Shame (noun): a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
There are things that the majority of society tells us we should be ashamed of (or at least not openly share with others), but really we shouldn’t. Sexual abuse, miscarriage, periods, breastfeeding in public, details and images of birth, depression, mental illness, and the list goes on. Many of these are women centric issues, and I will save my rant for another day of how the patriarchy has caused many of these topics to be viewed as shameful. Today I want to address something that affects men and women alike. More females are victims of it, but I do think male victims feel even more shame from it. I’m talking about sexual abuse. And really I’m not just talking about it. I’m sharing my story, my experiences, my past. You know why I’m sharing it? Because I’m NOT ASHAMED. I spent years feeling guilt and shame over something I had no choice in, but not anymore. My story is worth sharing!
I was molested by a family member for several years of my childhood. I will clarify that it was not my father. Mainly because people I feel typically jump to it being the father, and I wouldn’t want any doubts there. It’s hard to say how old I was when it began. I was young. I remember where we were living at the time, so I was under six, but I couldn’t tell you exactly when it first started. I do remember the last time it happened. My molester told me, “This is the last time I will touch you, because you’re getting too old.” I was in 4th grade, nine years old. At that time, I really didn’t understand what that meant. In retrospect, I can see it meaning several things, none of which really matter. All that mattered was that it was the last time. As a child, I never told anyone about what happened. This person was someone I trusted and in all honesty I was just confused. Every time it happened I went dead. I functioned on autopilot. I stepped out for a while. My mind knew it couldn’t process what was going on. It was too much for a child to deal with, so it chose to push it away and lock it up somewhere safe until I was ready to deal with it. In one way, our brains are amazing for doing that in times of extreme grief and trauma. It saves us, because we would break from the mental anguish. Unfortunately, it comes with a price. Ask me about my childhood, especially anything before age nine. I can’t remember much of anything. In the effort to push away what it couldn’t handle, it also pushed away the good times. I mourned for a long time the loss of my childhood. I realize now that it wasn’t truly lost. As I processed the abuse as an adult, good memories came back. Not many, but still some. I’ll never remember most of what happened during those years, but I’ve come to accept that.
Fast forward a few years, I was in high school. I hated school. I had a lot of anxiety and suffered from depression on a regular basis. I was put on anti depressants, which helped a lot, but then after a while they would wear off, and I’d have to up the dose or switch medications. I went to multiple therapists. None helped, but then again I wasn’t exactly transparent with them about anything. I still have my journals from those years, and they’re dark. This path continued once out of high school. I moved out on my own at 18, but I partied a lot. I wouldn’t have ever considered myself an alcoholic or a drug addict, but I was high or drunk a good portion of the time. It numbed the pain. I dated guys, who in retrospect were quite vile. They didn’t respect me. They were abusive in every sense of the way, except physically. But that’s what I deserved, right? That was okay, because that was what I learned. Women aren’t worthy of respect, and especially not this girl.
Then through a series of fortunate (although they seemed unfortunate at the time) of events I got a bit of a wake- up call. I straightened up my life a lot. I ditched the drugs and the drinking. I ditched the toxic friends and guys. I walked the straight and narrow, but always looming around the corner was the emptiness, the pain, the knowing that at any moment I could lose it and slip again into a deep, dark place. And I did a few times. It was always there. I always knew my ‘happy’ state was only temporary. I would lose it again. I always did. One day I finally told my mom what had happened during my childhood. I don’t think she truly believed it. She actually confronted my molester about it, and amazingly he admitted it. But he never showed any signs of remorse. He still owned the old, ratty couch that he molested me on multiple occasions, and did not understand the issue in still having (and cherishing) it.
Finally having someone know was somewhat relieving, but still no one seemed to understand. Then I met Tyler. We became fast friends, and within a few months we were dating. He treated me (and still does) like gold. Seriously, I had never had a man treat me so well. I put him through A LOT those first few years of our relationship. I didn’t think I deserved him. I pushed him away on multiple occasions, because commitment was scary. Plus I might as well end things now, because one day he would realize how pathetic I was and leave me anyway. He is one patient man though. He continued to comfort me, console me, assure me that I was amazing. He knew my past, and he thought no less of me for it. He knew my constant struggles and pains, and still thought I was worth it. I can never thank him enough for who he is. He’s never been anything but patient, kind, and supportive of me. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. So about two and a half years into our relationship we got married.
Things improved some, but still always that looming darkness, always those fears, always knowing that eventually I would fall back into depression. It was only ever a matter of time. About a year after we got married, we decided to start trying to get pregnant. I had suffered one miscarriage prior to us “trying”, then it took several months of trying before I actually got pregnant. I was so excited when I got that positive test. We were going to have a baby! Then I lost that baby, which I will go into more detail in a later post. That miscarriage was a breaking point for me. I completely lost it. It was like my mind couldn’t handle any more traumatic events. It had pushed them all down for way too long. Everything came spilling out. I hit a new low, and I went to a very, very scary place. I would have flashbacks where I truly felt I was being molested again. I’ll never forget that. Tyler never will either. It was very scary for him too. I was seeing a therapist, who worked alongside a psychiatrist at that time. Their solution? Stronger drugs and talking. I had already been diagnosed with PTSD. Talk therapy is not typically effective for PTSD. I was no exception to this. Trauma affects the whole body. A sensory, whole body approach is needed. And the stronger medications just made me numb. I felt like a zombie.
The first cycle after I miscarried, I promptly got pregnant again. Everything stuck this time. I got off all my medications, as most were not safe to take while pregnant, and I never returned to that therapist. I actually managed pretty well during pregnancy. I mean I’m not the happiest pregnant person in the world, but I managed to get through it without having any depression issues. Then I gave birth. The craziness that was Alice’s birth. I had an unplanned natural birth with her. It was so scary, because nothing went as planned. But I came out of it feeling empowered and amazed that my body could do something so incredible. It was the first time that I had felt proud of my body. It was the first time I felt like my body had been used for something good. It was most definitely a life changing moment.
All continued to go well for the first few months of Alice’s life. I was truly happier and more at peace than I’d ever been. However, around the time Alice was 4 months old, I felt my old friends, anxiety and depression, creeping back in. I knew I had to do something. I could not allow my daughter to have a mother who wasn’t present. She deserved better than that. I was determined to find help. I had a friend who was seeing a therapist that she loved. I looked into her. She was a certified trauma specialist, and her therapy approach was very unique and different. I needed different. Nothing I had tried in the past had been successful. I went to her, and within just a few months I had rapidly improved. She reassured me that sexual abuse is not just something you "get over" and can just "move on" from, and that everything I had experienced throughout the years was normal for someone with PTSD. Her therapy is a program. No set time, as some people take longer than others, but the goal is to go from victim, to survivor, to thriver. It took about a year and a half, but I did it. I found strength I never knew I had. I found courage. I found passion. I was no longer a shell of a person. I found the real me. Maybe not who I would have been had the abuse never taken place, but who I could be, despite the abuse. My abuse doesn’t define me. I've learned to love myself. I've learned to love and appreciate my body. I still have my moments. I still doubt myself at times, but I no longer fear depression. I no longer expect the worst to come. I haven’t hit rock bottom in over three years now. I’m confident. I trust myself. I know I deserve to be treated well, and I teach my girls the same thing. Women are amazing. Our bodies are amazing, and every birth I attend continues to convince me even more of that.
Part of me still feels very vulnerable sharing this. I wonder what will people think, but the truth is what does it matter? Anybody who would think less of me for it, is not someone I need in my life. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of the hard work I did to no longer be a victim. It was a rough road, but I did it. I refuse to ever be ashamed of that.