You have a story. I have a story. Each one of us has a story that needs to be shared, valued and heard.
As a therapist, I believe in the power of telling your story to someone you can trust. I have seen it time and time again; after just a session or two my client hesitantly begins to open up and start explaining her story from the very beginning. It's as if I can literally see the weight lifting off her shoulders. She begins to break free from the burden she has been carrying far too many years.
Naturally, she immediately diminishes her story, "I know others have it so much worst... I really should be grateful for what I have now.... I feel bad making a big deal of this...."
"STOP. RIGHT. THERE." I interrupt her in the most gently yet firm tone I can possibly muster. "You story matters. Your experience was real. Your feelings are valid. I understand that there may be those who have had it worse. And yes, you should be grateful for what you have now, but by all means this is the place and now is the time to make it a big deal. This is where we will safely explore your story and release yourself from it." She then takes a sigh of relief and we continue, safely and confidently unraveling her story.
Recently, a dear friend of mine reached out and told me she has a story and felt compelled to share it with others in hopes it can powerfully influence at least one person. In order to keep it confidential, I invited her to write her story to me. Reassuring her that her story matters and needs to be told, reassuring her that someone out there will be impacted by this story.
WORDS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME
In May of this year, there was a lot to celebrate in our family. Both of our children were graduating from college. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but issues with one of their degree programs/credits, caused one of them to push their graduation back a semester. I was secretly excited that both of our children, while on different career paths, were graduating weeks apart from each other. One of them had to pass a huge state exam or their four years of hard work were in jeopardy. They had been stressing about it for months and months. The results would be in right before graduation. Then, the email came….they passed! We cried and jumped around like kids who just found out they were going to DisneyWorld. I could just see the stress melting away from them. It was awesome. They immediately started calling everyone close to them; their dad (my husband), paternal grandparents, cousins, and great aunts and uncles.
As they finished calling each person, in my mind, I was saying, “Hurry up so I can call people I know." When they called the last person on the list I thought, finally I can call someone! That is when I was hit with an unexpected ton of bricks going 1,000 miles an hour; I realized I had no one to call. Not one single person. Thus began months of anxiety, panic attacks, and such a sense of great loneliness. Everything that I thought was gone came back in a single instance.
I came from a very violent, unstable, home. Too many children, not enough money, and a father who was mentally, physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive. My mother, while I am now educated about all this, had mental issues with depression and she was a compulsive liar. My father beat on all of us. He could also tear a room up in 0.1 seconds, then turn around and make us clean it up. His anger ruled the roost. Anything and everything set him off, so I had to pick my battles carefully.
When I was about 6, I tried to run away. Everyone just laughed at me because all I had was my jewelry box and a few clothes. Not even a jacket. My mother sarcastically said, “Where do you think you are going to go?” I had no answer, but I knew I wanted to leave. Everyday I was walking on egg shells. This was my life for 18 years.
As I said, I had to pick my battles. So that is why I never felt safe to tell my parents that for many years I was being sexually abused by my older brother. My thinking was that I was going to be the one to get in trouble because I let him or because I didn’t say anything, or because I did. It happened so often, I thought it was part of everyone’s daily life. When I would go to school I would wonder why no one talked about it. In my childish mind, I thought well no one talks about what they ate for dinner everyday, or how many times they blinked their eyes, so why would they talk about this?
The abuse went on for over ten years. What that abuse exactly was isn’t relevant, what is relevant is that it happened over and over. When I was about 15 or 16 years old, I had reached a boiling point. All the crap going on in my home, along with the abuse was getting to be too much. I also had a boyfriend, who is now my husband.
One day after an argument with my mother, I blurted out that I was being sexually abused by my brother. She seemed shocked, and asked when, so I told her. She then said and did nothing. Well, let me correct that last statement. She did do something.
First she went and pulled the biggest zipper out and put it on my mouth and on hers and put a million locks on it and threw away the key so no one would know. She then took out a broom and swept up my words. All ten years of pain, hurt, tears, anger, fear, and worthlessness were swept into a pile and under a rug and stomped on that no one could see them under the rug, not one single letter.
I stood there waiting for something, and I got nothing. I simply walked away. 99.9% of the suffering that I have endured since that day is because of the inaction of my mother. When I was in elementary school, the way I “proved” my worth to myself was through getting praise at school from my teachers because my grades were so good. I always had A’s and B’s. I always had to be the first to finish anything, because if I finished first, I was worth something.
In 5th grade, I found out that when I started middle school in the fall, I was going to be in honors classes. Classes reserved for the smart students. I felt accomplished. But the summer between my 5th and 6th grade year, something happened. Nothing significant, other than as a basic human being, I realized that what was being done to me was not normal and I became angry. When I started school in the fall, I did horrible in all my classes. I got C’s, D’s, and F’s in every subject. No one ever questioned how I could go from making A’s and B’s to making such low grades. No one. Not my parents, not the teachers, no one. I made straight C’s, D’s and F’s my entire middle school years. Still no one questioned anything. My 8th grade year I found out that in 9th grade, I could join an extra curricular activity, but in order to be active, I had to make a minimum of a C in every class. So I joined the group and made straight C’s all through high school, which was the minimum required. If I had not joined that group I would not have graduated. I met my now husband when I was 15, however, we didn’t start dating until our junior year of high school.
Days after I turned 18, I had to leave home. I couldn’t take it anymore. Luckily his parents allowed me to stay at their home. I had no place to go. We got married and had our first child at 19. The second child came three years later. While I was starting a family, I was never healed from the one I came from, so we had a lot of problems. Communication being the most significant one. We were children, who had children, and on top of that, I had all my stuffed up trauma.
I had always been a 'don’t make waves' kind of person. Just keep the peace by not speaking about what is really going on. I went on like that for years. I would still go to family gatherings with my side of the family, even my brother. I would be like a hawk and watch my children closely, never letting them out of my sight. But you see, when you do that, try to 'keep the peace', it takes a toll on you that you don’t realize at the time.
Every time I was around them, it would take an emotional toll on me, just chipping away at my soul and my very existence. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was slowly slipping into depression. The last gathering I attended ended up with me leaving abruptly. I gathered my children and started to leave. My mother asked why I was leaving, and I said, “Because of everything he did to me. I can’t be around this anymore.” She then said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” I was so defeated in that moment. I just left without saying another word. But that devastation was nothing compared to what I was about to experience.
That following Monday I was at work. At the time I worked in a school with a program that helped students with counseling, tutoring, etc. I was at my desk and my co-worker had a group of students in the class that she was working with. I have to say that this particular co-worker got out of an abusive marriage years ago, but still, anything sudden that happened would freak her out. I knew this about her. As I said, I was at my desk, and my phone rings. It was my dad. He yells at me, “What did you do to your mother this weekend? She can barely get out of bed and go to work!” I didn’t have any time to answer because he then yells at me, “I don’t know why you keep bringing up something (the sexual abuse) that happened a quarter of a century ago. All it was was simple experimentation that happened once!” My entire life literally flashed before my eyes, exactly like you see it in the movies. All the abuse, the yelling, the hitting- everything. Then I went into a sort of shock, which I can only say is fight or flight mode. I was out of breath, but I managed to come back to the present. I looked at my co-worker to make sure she didn’t see my reaction. I looked at the students to make sure they didn’t see anything. Luckily they didn’t.
I don’t say this lightly when I say if I had a gun or an ample supply of pills, I would have ended my life right there and then. I was devastated beyond anything I could imagine! To have my father call me at work and tell me that. How could he? Why would he do that to me?
I got this call at about 10:30a.m., I had to go into fight mode for the next 10 hours. That particular day, I had a meeting with my staff, and a meeting at my main office. Right after work I had to rush to pick up one child from one school, get them to practice, and go get the other one from their school to get them to a game. I then had to go home, cook dinner, and get the kids ready for the next day and wait for my husband to get home. It wasn’t until 11p.m. that we got in bed and I told him what happened. All he could do was hold me. He had no idea how to help me. I slid into a deep depression. I pretty much ruined my child’s senior year of high school because of it. I hate that I did that to them. I went from 125 pounds to 80 pounds in a matter of weeks. I couldn’t sleep. All I would do is cry and cry. I missed so much work I thought at one time I was going to get fired. Luckily I had enough time saved that they really couldn’t fire me.
During the next five months, I was in and out of a mental outpatient hospital. They were trying to find the right combination of medicine to help me, but it took some time. And in between that time, my family suffered. One child couldn’t take seeing me like this and would try and be away from the house as much as possible. The other child stepped in as the caretaker, which took a toll on her, as well. My husband didn’t know what to do to help and we argued a lot because I would be fine one minute, then a heap on the ground the next. He had started a new job and I would call him at work crying, but if he left, he could get fired. The stress was too much to deal with. The depression was so intense, that I actually had a plan in place to end it all, I was just trying to figure out when would be the best time to do it, but luckily, there was never a good time to end my life. I couldn’t do it this week because one child had this going on and would need a ride. I couldn’t do it that week because we had a prior commitment with my in laws. There was always a reason I couldn’t do it.
Also during this time I was in intense counseling. I had an amazing counselor that I met through the mental hospital that I was able to continue to see outside of the mental facility. He hit me with some hard stuff to work on. I was emotionally drained after every session. I realized that I had to withdraw myself from my birth family in order to keep my sanity and continue on a path to healing. This was really hard because I had a sister who was younger than me that was also abused by my brother. That’s a whole other story I don’t want to get into now, but when she saw that I was slowly withdrawing from the family because they still kept that 'keep the peace' mentality, she told me that she and her daughters were a package. Meaning if I didn’t talk to her, I was no longer going to be able to have a relationship with my nieces. This was horrible to deal with because I was close to them, and I took them in for about a month when my sister was going through her divorce. I told my niece I would always be there for her, but now I had to break that. This was a lose-lose situation for me. If I stayed in contact with my sister, I risked my mental health being compromised. If I didn’t stay in contact, I would lose my nieces. Unfortunately I had to choose my mental health. I miss my nieces everyday. I only know what is going on in their lives because of round about ways I can see them on Facebook. I think about them daily. They don’t know why I am not around anymore. I know my sister hasn’t told them anything as they are in high school and elementary school still. I hope one day my nieces reach out to me and don’t resent me.
It was only about two years ago that I sat my children down and told them my story. I gave them the summary version in which I said I was sexually abused as a child. One wanted to know some details, the other didn’t even want to know who it was. I also found out at this time through one of my children that my sister had taken it upon herself to tell them she was abused, and they had already kind of put two and two together and figured out that all my issues were from the same thing. I was furious, and still am to this day, that my sister mentioned this to them because if my sister knew nothing else, she knew I was adamant that my children not know what happened to me. It wasn’t her story to tell.
Since I have told them, our entire family (husband and children) have had better relationships with each other. My mental health issues and everything I went through took a toll on everyone. But now, my children understood why there was always some sort of friction with my family. Me telling them put all the pieces in place and they now understood. But my children then had to process how their 'beloved grandmother' could do this to me. They don’t understand how a mother could not protect her child; which brings me to this:
Remember earlier when I told you that my mother was a pathological liar? It turns out she lied to my father about what my brother did to me. She told him it only happened once, which is why he said what he said when he called me that day. He never knew it went on for that long until my sister told him years later. However, he did or said nothing when he found out the truth. He didn’t apologize to me or get mad at my mother.
Before I end, I know I have only briefly mentioned my husband, however, he is my rock! Even when he didn’t understand what to do, or what was going on with me, he was still there. In the midst of my depression, he quit to get a new one with daytime hours so he could be available for me in the evenings. This way I wouldn’t be alone and our children would not have to bear the burden of dealing with me. He is my everything. He has known about my abuse since I was 16. There were a few times when he wanted to do bad things to my family, but I always told them it wasn’t worth it. They aren’t worth it. He has held me countless nights during my bouts of crying. He has woken up in the middle of the night when I have had a panic attack and just needed him to put his hand on my shoulder. He has listened to me vent about the daily burden of dealing with sexual abuse. He has comforted me and made me feel safe and loved. He is my everything! He could have easily left so many times because it was all so much to deal with.
I recently started counseling with my same counselor again. He told me that I needed to let my family know once and for all what their inaction did to me. The next time we were to meet, I was to give him an update. Well, I cancelled the session because I knew I couldn’t see them again.
I instantly thought of Becky, but it took me about six weeks to finally reach out to her to see if she could help me get my story out to help others. I am thankful for this opportunity. When we spoke, I told her that my counselor wanted me to set up a meeting with my family and finally tell them how they had so negatively affected my life. But, in talking with my husband, I felt that seeing them would be detrimental to my healing and I knew that I would not get any accountability from them either way.
That is why I reached out to Becky. Talk about not taking care of yourself. I was the poster child for this. I have only now started to understand the importance of self care.
If you are a nobody to yourself, you can’t be anybody for your loved ones.
If you are reading this and you are a survivor, know you are not alone. There are millions of us out there. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to do the hard work. It never goes away, but it gets better. You learn to deal with it and manage your emotions, feelings, and triggers. Most importantly, THIS WASN’T YOUR FAULT!
My hope is that someone reads my story and it helps them in some way. Maybe it will help them face their abuse for the first time, maybe it will help them heal. My biggest hope is that a man or woman who is in their teens, 20’s, or 30’s is reading this and it helps them so they don’t suffer as long as I have. I hope it helps at least one person take the first step to healing and self care. To the aunts, uncles, fathers, mothers, cousins out there….you know! You know when something hasn’t sat right with you about a situation. Don’t ignore your gut feeling! It’s probably right. That red flag popped in your mind for a reason. There is a reason something made you think twice about something you heard or saw. Take action! It can help save your loved one from suffering. Please take charge and protect a child!
The title of this is “Words my Mother Never Told Me”. The words my mother never told me were, “I’m sorry this happened to you, I am here for you. We need to call the police.”
Survivor and Warrior
There’s a part of me I can’t get back
A little girl grew up too fast
All it took was once, I’ll never be the same
Now I’m taking back my life today
Nothing left that you can say
Cause you were never gonna take the blame any way
- Demi Lovato, “Warrior”
As I sit here trying to gather the best words to tell my friend, I am falling short. I don’t know if I have the ability to find the words that will truly express how incredibly proud I am of her. How terribly sad I am that this happened to her. How grateful I am that she was brave enough to share it with me, and you now.
If you read this and were impacted in any way, please let me know. I would be so grateful to share this feedback with my friend. Proving that she indeed did a great thing sharing her story, her #IOMEmystory.
Because of this experience... I want to invite you to share your story. Of course you can share your story to your therapist, your friend, or just journal it for yourself. But if you need and want someone who cares, someone who will listen, someone who will validate what you have been through, I encourage you to share with IOME.
I believe in you and I believe your story matters.