Ruined

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.

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What no one wants to know

One afternoon last year, I was walking up the street to catch the bus I was taking to get to my grad school classes at night.

As I was walking, a little girl came out of one of the buildings and started walking just a few feet in front of me. She was around six years-old, and was walking alone. I started to panic. I felt sick to my stomach. I was hoping she’d go inside somewhere, but she just kept walking in front of me.

I was scared for her. This girl is in danger. She’s going to get hurt. I wasn’t scared that she was going to get kidnapped or anything like that. I was scared that she was going to be hurt by me.

I am scared to be near children. It’s a crippling fear of mine. I don’t want to hold anyone’s baby. I don’t want to babysit anyone’s toddler. I avoid children at all costs. When I see them, I run away. It’s part of the reason I have not, and never will, have children of my own.

It’s not so much a fear of children (although some are quite scary). It’s the fear that I will hurt them. The fear that I am a predator, an abuser just like my mother was and is. They say the cycle of abuse continues, the abused become the abusers. I think that’s true, because I think that is me.

It’s a topic you won’t find in any support groups. It’s something hush-hush, something to be ashamed of. And I agree. I never told a soul what I had done until I hesitantly brought it up to my therapist last year, after suffering from painful flashbacks of incidents from my childhood, incidents in which I hurt other children.

I didn’t know any better. I was a child, too, a child who believed that all little girls were supposed to be “helped” in the bathroom, a child who thought it was normal to touch parts that shouldn’t be touched. I didn’t know it was wrong. I didn’t know I was hurting other children. I was just doing what I was taught was okay.

I realized the reality of the situation when I started getting flashbacks in my early 20s. At that point, I knew what I had done. I knew I hurt children, in the same ways I was hurt. I was no better than any other abuser.

I hid it from the world for so long, even after I told my therapist. It was the one topic I never discussed with anyone else, the one topic I could never write about on this blog until today. I was still ashamed. I still am ashamed. And I carry that shame and guilt with me every day of my life.

They say the best way to counteract shame is to tell people the wrongs you have done. I realize that this may hurt me further. I realize some will respond with disgust, and even hatred. But I am taking the chance that at least one person will understand. I can’t be the only one out here. I don’t want to be the only one.

Why talk about this now?

I did something last week, something I’ve been afraid to do. I acted against my fear. In DBT, they call it opposite to emotion action. If your fear is unjustified, you don’t run away or avoid, you approach. And that’s what I did.

I was in the mall trying to get to the bus stop. All of a sudden, a group of Daisy girl scouts ambushed me. Usually, I would dash and run away, but I couldn’t do that because I am still using crutches. I froze for a minute, physically and mentally. Then I remembered, approach don’t avoid. You are not your mother. You are not a predator. I came back to reality, and stood there and listened as they sold me two boxes of cookies. The anxiety was still there, stewing inside of me; the panic was, too. But after a few minutes, it was all over. I got my cookies. I talked to children. And I didn’t hurt them.

I faced one of my biggest fears head on, doing something I had avoided for so long. The fear was still there; I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. But here was evidence that I could be near a child without hurting her.

I shared my experience in program the next day (without sharing the details of what caused the fear in the first place). I’m not sure anyone quite understood the gravity of my fear, because they don’t know my story much at all. But they didn’t judge me.

And neither did my therapist at program. We talked about it more in individual session the following day. It was uncomfortable for me at first, because I was afraid she would ask me the question I had been avoiding every time someones asked have you ever hurt someone? 

My therapist asked if my fear of children was justified or unjustified, and I told her I wasn’t sure. I really wasn’t. In a way it is justified, I thought. I have hurt children in the past. But not in the present. Not as a conscious adult. Not as a perpetrator. So then it’s unjustified. She asked my reasons for the fear being justified. I felt the shame rising up again. I told her I hurt a child, but I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I was just a child. I was afraid of her reaction. This was a woman who knew me all of two months, and yet she knew so much about it already — and now this.

She asked if I ever had urges to hurt a child. I never have. I can’t even imagine myself knowingly hurting a child. It’s not like that at all. But there is a fear of an urge. A fear that if I am left with children, an urge will come and I will hurt them. Like it’s something that has been ingrained in me. Like it’s something I inherited from my mother.

It’s fear that is both justified and unjustified. There are no easy answers. There is no easy explanation. The only thing I know is that I’ve hurt someone, but I am not my mother.

When you approach your fears, over time, they gradually lose their strength and you are able to overcome them. But this is not one of those fears. My therapist said it might get better over time, but I also may always be afraid of being near children; that fear may never go away. That’s understandable, and that’s okay. But it hurt me when she said that. Even though I know she’s right, I realized it’s just another part of life I have lost because of my past.

While children bring most people joy, they will bring me fear. And I may never be able to change that. Just like I can’t change what I have done, who I have hurt, or those who have hurt me.

I am sorry. Every minute of every hour of every day, I am sorry.

Shame sickness

I have been sick the last few days. Constant nausea. Throwing up. Pain in the pit of my stomach.

But it’s not the flu. It’s not a stomach virus. It’s fucking shame.

I knew it was coming. This wasn’t the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I had to make an appointment with a gynecologist earlier this week. I was actually supposed to make an appointment months ago. I had an issue back in July in which I was bleeding for longer than normal, and became so weak that I struggled just to hold my head up at times. I had to promise my therapist that I would make an appointment in the next couple months, but I (knowingly) kept putting it off. That is, until my therapist brought it up again. Then I had no choice.

There is a fear in going. I have never been to that kind of doctor before. I have never had anyone check that part of my body before. The thought  is terrifying in many ways.

But even more pronounced is the shame I feel in going. There is so much shit tied up in that part of my body, that I don’t even know where to begin to work through it all. I don’t even know how. I don’t even know if it’s possible.

I grew up believing that I was sick. That’s what she told me, that I was sick down there and that’s why she had to do what she did. And I believed her. Because I didn’t know any other way.

And as I grew older, that belief that I was sick only grew stronger. I was the only one of my peers who hadn’t started menstruating. I didn’t understand. I thought something was wrong with me. Years went by and I still wasn’t normal. The only way I could explain it was that my mother was right — I was sick down there. It was the only thing that made sense.

Any time I needed a physical, I would panic whenever the doctor wanted to check my private area. My mother, who was always in the room, would tell the doctor I was shy, and the doctor would leave me alone. But I wasn’t shy. I just didn’t want them to see the sickness I was hiding there.

When I was a teenager, I had to go to the hospital because I couldn’t breathe. I remember the nurse asking me when my last period was, and I hesitated. My mother was standing right there. I didn’t want her to know I was still sick. I didn’t want her to have to help me anymore. But before I could make up something, the nurse sensed my hesitation and assumed I was hiding something. I couldn’t tell them that I was just sick down there. Mommy says I’m just sick. I swallowed my shame, just as I had done so many times before.

Doctors wouldn’t understand. So I just learned to lie better. Any time a doctor or nurse would ask about my period, I’d tell them I started the week before. No further explanation needed. They didn’t have to see my sickness. They didn’t have to sense my shame. But I sensed it. Every time I had to lie, I remembered why I was lying in the first place: I am sick there. My mother was right.

In my 20s, I experienced random bleeding, but nothing that lasted more than a day — and never regular. I would have spotting one day and never again for another 6 months, sometimes even a year or two in between. Other women would talk about the pain and frustration with that time of the month, and I could never relate. When I told the women close to me my experience (or lack thereof), they acted as if I were lucky in some way. They were envious. But I was disgusted with myself. Don’t they see? The reason I am not like them is because I am sick. If I wasn’t sick, if I didn’t do bad things, if I wasn’t evil, I would be just like them, too. I wasn’t lucky at all. I was sick.

I’m not even sure I could adequately explain how I felt during all those years, never experiencing what society told me I needed to experience in order to be a woman. I had already felt inadequate. That only made it worse. I felt alone. I felt less than. Too old to be a girl, not enough to be a real woman. Who was I then? Not a child. Barely a human. Just a sick bundle of flesh, bones, and fat, held together by viscous shame.

Things have changed, but I still struggle with those thoughts. I know I’m not sick anymore. I got my first real period in August 2015, one month after I ran away. And I’ve been normal ever since. I know there could be reasons that have nothing to do with me being sick: malnourishment, eating disorder, stress (physical, emotional, and environmental). I know all of these things can and do affect your reproductive health. I know the sickness may very well have not been in me, but in my environment.

But on an emotional level, I still carry the shame as if I were still sick. Like I am somehow still less than a woman. Like they can still see the sickness somewhere in me. It’s why I struggle so much with going to this doctor. I’m scared she will see all of my sickness, all of my badness, all of the disgusting things I’ve done, still lingering there, inside my vagina.

But maybe the sickness was never inside me at all. Maybe my mother was wrong. Maybe she was the sick one. Not me.

The only sickness I have is shame, and I don’t want to suffer with it anymore.

500 Days of Freedom, Part 4 (The Stones I’ve Given Away)

I went through what I’ve lost.

I went through what I’ve gained.

But there were still things I needed to get out, things that weren’t really losses or false beliefs or truths uncovered. These were feelings, feelings I had for a very long time that I no longer wanted to feel. Guilt. Shame. Fault. Blame.

I took the stones I had left — all 50 of them. I wrote those four words down, over and over again, one word on every stone. Then I stared at them for a while. I didn’t want to keep them. I didn’t want to hold onto them any longer than I already had. These were heavy stones. They were weighing me down too much. I didn’t need them.

I could have thrown those feelings into the ocean, just like I threw the stones of my false beliefs. But it didn’t feel right. These feelings had a place. That place was definitely not within me, but it also wasn’t somewhere in the bottom of the Atlantic.

I knew where these feelings really belonged. They belonged to my mother.

My mother is the one who should feel guilty. She is the one that hurt me. She is the one that abused her children. She is the one that broke the rules. She is the guilty one, on so many levels she is the guilty one. Not me.

My mother is the one that should feel shame. A normal person doesn’t abuse their own children. The things she did to me do not exemplify who I am as a person; they show what she is. She is the sick one. Not me.

My mother is the one at fault. She knew what she was doing was wrong. I was just a child. I didn’t choose this. She took away my power. She took everything from me. She was the wrong one. Not me.

My mother is the one to blame. She was the adult. She was my mother. She had no right to do what she did. She was supposed to protect me. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t cause this. She caused it. She is the one that should be taking the blame. Not me.

I gathered the stones together. I tried to think of what I could put them in. I had an extra craft jar, and started putting the stones in there. I wanted to make sure I fit all 50 of them; I didn’t want any left behind. Then I noticed the jar of peanut butter I keep in my desk drawer. I try to eat a spoonful a day, because it’s the only food I can always tolerate. It also happens to be one of the only foods I wanted as a child, but couldn’t have.

So I finished the peanut butter. I cleaned out the jar and made sure it was dry. And then I started putting all of the stones inside. And it was a perfect fit. I put the lid on the jar and sealed it. It was done.

The jar may have been small, but it was heavy. Just like the weight of the guilt, shame, fault, and blame I had been carrying with me for so many years.

Those feelings don’t belong to me anymore, and neither does that jar. I packed it all up in a box and sent it to my mother (re-routed safely through another location).

They belong to her now. It doesn’t matter if she accepts them; that’s not on me. All I know is that those stones are no longer mine. The weight of those feelings are no longer mine. She will have to carry that weight, even if it’s for just a few minutes before she realizes what they are and throws them out the window.

They are the stones I’ve given away, or really, the stones I’ve given back. My mother put those feelings on me, and I don’t want them anymore. She can have them.

 

She stole the night from me.

I wonder what it must be like to crawl into bed at night and just fall asleep.

I could never do that. Not as a child, and not now as an adult. I crawl into bed and lay there for hours, tired, exhausted, yet unable to sleep.

I check the closets. I lock the door. I wrap myself up in my layers and I crawl in bed and wait.

Some days, I wait for sleep. I try to quiet the increasingly loud noise in my head. I think about a million things I don’t even need to think about. After a few hours, I finally fall asleep.

On other, more difficult days, I wait my mother. I lay still in my bed and wait for her to come through my bedroom door, just like I waited for her when I was back home.

So many nights of my childhood were spent laying in bed and waiting. Not waiting for sleep. Not waiting for dreams. Not waiting for the tooth fairy. I was waiting for my mother. I was waiting for her to come in and tear me apart. I was waiting for the pain to be over so I could just go to sleep.

I learned to expect it. I stopped asking questions. I stopped fighting back. I stopped wondering why. I couldn’t do it any more. I knew it wasn’t going to change. So I gave up. And I gave in.

Sometimes, I would stare at the ceiling. I’d talk to Superman, hoping he would hear my thoughts, and asked him to come and save me. I waited for him to fly in through the window, but he never did find me.

Sometimes, I would think about being in a different family. I imagined being adopted. I dreamed I was sitting in a cage at the shelter, waiting for a new family to pick me up and love me, but no new family ever came.

Sometimes, I watched my spirit float away from me, and I followed her. We would sit on the big branch of the tree right outside my window, waiting for the hurt to end so I could come back to me.

It would always end.. If there was one thing I could count on, it was that the pain was only temporary. She’d leave, and I’d come back. I could finally go to sleep, because I knew she wasn’t going to hurt me again. I found solace in that, in knowing that when it was over, it was over.

I wanted a normal night. I wanted someone to read me a story. I wanted someone to check for monsters underneath my bed, and tell me everything was safe. I wanted someone to tuck me in and tell me they loved me. I got none of that. There were no bedtime stories. There was no love or safety. And there were never any monsters under my bed, because the monster was standing right beside it.

Anxiety. Fear. Dread. It all became my nighttime normal. And even though she stopped as I got older, the fear anxiety, fear, and dread never left. They continued to be my nighttime normal. I continued to spend every night waiting for my mother to come back. And I am still spending my nights waiting for her to come back.

I try to remember that she is not here. I know the doors are locked, I know we are miles and miles away from her. She is not coming for us. She can’t hurt us anymore.

But sometimes I forget all that. Sometimes I can’t remember. I am still anticipating something that hasn’t happened for 20 years, but my mind doesn’t always know that.Sometimes it feels like something is missing; I feel like I need her to come in and get it over with just so I can sleep.

I find comfort in familiarity, and all of those nights that my mother hurt me became my familiar. Any deviation from the pattern only creates more panic, and that was true in my childhood and still true in my adulthood.

I feel frustrated, because I don’t know how else to convince myself that my mother cannot hurt me any more. I don’t know how to believe that it doesn’t have to be this way.

I feel sad, because adult me knows that no child should have had to endure the things my mother did to me. Bed is supposed to calming and relaxing, not a place of panic.

I feel ashamed, because some nights, the only way I can fall asleep is to hurt myself in the very same way she hurt me. And then I feel disgusted.

I feel angry, because I want to be able to crawl in bed and night and go to sleep, and have good dreams. I don’t want the fear. I don’t want the panic and anxiety. I just want comfort and peace, and the ability to sleep without a struggle.

My mother stole the night from me. I want it back.

Seeing more

When you live a sheltered life for so long and then find freedom, you see the world through a different set of eyes. You have vision that most other people lack.

While everyone else around me ceases to notice their environment, I am consistently amazed by even the most menial things. Whenever I am somewhere I haven’t been before, I have the excitement level of a three year-old child. I look up and around at everything, and take it all in. It doesn’t matter if it’s a burger joint on the corner, a large patch of grass, or a famous landmark – it fascinates me still.

I see the beauty in things that others take for granted. I look up at the sky, at clouds, at the stars. I walk in the rain without an umbrella. I stop and watch the geese walk across the grass with their goslings. I watch the worms wriggle between the cracks in the sidewalk on my walk home from work. I observe the butterflies as they fly so gracefully; they are free, just like I am now free.

I see the beauty in the people around me. The mother on the bus holding her sleeping child in her arms. The man buying food for a friend who is hungry, even though he has no money for himself. The friendly neighbor talking to a hyper young child just to give his mother a short break. All of the people who aren’t afraid or ashamed to be themselves. All of the people who freely offer hugs and encouragement. I see it all.

Before, I had no opportunity to take anything in. The world was scary, because that’s what my mother told me. There was nothing amazing or beautiful to see. In my mind, home was already scary as hell. If the outside world was any worse, I did not want any part of it. I know now that is was my mother’s way of keeping me sheltered. No desire to know the outside = no risk of her losing control.

I looked down towards the ground all the time.  If you look down, nobody will see you. No one would be able to see the shame, the pain, the hurt in my eyes. I never made eye contact. I never looked around to see what existed outside of the few places we were allowed to go. I shut myself off from the world.

Now, after 30 years, I am finally experiencing the world for the first time. Yes, I may react like a child sometimes. The simplest things are so amazing to me because I never got to experience them before. It allows me to see the world in a different light, a better light.

Sometimes, I wish others could do the same.

Silenced in shame

I tend to be a very open person. I tell my therapist nearly everything on my mind and in my heart, good and bad, happy and sad. I’ve shared my thoughts and experiences with others by writing this blog.

But something came about last week that I could not talk or write about. The memories left me confused, angry, and ashamed. I hated myself. I hated the world. And I couldn’t tell anyone about it because I feared that would only make it worse.

When I went to my therapy session on Thursday, I tried to deflect talking about everything I was feeling by denying everything. And by everything, I mean everything. I told my therapist I had a good life, no trauma, and no problems. I didn’t want to deal with any of this shit anymore. But denying it doesn’t make it go away. I could’ve said I had a good life until I was blue in the face, but it wouldn’t have changed the fact that I was seething on the inside.

I finally admitted to my therapist that I was full of anger, but I could not tell her why. It’s not that I didn’t know; it’s that I didn’t want to talk about it. She traced back the last few days trying to pinpoint when and where my feelings originated. I went over each minor detail of my life starting with Thursday morning and working backwards. Eventually I muttered “I checked Facebook.” That was when it all began.

I didn’t expect to feel anything when I checked Facebook that time. Then, I read a status that came up in my Facebook memories from six years ago about being admitted to the hospital. I instantly realized what happened in the days after I wrote that status. I felt as if I were right back in 2010, going through it all again.

My therapist asked me what happened and I burst into tears. All of emotions came pouring out and I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t even tell her all that happened. I told her that I cried for help and no one helped me. No one knew what had just gone on just minutes before the nurse came in my room. No one could translate my cries of desperation. No one could feel the pain I was in, the disgust and shame I was filled with. No one. I was completely helpless. I was entirely ashamed.

I remember laying in my hospital bed day after day just wanting to go. I couldn’t even eat. The numerous visits from nutritionists could not take away the sickness that was eating away at me from the inside. I was so disgusted with myself. I felt so unclean. I couldn’t shower for weeks, which only magnified how gross I felt. I wanted to scrub away the dirty. But no shower would have been enough. Nothing would have been enough.

It was at that point, after that incident, that I realized that nothing would ever stop my mother. She was sick; sicker than I had ever imagined. In my most helpless state, she took complete advantage of me, all the while putting on an Academy award-worthy performance of a concerned mother. No one knew how badly I needed to be protected from her. Instead, they inadvertently helped her terrorize me. I was completely alone. Despite the numerous flowers and gifts, and visits from coworkers and friends, I felt isolated and alone. Physically, my heart was trying to give out on me. Emotionally, my heart was already dead.

Despite my realization that my mother was (and still is) sick, I blame myself for what happened. I could have told her to stop. I could have gotten away. I could have told the nurses. But I didn’t do any of that. I let it happen. That’s all I could tell my therapist. I let it happen. As if I could have done anything to stop her. I had an oxygen mask, a heart monitor, and numerous IVs, but yet I expected myself to, in some way, fight back or resist; something I had never done before when I was in much better physical condition.

My therapist reassured me that there was no way I could have stopped her. I did what I could in that moment. It wasn’t my fault. But part of me was still angry. Part of me was still disgusted and ashamed. I left session that day wanting to destroy the world. All of that anger I was holding on to for so long was trying to get out.

But I couldn’t direct it at my mother. So I directed it at the branches I passed by on my walk home; the branches I ripped out from the bushes and broke into pieces, much in the same way I felt my heart had been ripped out and broken into pieces. I smoked, but not even 100 cigarettes wouldn’t calm me down. I drank, but no amount of alcohol would wash away my disgust.

It was only in today’s session, nearly a week after my memories and feelings resurfaced, that I was able to tell my therapist a piece of what happened to me that day. I still find myself overwhelmed with shame. I still fear that other people would not understand. I still fear that other people would think it was my fault. My therapist asked if there was anything she could do to lessen the shame. But I don’t know. As much as I know I need to talk about it, I can’t. Not even to the person I trust the most. I remained silenced in shame.