adore and love them unconditionally. So while my heart aches for the family I deserve (and never truly had), my heart sings with excitement knowing that my children will not know the pain that I do.  It’s worth it. Even on days like today where there is more ache than singing – it’s worth it.

the process

It’s been quite a week. I was having a twitter conversation with an Iowan advocate. She talked about reporting and how it was important. I told her I believed it was as well but that people need to be prepared for the process. Last fall I filed a complaint against my parent’s therapists because, even though the victim that they were also seeing was a minor, they didn’t report the abuse. FAIL. So I hadn’t heard anything and I decided to  check in a couple of months ago. Apparently they forwarded the info to the county attorney and as far as I can tell that’s where it sat. For a year. More than one family member has now reported the incidents to the police but because there is not a minor living in the home and no victim has come forward there is nothing they can do.

Let me preface all of this by saying that I don’t know what the right thing to do in my case is. Do I think facing charges is necessary for my father? I don’t know. What I do know is none of that is in my hands and that’s perfectly fine with me. However, that being said, let me speak as an outsider to this (and many, many other) cases. What in the world!? There have been multiple reports of abuse to the police department, a failure of mandatory reporters to report, a report to the state and a report to the county attorney. Nothing has happened. It really is disheartening that this is the way the system is set up. It’s been a year and 3 months and nothing has happened. I know of survivors that are in the criminal investigation stage of this kind of abuse and let me tell you, it does not look fun and it does not look rewarding. It looks like re-victimization and shame. What it doesn’t look like is justice. I know how incredibly hard it is to walk away from your family, no matter how dysfunctional. I know the pain of looking at my children and knowing they won’t ever see grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins from my family. As someone who grew up with a lot of extended family, it breaks my heart. But I know I’m strong enough to do what’s right by me and my kids, even if it hurts at times. There are people out there who are not as supported as I am. There are a lot of survivors that believe staying is the lesser evil. They can stay in the known-no matter how unhealthy or they can venture off on their own – which is really, really scary. How would those unsupported survivors ever report? They wouldn’t.

I wouldn’t be healing from all of this right this minute if someone else didn’t speak out first about my father. I’d still be living in denial, still spending holidays with them and pretending nothing had happened. My father would still be hugging and kissing my kids and coming to visit. It truly sickens me now to know that I ever allowed that and that I put my children at risk but believing it didn’t happen was better than walking away from the only family I knew. Don’t get me wrong, I had a pretty “normal” happy childhood with the exception of the abuse. I can still find happiness in my childhood amongst the dysfunction but it doesn’t feel nearly as good as what happy feels like now.

There was an incident this week with my twitter account. A family member read the conversation I had with the advocate about reporting. It launched in to her calling my mom and then my mom calling a family member I still have contact with and then she called me. It was like the game of telephone. There were exaggerations and some major assumptions. I locked down my twitter account. It was the last place that I felt like I could express myself in a somewhat open way. I still censored myself, after all I know it’s a public forum but I felt stalked a little. I know that may be a harsh word but there also is multiple hits a day from my twitter account to my blog by the same IP address. I know who it is but the fact that they check my blog several times a day is kind of haunting and makes me uncomfortable. Plus I know they are a pipeline to my parents and then we have these games of telephone where other members of my family are sucked in to the craziness as well.

It was a situation that brought back all the anxiety and uneasiness that I used to have constantly when dealing with my family. Even with direct ties cut there are all these secondary ties that I have to manage. It’s exhausting sometimes but there is a light in all this. I am free of the daily craziness. This the first incident in a long time that has made me anxious instead of drowning in it day after day.  Although I have a feeling I will be dealing with this for the foreseeable future, there is a peacefulness in knowing that I’m “doing me.”  This little game of telephone only solidifies the fact that if I hadn’t cut ties, I’d still be immersed in this drama. I’m not stalking twitter accounts and blogs. I’m not constantly afraid of who will find out next or who is coming after me. I can just do me and doing me feels pretty darn good – loving on my kids and husband, being the bets teacher I can be to my little kiddos at school, and speaking up and out about childhood sexual abuse whenever I get the chance. I can work on me wholeheartedly, no need to keep quiet to protect anyone else or be afraid of what my healing means for others. The incident in Connecticut on Friday was another reminder that life is short and it made me joyful to know that I’m living life for all things good these days.

It makes me sad (angry?) to know that there are survivors out there that are stuck in a situation where homeostasis feels better than standing up and validating their experiences and their Little One. I get it. I was there too. All I can do in this moment (and you can do it too!) is to keep talking about childhood sexual abuse. Be a driving force in eliminating the stigma for survivors and keep speaking out for those too little (or too scared) to have their own voice…..yet.

Until next time…

Jennifer

in which I speak of the amygdala (no really, I do)

It’s been a long time. I seem to start every single blog post with that. Thanks for sticking around! Since I’ve come out with my story I’ve had so many people email me telling me about their stories. It’s amazing how as survivors, we seem to empathize more with others than we do ourselves. It’s something I’m working on as well. I heard from survivors that empathized with me and then told me their story. I try to tell people to have as much compassion for themselves (and their Little One) as they do for me. It’s hard and I don’t always practice it myself, but it’s a journey after all.
I was amazed at the response from everyone. It was touching but most of all, I was really excited that I didn’t have to hold that secret anymore. It feels very hypocritical of me to be helping others with their story, advocating for new laws, and be preaching to keep telling, keep telling, keep telling until someone listens as I sit in silence to those I love most. I wouldn’t change anything about it though. I did it on my terms, though many wanted me to do it much sooner and many wanted me to keep my mouth shut forever.
I’m also amazed at who I have become in the past year and a half. I can’t believe I ever was who I was quite honestly.  I mean, outwardly I wouldn’t expect many people to notice differences, but on the inside it’s quite a dramatic change. I’m happy and although I’m a work in progress, like everyone, I’m excited to be where I am.  I have grown years since I’ve started therapy. One thing that comes up a lot in group therapy is that your development into a person is halted when you are traumatized. I wouldn’t have admitted it a year ago, but its oh-so-true. I see it in myself, and others I know to have been victimized, the way that it has stunted growth. It’s in the reactions to others, the reactions to ourselves, the beliefs that we hold about ourselves and others that are so.not.true. In the defensive mode that our brains go in to, we form ideas, beliefs…nonsense really… to try to understand something that is so horrifying and so unnatural for us.  Our amygdala cannot handle the overload of emotional memory storage and becomes less connected to the frontal lobe. When something feels threatening, instead of being to access those frontal lobes for logical thinking, our amygdala is left to fend for itself which results in a fight or flight mode. Oh, friends I have witnessed it and I’m sure that those closest to me have glimpsed it from me in the past as well. It’s the verbal attacks, it’s the inability to think logically when confronted with something that you believe to threaten your safety (or secrets). It’s in the crazy making. You know that moment when you are talking to someone and they really believe that what they are saying makes sense? That it really is the most logical explanation, yet in your mind you are thinking “they can’t be serious…” but they are. They are because if they aren’t it threatens their very life as they know it and they are fighting you to keep their homeostasis.

I get it, I do. There are people in my life that would never want to confront who my dad really is. They don’t want to believe that this is their son, their husband, their friend, their father. It sucks for me but I finally have realized something. It takes strength to stand up against those who are trying to keep secrets intact. It takes strength to walk away. A lot of strength actually and sometimes I don’t feel strong enough to do it and feel alone, and like an orphan and like I have thrown away my family. Those moments are fleeting because then I remember what family really is and I remember those I have chosen to keep in my life and those people are the ones who love and support me unconditionally and not just if I’m playing by their rules or keep their secrets. They are the ones who can look me in my eyes and tell me that I’m not the crazy one in my weaker moments. I am so thankful for those people in life. They are family-some by blood, some by marriage and some put in my life by God-but all family nonetheless. I couldn’t do this without them. In this month of thanks I give thanks for them and all of you reading. I hope that there is something that you take away from each post, whether for yourself or someone you love who has been traumatized.

If you have questions, comments, complaints please feel free to address them in the comment section. I love to hear from all of you!

meet little one

This blog post actually started as a photography project. I had visions of survivors being photographed exhibiting the leftover behaviors of their trauma; addictions, self abuse, et cetera. However, something interesting happened when I started asking these brave women to be a part of my project. They all refused, graciously, but refused nonetheless.

No one wanted their image to be associated with their trauma. It was very telling. Silence is a way of many survivors to keep the silence tucked away. I thought of doing self-portraits of some of the shadows of abuse that live within me but it felt really vulnerable and kind of narcissistic.  I guess the photo project was a failure. The process was not. It lit a fire within me to share my story and break the silence. Breaking this silence is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Thank you for standing beside me during this healing milestone!

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I want to introduce you to Little One. She’s a spunky, bright, funny, loving little girl. She tends to be a perfectionist, she worries too much about what other people think of her, and she is brave. So.Very.Brave. She is a mastermind of pretending that her life is okay.

Things are very much NOT okay for Little One.  Her first memories involve being French kissed by an adult man. They include touching not meant for little girls. She goes to bed at night terrified. She wraps herself up in her sheets and then piles on a comforter so that she is not easy to get to.  Little One pretends she’s sleeping when she’s very awake. She leaves her body in those moments, while also trying to keep her breathing even so there is no confrontation.

To the outside world she is a typical 3rd grader. She wants to impress her teacher, she enters the talented and gifted program, she loves running. Then she goes home to a world that is not comparable to the rest of her reality. She goes to bed with a pit in her stomach, her soul feeling so guilty and full of evil. Here’s that so very brave part. After another failed attempt at keeping herself safe, her intuition screams inside her to do something and her heart is breaking for what it might mean.

She hears a moment when she knows she is safe. She gets up out of bed, dizzy with emotions and anxiety about what is going to happen next. She forces the evil and blackness and guilt and shame out of her heart and forms them in to words. She’s told to go back to bed. Moments later, amongst tears, apologies, and denial, she is told she must be dreaming all of what she has known to be true. The next morning she is told not to tell anyone. It’s unclear whether she was told everyone would be taken away from each other or if she just knew that would happen.

Little One soldiers on; continuing to be a good student, decent athlete, and mastermind of pretending her life is okay. Evil continues, though less obvious and less often than before. Little One’s only hope is that, though it did not end for her, it would never start for anyone else. Little One put all the evil in a box and shoved it clear to the back of her mind. She hid it under anxiety, perfectionism, eating disorders, and other coping skills she learned.

 

Meet Little One

 

Oh yes, some of you might recognize her! She lived a very different life then what you might have thought when you knew her.

You see, Little One tried to make falsehoods her reality. She believed she was dreaming. She believed she was a drama queen and she believed that she must be crazy. For years she thought she was a terrible, horrible person for even dreaming those awful things. She believed for so long that something was wrong with her.

Little One was me. Shadows of Little One still live within me. I’m working to heal her because she was never healed. It is amazing when you start to learn about survivors of childhood trauma, how often they think something is wrong with them. In reality, that inner child, whom we all have as humans, was never able to grow, progress, hit milestones like other children. It was her perpetrators who were wrong.

Five years ago I learned that I was not dreaming and that, unfortunately, I did not stop the abuse for others. Two years ago I finally started therapy for my childhood trauma. All these years I’ve thought I was crazy but through talking it out I’ve learned about Little One. Little One is the name some professionals give to your inner child. We all have one. If you grew up in a loving, safe home your Little One is probably pretty quiet because there is peace and security and you were able to hit all those emotional milestones you were supposed to. When you grow up in trauma and chaos, you aren’t allowed to grow as a typical child and there are pieces of you that are stunted in those moments. While your intelligence, mind and physical growth may all be right where it should be, there are pieces of emotional growth that just kind of freeze. I realized my Little One was still trying to understand and figure out what reality was. I know, it sounds a little “out there” so let me give you some concrete examples.

-For most of my life I’ve been terrified of the paranormal being in my room. I would literally pass out in fear.  That is totally over. I’ve learned it was a way for 3rd grade me to cope with the fact that these terrible things were happening to me, yet no one accepted responsibility for them. Someone had to be doing those things but with my reality being questioned, my mind made up the least traumatic story.

-Many survivors have a drug of choice. Mine happens to be food.  Yeah, yeah big surprise, huh? I remember taking food in my room when I as young as five. I’d save it for later so I could just be alone with it and be at peace. Throughout my life I’ve struggled with anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating. This is the vice, the coping mechanism, that I’m working hard to overcome (thank you Emily Program!) but it is a long, hard battle.

-I don’t get to be naïve enough to think the bad guy or pedophile is the creepy man on the corner. He could be anywhere. I have to consciously work at not allowing my fears to taint my children’s experience of the world. I, thankfully, have made leaps and bounds of progress in this area.

I’m in group therapy for survivors of childhood trauma. It has been the most amazing experience to see how similar our stories are and that we have reacted in a very normal way to something that is very much NOT normal. It’s a safe environment to discuss how Little Ones still affect our lives. I’m blessed to know how much I have healed in the past couple of years. The blessing in all this is that I’m so clear about what my reality is, what I want for my children and their lives, and who I am as a person. It is an incredible feeling to come out the other side of something so horrific, and to have such confidence about who I really am. I always allowed others to define who I was. I’m happy to say I do that for myself now.

So, what’s the point of this coming out story? Why share something so intimate with the world? The point is this: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18. This figure is cited even higher by some organizations. Some sources even estimate that as many of 90% of that abuse is by people the children know.

Can we just pause for a moment and reflect on that number? 1 in 4 girls, 1 in 6 boys. If this were a disease it would be called an epidemic. We would have institutions, 5ks, bumper stickers and pins aimed at raising money to find a cure or raise awareness.

Instead, in most cases, we find silence. We find it because it’s shameful, because we don’t want to talk to our children about these kinds of dangers and because victims don’t feel safe sharing their story.  For a child to have to reconcile that someone who should be loving and protecting them is doing something so evil is a nearly impossible task. So many adults are suffering with the sins committed against them and are too afraid to seek help.

There are going to be a lot of people that are very upset that I’m sharing this. They are going to say I’m doing this for attention or because I’m angry or spiteful. That’s okay because I know my truth. My truth is that I cannot remain silent and protect a pedophile and possibly endanger other children. My truth is that it is not my job to keep this secret or protect others from this story. My truth is that I have already helped other survivors use their voice to heal. My truth is knowing that the longer we pretend this isn’t happening and the longer we let it remain our dirty little secret, at least 25% of our girls will be victimized. Until this epidemic that is sweeping our country is confronted, in the most vocal and proactive way, Little Ones everywhere will reside unhealed in survivors. The coping mechanisms that worked for Little One are almost always destructive to the adult that harbors her.

My truth is that for the first time in my life I feel free of Little One’s anxiety, shame, guilt, fear, and feelings of being unsafe. For the first time I can look at that picture of Little One, the child that I was once and say, “You did good, girl. Look at where we are now.” I wish that upon EVERY survivor.

For more information about protecting the children in your lives please visit the “What You Can Do” page

Feel free to comment and share your opinion, story or feelings. If you would like to remain anonymous, make up a name and email address. They really are only there to safeguard against spammers.

thanks for waiting for me!

I’m back. I feel better than ever and I have a new perspective on myself and my history. In September I was diagnosed with PTSD. It actually felt amazing to have a name on all of this “stuff” that was happening inside of me. I’ve been working through my emotions and realizing that my family will never validate what has transpired in our lives because it threatens the reality they have created for themselves. I used to need that validation so badly and not having it made me feel like I was the one that was crazy. Now, I realize that they are craving homeostasis, as we all do, and it’s much easier to just minimize then to raise questions about their current actions. It’s okay. It sucks, but its okay.

Last month I decided to write a letter to my parents cutting off contact. It was one of the hardest decisions that I’ve ever had to make but it has turned out to be for the best. With them in my lives, I felt the need to defend them to everyone, including myself. Even as an adult, how to do you rectify the reality of this situation? That your parents, the ones who should protect you, are the ones that hurt you in the most violating of ways. That even when you gathered all the courage of your 3rd grade-self after yet another attack, got out of bed, quietly walked up the stairs, and told, you were not rescued. In fact, instead of being rescued, you became the protector of the family. If you told anyone else you and your siblings would be taken away and split up. That, in fact, these things did not happen and you must have been dreaming them. It is so hard. On top of it being hard to wrap your head around, your family, though all has been admitted and even new atrocities learned, have decided that all is okay and they will continue to live in the craziness. That they will even leave a niece and nephew in the care of a man and woman that abused, and allowed the abuse of 3 girls spanning an over a 20 year period. WHAT?!

It has been very hard not to have the validation of my family. As humans we crave it. But, that craving came with the constant walking on eggshells, being careful with my words and actions, and putting myself in situations that made me feel terrible and felt so incredibly against my intuition. If a stranger, or even an uncle or cousin, did to me what my father did NO ONE would believe I was making a poor (or dramatic) decision by cutting them out of my life. When it’s a stranger, no rape survivor is being asked to sit at Christmas dinner with her rapist, leave her children with him or allow her rapist into her home. How is it that because this was my father (you know, the person that is gifted with the responsibility to protect and shape me) I am being asked to do these things? Just to move on like it didn’t happen and to hug him goodbye, tell him I love him and give him access to my children? While intellectually I get how insane this situation is, emotionally it has been hard to feel that my decisions and feelings are valid.

Three weeks ago I started group therapy. All eight of us have a history of childhood trauma. It’s been pretty intense. Emotions are coming out that I thought I had a handle on. I’ve always been very good at accepting how screwed up my parents’ actions were post exposing the abuse. Since learning the abuse was real and that I was, indeed, able to trust my intuition because it has always been right, I’ve been able to see how their decisions to deny and hide have affected my life. I, however, have been very good at pretending the actual abuse has not had any repercussions in my life. I am, of course, trying to do exactly what some of my family is doing. It is really freakin’ hard to remember, admit, and understand what actually transpired in those reoccurring moments of abuse. This was my father and he hurt me in the worst ways. It was a violation of my body and a violation of trust in a relationship. I will never be able to understand what was going through his head in those moments before he hurt me. How did he look at me, his daughter, and still choose to hurt me?  I can’t understand it because it’s incomprehensible. It’s also impossible for me to imagine my child coming to me and telling me something so horrendous and doing nothing. Nothing. I don’t understand it and I never will. They have apologized. My mother has admitted she failed me as a mother. My father has admitted all the abuse. That’s great, I’m glad they could do that for themselves, but those things mean nothing to me. I know they are hurting and feeling guilt and regret, and it does hurt me that they are hurting. I did feel guilty adding to that by cutting off contact from me and my children. The difference between now and a year ago, though, is that I am strong enough to recognize that my emotional safety is more important than not hurting their feelings. I intellectually know that I am worthy of doing what’s best for me (and my family). I’m still working on knowing that in every cell of my being, but for now at least I can recognize that I am making the right decisions.

I have a lot more to say but for now, this pretty much sums up the past few months. Hopefully I’ll be back on a more regular blogging schedule. Until next time!

 

what you can do

I’ve heard some disturbing news about a group called B4U-ACT. They just hosted a conference in Baltimore aimed at normalizing pedophilia. It was disturbing, disgusting, and some of the quoted comments made me sick. However, with that said, it made me realize I need to write this blog post. Now. Not tomorrow, not this weekend, but in this very moment.

I’m sure we’ve all heard some of the actions we can take to keep our children safe. Some of them are easy, some of them are awkward and at points in my journey, I have wondered why some of the actions are recommended. Well, lucky for you, I have answered that for you. There are some pretty universal pieces of advice for protecting children against sexual predators. Below you will find those suggested actions as well as why they are so important.

1. Making sure children are entitled to their own personal space. Children should have the right to sleep, toilet, bathe, and dress privately. Of course, safety comes first and you are the decider of when a child is capable of bathing and toileting on their own. If a child asks for privacy for this time, give them as much as possible while still maintaining a safe environment.

2. Personal space also means choosing who they kiss and hug. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of telling our child to go give Grandma a hug or a kiss. Children should have the final decision in who they decide to be affectionate with.  It’s tricky, I know. You don’t want Grandma to feel bad and you know they are a safe person, but ultimately, you’re trying to teach your child that they are in control of their body. Explain to family members that letting the child make the decision keeps them safe because they begin to realize that they don’t have to do what adults what them to do if it makes them uncomfortable.

3. Teach proper names for body parts.  I have followed this rule from the beginning with my kids. Trust me; it was not easy for me to have that first conversation about a vagina with my son. I tried to dance around the issue when he asked me if I had a penis. I just told him I didn’t but he would NOT let it go so finally I had to tell him what I had. Oh, the awkwardness. Here’s the thing, there are actually several reasons for this suggestion. One is that just as kids learn rules about their other body parts (for instance, we don’t hit with our hands or we don’t pick our nose or we keep our mouths closed when we eat) we also have rules for penises and vaginas. No one touches them unless it’s to keep us safe or clean. This is a pretty broad rule and you can tailor it to fit your needs. 

Another reason for this is because pedophiles use all kinds of cutesy names for these body parts to make abuse seem like a game. Ultimately, if your child knows the correct names and they are talked about in a matter-of-fact way, they will be more likely to come to you if something inappropriate has happened. They will also be able to say NO to the abuser because they know the rules for that body part.

4. Surprises are great! Secrets are not. Teach your child the difference between a secret and a surprise. “A surprise is something that is going to happen and that is going to be happy. A secret is something that is never told and a lot of times it may make you feel sad or yucky in your tummy or heart.” Secrets should never be kept about their bodies. Reassure them that you will always do whatever you can to make them have a happy heart.  Let them know if something is making them feel bad, it’s your job as a parent (or caregiver or family member) to make them feel better and that you always want to know if something is making them upset. If your child feels secure in the fact that you won’t blame them and that you will always make a decision that protects and keeps them happy, they will be more likely to confide with you if something has happened.

5. Be honest and matter of fact. When talking about private parts, touching, sex, and personal safety, even if you are totally freaked out, remain calm and be honest. It does not mean you need to tell your 3 year old exactly how his brother got in Mommy’s tummy. It does mean you should tell them what will satisfy their curiosity, at an age appropriate level and most importantly, honestly.  Oh, yes, it can be uncomfortable. It can make you want to crawl inside yourself, but once you start doing it you’ll be amazed at how easy it becomes.  

6. Use the words “safe and unsafe touches”.  If you’re a product of the 80’s like me, I’m sure you have heard of good touch/bad touch. We heard about it at school and it was a ridiculously uncomfortable lesson. Here’s the thing, we should already be talking to kids before they enter school about appropriate and inappropriate touches. Most children equate good touches with touches that feel good and bad touches with touches that hurt. Abuse does not always hurt. Children can be very confused at the fact that physically it feels good but emotionally and mentally, it is making them feel horrible. Teaching children what safe and unsafe touches are helps eradicate this confusion for the child.

So there you have it. Some important actions you can take to help protect your child and to increase the chances that he/she will tell you if something happens. It’s not always a glamorous job, right?   Good luck and if you have any suggestions about how you do it with your children or the little people in your life, leave a comment and share.

resources

Have you checked out the resources page? I hope to be adding on to these, but for now, they should satisfy your need for knowledge. I have become extremely passionate about giving children a voice. This means speaking to them about private parts, naming private parts by correct names, and just making them aware. I take my job as a momma seriously. My oldest knows the name of his private parts and though it still makes me a little uncomfortable hearing him use the word penis, I know it is an important part of having the conversations we need to have. The resource page can point you to lots of websites that can give you more information. Don’t be afraid to have these conversations. If I had been taught to “tell and keep telling”, I could have  not only saved myself more years of abuse but I could have saved other children from the same fate. I didn’t have the voice to do it then, but I do now and I plan to use it!

It’s time for me

Today is a day I will never forget. I haven’t slept in nearly a week. Okay, so I have slept but it has taken me hours to fall asleep because of anxiety about today. It was hard. It was scary. It was the first big step I have taken to heal myself. I went to therapy.

I decided to go to The Emily Program. It’s a FABULOUS and comprehensive eating disorders clinic. I decided that it was very important to me that I go somewhere that could not only help me with my childhood but also help me fix the coping mechanisms I have used all my life to survive. I’m lucky they have therapists that specialize in childhood trauma. If you haven’t read my story you will see what led me there. I went through all the assessments, all the questionnaires. It was kinda nerve-wracking. I am a restricter and a binger. Fabulous. They set me up with Vanessa and today was the day I met her. I love her because within the first few minutes she dropped an f-bomb. I’m not a sailor or anything, but when talking about the trauma of my childhood, I think I’m allowed a few expletives.

So, all the anxiety and it went really well. So well I actually wanted to stay longer. I had a lot more to say to her. We said our good-byes till next week and while I’m nervous where this is all going to take me, I’m so excited to be taking my life back. I’m almost 30. It’s time for it to be about me. (Okay…um…I’m supposed to believe that but it is SO hard to write…it just seems incredibly selfish….). No, really, it’s time for me..and for the first time in my life, I don’t want to be hushed.