Identify the Victim, Identify the Perpetrator

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According to my stepfather, he was the victim of my sexual abuse. In his way of thinking, he wasn’t responsible for what happened between us.

He said over and over to me “See how much you want me Kimmy”, “See what you make my dick do Sissy” and “I can’t help myself, Sissy, you are so beautiful.” To him, I wanted him. He would do things to make sure I was sexually excited and then tell me ” See how much you want me?”

Because he had said things like this to me for years, I thought it was my idea to have sex with him. This was one of the reasons I felt guilty when I told, I thought I was telling on myself.

It was the summer of 1975 when I told Mom Jack and I had been sleeping together. I sat in a folding lawn chair in the backyard. My body felt heavy like I wasn’t going to be strong enough to hold myself up. I felt it everywhere. I was breathing shallowly, feeling slightly dizzy from the lack of oxygen.

When I said, “Jack and I had been sleeping together”… (wrong I know now). I remember thinking I would be in so much trouble because I had wanted to do all those bad things. Somehow at the age of 4, I had the idea to have oral sex with a grown man, somehow, it was my idea, I felt like I was telling on myself for having done something wrong.

It was disastrous telling her, she responded by asking was there anyone else who knew. I said yes, my uncles, cause Jack had tried to get them to have sex with me. So she left to talk to them about what happened. That was it. No nothing else.

Later Jack came home and asked where she was. He told me to get the kids in bed, so I climbed in bed with my little sisters, while the boys got in bed in their room.

We all fell asleep. Later I woke up with Jack and Mom arguing in the kitchen, Mom saying “why would she say something like that?”

He responded with I don’t know, maybe she didn’t want to do the dishes anymore.

They were back and forth for the longest time while I drifted off again. There was a little bit of hurt when he said what I had told was being reduced to something so petty as not wanting to do dishes.

Later, he complained to me about how I had upset my Mom and gotten him in trouble.

So when I look back on this I realize that I thought I was the problem, I caused him to do what he had done for years. It took years for me to correct my own thinking. I didn’t cause him to do anything, He did it. He was the perpetrator, he was the criminal, I was a child, I know now how I had to distort my own thinking in an effort to cope with the things he did to me and how I tried to make sense of it in my young child mind.

And recovery takes so long because there is so much sorting out to be done. Because I was so young, I didn’t have a basis for what was wrong or right. And my whole childhood was built around those lies he told me.

Now I can identify that I am the victim, he was the perpetrator of a series of crimes. Not just to me, but my whole family.

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Not Talking About Childhood Abuse

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I don’t want to talk about being abused because of the way it makes me feel when I talk about it.  But unless I do, I suffer. There are strange things that come out of my unconscious. Suppressed feelings. Things that come to my attention from weird accidents, body reactions that I can’t explain, numbness and  inappropriate actions/behaviors/words that seem to come out of nowhere.

When I was younger, teens and twenties, I didn’t want people to know how damaged I was from what happened to me, so I hid it. Then as I grew older I thought, I should tell some of them, but not everybody I met. Just people I thought should know why I was acting like I did. Those people could benefit from explanation.

Now I tell people when I want them to know me, people who seem compassionate, loving, sensitive and genuinely interested in me.

The rest I tell through writing.

Through writing I also add to all the other voices of people who have been abused like me. Who are bravely telling their stories. Through writing and speaking publicly. As a collective we can start a movement to eradicate Childhood Sexual Abuse as a experience children have.

But the pain of losing my husband has brought up unresolved pain from CSA to the surface.

It makes me think of Rod Stewart singing

I can tell by your eyes that you’ve probably been cryin’ forever
And the stars in the sky don’t mean nothin’ to you, they’re a mirror
I don’t want to talk about it, how you broke my heart
If I stay here just a little bit longer
If I stay here, won’t you listen to my heart, whoa, my heart?

Now I am back to not wanting to talk about it,

But its still on my mind.

And it still poisons my life.

Recently a friend died who experienced childhood sexual abuse.

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She never told anyone in her family about what happened when her uncle sexually assaulted her at the age of 10. She went to her grave thinking she was protecting her family by not disclosing what happened.

It reminds me of all the women I have known who were sexually violated as children by family members. There are too many.   Most of them wouldn’t tell another soul what happened.

This particular friend said she was going to get over it, that it somehow didn’t really hurt her as much when she was young, As a middle-aged adult she understood exactly how it hurt her and it was too much to bear at times. The damage to her ability to trust others, to love deeply, to accomplish things in her life.  She wanted to feel healthy and whole and trusting.

But she (and to some degree all of the people who are sexually violated) don’t feel much of anything good.  She felt so conflicted.  She wished she had told what happened when it happened, but since it had been so long ago, she felt it wouldn’t do any good at all, just cause trouble.  She felt so isolated, because she didn’t and wouldn’t tell.

I think about the people who I have known in my life who physically survived. Emotionally didn’t make it through.  It breaks my heart to know so many who didn’t survive at all.  It occurs to me there is little hope in stopping childhood sexual abuse except to tell. Until the people who haven’t experienced it are on our side. Until they can see that the numbers of survivors is bigger than we think. That the damage is persistent and life long.

Not one person alone can make this happen, but if enough children who grow into adults tell what happened to them as children, then we can do something about it. It’s by telling what we experienced and who did it that we can stop it. It helps us get over feeling powerless. It is how we can do something about it.

Just a small update

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In January, I wrote about my husband having a stroke on December 23.  After he spent 6 days in a local hospital, 4 which were in intensive care, we went home to prescriptions, therapy, follow up appointments and our everyday life. We pretended everything was the same, except that it wasn’t.   For him, everything was a challenge to prove that nothing was different with him, or wrong or even going on. Bill couldn’t remember things very well. His walking was a bit worse and his personality continued to change. And, well, things were definitely worse. But somewhat manageable.

Bill went back to work, I stayed home and worried.

A month later,  on January 23, I talked to Bill while he was at work. He sounded disoriented, incoherent, and something was clearly wrong,  I was afraid he was having another stroke, so we went back to the hospital. This time things were different.  Even though he acted a bit similar, there were differences which became more apparent after his admittance to the hospital. This time the Dr. changed the type of his test, to a MRI, with contrast.  This MRI showed us the ugly truth of what was really going on  in his head. Even though they weren’t sure what it was they could see on the MRI, they knew it wasn’t a stroke, since it was so big.  Less than 48 hours we were in a different hospital seeing a  neurosurgeon. Now we faced decisions we never expected to ever deal with. Once the Dr. showed us the unknown mass was a  tumor. He went on to explain what he thought the tumor was, he recommended  surgery as soon as possible to give my husband more time. He said the tumor was a 5.6 x 6  centimeter growth. Too large to remove safely to save his life, but  it would help give him more time. We filled out the Advanced Health Directive. Talked about the risk of surgery. We both knew he didn’t have much time.

Bill and I disagreed, he wanted the surgery, I did not.

Ultimately, I gave in. It was his body.

He had a craniotomy January 30, to remove the temporal brain tumor.  Made it through the surgery just fine on that Wednesday morning. By Friday we were in a different room on the Neuro floor, with a diagnosis of  brain  cancer,  and newly assigned Oncologist,Radiologists along with new appointments.

Then sent home Saturday morning, February 2. We didn’t do much, he got to  take a bath, sleep in his own bed. He didn’t really have much to say.  I was terrified.

Sunday morning.  Easy, regular, except he had the bald head and large question mark shaped incision on the side of his head.  He left the kitchen table, where he had been on the computer, said he needed to go to the bathroom. After a few minutes, he came out looking pale, holding the side of his head, saying his head hurt really bad. He went straight to his favorite blue chair,  sat down and continued to hold the side of his head.  I could see the incision was swollen larger than it had ever been. I ran for the kitchen, grabbed an ice pack  from the freezer, put the ice pack on his head, ran back for the phone to call an ambulance. When I came back to the living room while talking to the EMS dispatcher he lost consciousness.  He was sitting in his favorite blue chair.

Once the ambulance came, we discussed the plan to take him back to the hospital where he was operated on. I gave them the Advanced Directive saying  his surgeon was at DePaul, take him there. Called friends and headed back to the hospital we had just left yesterday. It was a long horrible night, he never regained consciousness.

Later when I found his birth certificate and I noticed he died in the same hospital he had been born in.

I have started thinking of myself as a widow. But its June now.

Risky business

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I grew up with the feeling that whatever I wanted to say would be dangerous. To myself, to my mother, to my brothers and sisters, to anyone who was around me and clearly to the perpetrator. It still seems true to me even now and I hold back because of this twisted way of thinking. I was taught though out my years of abuse that it was important that I do not talk to others about what happened, not cry during it or afterwards, not speak up when someone is treating me wrongly. There would be a sure and painful punishment for doing so. It would be dangerous. All of these rules he enforced to protect his criminal sickness translated to “no trust” for me. Because  I was so secretive, other people couldn’t get to know me or trust me. I surely did not trust other people. The sexual abuser in our family told me lies all the time.  Lies that were all designed to protect his perverted secret.  My survival depended on not trusting anyone (or at least I was lead to believe it was so).  If  the secret was exposed my Mom would not want me anymore. She would know what an awful, stupid little girl she had living with her, who was crazy and lied about nice men that Mommy loved.  Since I already  knew my biological Dad rejected me, it was easy to see she might not want me either.  So, I did what seemed right at the time. I didn’t tell.

Then not talking to anyone over time became a habit. I could talk to others about superficial, everyday stuff . I learned professionalism. I didn’t volunteer information in friendships. If I liked someone I avoided being around them. As soon as I was old enough to legally leave home, I did. I escaped to Florida, (far from the Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee I grew up in) getting as far away as I could and never went back.  If my family was going to protect the abuser, then they could have him.

I needed safety and it came in the form of strangers. I moved to Florida, joined the Army and transferred to my permanent duty station in Germany. It was wonderful for me in so many ways. Not just because it was Europe. There I met and married an incredible man, gave birth to a baby boy, got therapy and did really well for several years.  We tried to have another child but nothing happened. After visiting a few Doctors, I ended up with a diagnosis of  Endometriosis. This blow to my progress so far, made it possible for my core belief to reassert itself. I clearly was damaged in ways that others couldn’t see. I returned to distrusting myself, believing I was  physically and emotionally damaged beyond repair. Then I took my twisted incorrect belief even further, with the end being I could not be trusted to raise a child.   Thinking I was a damaged person kept me afraid and I wanted to protect my son. So I left, abruptly, with no warning to either of them. Since I didn’t disclose how I felt very much, my husband was shocked and surprised that I had abandoned the marriage. Not because of him. But as a direct result of the abuse (that I can see in hindsight). The silent but deadly effects of a childhood filled with abuse would not be undone in a few years of group and individual therapy.  I remained untrusting.

Even to this day, I regret my choices I made at the time. They have hurt people I loved. The best I had in loving skills was not enough.

My growth has come through stretching my ability in trusting others. It’s a struggle. Learning to trust myself, my own feelings, my own thoughts and my sense of danger has been amazingly difficult. Working on relationships shouldn’t be so hard,  but they are in the world of healing from childhood sexual abuse. they are where I take the biggest risk.  They are my risky business.

Understanding shame and money in childhood sexual abuse recovery

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Shame permeates a sexual abuse survivors life. From the first violation, to our last breath on earth, shame poisons being able to feel the fullness of life. Dismantling the damage from sexual abuse takes a  lifetime of  work. It is done in bits and pieces. When the work is even mildly successful the goodness accumulates,for example, a little less body shame results in more positive feelings about being a woman, a little less fear  from emotional betrayal, a little more freedom in relationships.  But they are bits that cost us dearly in our lives, the struggles, our tears, and our bodies, while  our resources  are consumed with healing. Instead of being able to put it towards improving our lives.

Lately I have become acutely aware of how the misplaced shame of sexual abuse spreads its poison in areas other than my personal relationships. Its coming to the front  in my financial life.  These shameful core feeling seems to center around being what I will accept from others in terms of material goods (including cash).

What little I thought about money when I was growing up, took a real downturn when I was forced at times by Jack (the perpetrator), to perform sexual acts. Then he would force me take money for it. Someone explained to me it was to make him feel okay about what he did. Then there was nothing wrong  in his mind with forcing a child to have sexual activity with him.  I was not able to stop what he was doing to me. My seven year old mind in an effort to make sense of what he did, twisted all the those events around. Resulting in twisted, distorted thinking. I didn’t want him to hurt me, I didn’t want his money, but I did want someone to love me.  To me,even today, whenever I get money, it means what he did was okay.  To an adult mind, that would ludicrous. To a child who is learning about the world it is  just what happens.

Since I am not a physical child any more,  I have plenty to reexamine about the things that happened. Then I can change the way I am thinking when it’s distorted or plain out wrong.

In general, I have created a process that works for me, so that I can heal. What follows is the process I use to help me discover what inside of me that needs healing next. There are times when I am feeling particularly strong, when I will choose  an issue and ask in prayer and contemplation for my life experiences to illuminate what I currently believe.  Usually it doesn’t take long before it’s some form of chaos erupts that shows me what is held in my mind or heart. Once this chaos has happened, I spend some time writing down the details. When I do journaling on the events, its to get everything down on paper. This is a great time for insights to emerge. Sometimes its immediate, during the writing or more likely, it comes shortly there after. Then I can make conscious choices about what I want to continue on doing and what to eliminate. Currently I am trying to find an antidote for this issue of  financial shame .

What follows is a partial list of the points that came out of writing about 15 pages of journaling.

As I am waiting for a newly accepted job to actually start, I doubt if I did the right thing for me. I realize  I might be wasting time. Am I doing the right thing by waiting?  Its been seven weeks since I accepted the job and due to construction problems the building is not ready. So I am spending a lot of  time wondering if I am unduly loyal?  Am I setting my self up for betrayal since I don’t know the people enough to trust them well? Another thing is how much I hate having to ask for money? Even if its a unanticipated emergency borrowing of sorts. Just enough to carry me through this time of unemployment. I wonder how its impacted me that my biological father wouldn’t claim or support me, even to his death. I tell myself that I wasn’t important enough to matter. It’s similar to not mattering to God, the creator of life. When I was worth something, it was for something I shouldn’t even know about, being useful for sex.  I didn’t want to be useful for sex. But sometimes, my stepfather gave me money  after he raped me. Am I a child prostitute? I thought I had to suffer to have money.  I didn’t want in those cases. And on top of all that twisted mess, was the fact that we were poor. There was no money to learn to manage. Just fights about spending it on beer, or things that would be repossessed  or taken away for no apparent reason. No use in trying to earn money or save it, since it would be taken by those who were bigger than me.

These thoughts are part of the poison in my water,  making my financial life unfit to support me. I am dying of thirst and trying not to drink. Its affecting every dream I have attempted to fulfill. The relationships I am involved in and all the ones I have left.

Shame and unworthiness are intertwined. I am deciding now how to manage what I have uncovered in my recent daily life. I will journal more about the points about and confront them, counter them and practice new ways of thinking to help correct my financial life. Having higher self esteem in being able to provide for my self will lead to a healthier life. This shame I feel is directly affecting my financial life that is fed by my employment.

The first time I told someone about the sexual abuse,

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Technically, I didn’t tell as much as I admitted it to another human being. I think there is a difference. I told later on in the evening, right after I admitted it, but here is how it all came out one night. 

 I had  just turned 17, and met  Tony at  The Freewill Baptist Church in Vandalia. He was nice, a little bit older than me by two or three years, he played guitar, lived at home and drove his mother’s car.  Basically he was at a stage where he looking for his place in life.  Our dating consisted of being at church, eating dinner after church at his parents, visiting other churches and once I remember we went to the North Star Drive In.

One night after church, he was dropping me at my house. We were sitting in the car, when he asked me if there was something going on between my dad and me. He said” Your  Dad doesn’t  act like other Dad’s of girls I have dated in the past, he acts like he is  jealous, like he’s your  boyfriend. He’s not like any Dad I have ever met before. Is there something going on?”

I froze. I stopped breathing briefly.

I nodded and admitted “Yes, there was something going on.”   We both digested what I had admitted.  The first thought I had, what seeped into my frozen brain, was the question “What have I done? I am going to get in so much trouble. “I wanted to tell him more but nothing would come out.  

 “Does your Mom know?” Tony asked.

 “No”, I didn’t think she did. (Cause, Jack was adamant about making sure I didn’t tell, that’s how I knew for sure).

 He told me “You have to tell your Mom, she needs to know. You have to tell her tonight.”

What I wanted was to die, but based on past experience, that wasn’t going to happen. Next best would be Tony would tell her, but I felt sure he wasn’t going to do that for me. I remember hearing him say, something about me needing to find someone who would help me.  I got out of the car, went inside to face the telling. I thought I would die. My guts were twisting all around. There was this sense of doom, just on the edge of happening. That sick feeling as you realize your about to fall. Hard, and there was nothing to do but go with it.  Even though  I thought I had experienced  the worst life had to offer to children, things could surprise me by showing me something else was  possible.  I had to face something I would regret.

 Mom was gone, probably at work.  Jack, no where to be seen. I sat down on the couch trying to figure out how I was going to tell Mom, when Jack came in the front door.  He had been out drinking with his friends while he was supposed to be home watching his children. But he really just wanted to go back out and was relieved that I was there so he could leave again. He didn’t want to look too eager for it, so he yelled at us for not being in bed. Actually we were all okay with him leaving again; it was easier with him gone.  Told me to get the rest of the kids in bed, while he was going to go out cause he couldn’t stand it being in such a noisy, messy house. When he got back, we had all better be in the bed, asleep.  Or we would all pay for it. He stomped out of the house, leaving me to get everyone settled in. My youngest sister was only a few months old so she was the easiest. Later, Connie and Scott followed suit, and then Jackie, who usually fought the hardest about doing anything. Then I went back to the couch.

I couldn’t understand what happened in Tony’s car.  How was this going to happen? Me telling Mom what had been going on for years.

 It didn’t seem that long before Mom came home bringing unclaimed pizza from work.

I waited until she settled in then said I needed to talk to her. She got a drink and headed outdoors to the back yard. She was probably glad for the cooler breeze after being in front of pizza ovens all night. Truth is, it was probably fitting that we sat in the back yard, in lawn chairs only partially lit up from the kitchen light shining out the back door. I worried about her seeing my face.

After I sat down, I waited a moment, and blurted out,  ”Dad and I have been sleeping together”  as if I had been a consenting adult. I looked at my feet, since it was the only thing I could clearly see.  After a bit, she asked did anyone know what had happened. Nothing else, no details, no “oh no’s”, nothing remarkable. Just “Does anyone else know? I want to make sure your not lying”.

“Yes, Uncle Brian, Uncle Barry”, I left out Uncle Vic, thinking he wouldn’t have told her the truth anyhow.  She got up and left the chair, left me sitting in the back yard, wondering what I should do.  After a while, I just went to bed.