I chose this picture for two reasons: I feel beautiful in it and my beauty isn’t taken away because of what happened to me as described in this post; and second, I wanted to be smiling and looking straight at those who might read this – I am not ashamed.
“It’s not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
and carves out a person and makes you believe
it’s all true.”
When I was a child I wanted three things: to be a limo driver, to be a mom, and to play professional soccer for the Argentine national team.
All achievable goals, right?
I thought so.
To children, all things are possible. To children, being an adult is all it takes to be anything you want to be. To children, growing up seems like the grandest adventure.
What I didn’t know as a child, however, was that sometimes life sneaks up on a person earlier than it should, earlier than one deserves, and leaves one shattered and grasping for a way to hold on.
I am scared to write this post, for me and for those who will choose to read it. I care too much about what people think about me. Don’t we all? There are some who have managed to lessen how much they care what is thought of them, but to suggest that they don’t care at all is a fallacy. I want to care less about that and more about what I think about myself.
I am scared to write this post because to be honest about this carries with it the weight of shame. I have to be honest about the one thing that I don’t want to talk about and no one wants to hear about, but it is also the one thing that needs to be talked about, that needs to be driven from the darkness: child sexual abuse.
Those words. Even typing those words I feel a pounding in my chest and my hands become ice on the keyboard. So many thoughts come to a person’s mind when those words are said or read. For years, I mean YEARS (15+), my mind would seek to protect itself by going somewhere else whenever those words were mentioned or hinted at. If you choose to stop reading, I understand. I get it; I’ve been there.
But I will not stop writing.
I write for myself.
I write for my clients.
I write for children and parents everywhere who are falling in to the dark well that is the knowledge that they or their children are being or have been sexually abused.
I write for the 1 in 4 girls and the 1 in 6 boys that have experienced the horror that is sexual abuse and possibly never spoken of it, because so many of us don’t.
I write for the 85% of those individuals who have made it to adulthood and never reported what happened.
And lastly, I write for a population of individuals, myself included, who, even amongst these shockingly high statistics of sexual abuse, is considered unmentionable and forbidden and often discarded as not telling the truth because it is too hard to contemplate as a reality: I write for those who have been sexually abused by women—yes, I said women. More on this later.
Recently I was able to meet up with a friend I haven’t seen in years but who I care about deeply. She is a great supporter of me and I of her, and it has been that way since we met. She reads my blog and as we were catching up about me and talking about my writing, she asked me a question about when I first talked about being sexually abused as a child. She stated that she felt as if she missed something because it was as if it was suddenly there.
I hadn’t thought about it until the moment she asked, but I realized I’ve only ever really mentioned it as side information in other posts, never more than a sentence or two. But all along, since it was playing such a large role in my mind, I felt as if I had talked about it more than I had.
Some might say, “Stop talking about it. Those sentences were enough. Stop mentioning it, it’s too dark, it’s so hard to read.”
In response, I might kindly say, “Believe me, I get it; it is dark. Yes, it is hard to read. Multiply that by a million and you will understand how hard it is to write; then multiply that by all the numbers in the universe and you might graze the surface of understanding how hard it was to live.”
So the question then becomes, why write about it at all? Why speak of it?
Brené Brown said it best when she stated, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”
I write because for too long I allowed shame to have all the power. For too long I allowed myself to believe in the lie that shame loves to tell; that we are what happens to us. And if what happens to us is bad, wrong, dirty, unimaginable, awful, painful, disgusting, embarrassing, destructive, then we ourselves are bad, wrong, dirty, unimaginable, awful, painful, disgusting, embarrassing, and destructive too.
I have believed those things about myself for far too long.
I have often heard individuals marvel as to why children don’t tell when abuse is taking place and for me it’s not a mystery. For me it was all wrapped up in shame and an inability to communicate what it was that had happened. An author, Kirsty Eager, defines the type of shame I’m talking about in this way: “Shame isn’t a quiet grey cloud, shame is a drowning man who claws his way on top of you, scratching and tearing your skin, pushing you under the surface.”
That is the type of shame I faced when I was 11 years old and was sexually abused by two adult women.
Yes, that is correct, I said women.
We don’t want to believe that a gender that we consider most apt to nurture, protect, and mother children could include beings capable of abusing a child in any way, least of all sexually.
But it does happen, and I know this because it happened to me.
When we refuse to believe it can happen, we allow those female pedophiles to carry on with their abuse because their cover is our inability to comprehend that they exist. They are free to hurt and damage because more than most they can say to their victims, “No one will believe you,” and be right.
The magnitude behind sexual abuse is that it carries with it many other types of abuse—its very nature is that it is an abuse of the physical body, the heart, the mind, the soul. Damage comes sexually, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and mentally.
There is much to my experience that will remain mine, that remains too much for me to share. So often we want to know the details: who, what, how, when, where. I believe we want details because we want some type of way to say that it won’t happen to me, to my loved ones. But the truth is that no one can definitively say it won’t happen to them or those they love.
The details I will choose to share are this: I was a shy, self-conscious eleven year old who didn’t have many friends. I finally found some friends and in that process, two adult women came into my life. These women were skilled; they knew what they were doing. They became friends with my family, my parents. They became caring adult “mentors” that I could look up to. After months of grooming the opportunity presented itself, as I was to be in their care for a few days.
During a four-day period I was emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abused—I was called names, I was made fun of, my body was made fun of. I was told I was fat, ugly, pathetic, and disgusting, that no one would ever love me, and because of this they would have to sacrifice and overcome their own disgust with me to show me love. I was a witness to their sexual acts, then drugged and sexually abused by one of them.
It was a hell unlike anything imaginable to a child. How was I supposed to tell what had happened when it was too much for my little mind to process, let alone find the right words to explain what exactly was happening? I had recently been given the “sex talk” by my mom, but it was explained to me in a much different way than what was happening—a person was supposed to be married and in love; a man and a woman did it together, not a woman and another woman.
I had been taught that danger came from strangers and that those strangers were men. What had happened was from people I knew, women I knew, and women who shared my same religious faith. I had been told during those traumatic days that it was my fault. They shamed me into believing that what had happened was my responsibility and that I was so dirty and wrong now that if I told anyone, they wouldn’t believe me. I thought my family would kick me out, my church would shun me, I would be alone forever.
I came home changed.
The Mia everyone knew before was gone, but I tried very hard to keep her going, to make sure no one ever found out. I was terrified and ashamed to my very core about what would happen if anyone knew.
I came home, and to cope subconsciously, I started to eat anything and everything. I believe it helped to literally keep my mouth full so I wouldn’t talk. It numbed the pain, and it helped me avoid the thoughts that would come as I would try to pretend it never happened.
I came home and became moody and angry, my family believing I was just jumping in a little early to my teenage years.
I came home and pulled away from those friendships I had made, pulled away from ways I would come in contact with those women. I was so grateful when the women moved out of state soon after because I believed it would make it easier to forget.
I wanted to believe that it would all go away if I believed hard enough and long enough that it didn’t happen. But avoidance doesn’t take anything away, it just allows for more residual damage to build so that when it all comes crumbling down, the fallout is extensive.
I am still recovering from the fallout and probably will face aspects of it for the rest of my life. That is what trauma does—it colors an individual’s life throughout their lifespan. It is a thief that is never caught, that continues to steal parts of someone’s life long after the initial event has passed.
I believe that is the hardest part for people to understand. One would think, “It’s over now, so if you look forward and stop talking and thinking about it, you’ll be fine.”
But trauma doesn’t work that way. Trauma changes an individual’s brain, especially trauma experienced in childhood when the brain is still forming. And the longer one goes with that trauma still in the mind, without getting help, without someone knowing, the more pressure builds. That is why we cannot compare trauma; we cannot seek to believe that how I react is how someone else will react. Individual timetables are different, and different life events will push into someone’s life and cause that trauma to shift, to change.
What I have been trying to do since the day it happened was move forward, but sometimes that moving forward has been like running along a sandy beach and other times it has been like walking in quicksand.
There is still much to say about trauma, about sexual abuse, about protecting children from that abuse and what we can all do.
This isn’t just my story. Childhood sexual abuse is the plague of our time but a plague we often choose to shy away from because the subject matter is hard or dark. The more we choose to look into the darkness, the less power it will have.
If you are hurting, if this has happened to you or someone you love, I am so very sad, and I hope you know I am hurting for you and with you. It is okay to speak your truth; it is okay to share your story, whatever that story may be. You might not share it in a public setting as I have chosen to do, but if you can push past the fear and tell a friend, a family member, a church leader, spouse, a parent, a therapist, me, anyone—you will begin to see that shame is afraid of your words and the more you speak, the less it defines you.
My life isn’t perfect.
I work really hard every day to overcome my past and my pain. Sometimes I’m okay and sometimes I’m not.
I have been lucky to have finally found a therapist who is helping, who is willing to take on the battle of rewiring trauma mixed with twenty years of maladaptive thinking and coping. I have chosen a profession as a social worker that allows me to try to do the same with others, to listen to their pain and to help them find new and healthy ways to cope with the problems and issues they face.
If there is one thing I have learned in my own experience and in listening to that of others, it is that no one is immune to pain, no one is immune to shame and what it can do if we allow it to take root.
What I have also learned, however, is that the human spirit can withstand so much more than we believe; it can overcome so much more than we think. Overcoming will look different for everyone and it doesn’t always mean an absence of future problems or pain.
You can be okay again; your children can be okay again. There is hope, there is healing, there is a way to deal with those parts that don’t heal exactly how we want them to.
You are strong. You are brave.
You keep fighting; don’t you dare give up!
I won’t if you won’t and in case you don’t know this about me, I am super competitive. I don’t like to lose, and the battle isn’t you against me—it’s you, me, and everyone else against pain, shame, fear, trauma, childhood sexual abuse, grief, addiction, sickness, infertility, inequality, domestic violence, human trafficking, and anything and everything else that seeks to destroy the soul and ruin the lives of men, women, and children the world over.
We will not and cannot lose when we choose to fight together.