Tag Archive | abuse survivor

What do you want to do today?

What if there was no tomorrow? What if you couldn’t rely on tomorrow and another tomorrow and another to delay your dreams, goals and desires? What do you want to do today?

This video is from one of our favorite shows, Phineas and Ferb. Everyday these boys fight summer boredom by coming up with something outrageous to do. So many catch phrases and twisted plots, nerdy humor, and awesome musical numbers. Everyday they say I know what I want to do today. And then they do it. Whether it is building a roller coaster, a time machine, a winter wonderland, robot clones…And of course their pet platypus is actually a secret agent fighting against an evil scientist and no one knows… We just love this show.

I’m guessing most of you spend most of your time doing things you don’t want to do. You trudge through life, running endless errands, doing tedious chores. Maybe you don’t hate your job, but most people seem awful happy to get a day off. But then how do you spend your day off? Escaping life in front of the TV? Are you bored? Tired? Do you even know it?

When is the last time you truly felt alive?

Hmmm.

I’m not sure most of us are actually living. If you are, please ignore this. I do know some people that skydive and run with the bulls or climb Mt Everest or whatever. Or I know some people that are going back to school to pursue the career they actually wanted. Living can take very different forms but I do think some key ideas are central.

How to feel alive:

  1. Do something you want to do everyday, not only out of obligation
  2. Tackle your fears – you decide which ones need tackling
  3. Have multiple goals, little ones and big ones, and not all of them related to self-improvement, some are just for fun because you want to do them
  4. Practice mindfulness, live in the moment, experience everything NOW

I think that’s how to get started. I say I think, because I am not truly living. I can’t tell you the last time I felt alive. It has been years, many years. I am idling through life right now, going through the motions of what needs to get done. I enjoy moments, not saying that I don’t. This is different. I might enjoy leveling up in my video game, or that snuggly feeling watching a movie with my kids on my lap. Those are nice. But they don’t fuel me, keep me going, or make me feel alive, move me towards a greater goal, define me, fill me with awe or rock my world if you will.

I want to be amazed. I want to be overjoyed. I want to be excited. I want to feel.

I want to learn. I want to create. I want to grow. I want to experience. I want to share.

I want to feel alive.

So I’m going to start a list full of things I want to do, fears I want to tackle, and goals I want to accomplish. I would list it now for you, but I can’t. My list is sadly empty. White space and crickets. I don’t know what I want. Hmm. So I guess then

Goal #1 – figure out what I want and make a list

There I started it!!

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Running, running

photomontage-1319176_1920

Running, running to catch a star
She needs to go, go so far
away
from there and here
she is
Blindly leaping, crazed, and dazed
Idiots they are amazed
by her
They are running, running to catch a lie
stick a needle in your eye
promises broken, again she cries
screaming silently, can’t you hear
from there and here
she is
Running, running to catch a thief
A stolen life, eternal grief
lost
before being found
Her shooting star, was shot down
nearly lifeless to the ground
Running, running, to catch release
She needs to find that life can cease
to chase her
from there and here
She is
Blindly leaping, abused and bruised
lost and confused
seeking
only
peace

CPT trauma retelling 1

I feel so unsure about publishing some of the actual details of my past, not for me, but to spare my readers from having to read it. Because I am not there to comfort you, to gauge your discomfort, to see your face as you read, to how disgusted, revolted, terrified you may be.

But for whatever reason, publishing helps me do my homework for therapy. I don’t know if it is the accountability, the knowing it is out there forever, out of my brain and into the world now. And that someone somewhere will understand perhaps. Some silent reader will read my words and not feel so alone. Because as children – we were so horribly alone. And even now, I write these now for strangers online, no one in my real life wants to hear the truth. No one can bear it. I guess I don’t blame them.

So please heed this warning, the next part here is a highly triggering account of child sexual abuse that my therapist has asked me to write as a story. I have never done this before, not like this, not like I am a character in a book. I am supposed to pick one day and describe everything, every sense, sights, sounds, feelings, my thoughts, who was there, and what happened. My counselor helped me pick the first event to write about, one with a high level of emotions attached to it, one that is particularly disturbing.

So here goes. You do not have to read this. But I do have to publish it.


 

I was 12. It was a hot summer day, probably in July, because my spinal surgery was near the end of June. I was released to go home against the doctors’ advice. My father had to sign forms to get me out, he said two weeks was long enough to be in the hospital, it was costing too much to be in there. The surgeon wanted me to go to a rehab place that specialized in physical and occupational therapy and my dad laughed, saying any idiot could do exercise. NO, he would take me home and work with me himself.

So I went home. At that time my left leg had returned to 80% function and my right was 20% nerve signals. That meant I could bear no weight on it and if I concentrated I maybe get my toe to twitch. I was fitted with fiberglass leg brace from to toe that made my jelly leg solid to stand on, like pirate peg leg. It was heavy and painful. I used a walker and dragged my peg leg using my left leg that was not entirely great either.

My back was fused from T3 to L4. I had no pain pills or ice packs or anything. I tried to lay very still. But the pain my leg was worse than my back. My limp leg had a crushing, squeezing pain that gnawed at me endlessly.

We did not have central air in our home, so I would often hide out in my parents’ room, the only one with a window air conditioner. The big bed was also firmer and easier for me to lay on more comfortably. Using a walker on our thick carpeting was extremely difficult, each step had to be carefully planned and was agonizing. I would be sweating and shaking by the time I crossed a room.

I had made it to the big bed, unclamped and removed my brace, no easy feat to do when you can barely bend forward, and sat on the edge of the bed. Then I had to maneuver myself into position. I would put my left leg under the right to help lift it. I would grab my thigh with my hands and at the same time roll myself over into bed trying not to bend or twist my spine while carrying the dead weight of a limp leg.

I would usually have a few silent tears from pain at that point, sweating from exertion. I remember the cool air blowing on me and feeling so good on my bare skin. I usually wore night gowns at home to keep pressure off my spine from any waistbands. I remember how the material would stick to my back and then loosen as the cool air dried my skin. I would lose track of time that way, just being there, trying not to hurt, maybe I slept, maybe my mind created imaginary worlds.

My memory is fuzzy, of course, 28 years later. And I am writing about multiple events that may merge into one, so what happens next may be the same day, or it may be an amalgam of memories from that summer. It did happen multiple times in some way.

Dad came home from work and found me lying on his bed. He was always happy to see me. He would say hello, there’s my girl. And then some stupid joke about me laying around all day and being lazy and laugh that horrible laugh that still haunts me . And then get more serious, like I would never get stronger that way so good thing he was there, time to do exercises.

I never said anything. I tried to smile for him.

He closed the door and came over to the bed. He would start at my toes. Moving impossibly slow, touching every part of my skin, moving them up and down. I was laying on my back and legs were flat out straight. He was at the end of the bed, standing there. He would would move up to my ankles, half caressing, half massaging, rotating, exploring like he was fascinated.

I tried to tense up like I used to do…but I couldn’t. My limp leg let him do anything. I was trapped and he knew it. He lifted my limp leg and cradled it in his arms, caressing and kissing while he bended it up and down at the knee. Each time his hands moving so impossibly slow and higher up my legs. He would comment on how soft my skin was.

I was horribly embarrassed, ashamed, tortured, helpless. I knew he could see my underwear under my night gown when he lifted my leg like that. My face burned despite the cool air in the room. I stared at the dresser or the door, never at him or what he was doing. It would be over soon. That was all I could think.

His hands felt so big and warm on my skin on left leg or arms, but I could barely feel him on the right. It made it easier to disappear and pretend it wasn’t happening.

He was always standing next to bed, hovering over me, looking at me. He would bend my legs up and my night gown fell up onto my belly, exposing my underwear and hips. He didn’t lift it up, always like an accident from the exercises. He continued up rubbing my hips, cupping my hipbone, pressing his fingertips deep into my flesh, waiting for a reaction. He told me about ligaments, and lymph nodes, and why he needed to massage me. He asked “Does it feel good? I know you like it” I never answered. I never said anything ever. He never cared.

He would stand and caress my face, brush my hair back with one hand while the other is on my hipbone and moving towards my underwear. His hands were gentle, touching me on the way to the other leg, was it an accident? Did I imagine it? This isn’t really happening. He would tell me to relax, that my muscles were very tight, and good thing I had him to help me.

His pants would be bulging and hard. He would rub that along me too, my arm, side, leg, pressing hard into me. The feeling sickened me. I would try to squirm away, but it was so hard to move, and he scolded me in his whispering voice too.

Eventually my exercises would be done and he would leave. Just like that, he would just leave me there with my night gown up and me all terrified and not knowing what to do. I would pull my night gown down, roll over with great pain and effort, put on my leg brace, and go have dinner with everyone, seated next to dad, across from mom, next to my brothers. They must have all been home? Was mom busy making dinner? Was I supposed to say please pass the mashed potatoes and oh by the way dad is a pedophile, thanks. No. I think I thought they all knew and didn’t care. I hated them all and myself more. I was so angry and ashamed. I wanted to burn up and disappear.

 

PTSD: The animal within

The reptilian brain exists within all of us, not only in those with past trauma. Trauma seems to keep this area of the brain alert, extra sensitive, unable to rest. The image below explains many areas of the brain, including the reptilian inner brain.

brain

(image from http://www.traumarecoveryinternational.com/the-reptilian-brain—where-ptd-lives.html)

The brain is divided into 3 main areas, reptilian, limbic, and neocortex. The chart below is from http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_05/d_05_cr/d_05_cr_her/d_05_cr_her.html

The reptilian brain, the oldest of the three, controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Our reptilian brain includes the main structures found in a reptile’s brain: the brainstem and the cerebellum. The reptilian brain is reliable but tends to be somewhat rigid and compulsive. The limbic brain emerged in the first mammals. It can record memories of behaviours that produced agreeable and disagreeable experiences, so it is responsible for what are called emotions in human beings. The main structures of the limbic brain are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus. The limbic brain is the seat of the value judgments that we make, often unconsciously, that exert such a strong influence on our behaviour. The neocortex first assumed importance in primates and culminated in the human brain with its two large cerebral hemispheres that play such a dominant role. These hemispheres have been responsible for the development of human language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness. The neocortex is flexible and has almost infinitelearning abilities. The neocortex is also what has enabled humancultures to develop.

The reason I was thinking about the parts of the brain, and the reptilian part specifically, is because I wanted to understand more about what happens to me during my response to hide (or freeze), when the flight part of fight or flight is activated. This is a powerful feeling, stronger than butterflies in your stomach or stage fright or social anxiety. I was talking to hubby, and he said something that after all these years with me I could not believe he still misunderstood, and so I need to clear this up here as well.

PTSD – and the actions within flight or fight – are not my choice. I do not choose to run away. I have to run away. No thought has happened. I have run before I know I have run.

Before the running, when anxiety and fear is lower, when the danger seems manageable, yes, I can choose whether to attend an event or not. But once certain triggers are activated, it is an automatic process, my brain has decided for me that the situation is far too dangerous and tells me to hide – NOW. It does this by turning off the neocortex, and possibly even turning off the limbic brain too to get me moving. It’s why you don’t cry until later, gets in the way of fighting or running.

So why do we have this part of our brain that allows us to act without thinking? Well to save our lives. If we had to debate whether an oncoming car was moving fast enough to kill us, or if that intruder has a gun, or if that bear saw us, well we would already be dead. We need our automatic reactions to pump the adrenaline, to get our heart and muscles going, to move us out of harms way without standing there thinking about it.

I also suffer from the freeze response. When fight or flight does not seem a good option, our reptilian brain freezes us. It is like playing dead while wishing you were dead. Many child abuse victims know this response, they could not fight back or get away, so instead they experience system shut down. I did this so many times as a child. I still do now for certain triggers. For years I would lay there frozen, unable to speak, while hubby had his hands on me, thinking I am enjoying his touches. He was devastated and even angry when I finally told him. He still doesn’t understand that being frozen was NOT my CHOICE. That inside my head I am screaming and crying, but outwardly unable to do or show any thing.

Sometimes when I retreat to my room, I am not being rude, I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, I am not choosing to ignore people, my brain thought I was in danger and believe me, there is no arguing with your reptilian brain because it nicely shuts off your thinking portions for a while, as part of the safety feature. Once the adrenaline slows and my brain can send out the ‘all clear’ call, then I can start to reason through what happened and make choices about coming out of hiding or not.

I am learning the early alert signals, when fear and anxiety are rising, I can try and breathe and ground to keep the reptilian brain from taking over. Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t. Although I know more about it now, I am also more sensitive now, like I have mental trip wires everywhere that I don’t even about – a side effect of my current ongoing therapy stirring up symptoms.

I made a connection one evening to this idea of the animal brain. Before a storm, my dog started pacing and looking anxious, coming to me for support for her fear. I know not to comfort her with affection, but that she needs a strong, calm leader in those moments. Someone to show her that she will be safe with me. I don’t pet her or talk to her. I walk around with her, distract her, get her to lay quietly, massage her, call her out if she tries to hide. I don’t let her fear overtake her. I realized I was grounding her and not letting her reptilian brain take over. It really made me start thinking.

Because when I am afraid, I act just like a frightened animal, and also like her I am unable to communicate exactly what is wrong. I also need a strong, calm leader. I look to those around me to provide safety and comfort, and not finding that, I need to be my own leader. I tried explaining this to hubby. That he instinctively knows a bit more about frightened animals than how to treat me. Would you yell at the dog? Would you let her hide, scared, shaking and alone, for hours or days? Would you tell the dog how frustrated you are that she won’t let you hug her when she is frightened? Would you blame the dog or would you comfort and gently try to help her overcome the fears?

I know it must be difficult for hubby, I truly do. That my brain is afraid of him, that he keeps triggering me. But when he leaves me alone after the flight or freeze, it does nothing to disprove those triggers in my brain and instead reinforces those pathways that he cannot be trusted. I keep asking him to let me go for a bit, let me cool down, 20 minutes is usually enough for the nervous system to restore itself. Then come check on me and be strong. Don’t ask me a question – I will say no. Bring me coffee or ice cream, don’t ask if I want any, just bring it to me. (like luring the dog out from under the bed with a treat, right?) Tell me to get a shower or take a walk – don’t ask me. Tell me to ride with you to the duck pond or the grocery store. Make up any reason to draw me out of my hiding place. If you are strong I will listen because I want a leader, someone strong to take care of me. Show me you are not the enemy.

Because in reality – that is all I have ever wanted. someone to properly care for me, to nurture, to understand, to lead with strength, to show me the way when I am scared. I have done this my entire life, when I should not have done this for myself. So maybe I am asking too much of a husband. Maybe it isn’t his job. But maybe he needs to do it anyway, just for a while, just to get me through this. But I know he can’t because he doesn’t. It is what I want, but will never get from him. I try not to be disappointed because I don’t think that is entirely fair to him.

So I will continue to go it alone, relying only on myself to lead the way in these dark moments, and hope that one day the moments will slow down and the triggers will not be daily. No one is saying to hope for triggers to go away completely, only to be less than they are now, easier to manage.

I am getting tired of shaking, hiding and licking my wounds and would like to use all of my brain again. We weren’t meant to function on reptilian brain alone.

Memory Gaps, What is my brain hiding from me?

I am fully aware that many parts of my life are unknown to me. This is an odd feeling to say the least. Knowing what happened in my other memories, I am sure my brain has done me a great favor in keeping some things hidden.

How do I know I have gaps? Well some are obvious, they are so strange. I can’t picture my mom’s apartment where I lived for 2 years, from ages 16-17. I can picture the parking lot outside, I recall walking from the apartment to the pizza place where I worked, I recall the courtyard outside, I know the building had a front and back door, but it completely blanks out when I try to think of the inside of that apartment. Where did I sleep? No idea. I lived there with mom, my brother and his girlfriend. At one point my brother with schizophrenia moved in with his girlfriend too. In a 2 bedroom apartment. Where did we all sleep? I have no idea. Couch, floor, sleeping bags…I just don’t know. Hubby says he often came over while we were dating and cooked for us, watched tv with me there on the couch. Can’t recall any of that. Complete blackout for the inside of that apartment.

Other gaps I find out from looking at photos of myself. I see me at some place I have no memory of going to. Some look like vacations. I guess I blocked out entire week long trips from the looks of the photos.

Some gaps are from family gatherings, people reminiscing and I can’t recall the event they all swear I was there too.

Some gaps are for hours. Some are for locations. Some span entire weeks, possibly months.

So what happened? Did a terrible trauma happen during each of those memory gaps? Not necessarily. Unlike PTSD of a single traumatic event, complex PTSD can include going in and out of a disociative state, blocking encoding of memories, multiple triggers of fight or flight over the years, inbalances in the nervous system and stress chemicals….so many factors can lead up to memories not being stored correctly. They may or may not be repressed, they may not have been stored at all.

http://www.human-memory.net/disorders_traumatic.html

https://jessicapsychology.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/dissociative-amnesia-ptsd/

So other than the very odd feeling that your brain is keeping secrets from you, that you may have a twin or live in an alternate reality. Usually you see an old photo, get the memory jog and think “oh wow! I remember that! I have not thought of that in years!” Not “Hmm, I don’t remember going to Washington D.C in Middle School…Who else is there..How strange..I thought I went for the first time with Hubby in college…But that’s my perm so it must have been 6th grade, it looks like spring, tulips are blooming, maybe spring break?…I have no idea”

I have so many photos like that where I start playing detective, looking for clues, hoping the right clue will jog my memory, wake it up, have it all make sense. Then I would usually start asking people. But even sadder, is I belonged to AF. My mom and brothers had no idea where he took me, even before the divorce he took me on trips alone, not the whole family. Because that isn’t weird or a red flag or anything. I recall some of the trips, and apparently some I don’t. Who knows why. I don’t like it, but I have made some sort of peace that this is the state of my brain, just another bit of brokenness I must deal with.

I have many theme songs but this one makes me smile, helps me deal with this. Do you suffer from long term memory loss? I don’t remember. (you may need to look away during some of the strobe lights, I did) And as a side note, Chumbawamba was a funny favorite of mine in college, danced to it in the clubs, still makes me happy to hear it even though those days and friends are long gone.

I am Grief

It is starting to feel like I am grief, not like I am grieving, not like it is a process, or an emotion that moves through me, but a state of being that is me and completely has consumed me from so many directions.

When I allow myself to feel the sadness, I can’t see to type through the tears, so I need to hold it back to that familiar dull choking feeling that is now my life. That no one wants to see or acknowledge. Yes I am still sad today. Yes it sucks. Yes I need more time. I don’t want to apologize for how I am any more. I don’t want to explain it any more. I want it to be understood. But this is my life – I don’t get what I want.

I do feel moments of happiness with my kids, I do, but it is heavy, weighed down by this sadness, like I have an upper limit, or this shadow turning everything good a bit blurry.

I miss my mom. So much. So many things I want to show her, share with her, apologize for, explain to her. I see her everywhere, the songs she liked, the candy she liked, flowers she liked. I have paintings I started for her

I am also hurting as I realize I have not been treated very well here. I realized I did not receive one sympathy card, no flowers, no casseroles. Not even from my in-laws. Nada nothing. I did get one phone call from an aunt, the wife of my mom’s brother checked on me. That’s it. No one else reached out to me at all. Same for when AF died the year before. I know that was complicated, but everyone pretended it didn’t happen. I have lost both of my parents in the space of a year and a half, both were not even 70.

Then AF declared for the world to see that he never loved me, in his Will.

still-life-1241298_960_720

That broke me. I crumbled. Whatever was holding me together for so many years was shattered then. I lost myself. I became suicidal. I lost my job. I was hospitalized. Then as I was recovering my mom got cancer and didn’t tell me. I had pushed her away while I was healing. I didn’t speak to her during her last year on earth because AF broke me. He stole her from me again. Just like as a child, he kept her from me, creating fear by telling me she hated me and never wanted me.

Hubby is still not understanding. He is not gentle or comforting for me. His volatile moods and rough responses are too much for me to handle right now so I generally avoid him. When I do specifically ask him to do something for me and I think he understands, he does not follow through, leaving me hurt and confused, feeling betrayed all over again. I say please don’t tell ___ to your mom, it will get around to your sisters and come back to torment me and I don’t want to deal with all of that. He agrees. Then an hour later I hear him, he is telling his mom ___ on the phone. (Next day his sisters text me about it…I hate drama, wanted to avoid it, none of their business, didn’t matter, leave me alone, I give vague responses until it settles down) I ask him later why he did that? He yells at me. It is my fault again. How was he supposed to know. Sigh. Do I give up or do I try again?

I don’t understand. I have such little trust as it is, these events don’t help. I am spiraled into emotional flashbacks because he can’t do what he tells me he will do. Did he not agree with me in the first place? Am I not important enough to grant or remember this request? Was he lying to shut me up, make me happy, with no intention of not telling? The doubts flood my brain as I try to make sense of what happened. And he says, Sorry (but he says it so rough like a bark, not sincere), whatever, What’s the big deal.

Then we are trying to plan a party for his parents. It keeps getting more and more complicated, with his one sister coming in from out of state, the one married to the guy I accused of being a creep a few years ago. That plus they are adding more events to the day, a family photo, lunch, dinner, coffee and dessert, all in different locations. I told hubby that I was concerned I may not be able to do all of that. Then he said to his sister on the phone that I may be too tired, not have enough energy to do all of that. My heart sunk. Is he ashamed of me? He can avoid this topic but not the one I asked him to? So I texted his sister after he hung up “Hey I’m not sure he explained it very well, I want to do everything you have planned and it sounds like a great day for everyone and your parents, but I am still struggling with social anxiety and other symptoms of ptsd that may make it difficult for me to do so many events all in one day. I don’t want to let you all down, I will do my best to manage but wanted you to be aware.” She texted back “ok”

So I am trying to be real with the only people in my life. I keep hoping they will one day be more accepting, accommodating, instead of only me being forced to hide my symptoms and smile pretty for them so they aren’t uncomfortable. I have no idea how I married into such an unsupportive group, I suppose some part of me knew this, guaranteeing my isolation and continuation of what was familiar. They aren’t pedophiles and psychopaths, but dysfunction runs rampant.

Maybe a supportive functional family is a myth.

I am trying to manage this grief that keeps trying to swallow me whole. But I noticed I have forgotten how to smile. It is no longer natural. I started practicing in a mirror and those muscles feel so heavy and I can only produce an odd crooked grin.

I am turning 40 very soon. I have no plans. No party. No friends. No extended family, just my kids.They are the only humans I feel safe with, can feel happy with. I hate how much I need them. My daughter is my best friend, we talk about everything. I already fear the day when they grow a bit older and I lose them. Then I will truly be alone on this planet. Until then I will try to cherish the moments and try to make this creepy grin into a real smile and try not to think about how unimportant I am to everyone else.

Discarded

abandoned-1251614_960_720

I’ve been thinking all day yesterday, all last night, and I finally figured out the word I need to describe how I felt  when I was 16. Discarded. Like trash.

Here is my attempt to process this event using ABC format – Event – My thoughts – My feelings.

I’ve been thinking for years I made a horrible decision in telling my mom about the abuse and asking to move in with her.(column A) I have thoughts like – I should have kept my mouth shut, my life would be better if I stayed quiet, I was stupid for thinking people would help me, my reality is too terrible for other people to handle… (column B)

I feel angry at myself still for this decision to speak up, to get myself out of AF’s home. I am thinking I only had one more year of high school, it would have been better if no one knew and I finished with my friends instead of losing everyone. (column C)

I feel angry at all of the adults in my 16 year old world that mishandled the situation. I should have been protected. They should have known what would happen socially and emotionally, but they were doing their job to protect me physically, that’s it.(column C)

I feel ashamed when I remember the looks of everyone who suddenly knew my secrets.(column C)

I feel guilt for keeping the secret, and also for not keeping it, for betraying AF. (column C)

I feel overwhelming sadness for that girl and what she endured, how alone she truly was. (column C)

There is no part of me that believes my mom did not know about AF’s abuse, that he was touching me all day, leaving her bed to come to mine at night. But denial is strong and she chose not to believe it or act on it until the day I said to her “He touches me”. That’s all I said, she did not ask for details. Because I am sure in heart she already knew.

My boyfriend had encouraged me and said I had to do it – He is the reason I spoke up at all, not for myself, but for him. He couldn’t stand the thought of me living with him any more. I was so confused and conflicted. I was trying to build a relationship with this boyfriend but it was impossible, all these barriers that I didn’t understand then but I do now. I fell for this boy, deeply, painfully, and so I wanted to do the right thing  – for him. Of course he broke up with me after all this happened, after he pressured me to sleep with him. He was a year older and said he wanted to be “free” at college. Lucky him. Getting to be free.

Here is the part that may be difficult for anyone other than an abuse survivor to understand. I didn’t want to leave AF. I didn’t want him touching me, but he didn’t do that much any more – I was hardly ever home and I think he preferred younger girls (gross, vomit, but I think true). I also think I was more difficult to control now, as I grew older and gained independence he lost some of his power over me and tried less often to exert it. But listen closely – I loved AF. I needed him. (I feel the worst guilt, the worst torment over this, how will I ever forgive myself for needing what this foul creature offered me??)

He was the only human connection in my life – he designed it that way, remember? We were actually very close and talked about everything with no boundaries. I understand this now, the enmeshment, but back then it felt like he truly cared about every detail of my life. He needed to know everything to control me…but it felt good to tell him everything because there was no one else. Above all I wanted to make him happy, to please him, to make him proud of me. My overachieving was an effort to escape his punishments but also to gain his approval because sometimes he did show me warmth and those moments were amazing. People will do anything for a few moments of warmth, to feel connected to another human, to feel accepted – we are wired this way – and AF  took full advantage of this my entire childhood. Anyway, I am trying to explain that I did not want to move out of AF’s home and into my mom’s, I did not want to leave the only person that accepted me, that talked to me. I feared my mom, I feared that she did truly hate me, and only met me out of obligation from the court order. Our conversations were always surface level, like strangers discussing the weather, we were not a part of each other’s lives. Until I said those words, “He touches me”, then suddenly she was to be my mom, my actual mom, and life was never the same. Sadly I cannot say it got better, and in many ways it got worse.

Child Protective Services came to my school and pulled me out of class, in front of everyone, to interview me, no, to interrogate me in the principal’s office, where he looked at me with such pity. They asked me to tell them exactly what AF had done to me. I froze, unable to speak. So they asked me a series of disturbing questions to which I could say yes or no. “Did he ever kiss you?” “Did he ever put his tongue in your mouth?” “Did he ever take your clothes off?” “Did he ever take pictures of you?” ….you get the idea. It was horrible, humiliating, traumatic, terrifying. I think I answered honestly but I don’t recall, I think I dissociated at some point to avoid passing out.

Sent back to class, kids asking me what that was about, I think I told them it was a custody battle, that my mom wanted me to move in with her. At some point that week, everyone knew. I don’t know how. I don’t know who told my secret. My mom? My best friend? My best friend’s mom? A teacher? Did someone overhear a conversation in the office? I just don’t know. All I know is that at some point, the hallways became easier for me to walk down, because the other kids stepped aside as if I had the plague. They stared, they made nasty comments, they laughed, they stopped sitting with me in class or lunch. Some of my friends’ parents actually yelled at me for not speaking up sooner, angrily scolding me, publicly shaming me, for endangering their kids, for allowing their kids to come to my house. No one was allowed to come see me or talk to me any more even though I was now at my mom’s. This sent me the message that it wasn’t AF, but me that was bad, disgusting, damaged and might somehow hurt their kids. I absorbed that deeply on top of the message AF had already planted there. None of those other adults reached out to me and said AF was horrible, not me. Some actually said they knew AF for years and I must be lying, he wouldn’t do that. Others said nothing, but looked at me from a distance with such pity that I wanted to melt and disappear.

So I did. I disappeared. I withdrew from everything. I stopped trying to talk to anyone. I brought headphones so it seemed my choice to not talk when I sat alone. I worked in the art room during lunch to avoid no one wanting me. Then I found the program to attend classes at a local college. I had completed my high school credits already, I was in all AP classes anyway, so this was perfect. I left. I disappeared and no one noticed.

I have never had a friend, other than my husband, since then. 24 years of isolation to both protect myself and punish myself – simultaneously. Again, a duality that only a survivor understands.

Great ABC sheet handouts with explanations