Posted by: lolalately | July 23, 2012

From surviving to thriving

While at first this may sound like the story of a childhood sexual abuse victim/survivor … it’s actually the story of a THRIVER.

It’s true that I was victimized by the deliberate actions of a depraved family member, and it’s also true that my parents ignored or denied all the warning signs … but that isn’t what matters most. What matters most is that thanks to more than two years of intense and often painful therapy, I can now say that I accept myself without complaint or judgment and in fact, I’ve learned to respect and love myself. So much so that I’ve recently gone through life-changing bariatric surgery to tear down the wall (of weight) that I’d built up around me as a result of the abuse. From victim, to survivor, to THRIVER … this is my story.

I don’t remember the exact day, I don’t remember the way. I can’t remember the pain, but I remember the shame. My earliest memory is from four years of age. My older brothers are in the driveway of the rental house we lived in and they’re admiring Es’ new red bicycle. E is the oldest of the four of us, he’s nearly eight years old, and he doesn’t want to hear his little sister rattle on about the ice cream truck that will soon be circling our neighborhood. He’s busy talking with our middle brother R about something that must be more entertaining, because they’re both laughing wildly. I remember feeling left out. What I didn’t know then was that I was the reason for their laughter.

I remember R pulling a metal milk crate up to the bike, and E helping me up onto the bright white seat. In my right hand is my little Mr Frosty spoon. It’s red, just like the big bike I’m proudly sitting atop. A brother standing on each side of me, holding me up. Suddenly something is wrong! E and R have let go of the bicycle, and I’m hurtling down our steep driveway. My feet don’t touch the pedals! As the beautiful new red bike and I crash into the gutter, I see red everywhere! I’m bleeding from my right elbow, and there is a bone sticking out of my arm.

R comes running, screaming for our mother whose somewhere inside the house tending to our baby sister J. And E just stands at the top of the driveway – watching, taking it all in. I remember nothing more of the incident until I’m in the Children’s Hospital with my arm above me attached to some mechanical contraption that’s painful. I remain in the hospital, my arm suspended above me, for nearly four weeks. I remember feeling so alone and afraid each time my mother would leave the hospital at night. Oddly, I don’t have so much as a single memory of my father coming to see me in the hospital. Perhaps he did and I’ve simply forgotten. It’s also possible that he never did come.

Somewhere in a photo album there’s a picture of me standing in front of our house with my little sister. We’re both smiling, and my arm is in a cast and sling. I looked at that picture recently and thought how small and innocent I looked. Despite the broken arm and time in the hospital, my life was so simple then. Shortly after that period, my life, as I knew it, changed. In fact, it was never the same again.

Maybe it was all the attention I got from the family as a whole after the accident. Maybe E was punished for setting the events in motion. Hundreds of “maybes” have drifted through my mind over the past fifty odd years, as I’ve tried to understand why he did it. But the truth is that I will never really know. And the “why” is no longer important, except that perhaps that first act of violence against me should have been taken more seriously by my parents. For what came after, was a million times more painful than a broken elbow.

As vivid as my memories of the bicycle accident are, my memories of the beginning of the hell that followed are more blurred. What I do remember clearly are the Sunday’s we spent at my grandparents’ house. Every Sunday after lunch my parents, would bundle the six of us into the family station wagon for the twenty minute drive to my grandparents’ house. My little sister always sat up front between my parents, and I was always in the back seat between my brothers. Though I loved seeing my grandparents, I dreaded the ride there and back. First of all, both of my parents were heavy smokers, who smoked incessantly in the car. I hated their cigarette smoke being blown into my face, and though I’d always beg to sit by a door so that I could drop my window just enough to breathe fresh air, I was nonetheless relegated to that dreaded middle seat.

It was on one such ride to grandma and grandpa’s house that E made his first brutal and completely unwarranted attack, pinching the inside of my left thigh hard enough to leave a bruise. When I cried out, and tried to tell my parents, E denied any wrongdoing, and I was shushed for interrupting my parents conversation. Maybe he wanted to see how far he could go, maybe he was checking to see which one of us would be believed. Add it to the list of questions I’ll never be able to answer.

Over the weeks and months that followed, E hurt me again and again, sometimes by hitting or pinching me, sometimes kicking me as I got into or out of the car. Each time seemed more emboldened and more painful than the last. Around the same time, he started stealing toys or trinkets from my bedroom, and again, he’d deny doing anything wrong when I’d tell on him. Unfortunately for me, E was my mother’s favorite and she couldn’t or wouldn’t believe he’d do anything to hurt me. To my mother, I was either lying or imagining all of it. As for my missing belongings, she insisted I’d been careless and had lost them. Even when he teased me by showing me he had my toys, mom wouldn’t believe her first born could be anything other than her “perfect boy”. E reveled in his protected status, and his actions against me picked up steam.

Sometime before my birthday later that year, E snuck into my bedroom and took a small doll I’d had for some time. In a fit of tears, I searched everywhere for her both inside and outside the house. Instinctively, I knew what must’ve happened to my little doll, and I went to my mother insisting that E had her. For the very first time, my mom seemed to take my complaint seriously and searched the bedroom my brothers shared. And there, tucked between the mattress and box spring of Es’ bed, she found my missing doll, along with other things I’d been sure he’d taken from me. I remember that my mother was really angry with him, something I’d rarely if ever seen, and I’m guessing that made him even more  angry with me.

My next memories of his abuse drift to summer, and the local pool where my mother and the four of us spent most sunny days. I remember being really happy to have a new swimsuit; a pink and white gingham bikini with a ruffle around the hips. While my mom laid on her chaise lounge sunning, smoking and gossiping with other mothers, the four of us were in the pool. Since we’d all had swim lessons by this time, my mom paid little attention to what went on in the pool. The first time I remember E touching my genitals was in that pool. He swam up to the edge where I was practicing my flipper kicks. He didn’t say anything, he just looked at me. Then he dove under the water, and the next thing I remember is him poking a finger into my vagina. I’m sure I must have screamed, but my voice mixed in with all the other noisy children meant nothing to anyone, and he quickly swam away. I know that I got out of the pool and went to sit by my mom. Nothing would convince me to go back into that pool. For a kid who’d always been a fish, you might think my mom would’ve questioned the change in me, but I guess she was too busy talking to her friends to notice me wrapped in a big towel, shivering in the hot summer sun.

There are stretches of my childhood and the abuse that I don’t remember. Maybe because I blocked them out, maybe, mercifully, I’ve just forgotten them. But I do remember coming home from perfectly normal schools days, and having them turn into sheer hell at the hands of my oldest brother. One such day occurred on a day when my mother wasn’t home. When we got to the house, E rushed up to his bedroom, with R in tow. I remember R calling to me (I was in my bedroom) asking me to come down the hall. When I got to the end of the hall where their bedrooms were, R asked me to come into E’s bedroom with him. Suddenly R was closing and locking the door behind me. I can close my eyes and see the events of that afternoon as if they’d happened yesterday. E had a Playboy Magazine in his hands and he was turning the magazine so R could see some of the pages. The two of them were looking at the magazine and snickering. I tried to leave the room, but R blocked my way by standing in front of the door. That’s when E came towards me, telling me that if I just looked at the magazine with him, he’d let me go. I knew things would be bad if I didn’t give in, so I remained silent. E turned the magazine to me. It was a black woman and man in sexual positions, touching each other. I’d never seen an adult male naked, and I’d never seen two people in sexual positions. I was stunned. I remember starting to cry. I remember E telling me that men were going to do that to me. That he was going to do that to me. R suddenly opened the door to leave and I saw my chance to escape. The next thing I remember is hiding in my bedroom closet, crying, holding onto a doll. I’d never been so frightened in my life. I spent a lot of time hiding from my brother; in my closet, under my bed, under the basement steps. Anywhere I might escape his attacks. Years later, I would often grab a knife from the kitchen as I got came through the door from school, and I’d hide it inside a book, thinking it meant I was safe. But E was always one step ahead of me, and soon he was threatening to go after my little sister if I didn’t give in to his demands. I couldn’t let the same horrors happen to her, and I didn’t.

The intensity of the sexual abuse increased as did the frequency over the coming few years. From what I pieced together during therapy, I believe there was a correlation between my parents’ frequent arguments and E’s attacks on me. My parents argued about everything, mostly money or the lack thereof. My father, an automobile salesman, worked long hours to provide my mother (and the 4 of us) with a lifestyle my mother believed she deserved. But it was never enough. Actually, I now believe that in my mother’s mind, SHE was never enough. She was so wrapped up in the image she presented to the world, that it apparently never occurred to her to look at her fractured family and see the truth of our existence. In between my parents vitriolic arguments there were her repeated suicide attempts. One of which my abuser/brother told me I’d caused. He convinced me that my mother hated me and was trying to get away from me. Hating myself more in that moment than ever before, I believed him. When she came home from the hospital a few days later, her coolness towards me seemed to confirm his words, and I was filled with a new fear now. If my brother was sexually molesting me, and my father was constantly talking about “getting the hell away from all of us” and my mother was trying to die to get away from me, who was there to protect and love me? E didn’t have to work hard to convince me I was unlovable.

Years later when as an adult I confronted my mother about the sexual abuse, she angrily denied it had ever happened, insisting that “her E would never do such a thing”. Contrast that statement with my father’s reaction; he acknowledged that it made sense. That he’d seen and heard so many things in our home that it now all made sense to him. Was my father telling me he’d suspected I was being raped and sodomized and he’d done nothing? Was he recalling something in particular that he’d seen but ignored? He wouldn’t answer me then, and today, my father and I do not speak or see each other.

Over the years, I think it’s fair to say that my childhood had great influence over the choices I made. I chose friends who ended up taking advantage of me, men who were emotionally unavailable and needy, and habits that were anything but healthy and productive. When a job got challenging, I’d look for reasons not to go to work. When an intimate relationship got difficult, I’d bolt rather than stick around and work out the issues. Over time, life took its toll on me, and it became clear that I needed to find a way to change the course of my life.

In early 2008 my husband and I entered marriage counseling over what he called my “trust issues” It wasn’t long before I was undergoing EMDR for PTSD. If I’d had any illusions of therapy wiping out the painful memories of my childhood, my thinking was quickly corrected. Six months into therapy, amidst some of the most painful memories, including daily flashbacks and nonstop nightmares, I reached what I believed was my breaking point. I didn’t want to continue to remember, I didn’t want to feel the pain of my childhood all over again. All I wanted was to close my eyes and sleep … forever.

That evening after trying unsuccessfully to convince my husband to take his two youngest children out of the house, and feeling overcome with anxiety, I grabbed the gun I kept under my pillow and ran out the back door of the house I share with my husband, intending to end my life. My husband was close behind, and thankfully was able to talk me into giving up my weapon, and coming back inside. He phoned his mom, with whom I’ve always had a wonderfully close relationship, and she immediately drove to our house. I later phoned my therapist who repeated to me something she’d said before; suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. We talked for quite some time and she was able to help me see that suicide wasn’t the answer … regaining my power over my past, my present and my future was. The following day I was back in therapy, back to the EMDR, back to facing my past head on. Nobody said therapy would be easy or fun, and it wasn’t. But I can say today that therapy gave me back ME. Or rather that it helped me find my way back to ME.

Sometime late last year as I began to close those chapters and finally put the book of my life on the shelf, I began to think about all I’ve missed, and all I’ve denied myself. Chief among them was caring about and loving my body. I wasn’t a fat child. In fact, I didn’t become overweight until at the age of 14 I realized E really hated fat women. He had only to see an overweight woman in a store or on tv to make disparaging remarks. I finally had my way out; I’d become one of those women he hated! It didn’t take long to pack 50 pounds on my 14 year old frame, then another 10 and another 10. Soon, he was as disgusted by the sight of me as I was. And he stopped touching me. But now there was no longer any possibility of him harming me. I was safe. I and I alone controlled my life. It was time to take down the wall of weight I’d put on to protect myself.

In January of this year I took the first step by researching weight loss surgeries, and attended a local weight loss seminar in February. On the 19th of April of this year I had a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy. I’m proud to say that I’ve taken off more than 70 pounds since I began this journey to better health. I have a long way to go, but I’m on a good path, and I love myself enough to stay on that path. I know that I’m not the first and I won’t be the last person to go through the monstrous thing that is sexual abuse and parental disinterest. But if my story can give even a glimmer of hope to one person, it will have been worth telling.  

Through all of these long and difficult days, I’ve had three people in particular standing by me; one is an amazing therapist, whose belief in me helped me believe in myself. I know many people think it’s a sign of weakness to seek therapy for one’s issues. I disagree. I believe it’s actually an act of courage, a leap of faith. As I mentioned before, I have been blessed with the most wonderful mother-in-law any person has ever had. In fact, she’s much more than a mother-in-law … she’s a true friend. She’s the sort of mother I dreamed about as a girl, but never imagined I’d be lucky enough to have. Last but certainly not least is my husband. We’ve been through a lot in our ten years together, and we both brought more than a little baggage to this marriage. That we’re still together, accepting each other warts and all is a testament to the power of love (and maybe persistence). All three of these people have my unending admiration and love. I wish everyone could have people like these three to believe in, accept and love them. That I do … is a gift, that I’m here today telling my story and thriving, is a gift from God.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse/sexual molestation/rape or physical violence in any form, please know that help is available, and please reach out for it. Life is a precious gift, and you deserve to live life safe in the knowledge that you were not the cause of the monstrous acts you’ve suffered. Please don’t remain silent. Ask for help or contact me and I’ll do my utmost to help you find help.

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Responses

  1. I am so, so sorry… You are such a strong, courageous person!


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