Research shows that people who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood are four times more likely to work in prostitution than people who have not.

It doesn’t surprise me at all. Because it’s happened to me.

I’ve done things I really shouldn’t have. I didn’t end up on street corners putting myself in danger, but I definitely put myself in situations in which I did things I didn’t need to. Yet it wasn’t just about the money.

People constantly judge, asking how someone could degrade themselves like that. But I was already degraded. I was already ruined. And it wasn’t my choice.

It’s inexplicable just how damaging it is when your first sexual experiences were with your own mother. I had sex before I even knew what sex was. I felt shame before I even knew what shame was.

My mother created a never-ending cycle, a lose-lose situation that I could never, ever win. I was programmed not to say no; saying no got you punished. Yet saying yes meant I was a whore. Any time my mother believed I was being remotely sexual (and I really wasn’t — what seven year-old is), I had to be cleansed of my sins. After a while, I started to wonder what was wrong with me, why the evil hadn’t left me. I’d been burned so many times, I learned not to feel.

It just got worse as I got older. There were constant accusations. I couldn’t stay after school to work on group projects because my mother believed I was having sex. She accused me of posting nude pictures online; I never did. She’d pull these crazy ideas from I don’t know where. Even when I was an adult, she’d accuse me of being in relationships with people at work. She accused me of having sex with my (female) boss; she was just my friend. She’d also accuse me of having sex with several coworkers. When I would stay late at work (to avoid going home), she claimed I was at work having sex. She continually reminded me how much of a sinner I was and what a whore I was.

None of what my mother claimed was ever true. And I knew that, on some level. But I became conditioned to believe that I was a whore. That something inside me made me this way. There was a defect in me that everyone could see but me. After all, normal, pure kids don’t do these things with their own mother. Maybe I made her do it. She always said she was trying to help me, but maybe I was just too damaged from that start.

I never had the chance to form my sexual identity. I grew to fear sex. Unless it involved my mother, it was somehow wrong. Yet in an intellectual way, I knew that if it involved my mother, it WAS wrong. There was no right way. It was all wrong. It was all bad.

Once I was a teenager and really understood sex and sexual identity, I realized that my body, my sense of self, was already ruined. While others my age talked about losing their virginity, I had already lost mine, more than ten years prior, to my own mother. It was never my body; she stole it from me. It was hers. All of it. All of me. It was hers.

The fear of telling someone no overruled my life for years, even after I managed to run away. While my body was no longer being damaged by her, I let it be damaged by others. I was already ruined; there wasn’t much more anyone could do to me to make me hate myself any more than I already did. All those years she called me a whore, it stuck with me. It was like a prophecy that needed to be fulfilled.

Before I left IOP over a month ago, I made a promise to someone very important to me that I wouldn’t engage in that type of shit anymore. I promised I wouldn’t put myself in any kind of situation that would cause that weakness in me. And I haven’t. It was easy to do, a lot easier than I thought it would be. One less thing to worry about.

Except I didn’t account for all the possibilities. I managed to avoid  not-so-healthy people who had been involved in my life before, but I forgot about the not-so-healthy people who I couldn’t avoid — the strangers, the acquaintances, the come-and-goers.

I was sitting on the bus the other day, on my way home from a doctor’s appointment. I was emotionally drained. There was man on the seat across from me; I’d seen him many times before, but never really engaged much aside from hello. This time, he started telling other passengers that I was his fiance. I told him to shut up, but he didn’t. He just kept saying it. When the bus emptied out a little, his comments got worse. He told me what I could do to him, and all the things he could do to me. I just frozen. As much as I should have told him to fuck off, I couldn’t say anything.

I could feel the nausea kicking in almost instantaneously. I showered as soon as I got home, trying to scrub away the feeling of being dirty. But as much as I washed, I didn’t feel any better. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head. This was my fault. I was a whore. He must have sensed it in me. That’s why he said those things and made those gestures. Somehow he just knew.

I was afraid. Afraid my mother would find out. Afraid I would be punished. I believed his actions were my fault, just like my mother taught me — look what you made me do. 

It was always something I did, something I was, something I said. It was never anyone else, and never her. But that was her falsity, not the reality.

One day I want to be able to decipher between the two. One day, I want to tell her, look what you did to me. Look how you ruined me.


Growing up, I had to choose between being hurt for being too good or being hurt for not being good enough. There was no in between; those were my only options. So I chose to be perfect. It probably helped that I was born with relatively high intelligence, which allowed me to succeed academically with very little, if any, effort.

But it still ended up hurting me. Being perfect was viewed as an insult in my family. Being perfect meant that I thought that I was better than them. How could I have the audacity to think I was better than anyone, especially them? It made my parents angry, and they took that anger out on me. I could never take pleasure in an achievement; it ended up resulting in more pain.

I held on to perfection like it were a life raft, saving me from drowning. It’s the only thing I had in my life that gave me any sense of worth. Other people would tell me how intelligent I was, how much potential I had, how much talent I possessed. I needed that because it gave my life meaning.

Unfortunately, my need for perfection has hindered me in the long run. If I am not perfect, I feel worthless. I cannot bask in many of my achievements if I know I could have done better. I hold myself to (at times) impossibly high standards.

This was exemplified recently when I took the GRE. I told my therapist the unofficial raw scores I received, completely lacking any enthusiasm about them. I was such a mess when I took the exam that I knew, in my belief, that I had done poorly. My tremendous headache (self-induced) and lack of sleep just ruined everything for me.

“I know students that would be thrilled to have GRE scores anywhere close to yours.”

“But they’re not good enough.”

“You can get in to any school with scores like those.”

“But they’re not perfect.”

On some level, I knew my therapist was right. But I was so mad at myself because I didn’t get that perfect score. I could have slept longer. I could have not gone crazy and banged my head the day before. I could have eaten breakfast. I could have done better than I did. I need to be perfect or I’m not good enough.

So when any other person would be ecstatic with those scores, I could not take any kind of pleasure in what was, in reality, a considerable achievement. I talked about it as if I were talking about cloudy weather.

I also think my previous graduate school experience has hampered my academic outlook in general. I can no longer get excited about anything because no matter what I did before, I ended up not being good enough for the program. If I don’t get excited, I won’t be as hurt in the end when it doesn’t work out. It’s a twisted form of self-protection.

As a child, I held on to hope that perfection would save me. It never did. So why do I still need it in order to feel like I’m worth something?

Letter to a friend

I recently talked about an issue I was having with a friend who was (quite literally, as my therapist put it) playing devil’s advocate with my mother.  I decided to write her a letter, since I couldn’t seem to find the words when texting her or talking with her on the phone.  I mentioned the letter to my therapist in our usual e-mail updates this past weekend and she told me I could bring the letter with me to our session today if I hadn’t already sent it.  So I did.

The letter:


Hello.  I hope you are doing well.  You haven’t really text or spoke to me much and I’m not sure if it’s because you’re busy or because of the things I said about my parents a couple of weeks ago.

I need you to know that what my mother tells you is not the truth.  It never has been; it never will be.  She is using you to get to me.  She is a dangerous person.  Please be aware of that if you choose to continue to engage with her.

I spent 29 years of my life trapped in a family that treated me in ways no person should ever be treated.  It took me years to gather the courage, the financial resources, and the strength to leave that prison.  I have escaped.  When you escape from a burning building, you don’t go back in; you’ll get burned.  If I go back home, I’m going to be hurt again.  I don’t deserve it.

I’m building a new life for myself now.  I’m no longer under my mother’s control.  I don’t have to worry about being attacked in my own home.  I am free.  I still live in fear, but hopefully that will change one day.

I need a lot of therapy and a lot of time to undo the damage that my family has done.  Talking to them, seeing them, or visiting them will only set my recovery back.  I don’t owe my family anything.  They are dead to me.  In fact, the only time I want to hear about them is when they die, so I can breathe a sigh of relief.

I just need you to understand why cutting my family out of my life is what’s best for me.  I need you to support my decision and stop advocating for my mother.  It hurts me when you do that because I feel like you are on her side.  I can’t involve myself with anyone who supports her.  I need you to feel what is in my heart.

I didn’t want to read it out loud.  I told my therapist it was horrible.  She asked me why it was horrible.  I told her “It just is.”  Then I took the letter from my bag and handed it to her.  She took her time and read it through.  She told me the letter wasn’t horrible at all.  She said it was honest and real and everything I needed to say to her.  She even got goosebumps reading one part of it.  I still insisted that it was horrible.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because everything I do is horrible.”

It was such a raw response from me.  I didn’t even think about it.  I still have it programmed in my head that everything I do ends up being wrong.  Sometimes I am able to override the programming; most times, I’m just too exhausted to bother and let the original programming run its course.  It’s also extremely unnatural for me to assert my needs in any way, and this letter was doing that.  I’ve lived my life for the last 29 years believing my needs were unimportant, because even my most basic needs were neglected.  It’s difficult for me.  People don’t realize just how hard it is to reprogram yourself when you’ve lived a certain way for so long.

We talked about what would happen once I sent the letter.  I said I didn’t think it would matter; I still don’t think my friend would understand.  I’m not emotionally ready to handle that reality yet.  I’m not ready to grieve another loss.  This woman was like a mother to me.  I told my therapist I couldn’t go through losing a mother again.  I already lost my real one (who was never there to begin with), and here I am about to lose the one I replaced her with.  What is so wrong with me that I can’t even have a mother to love me?

My therapist and I both agreed that I wasn’t ready to send the letter yet.  I don’t know when I’ll be ready.  It’s going to have to be soon, because I know the issue is going to come up again.  I can’t keep putting out fires.  It’s exhausting.  I’m not a firefighter.  I’m just a girl trying to get by.