Sunday, September 4, 2016

Everyone Has a Story - This is Mine

Warning:  This post discusses child sexual abuse and may be troubling for some readers.

Hello Loves.  I know I went MIA again.  I didn't realize it had been so long since I last posted until you started reaching out to check on me.  Thank you to everyone who messaged or emailed!  I'm still here.  I've been battling some demons, so to speak.  I don't talk about my personal life much here, but I have decided it is time to tell you more about who I am and the events that shaped my life.


I am all of these things:  a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a woman, a nail tech, a blogger, and a friend.  But I am also a STATISTIC.  What I am NOT...as of right now...is a VICTIM...anymore.  I am a SURVIVOR.  By telling you my story, I am shaking off the chains that have bound me for over 20 years.  This post may be difficult for some people to read.  I apologize for that.  But this needs to be told.  And it needs to be read.  If it saves just one child, it is worth it.

I'm not sure where to start.  Do I start with the challenges I face today?  Do I write this in chronological order?  I honestly don't know.  So I'm just going to start writing and see where we end up.

I come from a loving and supportive family.  My parents were high school sweethearts and are still married to this day.  My father is a small business owner and my mother worked as a secretary at the university until she retired a few years ago.  Daddy is your typical country boy.  He loves to hunt.  He works hard to provide for his family.  His neck is leathered and his heart is full.  He is an amazing "PaPa" to my sons.  Mama is a strong Christian woman.  She is the glue that holds our family together.  She is full of love, faith, and compassion.  I often joke that my parents are the Redneck and the Sunday School Teacher, but it actually is pretty accurate.  Mama did teach many Sunday School classes throughout my childhood.  I also have an older brother.  He's the perfect mix of Dad and Mom.  Strong, smart, caring, and successful.

And then there's me.  I guess you could say that I was born with a chip on my shoulder.  Growing up, I was always jealous of my brother.  My family is a little old fashioned.  Daddy took my brother under his wing and taught him to be a boy.  Hunting, fishing, the family business (they're electricians).  And Mama raised me.  I always felt like it wasn't fair.  I begged Daddy to teach me to hunt and fish.  I begged him to teach me the family trade.  But those were boy things.  Not girl things.  As I got older, I was surrounded by dolls but longed for my brother's toys.  He had dirt bikes and pellet guns.  His "toys" were way cooler than mine.  We also lived in a neighborhood that was mostly boys.  They were all a few years older than me.  By the time I was 10 years old, I was following my brother and his friends around and trying to be a tomboy.  But I wasn't a boy, and teenage boys tend to notice.  At the same time, I started fighting with my Dad.  Constant fighting.  I starting acting out.  At 11 years old, I was experimenting with my sexuality with the neighborhood boys.  At 12 years old, I started smoking.

Daddy caught me smoking in my closet one day.  He told me if I was going to smoke, I was going to do it in front of him.  He sat me down at the kitchen table and made me smoke a cigarette.  He was expecting me to choke so he could make it a life lesson, but it backfired.  A few days later we were at a gathering and he told everyone the story and how I "sat there and smoked that cigarette like a 35 year old woman who had been smoking all her life."  I was humiliated and ran from the room in tears. I was only 12, but I thought I was grown.  I wanted to be treated like an adult.  I had no idea I was as immature and young as I was.

Some relatives offered to let me spend the weekend at their house to have some time away from Dad.  This was a couple that my parents trusted and I started going over there every weekend.  At first, I was close to the wife.  We did everything together and I enjoyed our shopping trips and nights playing Nintendo.  And I loved that they treated me like an adult.  They let me smoke behind my parents' backs and didn't judge me.  Their house became my home away from home.

Over the next year, a shift started to happen.  I grew closer to the husband and grew apart from the wife.  He treated me more like an adult than she did.  He bought my cigarettes and allowed me to drink alcohol.  We had adult conversations about topics like politics, religion, and eventually sex.  He encouraged me to be sexually active with my boyfriend.  I was in the 8th grade.  Only 13 years old.  He even supplied me with lingerie to wear for my boyfriend.  This eventually led to a sexual relationship with the husband.  I won't go into the details of the relationship, but it lasted for about a year.  At first I felt like I was in complete control.  He never touched me without asking first.  I felt like a woman having an affair.  Not like a child being manipulated, raped and molested by a man in his mid-40s.  This continued throughout the summer and into my freshman year of high school.

Sometimes a number is difficult to understand.  So I want to share a few photos taken during that time period.  I look back at these photos and tears come to my eyes.  I was so young.  Just a baby.  Looking back now, I can't comprehend how an adult can be sexually attracted to a child.  The picture on the left was taken before a formal award ceremony that I attended with my boyfriend.  The photo on the right was taken on a trip to the beach with my abuser.  I was 13 years old in both pictures.

During my freshman year, I met and started dating my ex-husband.  After dating him for a few months, I decided I was in love.  The "affair" with the older man started to feel like I was cheating on my boyfriend.  So I tried to end it.  He resisted.  He begged and pleaded.  The attempts at continued manipulation were desperate and I began to feel smothered.  He would hold me around the waist in a hug and beg me not to end things.  He was all alone.  His marriage had fallen apart and they were headed toward divorce.  He claimed that he loved me and I was all he had to live for.  He threatened to hurt himself.  He told me I could never tell anyone about "us" because people wouldn't understand.  It would hurt them to know the truth, and it would be my fault.  They would put him in jail, and he would kill himself before that happened.  I stopped going around him, but I still saw him at gatherings a couple of times a year.  He would make a point to catch me alone and remind me that I had to keep his secret or I would destroy the people I love and I would be killing him.

This photo was taken shortly after I ended the "relationship" with my abuser.  I was 14 years old.

I wish I could say that it all stopped there, but it didn't.  Like many victims of abuse, major changes had occurred in my brain.  The tie between love and sex was severed for me.  They no longer go hand in hand.  For most people, sex is a very intimate thing.  For me, it became completely disassociated.  I used my body to get what I wanted from people.  I had very little self respect.  Nudity was no big deal.  My actions led to the end of my first marriage.  I never told him about my abuse.

For almost 15 years, I kept the secret.  When I started dating Keith, he knew.  The first time he saw me around my abuser, he just knew.  He asked me about it.  I denied it.  We went on to get married and I was 27 when I got pregnant with my first child.  My abuser reached out and asked me what I still needed for the baby.  He said he wanted to buy my child something nice.  It was that moment that something in my brain snapped.  I was utterly disgusted by the thought and terrified at the same time.  I knew I would never let him be around my child.  And I was paralyzed by the fear that he would show up at the hospital when my son was born.


I told my husband what happened.  And I told my mother.  She never doubted me and she has been my rock.  With my permission, she confronted my abuser and told him I do not want him around my child.  He did not deny it.  He claimed that he was in love with me.  In love with a 13 year old girl.  He told my mother that if we told anyone, he would kill himself.  My mother, my husband and I continued to keep his secret at my insistence for several years.  It was brutal for my mother.  She blamed herself for not seeing what he was doing.  She blamed herself for putting me in his path.  She tried to determine if there were signs that she missed. And she felt extreme guilt for keeping the secret from my Daddy.  But I was afraid to tell him.  I was afraid of what he would do.  And deep inside, I still felt responsible for my own abuse.  I eventually did tell my father.  He has also been supportive.  My mother underwent years of counseling to deal with what happened to me and is helping me get help as well.  I kept his secret well beyond the time frame for criminal prosecution, but I know she would support me if that was an option.
It was around this same time that I started having flashbacks.  I realized that I was not responsible.  I was not old enough to make the decisions I thought I had made.  And I accepted that I was being manipulated and controlled by an adult.  I was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I am still struggling with PTSD.  I go through periods of time where the flashbacks are so frequent and disturbing that I just shut down.  That is where I have been for the past few months.  Running from the demons in my mind.  Sleeping most of the time to avoid the flashbacks.  Avoiding intimate moments with my husband for fear I will flash back to my abuser.  Over 20 years have passed since I stood up to him and ended the abuse.  But I still struggle with it all.  I still keep his secret.  Even as I write this post, even as I tell you the horrors of my youth, I realize I am still protecting him by not publishing his name.  Baby steps.

I am feeling better now.  My doctor changed my medications to help me cope with the battle that rages inside my head.  The flashbacks are becoming less frequent.  And I am finding myself wanting to do the things I enjoy again - like blogging.  I feel like I am walking out of a fog that lasted for months.  But I know it can hit again at any time.  Something as simple as a hug from my husband can send me spiraling back into the Hell locked inside my mind.  Over 20 years have passed...and I am still living with the effects of being a victim of child molestation.  But by writing this post - by telling my story - I am refusing to be a victim anymore.  I will NOT let this define me.  I am strong.  I am a survivor.  And I have something to say.

To the young girls reading this post, I know how you feel.  You are discovering who you are and you feel like you are capable of making decisions about your sexuality.  As hard as it is to admit, you are a prime target for sexual abuse.  Pedophiles may see your desires and play into them.  They will manipulate you and make you believe that you are choosing to engage in activities.  You will feel like you are in control.  That you are calling all the shots.  You are not in control.  These men (and women) know what to say and how to act to manipulate you.  I had no idea that "decisions" I made as a young teen could impact my life so severely that I would struggle with them as a 34 year old woman.  Please, consider your future self in every decision you make.  If it is illegal, it is illegal for a reason.  Everything you do today will shape your future life.  Every decision you make - good or bad - will impact your future in some way.  If you are currently living a story like mine, or if you have ever been approached by an adult in a sexual way, please tell someone.  Don't keep the secret of a pedophile.  Yes, people will be hurt if you tell the truth, but you are not the one hurting them.  Your abuser is.  It is not your responsibly to keep secrets that put others in danger.  You are not responsible for his (or her) actions.  To you, it may feel like love.  It is not.  And you are not alone.
To the mothers, be vigilant.  I tuck my children into bed every night, and I lie to them.  I tell them that monsters don't exist.  Monsters DO exist.  They work their way into our children's lives and gain their trust.  They manipulate and lie.  They use our children's desires and pleasures to convince them to keep these horrible secrets.  My mother asked me once if I would have told her about it if she had asked when it was happening.  The answer is no.  I wouldn't have told her.  I felt like I was responsible.  It was my dirty secret.  I liked being treated like an adult.  The abuse felt good.  And I didn't want to hurt people.  So no, I wouldn't have told her.  My mother didn't know he was giving me cigarettes and alcohol.  She didn't know he was abusing me.  She trusted him.  She believed him when he told her he would look out for me.  She had no reason to doubt him and I never gave her a reason until it was way too late.

Keep open lines of communication with your children, but know there is a good chance they will not tell you if they are being abused.  Watch for small things.  Trust your gut.  If something feels off, it is.  Ask questions.  Be weary of people you know and trust.  According to www.VictimsofCrime.org, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse.  That number is startling.  1 in 5 girls.  1 in 20 boys.  Next time you go out with your girlfriends, take a look around the table.  It is likely that one of them has lived through abuse.  If your child tells you someone has touched her/him, believe it.  Don't brush it off, no matter how well you know the person they accuse.  My mother never doubted me when I told her.  If she had, I don't know where I would be now.  So believe your children.  It might be your husband, your brother, your father, your neighbor.  Monsters are real.  They are smart and cunning.  They hide in plain sight.  Be vigilant.  Protect your children.  This is not something that only happens in bad families.  I grew up in a loving home, and it still happened to me.

For those who need help coping with sexual abuse, there are resources that can help you.  Please visit this link: https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones.

Everyone has a story to tell.  I have now told mine.  I am still a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a woman, a nail tech, a blogger, and a friend.  I am still a statistic.  But I refuse to be a victim anymore.  I am a SURVIVOR.  I'm getting stronger every day.  I have started this post many times over the past few years.  This time, I have finished it.  I have published it.  And I am healing.

~Michelle
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