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.

 

 

 

 

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Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse

Life has taken over and I have neglected posting in here. It’s not because I haven’t been thinking about it and I’d love if anyone has a topic they’d like for me to cover (just send me a message or join our Facebook page).keeping-kids-safe-from-sexual-abuse

I’m thinking about kids and keeping them safe from sexual abuse. A few weeks ago, I saw
this really great article and graphic in a Huffington Post article. I thought it was fab and necessary (unfortunately, so very necessary). Every week, I see at least one new news story about yet another child or teen being sexually abused by some adult in their life and it’s sickening to say the least. We have to talk to our kids frequently so they can be aware of the dangers of even “nice” people or people they meet through the internet (really, we need to teach them to not meet people this way. Bad idea).

Here’s the graphic from the article:

protecting-kids-from-sexual-abuse

I love this because it’s a great tool for parents to easily open the door to talk about sexual abuse with their children. I wrote a pretty comprehensive post on this earlier, so I’m going to be lazy and link it here: Can You Prevent Sexual Abuse?

The biggest thing is to keep an open dialogue with your children. You need to listen to them and make listening a priority. If/when they tell you they have been a victim, BELIEVE THEM. Love your kids no matter what. You are best equipped to teach and care for them and to seek proper professional help if needed.

“If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear” (see Doctrine and Covenants 38:30). If we teach and practice what to do in various scenarios, our kids will be prepared because they know what to do if someone tries to or does abuse them.

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!

Can You Prevent Sexual Abuse?

Whether you’ve been a victim of sexual abuse or you’re a parent who wants to do their best to protect their child from being abused, you may be wondering if sexual abuse is preventable.

The short answer is no, not really. BUT, you can be proactive and educate your children, and if/when an abusive situation arises, your child will know it’s wrong, know how to respond, and we can help lessen the negative effects immediately.

  1. Teach your children about their bodies. Can You Prevent Sexual Abuse.jpgUse the correct names for body parts (i.e. vagina, penis, buttocks) just as you do for hands, fingers, arms, feet, etc. Tell them what they are for and how they work. Obviously, you want to be age appropriate and let the child lead the discussion somewhat. You are the best judge of what your child is ready for, but start young – like as soon as they are verbal or around age 3. You can also start when you are changing diapers by saying out loud that you are going to clean their buttocks, which will help them understand that some touch is appropriate by caregivers or doctors. (There are books that can help!)
  2. Teach to your kids about puberty and sex. This sounds difficult and may be uncomfortable, especially for those who were victimized as children, but these are healthy and normal things that need to be discussed – everyone goes through puberty and will eventually have sex. Carefully explain changes in their body that will be or are occurring and teach them what sex is. We do this around age 8 – their bodies will start changing soon, and unfortunately, many kids already know more than they should about sex at this age. Hearing it from their parents – a source they can trust – is the safest way to learn. Keeping the line of communication open for any questions is key. Parents must be willing to talk about these parts of life with their children. (If this is hard for you, maybe practice with a friend or professional first.) Again, there are books available – even from religious perspectives – that can aid you in teaching these important parts of life.
  3. Teach about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Some touching is good and some is bad. A general rule for kids to know is that no one should touch them where their bathing suit covers. Some families may add a little more. Kids need to know they are in charge of their bodies. They should never be forced by any adult or person older than them to hug, kiss, or sit on someone’s lap that they don’t want to. Let them know they can say “no, thank you” and offer an alternative such as a handshake, high-five, or fist bump. Kids need to know they have control over their personal space and bodies. They do not have to submit to someone just because the person is an adult or babysitter.
  4. Help kids know how to listen to their intuition and/or the Holy Ghost. We’ve all been around people who make us uncomfortable. How do you respond to those people? Let your kids decide how to respond. If they for any reason don’t want to be around a friend or relative, there may be a valid reason. Don’t force them! If something doesn’t feel right, your child needs to know they can honor that feeling inside them and leave the situation.
  5. Don’t keep secrets. An abuser’s favorite tool is secrets. Secret games, secret friends… the creepy stuff I’ve been reading in my research makes my stomach turn. Instead of secrets, we should share surprises with our kids. Surprises are good – surprise parties, surprise presents, etc. Secrets signal danger. Help your kids know that there are no secrets between parent and child (or between one parent and child). Tell them if someone tells them to keep something a secret, no matter what bribe, threat, or other lie they may use, they are to immediately tell their parents.
  6.  Use “what if” scenarios to help kids know how to respond to a potentially dangerous situation. “What if . . .someone wants to take you to their house to show you newborn puppies?; someone wants you to play a secret game with them?; someone touches one of your private parts?; someone shows you their privates or a naked picture of someone else?; someone tells you they won’t like you anymore if you don’t do what they tell you?” By coming up with a plan before they need one – just like a fire escape route – they’ll know what to do if a situation arises.
  7. If something happens and makes your child uncomfortable or gives them a “funny” feeling, make sure she/he will tell you first. Along with the “what-if” scenarios, comes telling mom and dad. Parents, be ready to listen and not brush off what your child tells you as no big deal. If they’re concerned, it IS a big deal. Talk it out – discuss the situation (who, what, when, where, why, how), how did it make them feel, etc., and take appropriate action. Sometimes it may be serious like sexual abuse, other times it may be the child wasn’t sure. Tell your child she/he did the right thing by coming to you. Do not punish your child for brining something to your attention – give praise and love. Kids need to trust their instincts and know they can come to their parents for anything; the first time may be a test to see how you respond before they trust you with something more serious.

Some parents may fear that teaching their kids these things can heighten a child’s interest in sex or cause them to fabricate an abuse story. Neither of these are true. Just like we keep our kids safe by teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street, not to play with matches or touch a hot stove, or to buckle-up when you’re in the car, we also need to apply these safety measures to protect them from sexual abuse. Teaching with love and respect and honesty is the best thing you can do to prevent sexual abuse, or give them the tools to deal with it.

If your child does get abused, please remember IT IS NOT HIS/HER FAULT. Even if they were somewhere they should not have been. Even if they did something you told them not to and then the abuse occurred. Do not blame your child for something the pedophile/molester/abuser is responsible for. Abuse can happen anywhere…at school, on the bus, at church, at home, at a friend’s house, in a public bathroom, on a camp out with the scouts, at summer camps, or at sports practice and dance class. We do have resources such as the sex offender registry, but that only alerts us to KNOWN offenders – those who have been reported/caught. Abusers are more often family (dads, uncles, brothers, grandparents, moms, cousins, etc.) or people the child knows – less likely strangers. Anyone who has access to your child can be an abuser. No race, religion, social status, or gender is exempt – sexual abuse happens across all demographics.

Proper response is key. If your child is abused, respond immediately. Pray for help if you’re confronted with this situation. Tell your child it’s not his/her fault; you will help them; you’re not going to allow that person to hurt them anymore; you love him/her not matter what; you will protect them; they’re not in trouble because of the abuse. There’s a careful balance of talking about it too much or not enough. Take cues from your child and let the Spirit guide you. Keep communication open and watch for changes in behavior that may be harmful. Make sure they get adequate professional help. If you’ve been a victim, this may be extra difficult because you know how much the abuse has hurt you and don’t want your child to have the same experience. Try to relax and do your best. Remember to get your child help from a therapist, church leaders, and the police.

 

Sexual Abuse: Defined

Some may wonder what exactly sexual abuse is and if what happened to them is abuse, or something else. According to Pandora’s Project, “Sexual abuse is any sort of non-consensual sexual contact. Sexual abuse can happen to men or women of any age.  Sexual abuse by a partner/intimate can include derogatory name calling, refusal to use contraception, deliberately causing unwanted physical pain during sex, deliberately passing on sexual diseases or infections and using objects, toys, or other items (e.g. baby oil or lubricants) without consent and to cause pain or humiliation.”

Furthermore, child sexual abuse can be anything sexual between a child and an adult or older child, including but not limited to: sexual touching of any body part with or Sexual Abuse Defined.jpgwithout clothing, penetrating sex – including the mouth, encouraging of sexual activity including masturbation, engaging in sex acts in front of a child on purpose, showing a child pornography, and prostituting children, among other things.

With these definitions, I think rape also falls under the umbrella of sexual abuse, though it is more commonly referred to as sexual assault.

We as individuals need to understand what constitutes sexual abuse. We need to teach our children what is okay and what is not. We need to know that if something like this is happening, not only is it not your fault, but we need to tell someone about it – someone who can help it to stop (and assist you in getting professional help and taking legal action against the abuser).

*If you wake up in the night in your own home or at a sleepover or a youth camping trip and someone is touching you inappropriately – even if it feels good – it is not your fault; you have done nothing wrong.

*If someone shows you pornography, it is not your fault. If someone takes advantage of you sexually, it is not your fault.

*If someone “talks you into” sex, but you really did not want to do it, you are not to blame.

Often age is a factor. The person who is the abuser may be older, in charge of, or some sort of authority figure who uses their dominance or influence to convince the victim-often a child-to do sexual acts with them. There is usually an element of fear or secrecy or promise of gifts. Parents, please be aware of any adult who is spending an unnatural amount of time with your child or seems to have a heightened interest in them. These are red flags you should never ignore.

Sex, sexual touching, intimacy between partners is supposed to be consensual by both people. Even if you’ve consented in the past, if you did not want to at a different time and said so, this is still not your fault.

Children, as well as people who are drunk or otherwise unable to make a choice with a sound mind, cannot properly give consent to any sexual activity. If you did not or could not appropriately give your consent, this is sexual abuse.

For a little more understanding, watch this video, “Tea and Consent.” (Yes, I know us Latter-day Saints don’t drink tea as part of our health code, but let’s pretend it’s herbal tea.)

If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, or if you’re the parent of a victim, please seek help from a professional and/or church leader to start healing.

Behavioral and Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse

The effects of sexual abuse are extensive. Gordon B. Hinckley stated that sexual abuse “does the most serious kind of injury.

By understanding the effects of sexual abuse, you can see how it has affected your life. For me, that was a hugely eye-opening experience. I could see how the abuse changed how I Behavioral and Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse.jpgthink, feel, and act; how I built walls in relationships to “protect” myself.

Whether you or someone you know has been abused, or if you suspect past or current abuse, these signs and symptoms are important to know to watch for, especially in your own children.

This is found at Stop It Now!:

Behavior you may see in a child or adolescent

  • Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
  • Seems distracted or distant at odd times
  • Has a sudden change in eating habits
    • Refuses to eat
    • Loses or drastically increases appetite
    •  Has trouble swallowing.
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
  • Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
  • Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
  • Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
  • Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
  • Talks about a new older friend
  • Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
  • Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
  • Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge

Signs more typical of younger children

  • An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
  • Has new words for private body parts
  • Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
  • Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
  • Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training

Signs more typical in adolescents

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning)
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Running away from home
  • Depression, anxiety
  • Suicide attempts
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • Compulsive eating or dieting

Other things to watch for or be aware of are the thoughts and feelings victims of sexual abuse may experience.

For instance, children may (adapted from a handout from LDS Family Services):

  • Feel unloved
  • Think they are a bad person
  • Think the abuse is their fault or blame self
  • Think there’s something wrong with them
  • Think God doesn’t love them
  • Think their parents don’t love them

Teenagers may:

  • Struggle with sense of identity
  • Be angry toward self and others
  • Think there’s something wrong with them
  • Wonder why the abuse happened/why no one believes them
  • Wish they could be like other kids

Adults may (in addition to the aforementioned): 

  • Feel guilt about everything they’ve ever done, that’s been done to them, or that they’ve even thought about
  • Have difficulty separating what he/she has done from what has been done to him/her
  • Have fear of men/lack of trust in women
  • Be frustrated or uncertain about the future/goals
  • Have depression
  • Not trust their own judgment
  • Believe the world would be better off  without them (suicidal/self-harm)
  • Feel like they can’t keep up with everyone else
  • Feel like everyone can see right through them

This list is not all-inclusive. Since we’re all unique, we may experience other signs and symptoms, though many will likely be similar.

Realizing how the abuse has affected you, or someone close to you, can play a major role in your/their healing. It’s important to understand the effects. Just like a doctor examines the body when you’re sick to decipher how best to treat the illness, so must we decide how best to treat ourselves so we can understand why we’re thinking, feeling, and behaving in a certain way (I often logically know I’m acting ridiculous, but my emotions are so intense I can’t just shrug it off). Once we know the root of the problem, we can begin to heal.

***Please note, if you suspect abuse of a child or yourself, please, seek professional help. Don’t wait. Where appropriate, contact law enforcement.***