Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Before I Go Any Further...

"I find it interesting that when you dare to tell the truth, people will come out of the woodwork to guilt you into silence. I will not be emotionally bullied into keeping my mouth shut." - Me, Facebook August 25, 2010

I must address something before I write another post on this blog. I knew this was going to come up because it's come up since day one.

Let me start by asking, do you know how to inflame a survivor of sexual abuse more than anything? You tell her that she is victimizing others by telling her story.

Yeah, that's just what I was told. A distant relative, who I've seen maybe a couple of times in my entire life, felt she needed to message me on facebook (we're not facebook friends, by the way) and tell me that I am hurting others and "creating more victims" with this blog. I am hurting my abuser's children because they read this and I am "publicly humiliating" their father. She said that it is too painful for them to read others' comments on here calling their father a monster. She also suggested I find another way to cope, like therapy, where I'm not hurting and victimizing others.

Where do I start? Well, first of all, let me say that while this distant relative is close friends with one of my perpetrator's daughters, I do not believe my abuser's children prompted her to put me in my place with this message. I love my abuser's children. They are my family. I have never blamed them for the abuse. I have never hated them for their association to their father. They are innocent. They did not have an easy childhood. My sister's marriage to their father was never solid, to say the least. She was always running back to my parents' home to leave her troubled husband. Those kids grew up in chaos and contention and instability. Though I was only a child myself when this was going on, I felt sorry for those kids. So, just to make things clear, I do not blame the kids for any of this.

Ok, now that I've made that crystal clear, I will express my outrage at that ridiculous message. I am not the one bringing pain to my abuser's kids. Their dad's pathetic and evil actions are what is causing them pain. He is the one who has made victims of them, by choosing to become a pedophile and molester to me. By his choices, he has brought untold pain to many, including his own children. Any heartache they receive from this blog is on his head, not mine.

I am speaking the truth. I am telling my story. That is not victimizing anyone. I don't use names (not even my own full name) on this blog to protect the innocent (i.e., his children). I have done what I could to protect them, while still remaining true to myself. How dare anyone tell me I'm victimizing anyone by telling the truth! To victimize is to abuse, and to abuse implies force. I am not forcing his children to read this blog, therefore I am not abusing or victimizing them. They are always welcome to read it, but if they can't take the pain of hearing what massive damage their father has caused by committing one of the worst crimes imaginable on an innocent child, then don't read it! I'm not forcing or expecting you to read this. Just stay away if you can't take it. If you choose to continue reading, just know that this has nothing to do with you. This is about charting my journey of seeking legal action in the crimes committed against me and this is also the place where I purge my soul through my writing. Maya Angelou said it best, when she said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

Hiding ugly secrets, denial, pretending - this is what causes pain. The truth can never hurt you. Shutting down this blog would send a message to the child I was, to my own children, and to everyone else that it is best to hide the truth when it makes others uncomfortable. I would be saying that it is better that I suffer all the pain, it is better that I stuff away all heartache deep inside me, so that others don't know the true ugliness that exists and they can live in ignorance. All sin, all secrets should be brought out into the light, not hidden in the deep and dark recesses of the cellar where they fester and grow like a consuming mold. There is a reason that adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse are at far greater risk for cancer. It is because we are forced to keep secrets, and those secrets are toxic.

One of the main reasons I'm so outraged at the facebook message my relative sent me is because my abuser's children have always been used as pawns against me to keep me quiet. "Think about his innocent children" was a common refrain I heard from my father, my sister, and others in the family to get me to shut up and go along with the charade. I always felt tremendous guilt that I was hurting them when I didn't want to see their dad on holidays and my family would ask, "but what will his children think? They are innocent. They don't understand." Once when I travelled hundreds of miles to be with my family at Thanksgiving, my sister begged me to let her husband be a part of our celebration, and with tears in her eyes, she said, "what will I tell my kids?" For years, I had all this guilt heaped upon me, as if I was the one committing the crime. Why didn't anyone ask my abuser why he didn't think of his kids when he made his depraved choices? Why didn't he think of the damage he was doing to his children by being a pedophile? He obviously didn't care about his children when he was acting out his sick fantasies on me. Keeping his children innocent suddenly became my duty, even though it was their father who sullied my purity.

It took years for me to finally shake myself free from that burdensome straitjacket of responsibility and stand up for myself. His children's innocence wasn't my burden to bear. He had stolen that from them already the day he took my 9 year old flesh into this greedy hands and used it for his own selfish desires.

I will never let his children be used as pawns against me again! I have had the gospel of my religion and the innocence of his children used to control me and bind me for years. The weight of his financial responsibility to his family has also been used to stop me from doing the right thing and pursuing legal action. I would be responsible for the poverty of his family should he be put into prison. All of my life, from the age of 9, when my brother-in-law told me I would break up the family and hurt everyone if I told our little secret, into adulthood when the rest of my family told me to keep our little secret so no one would know of our shame, I have been told it is all my responsibility. It is my fault should anyone be hurt. No more! I will no longer take my abuser's responsibilities, burdens, and sins upon my head.

The moment I read the message from this relative of mine, I started drafting a response to her, but then I realized that I didn't need to justify myself to her. I would be casting my pearls before swine. Instead I blocked her from ever being able to message me again and I posted the facebook status I quoted at the top of this post.

I think that says it all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Sense of Dread

I knew there was some shame and secrecy surrounding my sister’s wedding. I was only seven, but I knew. They were getting married in our family room. Our family room! The place where I watched Smurfs and The Muppet Show was to be their sacred chapel. It was the place where I’d fight and wrestle with my older brothers and the place where our dog, Puddles, would track in mud from outside. How could a wedding take place there?

The day of our sister's wedding, Carrie, and I took a bath at my grandma and grandpa’s townhouse, only a few miles from our house on Barola Lane. My grandma got down on her knees and washed our hair, her perfectly coiffed hair not moving an inch as she did so. My mom was nine months pregnant with my little brother and wasn’t able to bend over and wash us anymore.

Carrie and I popped floating clusters of bubbles and fought for space in the tub. "Why are they getting married in our family room? Aren’t you supposed to get married in the temple,” I asked grandma.

“They’ll be married in the temple in a year. For now, they are doing it at your house.” She answered in a way that suggested that she didn’t want any more uncomfortable questions about the shameful marriage.

I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand exactly what had happened. When I’d heard of their engagement, I was told that they’d only been dating for two weeks. I thought that was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. How wonderful it would be to know within a couple of weeks that you found your prince Charming! I’d tell teachers at school, as if they should be as awed and as jealous as I. From their responses, however, I could tell they were suspicious, not jealous. “What do your parents think,” a recess monitor asked, with true disbelief in her voice. “They think it’s great,” I answered.

They didn’t think it was great though. I knew what their hushed tones and hasty wedding plans really meant. They were embarrassed and wanted the wedding over as quickly and quietly as possible.

Even at the age of seven, I knew that my sister and her boyfriend had “messed up”. They’d done something naughty and couldn’t get married in the temple. They’d probably even had sex, but no one told me that. I just gathered that from the roundabout answers I’d get from grown-ups when I’d question them. But there was more to it. I knew it. Even a kid can sense great fear in the adults around her. The fear that emanated from the adults was not only because the wedding would be outside the temple. They knew something wasn't right, or at least sensed the doom and pain this union might bring. Though, I'm sure, they had no idea how twisted and perverse things would become.

I really wasn’t worried about the young couple’s future; I didn’t know enough to be worried, and I thought adults did too much worrying anyway. Couldn't they just be happy and bask in the romance of it all? I was thrilled because my sister, Carrie, and I were flower girls. We got to wear white dresses and flowers in our hair. What more did I need to know?

Because Carrie was mentally disabled, she didn’t automatically understand how exciting it was to be a flower girl. I got her excited though. I talked in gleeful shrieks about how beautiful we’d be and what an honor it was. She grinned and clapped along with me.

After our bath, my grandma put pink, spongy rollers in my hair. What a treat! My mom had never been one to put my hair into a hairdo, and it was very exciting to be getting such treatment. She took out the rollers and I had ringlets at the side of my face. She put up the rest of my hair. It was very circa 1973, even though the year was 1983. I didn’t care if it was a little out-of-date; it was beautiful! My grandma carefully bobby-pinned the small wreath of flowers into my hair. The back of the wreath had tiny ribbons flowing from it and I loved how they flowed down the back of my head, like strands of Rapunzel's hair. I felt like a bride and even pretended that it was my wedding day.

I don’t remember much about sister's wedding. I don’t remember walking down any makeshift aisle or anyone announcing them as husband and wife. I do remember my dad was the one that married them. He was a bishop at the time and I thought that one day I’d like to have my daddy marry me to somebody too.

I also remember that my sister didn’t wear white. I thought it was so odd. She wore a shimmery, tan fabric. Yes, it was pretty, but it was no wedding dress. There was no veil! No full-length dress! Just some 1980’s, puffy-sleeved, night-on-the-town kind of dress. Carrie and I were the ones in white. We were the virginal, pure ones that night. At least, that seemed to be the message.

After the wedding ceremony took place, the bride and groom took their places around our dining room table and cut into their modest cake with white and peach frosting. This also perplexed me. I imagined a wedding cake to have tiers and to be intricately decorated. This was a simple sheet cake, like one I would have at my birthday party. My sister politely fed her husband his piece of cake. Then he teased her and pretended to smash the cake into her face. She was horrified. I laughed. I thought he was so funny. I had no idea, at that time, that this simple act of teasing was a symbol of their abusive relationship. He would forever be teasing and embarrassing her. He didn’t mind humiliating her for a few chuckles and giggles.

As a child, so much was hushed in my presence, and I wonder if anyone was all that surprised when my sister came home crying, with a black eye, only a few months after that strange, makeshift wedding. Were they surprised when her ribs were broken from a "fall down the stairs" a few years later? And would they ever have guessed that the little flower girl, dressed in virginal white, would come to them later as an 18 year old college coed, telling them that the same man who teased and abused my sister, had also stolen my innocence as a child?

(Disclaimer: I am in no way suggesting that any Mormon marriage that takes place outside the temple is doomed or wrong. My own wedding to my wonderful husband took place outside the temple and we were sealed in the temple a year later.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Pretending Game

"People only see what they are prepared to see." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the worst things about being a victim of a sex crime is that you end up somehow shouldering some of the blame, and your experience is downplayed, minimalized.

It is in your perpatrator's best interest to not admit all that he's done, even to himself. Those who love the abuser or want to acccept him back into their lives, will also make less of the abuse, possibly even blaming you. This has been done to me, even by my own family. It is easy for them to live in this denial. You see, my family has no idea what abuse I endured. The simple reason is that they never asked. They have no idea how far he went or for how long it went on. They don't want to know because then they would have to deal with the truth, and my family doesn't deal well with reality.

One family member told me that in order for her to be around my abuser, as she often is at family gatherings, she must mentally pretend that it never happened. My years of abuse are pretended away for the sake of peace within the family.

I was sexually abused, by my brother-in-law, for 7 long years of my childhood and it started when I was 9. I was a little girl when it began and it only ended when I physically removed myself from the country to be an exchange student in England. (Sweet freedom!)

My sister stayed married to this sexual predator, even after he admitted what he had done, and my siblings (for the most part) and parents accepted him back into the family unit immediately. There was no outrage. Once my parents and sister accepted him, everyone else followed suit. No one seemed shocked or annoyed that they were expected to allow this man back into their lives with no boundaries.

And there truly are no boundaries. No boundaries with a man who they know has been sexually attracted to a child. They send their children to spend the night at his house. Seemingly, they are not concerned that they are risking their daughters, possibly sending them like sheep to the slaughter. They are playing roulette with their children's innocence.

One of my sisters-in-law (wife of a brother) once told me that when she sends her young daughter to his house overnight, she makes sure her daugher isn’t wearing reveling pajamas. She makes sure she is covered up, as to not tempt the animal urges buried within my brother-in-law. When she told me that, I stared, open-mouthed and shocked. Are you kidding me? Are you serious? Does she think that I was wearing a slutty nightgown as a 9 year old and I shook my assets in front of my brother-in-law and he just couldn’t resist? Subtly, she was saying that it must have been partly my responsibility. I was just too irrestistible and tempting, maybe even because of something I was wearing. Keep in mind that I was 9 years old, and I was no early bloomer. I was a little kid, with a little kid’s body, and any man that is attracted to that doesn’t need lingerie to cross the line.

I recently went to Utah after writing a blog post about my abuse. Most of my family does not read my blog, so I went not knowing if anyone had read it. If they had read it, I wanted to talk about it and be open about our feelings and thoughts. No one said a thing to me, but I felt things were a little off. I felt something was being unspoken and I was very uneasy and just wanted to go home. Halfway through my trip, I was finally told by a family member that everyone had read it, including some of the children of my abuser. This was the first they had heard of their father's crimes. One of his daughters, who I was once close to, didn’t come see me in Utah as planned because of this. I was also told that another one of his daughters was told the whole story by my sister, my abuser's wife. This concerned me because as I've said before, my family has no idea what actually happened. They don't know what he did to me, and as his wife, I'm sure my sister wants to believe that the abuse was minimal. Would my sister tell my niece that it was just a one time thing? Would she say it was a kiss when I was older? Would she say it was a consensual affair? Would she totally discredit me and call me a liar?

I am used to being called a liar by those close to my abuser. It was brought to my attention by a family member years ago that my abuser’s sister had told others in our town that she didn't like me because I was a liar. And the list of examples goes on and on of people protecting him, by tearing me down.

This is the payment of being a victim of a sexual crime. Forever and always it is questioned what you did, if you lied, or if it was consenual. If it was so horrible, why didn't you tell anyone? Those who love the abuser want to believe anything but the truth. The truth is my abuse was horrorific and extensive, and if they knew the stomach churning details I don't believe they could ever look him in the eye again. But instead of wanting the truth, they would rather pretend or blame me in some way.

I am the black sheep of the family, which is pure irony since I was the victim. However, I know my situation is not a rarity. We victims of family sexual abuse represent what everyone else wants to forget. We are an unpleasant reminder of the ugly family secret, particularly if we refuse to go along with the pretense of the perfect family.

People only see what they are prepared to see, and I don't want to be part of a family who aren't prepared to see and talk about the truth of my story.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

...Leave A Trail

Sitting on my kitchen window ledge is a plaque, and on it is written a quote. I bought it on clearance at Home Goods a couple of years ago. I decided a long time ago that I would put nothing in my house unless it meant something to me. I would never put up decor just for the sake of decorating, it had to speak to me in some way. And this little plaque spoke to me. It spoke to my soul. Everyday, as I do dishes, I read it. On my robotic, get-things-done-in-a-hurry kind of days, the words don't sink in. They don't compute, as I'm running through my mental to-do list and talking to the kids. But there are days when I read it, ponder it, and my imagination takes flight on what it means for me. It reads,

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead to where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have always loved Emerson, and right now, this quote speaks to me more than ever.

I've started this new blog to write about deeply personal thoughts and experiences in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse and what I'm about to embark on. I've wanted to do this for awhile now, to write freely and openly about these things, but I have always been held back by the fear of what my family would think and how other members of my church would respond. I disagree with a lot of decisions my family has made and the actions my church has taken. When you're Mormon, it is frowned upon to disagree or question decisions of the leadership, and I very much disagree with how they handled my abuser and how they've handled my concerns. I also think that my family has taken a lot of the gospel principles and twisted them to justify their decisions.

I am writing this as an active member in the Mormon church. I love the gospel, but am disappointed in how certain things are handled and I disagree with a lot of the culture of the church. Things should be changed. I have received countless emails from people just like me, who have endured sexual abuse by other members of the church, and who have been treated poorly, ignored, and even ostracized, while they watch the circle of fellowship and love surround their abusers. I really hope some reform will be done soon and I need to express my voice and my beliefs on this matter.

I’ve seen, first-hand, in my church culture and in my family that they believe if a child molester has “repented” then we have no right to judge him. We should treat him as if nothing has happened. We have no right to keep our kids from him because that is saying that we don’t believe he has repented and is better now. No matter that he is an admitted pedophile.

In the Mormon culture, we make monsters of those who express anger and outrage, when sometimes anger and outrage is exactly what is needed. Don’t believe me? Then read the Bible. There is a concept called righteous indignation and Christ expressed it when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and made his anger known. I believe that a pedophile, who has never answered for his crimes and who may have more victims, is deserving of some outrage.

I know the path expected of me. It is that I get over my abuse, let my abuser live his life without penalty, and to forgive by their definition of forgiveness. I have tried their way. But now I am going where there is no path and leave a trail.

I have forgiven my abuser. I have a great life with a supportive husband and amazing kids. I live in a beautiful place and live in a home I adore. I feel like my life is magical and wonderful. I do not walk around, all of my days, in anger. I live in peace. I forgive, but believe justice is called for and reform needs to be made.

I am taking my next step. My journey is now what can the state of California do after all this time? And if they can do nothing, what do I need to do to pursue civil litigation. I know this leaves me exposed to people in my family and my church to vilify, but I refuse to take any of the critisim for the steps I now take.

And so I start this blog…to chart my journey through this process. I am now leaving a trail.