I was first sexually assaulted when I was 12, by a brother-in-law. He was close to 30 at the time. My mom was sick and dying and I didn’t tell anyone. I was embarrassed and scared and knew it was wrong. But I also knew no one would believe me. So I just stayed quiet. That brother-in-law did it several times over the course of a couple of years before I was finally able to be in a position to not be around him alone.
When I was 16, a guy who was 27 “courted” me and made me feel like I was the most special person on the planet. By that time both of my parents had died and I just wanted, needed someone to love me. I was an easy victim and this guy told me all the things I wanted to hear. All so he could have sex with me. Yes, it was consensual. But I was too naïve to know it was wrong. My brothers knew it was wrong and they tried to stop it. But my brothers had never shown me any love. They had only acted in a way that showed me I was a burden in their lives. Why would I listen to them? Eventually this abuser grew tired of me and found a new plaything.
Looking back I now understand it was only a natural progression in my life that I would marry someone who was an abuser. At first he was super sweet and loving. It wasn’t until about a month before our wedding when I first saw how destructive his anger was. Again, I knew it was wrong but I was embarrassed and afraid. I should have walked away but instead he apologized and said it would never happen again. I believed him and I married him.
In many ways his abuse was the worst because it didn’t leave bruises. Similar to a frog in water that slowly gets warmer and warmer, the abuse was gradual and I didn’t see it happening. It started out as controlling behaviors, being jealous for no reason, getting angry and blaming it all on me. He limited my access to money and to other people. And he clearly made it known who was the boss in our marriage bed. I totally bought into his declarations that I was the one causing all the problems. I was the one doing things that made him angry. Everything that was wrong was my fault.
It took me YEARS to figure out it wasn’t me and another five years to safely exit the marriage. And I went through intensive counseling to heal the wounds. I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of all of the abuse in my life and I’ve managed to deal with it well. I am in a much better place in life now. I have a husband who loves me and respects me. My life and my daughters’ lives are not threatened on a daily basis. I feel safe at home, at work, in my community. I get a good night’s sleep every night with both eyes closed.
About a year ago, some darkness slipped into my life when the news media blew up with coverage about Donald Trump and the Access Hollywood video. Another black cloud appeared when this man who had bragged about sexually assaulting women was elected as our country’s president. I was physically ill for several days. Yet, I was persuaded to give Trump a chance. “That happened years ago. He’s different now.” Anyone who’s ever been abused knows from first-hand experience that the abuser doesn’t change. The abuser just gets smarter and learns to conceal it better. But I respect the office of the presidency so I gave him a chance. By January, Trump was in the public eye a lot and so much of his behavior and actions and words told me this man hadn’t changed. Watching him interact with his wife made me cringe. I could easily imagine things that have probably happened in their marriage, in their home.
Things settled down a little after the Inauguration, as other issues flooded the news headlines. And then the saga at Fox News blew up with Roger Ailes followed by Bill O’Reilly. When the Harvey Weinstein story broke this fall, my anxiety ticked up several notches. Sexual assault or abuse was in the daily headlines. There was nowhere to hide from it, unless I went completely off grid. I tried that for a couple of days and it didn’t work. So I dusted off my “tricks” for dealing with anxiety and PTSD and was holding my own until this week. This thing with Roy Moore just pushed me over the edge. It had to be the circumstances of that 14-year-old girl being approached in a courthouse by a prosecutor, a man of the law, someone who was “safe” and they were in a “safe” place. It was too close to home for me. I had been 12 and it was a family member and we were in a “safe” place.
I’ve learned over the years that I have to talk about what happened. It’s the only way to allow the horror to escape from my mind and spirit. Usually when I talk about it I minimize the details. That’s a natural reaction according to the experts. But minimizing it causes other problems, so I have to be careful and make sure I tell my story in all of its gory detail. It’s hard. I physically shake when I talk about it in that depth of detail. I’ve forgotten so many things that have happened over the course of my life but I can remember all the minute details of where I was, what I was wearing, how much light there was in the room, what the sounds were, what the room smelled like, when it first happened to me at 12. I remember like it happened yesterday. And as difficult as it is for me to talk about it, it’s just as difficult for someone to listen to my story. I know this to be true, so I am very careful in making sure the person is qualified and “safe” for me to talk to. I cannot fathom the stories such professionals have heard. Certainly they are trained to listen but it has to be so challenging. I am grateful for these people. I would not be alive today without their help.
None of us knows what the future holds. In the coming days and weeks we will hear more about Roy Moore and his victim. We may possibly hear more in regard to Trump. Surely we have not heard the last of the Weinstein story and others like him in the music and film industries. I am bracing myself as best I can. I know all too well, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.