The Power of “Me Too”

Yesterday my Facebook feed blew up with friends posting “Me too” to bring awareness to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Some shared a personal experience or several where they had been groped, touched, cat-called, or any other violation of their personal safety. Some simply stated that they, too, had been victimized.

I added my voice to theirs.

Not because I’m a victim or because they are. Not because we’re trying to gain attention. Not because we’re living with victim mentality. Not because men are all evil. This isn’t about whining, complaining, or man-hating (or woman-hating, because it can and does happen to and by both genders).

It’s about standing up for ourselves and giving a voice to the voiceless–helping others who have been violated know they’re not alone. Speaking out helps others extinguish their silence.

It’s about standing up and saying it’s Not OK to be sexually violated–physically or verbally.

It’s about taking our control and power back. There’s power in “Me too.”ip Sip

When you’re sexually abused, harassed, or assaulted, you feel powerless. You feel shame, fear, disgust, anger, sorrow, and feel unsafe. Speaking out takes back the power and allows you to start healing.

I’ve seen women and men come forward. Some minimize their experience because it “wasn’t as bad as…” No. Listen now: It doesn’t matter if it happened once or multiple times. It doesn’t matter if it was words or touching over the clothes or under the clothes. It doesn’t matter if you were 3 or 73, abuse is abuse. Harassment is harassment. Just because someone may have had a “more severe” experience than you, doesn’t diminish what happened to you. It’s still traumatic. It still requires healing.

As you see this on your Twitter of Facebook feeds, just because someone hasn’t said “Me too” doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to them. They may not yet be ready to come forward. “Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 6 out of every 1000 perpetrators will end up in prison.” – www.rainn.org/statistics

It happens to both genders, all races, all religions, all socioeconomic statuses…everyone.

If someone makes you uncomfortable, speak loud and clear against what they’re doing or saying. It’s Not OK. Report it to the police. This won’t stop happening if we don’t fight back.

I’ve not thought much about some of my experiences because others I’ve had overshadowed them. There’s too many to remember, but here are some (***TRIGGER WARNING***):

  • raped and abused by my uncle – age 3
  • laid on top of in a sexual way by a neighbor boy – kindergarten, 1st grade
  • inappropriate contact with cousins – various ages
  • butt pinched by classmate – 3rd grade
  • Molested, groped, and various sexually inappropriate words said to me by brother – several ages that I can’t remember, but for sure age 10-11
  • boy slowly moving his hand all the way up my leg during class – 8th grade
  • boy saying really inappropriately dirty things to me on the phone – 8th grade
  • Dad telling me he had inappropriate feelings for me – age ?
  • Grandpa telling me, with his hand on my knee, that I could be his girlfriend if I wasn’t his granddaughter – 8th grade

It’s not a complete list and I’m sure there’s things I haven’t even yet considered that have happened. I wish I had known what to do in these situations. I wish I didn’t think most of them were “normal.”

What I do now is talk to my children about situations that may arise and help them come up with a plan of what to do when something happens. I talk to my girls, and I talk to my boys. I want to keep them all safe and teach them to not victimize others–inadvertently or on purpose.

So, to you who have silently or publicly added “me too,” you’re not alone. Take your power back. We were once victims, but now we’re fighters–fighting to make things change and stick up for each other and help others realize how bad this truly is.

Me too. It’s not OK.

 

 

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Then I Fell Apart

The past week or so has been one huge emotional roller coaster.

It started off fantastic with a writing conference I worked on the committee for and taught a couple of classes at. Then I had a bit of a setback on a project, which was upsetting, but I made a plan. I also got to see a couple of good friends from high school and got to catch up a little.

The evening I arrived home, I found out my grandpa had died that morning.

I don’t really care that he has passed on. I feel calloused saying that, but it’s really kind of a relief. But then I realized there’d be a funeral. And all my abusers would be there, contact and non-contact sexual abusers, including my dead grandpa. Just the thought of attending sent me spiraling emotionally. I had an emotional breakdown that night in front of my husband (thankfully, he is really understanding and supports me).

Then I Fell Apart.png

I’ve decided not to go (my husband agrees). I know it’s not something I can handle right now, nor should I have to. Maybe some family will be offended or hurt, but I just can’t. On some level, I feel bad about this choice because we’re taught to “mourn with those who mourn,” and put aside differences, and be kind, and make amends, etc. It feels like my whole life I’m battling what I “should” do with what I need to do.

As a result of the turmoil, and his death dredging up some more stuff, my EMDR/therapy appointment was extra difficult. I finally reached the point that I have been fearing all along: I completely fell apart and I didn’t know how I could get myself back together, how I could get back in control and be okay. I was panicky, full of anxiety, and fragile. Those feelings I experienced and buried from my childhood were spinning out of control. I wasn’t sure if I could get back to “okay” again. The rest of the day I was in a funk–my oldest daughter told me I was “ten miles away.” Yeah, or a few decades away.

That messy episode earned me a bonus therapy session the next afternoon. I realized a lot of new things (EMDR seems to be one constant stream of realizations from the past), many of which were new awful pieces of my life, like how I’ve tried to paint my life a whole lot better than it was, lying to myself all these years so I could survive. Trying to minimize all the things that happened so they didn’t seem so bad. It’s a lot to take in, and to notice how much I’ve blocked out from my life.

I remember fearing that I wasn’t good enough for Heaven and thinking how I could leave the Church and come back and get re-baptized. How maybe if I did everything right, maybe it’d make up for all the wrongs. My therapist asked what those things said about me, the fact that I knew things weren’t right. I struggled to think up an answer, and when I did–that of being strong and resilient–it didn’t resonate with me. I still struggle to feel that truth no matter how often I or others say it.

After talking and doing more EMDR work, I settled in on one thing pertaining to being sexually abused: That wasn’t my agency. Those acts against me had nothing to do with my actions or what I did or even wanted. Someone did that to me, against my will. That was their agency, not mine. That was not my agency.

So much of my life has been a normal response to an abnormal situation–trying to normalize the abuse, trying to minimize all the things in my life that were so wrong. From the time I was so tiny, I was doing what I could to survive. I thought of the little ones I see in the Sunbeam class (3-year-olds) in Primary at church. What if someone hurt them the way I was hurt before I was even that old? The thought sickens me and breaks my heart. The innocence, how they could not defend themselves against an adult.

Being sexually abused is not your agency; it’s someone else using their agency in a very hurtful and damaging way. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and God does not condone it. He will help us overcome, He will heal us, but it will take time. Keep working, keep praying, keep believing.

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I believe, eventually, we’ll take the broken pieces of ourselves, and be even more spectacualr than we are now. Like the art of kintsugi that I shared about here, with patience, care, and work, we can be whole and stronger than we once were. And our value is so much more than we know.

 

 

 

 

Therapy is Good, but so Hard

 

We’re all a work in progress, right? And unfortunately, healing doesn’t usually come at the pace we’d like it to.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be done with this whole mess, which basically just leaves me frustrated and mad. And then when I think I’m making pretty good progress, something new comes up.

Something new came up a few weeks ago after an EMDR appointment. I was given a little homework, which isn’t the norm, Therapy is Good, but so Hard.jpgbut I was struggling to break through some pretty big barriers (like, I started laughing uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. Laughing is my defense mechanism, and the level of my laughing was up there, so we figured I was covering for something pretty big). She wanted me to write down what happened during a specific instance of abuse. The problem? I was 3 years old at the time, so it’s not like I have a ton of memory to go off. But, I was still willing to give it a try.

***WARNING*** Some of the following content may trigger some readers. Please be mindful to your personal well-being.***

The next morning, while I was alone, I sat down and just let myself go into that place, the place of abuse that I’ve fought hard to avoid. I made progress, for sure. But I was a little shocked at everything that came up during this exercise.

Hate.

Fear.

Physical pain.

Raped (twice).

Pornography.

Gross.

Dead inside.

Wanting to die.

Disgusting.

No one cares.

Diseased.

Can’t trust.

Not lovable.

Broken.

Confused.

Alone.

There’s something wrong with me.

Fear of people knowing I’m not normal.

These were the intense emotions my 3-year-old self had to deal with, yet couldn’t and shouldn’t have had to. Some of this I’ve known, but didn’t want to believe it. With the intensity of what I was feeling, it became undeniable.

I moved in a daze the rest of that day, crying easily. It was if I was a thin sheet of glass with cracks all throughout it, and one small thing was going to shatter me to pieces and I wouldn’t be able to get myself back together. The next two days were filled with more of the same. Like everything was happening around me, and I was watching it all from a distance, trying to not fall apart. And then I went to therapy again and was able to work through some of it.

Knowing more fully what happened doesn’t change who I am, I know that. But…it really just felt like the whole foundation of who I thought I was shaken, like my whole life has been a big lie. As if that fear of people knowing something is wrong with me ballooned into something bigger, where even I questioned who I am. Luckily, I have a great husband and some friends who told me I’m still me. This knowledge doesn’t change who I am or make them think of me any differently.

Things are a bit better at the moment, however I keep hitting a barrier with my therapy because some part of me is unwilling to just let go. I think after the abuse happened, that toddler part of me checked out and another part came forward to protect, take over, and has worked hard to keep all the awfulness at bay. But now I’m an adult and I’m working to heal from those decades old wounds and it’s not easy to get that part to relinquish its control.

I don’t mean for this to sound like a downer, but it’s a good reminder that therapy and healing take time. It doesn’t come all at once, and it’s definitely not easy. I so much so wish it were easier and faster! Sometimes it even feels like you’re not progressing at all, but you are. Give yourself permission to take the time your soul needs to heal. Sexual abuse is no small thing to recover from.

Don’t give up. It’s worth it and it will get better.

 

My Story: Nightmare

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“I’ve hit delete and rewrote this several times, wanting to keep what I know needs to be said a secret. Still wanting for the events that marked my life to disappear from reality. I’ve spoken about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child with counselors and family members, but only snippets. Never the entire thing. I’m hoping by sharing my journey, those who share this kind of tragedy find hope.

“I was six the first time it happened. My parents had a very strict no sleepovers rule; they didn’t allow my siblings and I to go to anyone’s home, and no friend could ever come and stay at ours. I hated this rule. It was especially unfair when my favorite cousins moved into town. It took weeks of begging, doing extra chores and a convincing speech from my eldest cousin, promising absolute safety, that my mom finally let her guard down. After all, we trusted our extended family. What could possibly go wrong?

“The day of the sleepover, my mom surprised me and my sister with a new set of footed pajamas for the special event. A yellow for me and a red for my sister. Excitement filled the air, and I rushed to get ready.

“Upon arrival, my cousin *N*, a thirteen-year-old girl, rushed to my side and said she was mad at me and wasn’t going to let me stay over; to comeback in the morning.*N* had never looked at me so frightened and speak to me and with such harshness prior to this day. I had no idea what I’d done to make her so mad at me.

“My aunt heard the small exchange and punished my cousin, sending her to her room with no dessert.  I remember being sad and feeling guilty for getting *N* in trouble, until my seventeen-year-old cousin promised to let me watch a movie on his brand new beta-tape player, if I camped out in his room.

“Looking back, I should’ve seen *N* strange behavior for what it really was. A warning. She tried to warn me, but I was too young to understand. For years, I blamed myself thinking I made the choice to go into my cousin’s room, but in reality it was his doing. He forced me to look, touch and be touched in ways that still bring devastation into my heart.

“I can’t say I was relieved when it was over; after the physical part, he turned on the lights and forced me to stand naked in front of him. I tried to keep my eyes on my yellow pajamas, but his snickering made it difficult to tune him out. He then made me clean all traces of the assault all while threatening me to keep quiet about what had just taken place.

“I was terrified that my cousin would find his way into my home and assault me again, so I vowed to keep quiet.In the days that followed, I was convinced that what happened to me was my fault. This was the consequence for making my mom break the no sleep-over rule.It was too much; I was overwhelmed and to my delight my mind just tuned out, detaching itself from life and reality. My grades began to slip, but since my parents worked two jobs each, I never got in trouble.

“I don’t know how I managed to tune life out, but this went on for years.

“At twelve, my parents opened our home to my mom’s second cousin. He had recently lost his job and needed help getting back on his feet. After about a week or so, I remember being uncomfortable with the way he stared at me. I tried to avoid him, but it made no difference. The night both my parents worked the late shift, he molested me. I don’t remember too many details of that night, my mind’s ability to detach from reality was a true blessing.Nightmare.png

“Life was a blur, during my teenage years. I was depressed, had very low self-esteem, suffered from severe anxiety issues, and an eating disorder. I went in and out of treatment for what my parents and doctors thought was clinical depression and anxiety issues.

“My past was a painful and humiliating stain, I didn’t want anyone to know about, so when doctors considered there were things I was hiding, I stopped going to treatment around the same time I met my husband. Now more than ever, I needed to keep the abuse a secret. I feared that if anyone, especially the man I loved, knew the truth, he would be disgusted by me or think of me as damaged goods.Every day was a struggle, the secret I kept festered. It consumed so much of my spirit, making me even more depressed and anxious. I hated myself for it, but I was determined to succeed and keep my past behind me.

“The charade was up on our wedding day, the thought of allowing anyone near my body terrified me. After the reception, I ended up locking myself in the bathroom of our honeymoon suite–where the broken child inside me sobbed in agony. I had no choice; I had to tell him the truth. To my surprise, he understood and was patient. But even his love and patience couldn’t erase the deep rooted pain, disgust and blame I had for myself.

“We lasted 3 years before he filed for a legal separation. Feeling lost and alone motivated me to come clean to my parents and to commit to a long term psychological treatment. At the hospital, I poured my heart unto my Heavenly Father, and asked for help. I needed him and our Savior’s atonement to patch my shattered pieces back together. For months after, he carried my spirit and answered my prayer. A wonderful doctor said the words that my mind and soul needed, to start the healing process. “Stop punishing yourself, the abuse was not your fault. You are a daughter of God, and you are of great worth. Stop letting the memory of what happened, keep you emotionally and mentally hostage. Stop allowing it to keep you from living.”

“It’s been 15 years and I’m doing better than I thought possible. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle from time to time, but thanks to the atonement, the power of prayer, great doctors, the miracle of forgiveness and a loving family, I have moved on with my life to enjoy along with my hubby and my kiddos.

“It’s still difficult for me to talk about the specifics of the abuse, and I know that it’s something that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. But I know that there’s hope. For those who are struggling with the sting of abuse, know that this is not your fault. You are a beautiful son or daughter of a mighty Heavenly Father who knows your pain, your trial and your heart. He loves you and will never forsake you.”

~Anonymous

My Story: Silent No More

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“I was 10 when my neighbor friend, Thomas took me into his backyard. We’d played there a million times before. They had a playhouse. He took me inside the playhouse and blocked the way out. Then he told me to take down my pants. I’ve blocked out most of what happened, but I vaguely remember him touching me and me touching him.

“The one thing I do remember is his words. They are burned into my brain. “You don’t touch girls older than 10 because you could get them pregnant and then you’ll get caught.” I don’t know why he said it. It doesn’t make sense but I heard those words and I knew he knew what he had done was wrong. That was the first time I was assaulted. I was 10 years old. 10! I feel rather lucky because I spend the next 6 years without incident. Isn’t it sad that is my attitude? Because I know people who haven’t been that lucky.

“I was 16. It was August. I was super excited because a senior boy had asked me to a concert at the high school. He didn’t have a car so my dad let me take the van. I picked him up and he asked to drive. I’m sure now that he was already thinking and planning what he was going to do to me. I was enamored with him so I agreed.

“He didn’t take us to the high school. He took us to a remote lookout point. Then we talked for a while. When we first got to the lookout point I was anxious. I knew it was bad. But then he didn’t try anything. I let my guard down. That’s when he first put his hand on my breast. Under my bra! I was shocked. I hit his hand away. He laughed. I don’t remember anything he said to me. I don’t remember how he got my pants and underwear down. I just remembered lying on the middle bench seat staring out the window at the stars. Crying. At that point I stopped fighting him. I prayed. and looked at the stars. Trying to take myself (if only in my mind) to another place.

“I don’t remember taking him home or getting there myself. I do remember feel shame. Worthless. I remember going straight to my room, shutting the door and crying. I don’t understand my choices, but the next evening I snuck him into my room and let him have sex with me. He had already taken anything worth having, right? I continued to “date” him for about a month. Who else would want me? I was soiled. More than when Thomas touched me. When we broke up I continued down a dangerous path.

“I talked to my bishop. He told me I needed to repent. Clearly I had done something terribly wrong. My church leader was telling me that. I didn’t feel I still have only told a handful of people that I was assaulted..pngworthy of my Savior’s love and forgiveness. Which I was also told meant I wasn’t doing something right and needed more repentance. I lost hope. In myself. In those around me. And I strayed. Far. I slept with most of my boyfriends. Why not? I wasn’t worth anything anymore. How could God forgive me? I couldn’t forgive myself. And that was part of the process. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned about love and forgiveness.

“I remember the night he asked me to marry him. I heard an angel shout, “Yes!” So I told him yes. I remember telling him about my past in the following days. I remember the hurt look on his face. I remember feeling like everything was falling apart. Again. I remember him taking me home without telling me if he still wanted to marry me. I remember the joy I felt the next morning. He had prayed or the spirit had talked to him. I’m not sure. But he learned that I was not broken. And that was the first time I learned it too. From him. He read me his patriarchal blessing. The part about his wife. He told that part was about me. What a great blessing to my soul at that moment! I still struggle with everything. But I have a partner that I can lean on through the hard times.

“I still have only told a handful of people that I was assaulted. I think that’s going to change. There is strength in numbers. God will never abandon us. We are his children. He loves us. I was married and sealed to my husband 16 years ago. I am blessed to be a mother to 4 children. I have been blessed with an education, which I think has helped me find my voice. I know that I have been forgiven for my actions after this trauma. I know that my experience helped me handle my daughter’s sexual assault. I know that I’m worth so much. I’m a daughter of God. I’m strong. I’m kind. I’m Denise.”

~Denise Stiegmann

 

My Story: My Path to Healing

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“Though I suppressed the memories for almost thirty years, the child abuse I experienced influenced every moment of that time. As the shock wore off, my heart broke.

“For weeks I felt like I was drowning in a sea of my own tears. The only thing bigger than my pain was my anger. First there was my abuser to be angry at. I was a naïve, sheltered, and twelve years old (while he had perfected the art of manipulation and grooming young girls by the age of seventeen) when I first met him. For two years the abuse and then rape continued. He even introduced one of his friends into the “games” we would play so they could both have fun.

“Then there is the anger at his mother, who discovered us one day. After yelling at him she turned to me and began calling me names. “You whore! What are you trying to do to my son? If I hear one word about this from anyone I’ll tell everyone what a tramp you are! Leave this house and don’t you ever set foot here again!”

“I tried to talk to my mom about what had happened but I didn’t have the words. She only knew that I had gotten yelled at for playing games at the neighbor’s house. Even if she had asked what we were playing it would have sounded innocent- things like “Prince and Princess” and of course the princess has to kiss the frog. I had no idea that the real name for the frog was a penis. All I knew is that I hated it when the frog jumped into my mouth and made me gag.

“Suddenly, my life made sense. For years I had blamed myself for changing from a sweet and fun little girl to a suicidal teenager experimenting with alcohol. I blamed myself for every boy who took advantage of me. I blamed myself for marrying an abuser at age nineteen when God had warned me not to do it. I blamed myself for giving in every time he pushed me to do things I didn’t want to do. I blamed myself for my anxiety, depression, and lack of trust in others. I even blamed myself for the many health problems I struggled with over the years.

“In one moment of clarity I realized it was not my fault. Any of it. While the abuse brought pain, the realization of what the abuse had done to my life and those that loved me made me angrier than I had ever been. Thirty years of blame that wasn’t my fault. Thirty years of pain without proper therapy. My anger turned to fury.

“My relationship with God helped me cope with the pain and anger. God helped me heal My path to healing.jpgrather than turn bitter. I needed my husband, my therapist, my mother, and medication to get through it. My experience with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) for healing from the abuse inflicted by my ex-husband years ago gave me the courage to do it again. When I had felt I couldn’t face the memories and pain God had been with me, strengthening me and telling me it would be worth it. I counted on His help again.

“With EMDR, I could do in six weeks what would take four years to accomplish in talk therapy. We worked through the abuse, desensitizing areas of my body that were experiencing flashbacks and empowering me to face life without fear and guilt.

“At what turned out to be our final session, I wasn’t sure what I still needed to work on so I drew some pictures with my non-dominate hand which was how I accessed my inner child. After a few pictures I started with a new page and drew three things across the center. First was a stick figure representing my abuser. He was surrounded by a large red circle with a line across it. Next was a heart, broken and bleeding. Finally, I drew a sad face with tears running down the page.

“I needed to ban my abuser from my life, I needed to heal my broken heart and I needed to stop the pain. We began with the first item- getting rid of my abuser. I held the picture in my head and let go of control.

“In my mind I held a photograph of my abuser in my left hand. It was worn and blurry. I hadn’t seen him for almost thirty years. From slightly behind and off to my right a bright light shone through. I knew it was the healing power of God. When the light landed on the photograph it began to burn in little spots all over the picture. The spots blackened, expanded, and eventually disintegrated into bits of ash that blew away until there was nothing left. Instantly, I was freed. It felt like a ghost that had haunted me my entire life permanently vanished.

“The next thing I decided to tackle was the ocean of sadness I had created with my tears. I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t to be standing there in my mind with my twelve-year-old self at my side facing the mother who had shamed me into forgetting everything about my abuse. I began by yelling at her because that was what I wanted to do but it wasn’t what I needed to do. Instead, I needed to listen.

“It was as if this woman was somehow there, speaking to me spirit to spirit. She explained that as a mother she had been dealt a shock that she didn’t know how to deal with in that moment. She said things she didn’t mean because she had no idea what to do or say. Over the years she had worried about me. She was happy to know that I had moved on, met a wonderful man and had a full and satisfying life. She was grateful I had been healed. She apologized for hurting me and asked me to forgive her. As I did, I felt a peace descend on us both. It was as if a chord drew her back to heaven and away from me.

“I turned to my child-self and hugged her. I missed her innocent joy in life. I missed her play, smile, and silliness. I loved her and wanted her just the way she was. The light that filled her eyes with hope and joy was beautiful to see. In that moment she merged with me, fully integrated into who I am today.

“There was only one picture left. My broken, bleeding heart. My therapist and I began again. In all my other visualizations I had been there helping my child-self through things. My child-self had been fully integrated into myself and so this time I stood alone, unsure what to do.

“As I stood there feeling alone and exposed I began to understand that the broken heart was because of the shock and pain I experienced as an adult knowing what had happened to me as a child. It represented the full realization of how the abuse had affected my life and my children’s lives. I felt that it had literally broken my heart.

“I looked down and I held my heart in my hands. A white finger showed me the huge tear down it and how it needed to be fused back together through the power of God. I saw that when it was done my heart would be whole and complete without even a scar showing where the tear had been.

“I heard within my mind that this could only be done through the power of the priesthood. I fully accepted this and what this angel was trying to do. In my mind I heard the angel begin, Sandra Dawn Rytting, by the power of the Melchezidek priesthood…

“In that moment I heard every word of the blessing I was given. I felt my heart heal just as I had been shown. I did not see the angel but I heard him and saw his finger through my mind’s spiritual perception. By the time I left the office the rest of the blessing had left my memory, all except those first few phrases, but the effects were amazing. Every part of the abuse, the pain, the anger, and lingering effects were wiped clean. It felt like a rebirth.
I share my story because I want all to know that the power of God is real. For years I prayed that God would just come down and heal me without me seeking help or working through it. I just wanted the pain to be gone. However, I realized that I couldn’t let it go so God couldn’t take it.

“My prayers did open up paths to healing. Each time I was ready I found the right therapist for what I needed at that time. Looking back I could see how God had held me in his arms and guided my path where it needed to go so I could heal. Sometimes that meant going places that were painful and difficult. Sometimes it meant tearing down the walls I had built so I could get to those memories. Through it all He had never deserted me even when I had walked away or blamed Him.

“The love of God is more powerful, more infinite, more glorious than we can ever imagine. I have caught glimpses of it as if from afar and even those shadows of His true self leave me in awe. He is there for you and always will be whether you can feel Him there or not.
I learned that forgiveness does not mean that I condone in any way what others did to me. I don’t have to understand it or make sure that the other person knows the pain they have caused. Forgiveness is being willing to let go of judgment, thoughts of revenge, pain and bitterness and allow God to enact his perfect judgement with mercy and justice. That is why the forgiveness is for me and not for my abuser. It allows me to give my burden to the Savior and carry it no more.

“No matter what horrible things have happened to you I want you to know that God still loves you and will heal you. The paths are difficult but are worth every painful step. Each person has their own unique combination of treatments and gifts from God to get to that healing place. God will guide you if you are willing to trust Him enough to keep moving forward. There is light at the end and it is more glorious and wonderful than anything you could have hoped for.”

You must think I’m strong to give me what I’m going through.
Forgive me if I’m wrong but this looks like more than I can do- on my own.
I know I’m not strong enough to be everything that I’m supposed to be.
I give up, I’m not strong enough.
Hands of mercy, won’t you cover me,
Lord right now I’m asking you to be strong enough for the both of us.
Maybe that’s the point, to reach the point of giving up.
Because when I’m finally at rock bottom that’s when I start looking up and reaching out.
I’m broken down to nothing but I’m still holding onto the one thing-
You are God and you are strong when I am weak.
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
I don’t have to be strong enough.
Matthew West, “Strong Enough”

 

My Story: The Broken Child

 

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“I remember it like it was yesterday.

An orange, floral couch and wooden rocking chair were the only furniture in the family room of the house.  Ms. Brown* sat on the couch, cuddling Jennifer*, a five-year-old of her home-based preschool. My five-year-old daughter, Annie*, was seated in the rocking chair, rocking back and forth, back and forth.

I sat across the couch in a rickety chair I had pulled from the kitchen table in the next room. Jennifer’s mother sat in another kitchen chair to my left.

Ms. Brown spoke first, “Something very serious happened today.”

“Ok,” I said, not knowing what to expect.

“Today on the playground Annie touched Jennifer in an inappropriate way.”

I listened to Ms. Brown as she explained the details of the situation. Unsupervised. Compulsive. Forceful.

I know what it is like to be the mother of a victim. I had been through that when Annie came to us a few years before. She had been touched by someone else, and it was heartbreaking. I thought it was every mother’s nightmare. Add now, my daughter was not the victim; she was the victimizer.  Now, I was the mother of the person behind the cause of pain.  I felt sick.

Jennifer sat on the couch, retelling the incident in her own five-year-old-words.

Annie listened to the story as she rocked in the rocking chair, emotionless. Robotic. I hardly recognized her. Who was this child?

And what of me? How does a mother come to understand and accept? How does a mother love a child who does this? How could my daughter do this?The Broken Child.jpg

Jennifer’s mother sat in her chair listening.  I watched her, waiting for her reaction. I expected her to yell and cry, because that’s what I would have done.

Ms. Brown sat on the end of the couch, stroking Jennifer’s hair as she spoke.

Annie rocked back and forth, back and forth, staring at Jennifer like a robot.

When Jennifer finished with the story, her mother told her how proud she was that she had the courage to tell a grown up. Jennifer beamed.

Then she turned to Annie.  I froze and I anticipated an attack, ready to protect my daughter—the daughter who just violated hers.  But she didn’t. Rather she spoke just as softly and kindly to my daughter as she did to hers. She told her that sometimes kids were curious, but it was never ok to touch another child there. She was glad they were friends, but Annie needed to know that that was not OK.

Then, it seemed in unison, all eyes turned to me. It seemed it was my turn to say something. But what does a parent say in this situation?  I didn’t know how to feel, let alone respond.

I felt light-headed as I spoke, a thousand voices in the background telling me what to say and how I should act. I told Jennifer that I too was proud that she had the courage to tell Ms. Brown.  I told her I was glad she was OK. Then I turned to robot Annie, still rocking.  I leaned forward and stopped the chair. I wanted to yell at her and tell her what she did was sick and wrong.  I wanted to scream and ask, How could you think it’s ok? But I knew I couldn’t.

I had to think of the perfect thing to say; the one insightful and amazing thing that would make it all go away. I wanted it to all go away.

All I could say was, “Annie, I still love you, but that was not OK.”

Jennifer’s mother looked at me with kind eyes. Why wasn’t she angry? Why wasn’t she yelling at me? She was so kind.

I felt like a terrible person. So mad, so grateful, so sick, so lost.

There was my daughter, or the child that looked like my daughter, rocking and staring at the wall.  Do you have something you want to say? She stared and rocked.

Then fear and sorrow pressed through. My daughter was damaged. I knew when we adopted her that she had some issues, but nothing like this.  I thought I knew her. We had spent hours talking, playing, going to therapy, and I never would have expected this.

The dam broke, and the tears could no longer be stayed.

I apologized to Jennifer’s mother; I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Again, she was kind, too kind. It made the tears come harder.  I couldn’t breathe.

Ms. Brown said, “Annie, do you know why your mom is crying? It’s because she loves you so much.”

No! The thought blasted in my head.  I am crying because what she did was wrong, so wrong. I am sorry for Jennifer, and I am sorry for Annie. I’m sorry that I don’t know what to do.

I stood up, apologizing to the sweet mother. I grabbed Annie’s hand and tried to leave.  The knob of the front door had a child-proof covering on it. My hands were sweaty and shaking.  I struggled to open it, but I couldn’t. I felt trapped. I wanted to get away from Ms. Brown, Jennifer, and the kind mother. I wanted out.

I tried again, finally opening the door to the outside, away from the ambush, away from them. But Annie was still there.

I whisked Annie to the car. Ms. Brown followed me out. I couldn’t hear her words, but her face showed sadness and regret.

I drove, silent except for the stifled sobs. I knew I should have kept it together, for Annie’s sake, but that wasn’t my Annie.

Half way home I finally glanced at her in the rear-view mirror. She was staring straight ahead, unemotional. Then the anger came, and so did the questions. A switch flipped in
my mind. One after another I spat them out through the tears in rapid-fire succession, “What were you thinking, Annie? How could you do that? Haven’t we told you that was wrong? Do you remember when that boy touched you at your old school? How could you make someone else feel that way?”

She only stared.

I stopped and tried to compose myself.  Annie had never seen me cry before.  She spent the first five years of her life taking care of a drugged-up mother with abusive boyfriends; she didn’t need to take care of me, too.  It was her turn to be taken care of. But how could I take care of this?

I couldn’t hold back my anguish. I looked at her in the mirror and asked, “Why?”

She simply shrugged her shoulders.

I yelled, “Why?”

Nothing.

The tears continued until we arrived home. I sent her upstairs to her room. I stayed in the garage. Thoughts swirled in my mind: What kind of person touches someone else? I wasn’t expecting this, so what other surprises are there? Just how damaged is she?

Emotions tore at my heart. I felt anger, betrayal and despair. I was angry because I didn’t
want a damaged child. I felt betrayed because when I prayed about adoption, I felt warm inside. How could God make me feel so good about someone so bad? I felt despair, because I knew giving up wasn’t an option: We adopted her and were sealed to her: An eternal commitment had been made. I was stuck being her mother; and right then, I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want complicated. I didn’t want difficult. I didn’t want her.

I didn’t want to be the parent of a broken child.

There are myriads of resources for mothers of victims of sexual abuse. But what about mother’s of the perpetrators? What about us? What about me? I was hurt, angry, and afraid.

I did things I thought I’d never have to do, like call and report my own daughter to CPS (which is mandatory when adopting a child through our state). I prayed for the girl my daughter had touched, that she wouldn’t be scarred—that she wouldn’t continue the cycle my daughter was on. I prayed to know what to say, what to do.

I prayed most fervently that God would hold her in His arms, but when I did, I felt cold. She wasn’t my daughter. I didn’t know this girl, this girl who could do that to someone else.

We took Annie to counseling. Turns out I needed it just as much.

Through months of counseling, praying, studying, talking, and purposeful decision making (choosing to love her despite her choices, etc.) I began to learn what it was like to be the mother of a victim and a victimizer. I learned how to recognize my anger and accept it. And I learned how to keep her and others safe. No one was allowed to go into her room. She must play downstairs when friends came over. We made sure nothing even remotely salacious would appear on our TV, as to not trigger her. We locked down all computers and left her with one hand-held device that was not internet-capable. Our home was as safe as it could be for her.

Oh, how I wish I could have kept this incident within the walls of our home. But I understand that with my knowledge of my daughter’s past choices, came the responsibility to not only keep her safe, but to keep others safe from her. It was a painfully delicate and sobering responsibility. I had to protect other children from my own daughter. I met with the school psychologist and principal, who enacted discreet rules at school to ensure the safety of those around her. I spoke to the parents of the few select friends we allowed Annie visit in their homes. Heaven forbid she do this again.

The counseling helped all of us. We gained tools and insights that allowed us to cope. But prayer worked the miracles. Prayer allowed me to see Annie through God’s eyes. I realized that I had lumped my daughter into the same pile as adult habitual perpetrators: anyone that could touch another person beyond their consent was monster. The judgment was quick, naïve, and wrong. There had been no malice in her motives, no sexual appetite to feed at any cost. She had been a victim of circumstance, a follower of a twisted example. She was dealing with demons she couldn’t recognize, especially so young.

In the ensuing days, I began to catch glimpses of her through her cloaks of self-protection and fear. She was hurt, confused, and afraid—but not broken. Not a monster. She was my daughter, and I did, and do, love her.

I am not condoning what she did. It was wrong. Not natural—for a healthy person. But, for what she had been exposed to, it was normal. Normal and natural are not the same. And it’s been my job since that day to help her redefine what is normal and reset what is natural. And that was a great revelation for me: my daughter wasn’t broken; she was wired wrong. She was wired to sit on men’s laps and wiggle so they will like her. She was wired to be familiar with touching and being touched in private areas. She was wired to have no regard for personal space, and to live in squalor. She was taught by example and experience until all these things were wired in her brain.  It was my job then to protect others while I rewire and build up my daughter.

It still is my job. She has grown up into a beautiful young woman, filled with faith and hope and forgiveness. She has put this incident behind her, and has not done it since. Still, I cannot relax fully. Years later, the rule still stands: no friends in the bedroom. We always know where she is. Our watchful eyes have caused some to accuse us of being helicopter. They don’t know why, and frankly, I don’t care to explain that I am protecting their child. Yes, Annie is doing remarkably well, but the sad reality is that it happened: someone abused her, and she abused someone else. She belongs to an ugly chain whose links stretch wide.

But Annie and I share a few things that are key:

  1. The understanding that she is, first and foremost, a daughter of God.
  2. The Atonement can heal victims and perpetrators.
  3. The notion that rewiring a mind is possible.
  4. The determination that she is the last in that chain.
  5. That power of unconditional love.

I pray the wake of her dysfunctional childhood will be small, that the child she touched years ago has also experienced healing. I pray that she doesn’t feel shame. I pray that she will continue to develop healthy relationships. I pray that she will keep seeking the tools she needs to keep her mind and body in a healthy place. And I pray that her relationship with God and her family will continue to grow.

I love my daughter. She’s been hurt. And she’s hurt someone else. But, she is changing, growing, healing. With professional tools, hard work, and faith, she is becoming the young woman she chooses to be, not the one she was taught to be before she came to us. I’m changing too; growing and healing. Together we are learning the true meaning of the grace that the Atonement affords, and the hope it offers—hope that the cycle will be broken. Hope that she will not just be ok, but be happy, joyful, and healthy; not broken—but whole.”

~Anonymous

*The names in this story have been changed.

Note: It’s important to note that children may experiment out of curiosity, and that does not mean they are sexual abusers. We do need to teach our kids what is and is not okay conduct.

Additionally, children who have been abused may act out what has happened to them and unintentionally hurt another child. Please try to understand how this trauma of being abused has altered their perceptions. They may not understand what they are doing is wrong; it may seem like a normal action because that’s what they’ve been exposed to. Please help your child understand what is appropriate and what is not and make sure they get the proper professional help they need to heal from their abuse.

Some children, particularly as teens, may become abusers. Sometimes it’s because they have been abused, but often it stems from pornography use or other means of seeking sexual gratification. The abuser needs to receive proper counseling and therapy as well. Do not hesitate. The consequences of revealing this are far less then letting it continue onward without intervention, allowing the abuser to develop worsening behavior and harming more innocent lives along the way.

My Story: A Survivor’s Aunt’s Perspective

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“I had just given birth to my first child, a girl, when our little 7-year-old niece came forward about her stepfather sexually abusing her.

“I’m forever grateful to her school that had the hard discussion that day. They had told the kids that if these certain things had happened to them that they should find an adult they are comfortable talking to and tell them about it.

“She went to her mom’s friend and told her what had happened. It all snowballed from there. The friend toa survivor's aunt's perspective.jpgld my sister-in-law, whose first reaction was to hurt this man who had wronged herself and her young family. He ran. When the police arrived they advised that any and all weapons be removed from the home so she couldn’t harm him or anyone else, including herself. Next she became depressed and began to drink. Our family stepped in and took care of her kids. Eventually, he turned himself in. This pedophile, who we learned
had committed similar acts as a teen, went to jail and legal proceedings began to hopefully keep him there as long as possible.

“Being a stay-at-home mom I offered to go up to my mother and father-in-laws’ to help with the kids. There I’d hear more details, though never specifics of what he’d done. I didn’t want to know those. The more I heard, the closer I held my sweet baby. The evils of the world were now a part of my world. This man who had been on family camping trips, had lived in my in-laws’ home when I first met my husband, he was right there. The “what ifs?” were terrifying. What if our daughter had been older? What if they had babysat her? What if my niece never said anything? What happens if he gets out of jail and is around again? Suddenly I didn’t trust anyone with my daughter, not even family. To this day that possibility is always on my mind. Very seldom do our kids get babysat. I just don’t trust anymore. I constantly warn my kids or look for signs that something might be wrong. A part of me is glad I am aware and the other part feels paranoid.

“Their story took interesting twists. For reasons we don’t fully understand, my sister-in-law chose to support her husband throughout his trial and for some time while he was in jail. She defended him, removed herself from the family for a time and even hindered her daughter from truly receiving the professional help she needed. Perhaps she didn’t want two failed marriages, she likely didn’t want to be a single mom to three kids, and she probably didn’t want to be alone.

“I’m not sure what changed, but they have since divorced and he has legally signed away any parental rights he had. He is still in jail with a possibility of parole or an addition 10 years. He may be gone, but his influence is not.

“Seven years later she’s doing alright, but as someone who has benefitted from therapy I see warning signs that our sweet niece didn’t get all of the help she needed. She struggles establishing healthy relationships and has already abused drugs and alcohol. She’s already had community service hours and is in the legal system and she’s only 15. She’s already taking part in premarital sex and those are just the things I can see. It makes me sad to see. I wish this hadn’t happened to such a young, sweet, innocent girl. I wish she didn’t have to deal with something that wasn’t her fault and that she stopped as soon as she was able. But if nothing else, I wish she had the help and resources she truly needs to be able to have the best life she can. But experience tells me that it will always be a part of her. A part she’ll always fight and struggle with. It will never truly go away, but I just hope she can learn effective ways to deal with it.”

~ Anonymous

For more related information, visit these other posts:

***To share your story, either anonymously or with your name, please submit using the “Contact/Submit a Story” tab at the top of the page. Thank you!

Survivors’ Stories Needed

I have a favor to ask of my survivor/warrior friends out there (if you’re reading this, I’m talking to you!). I need your stories.

A couple years ago, I felt like I needed to write a book about healing from sexual abuse with a gospel perspective. I searched unsuccessfully for such a book, one I desperately needed when I began my healing process.  It has been the hardest thing to write – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting.

After submitting it to a publisher, they have expressed interest in it, but would like perspectives from other survivors or perhaps people with a close relationship with someone who has been a victim of sexual abuse. Particularly of interest to me is a small bit of what happened, but with a focus on the healing aspect. Survivors' Stories Wanted.jpg

For instance, was there something that helped you to forgive? Do you have an experience with therapy that really helped? Is there a quote or talk from a church leader that meant something special to you? Did a friend, church leader, or family member say or do something that was really helpful when you needed extra support?

Please know that I will handle your story with care and gentleness. I know how difficult it can be to share these stories and I appreciate your willingness.

If you would like to share you story for this website, the book, or both (in whole or in part), please specify which or all you would like and I will honor your request. You can submit your story here. You can include your name or remain anonymous (however, if your story is selected for my book, I will need written permission from you to use your story at some point).

Thanks in advance and please let me know if you have any questions!

-Wendy

My Story: From the Mother of a Survivor

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“This is the story of my daughter.

“She was 12. It was summertime. She was outside with her baby sister playing as kids do. Our neighbor’s father (who lived with them at the time) asked my then 6 year if she wanted to play on the swing at in the backyard. My baby was excited and ran through the house to the backyard. My oldest daughter followed her because she had a bad feeling and knew they shouldn’t be there. At that time, he grabbed my 12-year-old and took her into the kitchen where he sat her on his lap, stuck his hand up her shirt and down her pants. He also pulled out his penis.

“I truly believe she had angels with her because she told him she heard her dad calling her, grabbed her little sister and got out of the house. She was deeply embarrassed. She stayed in the house for weeks. She told her little brother not to let the baby sister outside alone. He was very good at watching out for her. She also told her sister (one year younger) that she needed someone with her if she was ever asked to go outside for any reason. She did not tell us, her parents.

“Once school started she told a friend what had happened. The friend told her mother. The mother called the school. The school called the police. The police talked to her with a school counselor. Then they called us and told us they believed her and thought we should press charges.

“I felt like the worst mother in the world. I was lost and broken. We had a little meeting in our bedroom (my husband, me and my daughter) She told us how embarrassed she felt about it. We cried together and I hugged her close. The next day was Sunday. My husband and I made an appointment with our bishop after church. He listened with an open heart. He paid our rent so I could take time off to just be with my family. He offered counseling to my daughter. He gave her a blessing which gave my heart peace. I’m
Untitled.jpgstill so grateful to him to this day.

“I can’t explain the hurt I felt. I thought “This is my fault. I somehow put her in this position.” I’ve since learned that I was not the one exposing myself to a twelve-year-old. I was not the one that thought he could get away with touching a twelve-year-old. I am the one that taught her to listen to the spirit. I am the one who took her to court. I am the one who told her she’s still beautiful. I am the one that taught her again and again that she’s a child of God. I am still a good mother because I taught her how to act without me telling her. This is her story but it’s part of mine too. As a parent I know that I don’t judge her or blame her. I love her. I’m proud of her. It’s hard to believe it but our Heavenly Father doesn’t judge us or blame us either. He helps and teaches and loves us. NO MATTER WHAT! I hope this helps someone.”

~ Anonymous

Thank you for your strength and bravery in sharing your story.

***To share your story, either anonymously or with your name, please submit using the “Contact/Submit a Story” tab at the top of the page. Thank you!