Not Just a Hashtag

I thought my It Happened to Me blog was hard to write, but I’m afraid that this blog will be much more difficult. Frankly, I’m scared. This was a visceral experience, I still have nightmares, it still makes me sick, I still blame myself, and this person is still in my life in one way or another albeit distantly.

I haven’t shared the full experience with anyone but my husband and my younger brother (who took it to his grave). I never told my parents. I never told my son. I have a handful of close friends who know what happened, who know this person, who’ve heard parts of what went on but not the whole thing.

It’s terrifying to put it out there because I feel like I still need to protect this person’s anonymity. He has a life and kids and knows a whole lot of people I know. I’m afraid to say when I dated him. I’m afraid to say how I knew him. There’s still so much fear and so much emotion and guilt wrapped up in this I may not even publish what I’m writing.

One of his ex-girlfriends asked me once if he’d ever forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do. From the time we first dated he was very aggressive and yes, he had coerced me and manipulated me and harangued me into doing things I didn’t want to. I heard “well I’ll just break up with you if you don’t” frequently and often. His ex grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye waiting for an answer, and told me he’d hurt her. I look at her and said “me too.” That’s why the #metoo hashtag struck such a chord with me. I remember this conversation vividly because I said no when she asked if I thought we should tell someone and I became involved with him again a couple years later. I feel so much shame I can’t even express it in words. I did nothing and I put myself right back in the tiger’s cage after I’d gotten away scarred, but alive.

me_too

I’m going to be very blunt about what happened, as much as I can stand. I understand the details might be triggering and upsetting. It makes me nauseous, it makes me want to go back in time and scream at myself, it makes me cry. I’ve woken up from countless dreams where this person apologizes to me or simply acts like nothing happened or tries to kill me.

I told myself I was in control of the situation. I told myself this was my conquest. I told myself this was revenge for his offering my “oral skills” to another boy the day we broke up. I wanted my power back, I wanted him to hurt the way I hurt, and I still had feelings for him. Everything leading up to this experience is so complicated and such a mess of insults, rumors, revenge plots, and negativity it’s no wonder it happened. I knew it was possible, I hoped he’d changed. He hadn’t.

I believed it was “we.” Apparently it was just me and clearly he had something else in mind.

I’ve tried to reconcile what happened as anything but assault. It started out consensual. Was there anger between both of us? Yes. We both gave voice to it, we knew it was there, and thought maybe a friendship was salvageable if we just got this out of our systems. I believed it was “we.” Apparently it was just me and clearly he had something else in mind.

When it started I was in a comfortable controlled position. I could have stood up, put my clothes on, and tried to leave. Five minutes in everything changed. He picked me up and dropped me down on the couch on my back, my neck completely scrunched into the back of the couch, my tailbone on the frame, my legs pinned in the air. I thought, ok this is fine, he won’t keep me in this position for long when I say it’s uncomfortable so I encouraged him to continue. Then he got rough. Really rough. I was in pain. I was being smothered by the damn couch cushions. My neck was being crunched into the back of the couch, my tailbone forced into the frame, not to mention the pain from what he was doing to me. I looked up and said very firmly “Stop, this hurts! It’s too rough.” He looked down at me and said “just shut up and take it.” At that point I tried to get up, I tried with all my strength to get some leverage to pull myself up, to fight him, I tried to move my legs- nothing worked. He pinned me harder, he pinched the inside of my thigh until I screamed, he pushed me down and choked me, he pushed my abdomen down into the couch when he didn’t have a hand pinning one leg or the other. I knew telling him to stop again wouldn’t work, I laid there concentrating on gasping for air while his full weight was on me, while he was thrusting me into the back of the couch. Tears slid down my cheeks and I sobbed and moaned from the burning pain between my legs. I waited for it to be over while berating myself for being there, for thinking this was going to be mutual, for thinking he cared. I know he said things while all of this was going on, unkind things about my body, calling me names- but I tried not to listen and tuned everything out. He did things I hadn’t let him do to me when we were together because I couldn’t stop him. This time I was in his house, no one was coming home, no one could hear me, I was helpless and terrified. No one could save me, not even me. I deserved it. I put myself there.

When it was finally over I remember the blood, being asked if I was on the rag (I wasn’t), being told I had better not have gotten anything on the couch, and both of us laughing about how he’d “almost fucked me right through the back of the couch.” Yes. I laughed. I just wanted to leave safely. I was petrified, I was humiliated, I wanted my mom, I wanted my bed, I wanted to tell my brother and have him hold me and hug me and say it’s ok and prove not all men wanted to hurt me. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.

He asked if I was ok, I think he saw that I was still crying. I nodded yes. I don’t remember getting dressed, I don’t remember how I got there or how I got home, I don’t remember what happened when I got home. I do remember the blood. I remember the pain in my neck, my back, my entire lower body, and in my soul. I remember not being able to walk for a day or so and playing it off as menstrual cramps. I remember the heating pad between my legs. I remember sobbing by myself curled into a ball in my closet. I remember my brother begging me I to tell my mom and dad. I remember begging him not to tell them.

He continued to do and say more hurtful things and found every way to kick me while I was down as often as possible.

I knew no one would believe me. This happened in the middle of consensual sex, I convinced myself it wasn’t rape. I thought my parents would be angry. I didn’t want to get him in trouble, for some reason I still felt like I needed to protect him and his reputation. I just didn’t want anyone else to know. So I played it off as rough sex. We joked about it, but I tried to steer clear of him- which was difficult since we saw each other every single day, 5 days a week.

As the year went on I dated someone else, became pregnant, and had a very scandalous and widely discussed abortion. At the hardest time in my life I had to deal with him calling me a slut, a whore, a bitch and a lot of other names. He continued to do and say more hurtful things and found every way to kick me while I was down as often as possible.

I still wake up from the nightmares wondering when they’ll stop.

I never did anything to stop him from hurting anyone else. I hope he saved that behavior for only me and never anyone else. I was weak and I still am. I still wouldn’t call him out. I tried to leave out identifying details and I’m still nervous that someone will put two and two together and figure out who this person is.

Twenty plus years later I continue to hope for an admission of guilt and an apology that will never come. I still wake up from the nightmares wondering when they’ll stop. He still has control over me that he likely doesn’t know or care about. I doubt he remembers it at all. I doubt he would admit that he didn’t stop when I asked him. None of that matters though and here’s why:

I know when I say stop that no matter what’s happening or what the situation my partner should stop- as I would if asked to stop. I made sure my son understands how important it is to not only be aware of others feelings, to listen, to be gentle and to stop when asked to stop. To take no as an absolute answer and never hear no as maybe.

I married a kind, protective, and rational man. A man who holds me when I cry, who empowers me, and is a calming presence when I need it. I don’t always tell him about the nightmares. I don’t always tell him when I’m feeling down on myself over what I should have done or what I allowed to happen. I know if I did tell him he’d be there for me. I hope that if I’m ever approached by or about this person he would protect me and help me protect myself.

This experience, harassment throughout my life, and other assaults (including being molested by a church member when I was 10 years old) completely broke me, but broken bones grow back stronger and broken spirits can too.

Tell your story. Don’t keep it in. You don’t have to point a finger or say “he’s the one,” but if you do you might keep the same thing from happening to someone else.

Don’t be silent. Because, yeah- me too.

If you made it this far I’d like to mention that I had several boyfriends and dated several people who were wonderful, caring, and treated me with nothing but respect. I hope they know who they are.

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The Mirror and Stuff 

You guys, I had a fat day. I had a fat weekend. I’m having a fat week. 

On Saturday my bras and a camera told me I was fat. I started that wonderful 7 days where my boobs and pants go up two sizes, I eat everything, I have no self control, and oh yeah- no matter what I’m wearing the word fat springs to mind. I changed my bra and my mom asked “can you push those things up any higher?” Well, no mom I can’t- they effing hurt, they’re swollen! You did this to me!

I totally said that. I’m my mind. 

We attended a going-away party Saturday night. I fought some social anxiety, the room overwhelmingly full of happy conversation . My anxiety only lasted about 5 minutes- I conquered it quick and then proceeded to eat anything I could fit in my face- and everything fit in my face. 

Later, I spotted a picture of myself taken at the party. I was in the background and, of course, immediately my brain screamed “ENHANCE! ENHANCE MORE! ENHANCE UNTIL YOU MAKE SURE YOU LOOK LIKE SHIT!” There are certain angles that seem to make me look like I’ve lost nothing. I’m still nearly 300 lbs. That 135 lbs comes back within seconds when I turn a certain way. Stupid arms.

This afternoon I sat on the bench at the end of our bed, in my underwear, hunched over, putting on my sneakers. I caught my reflection in the mirror over my shoulder and tried not to fall off the bench. The 135 lbs was back again. Surgeries, hard work, blood, sweat, tears, overcoming cravings and bad habits- all for nothing. I looked the same. Stupid back. Stupid thighs. Stupid all of it! 

Did I somehow break out and fix my attitude and give myself some love? No. I ate grits and bacon. Did I sit down and pep talk myself? No. I avoided mirrors. Stupid food and mirrors.

My counselor taught me something I use when I’m anxious or depressed- this feeling came for a visit, it won’t be here forever, it will go away- let it be, don’t focus on it, understand this is your brain signaling a lack of needed chemicals or flood of hormones. 

I’m telling myself it’s ok. My body hasn’t changed that much, unless I’m carrying someone else I can’t weight that much again- is impossible to gain 135 lbs since Friday. My brain is fighting back by saying- it doesn’t matter, that’s what you look like! Give up! Eat a bag of Skittles and 6 Twix bars! Everyone else looks wonderful and you look like a whale (geez brain- you’re kind of an asshole).

So I’ll keep fighting. For now I’ll keep avoiding mirrors. I’ll continue to understand the mixed signals are ok, I’m extra sensitive, everything is swollen, and remind myself that I look precisely the same to my husband on my worst day as I did on my best day. 

Now to figure out how to avoid being in public for the next 3 days… ugh. 

My Body and Stuff 

Watch this, please. Then continue on if you’re so inclined. 

Embrace Official Trailer

For 32 years I’ve fought a demon. One that takes hold of my brain and squeezes all the joy out of life. One that won’t let me have a day where I don’t criticize something about myself. She’s cruel. She’s deceptive. She’s relentless. She’s me. 

I became aware of the word “fat” as it applied to my chubby little 9 year old body when I finished a whole box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers on a camping trip. I asked my mom if I could have more from the second box as I handed her the empty. Horrified, she looked at me, grabbed my wrist and with barred teeth shouted “No, you’re getting fat!” I wilted in her grasp into the dust of of our camping spot and began to cry uncontrollably, hitching breath and whispering over and over again “I’m ugly, I’m fat.” My mom jerked me up off the ground to swat me. I pulled out of her grasp and crawled into the back of the pickup truck and hid, curled up in a ball, sobbing. 

I don’t remember what happened next, I just remember knowing I wasn’t good enough, I was ugly, and I was fat for the next 32 years. I’m not blaming my mom. She had a serious eating disorder (not that she’ll admit it), she was in an unhappy marriage, she was sleep deprived most of the time due to my brother’s illnesses and she’d just had a miscarriage. Yeah, I’m going to defend my mom all day long. The truth is, even at 9 I could have overcome that incident, but I chose to live my life by it instead. I certainly never ate Screaming Yellow Zonkers again (if you don’t know what those are they’re like Fiddle Faddle or Cracker Jacks- probably delicious, I don’t remember).

The summer of my 11th year I discovered “fasting”on a church missionary trip (that month of my life was insane, that’s a whole other story- cults are real, you guys!) We would fast every Wednesday, nothing but water, all to be closer to God. If we went 2 days, we were praised, if you didn’t fast at all you were shunned. I remember I ate a pickle one fast day and was told to make up for it I needed to fast the rest of the week. So I did. At 11 years old I went 4 days without food. We knocked doors to pass out flyers and by Saturday I was too weak to go more than a block. When told by my host family that I hadn’t eaten anything since Wednesday (except the pickle) the leader of the group was incredulous and refused to acknowledge he had told me to fast that long. Out of fear for his reputation (it became a whole thing with the church sponsoring us that week) he sent me home. My Dad and Grandpa picked me up in Salt Lake and both commented on how skinny I was. I dug into the cooler in the back seat and ate a whole pack of sliced ham and half a loaf of bread. My Dad asked me why I was so hungry and I told him I hadn’t been allowed to eat for 4 days because I was fasting. When I saw he was becoming upset and threatened to track down the group I’d been with to have a “talk” with the leader I changed my story from hadn’t eaten anything to hadn’t eaten enough because of the flu.

After that summer it was easier to go days without eating. I’d binge and fast often and became an anorexic. At 16, while getting ready for prom I fainted in a friend’s bathroom (scared the shit out of both of us). I hadn’t eaten anything for over a week so I could fit into my friend’s size 2 dress. Living on diet coke and cigarettes. Her mom found out and called my mom. They agreed I had to eat, so I agreed to eat a salad. My friend’s mom sat there with me and watched me eat the whole thing. When I look back on the pictures that night I see how tiny my arms were, how the dress hung on me rather than hugging my curves (because I no longer had any). I went from a 6/7 to what was probably a 0 in a week. I weighed 102 at 5’5 and to this day I wish I could say the same now. 

I’ve fought with this body for so long. As an adult I’ve been 280 lbs, I’ve starved myself down to 137. We’re still fighting.

That demon in my head tells me to eat whatever I want so it can punish me later when I look at the scale. While writing this I got on the scale and noticed I’d gained a pound since yesterday, then proceeded to request pancakes (which I just tried to cancel, too late.) The guilt sets in. The demon starts squawking. 

I long for the day when I no longer care what my body looks like or what the scale says. I continue to try and love this body, flaws and all. I try not to pick apart my appearance. My thighs are too big, I have back fat, my arms show how big I used to be,  my tummy is still swollen after surgery earlier this year, if only I could lose 10 lbs life would be perfect, I can’t see my cheekbones, I have a double chin. I know none of these things are strictly true, but I still think them every day multiple times a day. Sometimes my brain gives me a break, but it’s rare and usually after a compliment or pep talk from my husband (who’s been putting up with this for 23 of the 32 years I’ve had this demon.)

I realize it’s up to me to not only promote body positivity but to accept it myself. I’ve been aware of Taryn Brumfitt’s work for a while now and am in awe of what she’s done and continues to do. Often women don’t support each other until weight loss becomes the headline. You’re losing weight, getting fit, looking good in a bikini, body building- cool I’ll give you a like, an up vote, an encouraging word because we, as humans, in this day and age are trained to value bettering oneself by physical results only. We should also encourage comments, posts, statements like “feeling good today!”, “ate cheesecake, no guilt”, “made it through a week of depression unscathed”, “love my body, love myself”, “these stretch marks have never looked happier”, “gained 5lbs, don’t care”, “I look amazing”, “haven’t worked out for ages and still feel like super woman”. Am I encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle? No. But shouldn’t your psyche be healthy first? Who am I to judge what’s unhealthy for you? I only know what’s unhealthy for me and that’s judgments of others and of myself. 

After losing 135 lbs in 2012 (during a weight loss challenge)* someone at work, who used to be a personal trainer, told me about clients who were called skinny-fat. According to her, in the fitness industry, these were the “little old ladies” who used to be overweight but lost enough weight that there’s just skin and left-over fat, no muscle. She followed up the explanation with “but, I don’t mean you.” Well, you just fucking said it to me with little to no context other than me complaining about some excess skin! You’re always saying perception is everything. How could you not mean me? Me with my 26″ waist, me at 140 lbs, me who worked 3 years to get there. The attached selfie was taken that same day to prove to myself I was in no way fat!

Ladies, be careful what you say to others and what you take in from others. You have no idea the damage you can deal with what you believe is an innocuous, flippant comment. To those I’ve ever personally hurt by something I’ve said, I deeply apologize. I never want anyone in my life to feel the way I felt that day, or the way I felt the day my mom told me I was fat. Take that negativity and analyze it. Maybe you intimidate that person. Maybe they see your personal power and feel you need to be knocked down to pump up their own. Maybe they see humility and don’t understand it. Maybe they don’t understand true weakness is the need to bully and control others. Maybe they’re experiencing what I feel is the most damaging emotion, jealousy. Analyze your own negativity, why are you so hard on yourself? Would you say the same things you say to yourself to a friend? A daughter? A total stranger? 

Turn your demon into the angel on your shoulder that reminds you to love yourself, that you don’t have to be perfect, that you never have to live up to anyone’s expectations. You have the ability to work miracles, but it starts with you. It starts with me too.

I’ll be watching this movie and I hope you will too. I know it will be cathartic for so many women struggling with their self image and there’s nothing like catharsis for exorcising your demons. 

Love you, love me!

*edit for clarity: I’d lost 135 lbs between 2009 and 2012 by using lap-band surgery as a tool in conjunction with diet and exercise. We were doing an additional challenge and I wanted to lose some inches. Full disclosure, I had a tummy tuck to remove the excess skin this year. 

It Happened to Me

Whether you remain anonymous or not, sexual violence is beyond humiliating.

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This is hard for me to write. A large part of my ego is screaming at me to stop right now, turn around, go back, delete, think of your job, think of your friends and family, think of your reputation! Ego. That coping mechanism we use when things are hard and we want to hide from them.  That voice inside my head that stops me dead in my tracks from saying something that might make me completely vulnerable and strip me of all pretense; baring it all in front of anyone and everyone witnessing the breakdown.

What am I doing? Why am I writing this?

With the recent ridiculous and disturbing slap on the wrist a Stanford student received for raping a woman I can’t help but fall back into memories of my own experiences. The ones I’m not supposed to talk about. The ones that should remain buried. The ones I still blame myself for. The experiences that shaped who I am today and many of the battles I’ve always fought and am currently fighting against myself.

I’m so proud of the victim in this case, speaking up; telling her story- it’s completely terrifying. Whether you remain anonymous or not, sexual violence is beyond humiliating. The act of writing or talking about it can cause you to relive the whole experience.  I wish I didn’t have to say she’s brave. I wish the stigmatization of rape didn’t exist. I wish we could all talk about it without fear of repercussions. I certainly wish it didn’t happen to anyone.

Two weeks ago, during a quiet drive in the rain, I started to dig into why I have such crippling insecurity. Taking stock. Why do I continue to require validation from others? I know this behavior started when I was a child from  the abuse that was part of my daily family life; but I feel most of it came from experiences I had from 13 years old until I met my husband at 18. Five short years is all it took to break me down.

From the time I was too little to remember, my Dad was a preacher. When I was 12 we moved to an area that still gives me panic attacks (we avoid it like the plague any time we’re near it).  My first truly negative and painful experience took place the spring/summer of 7th grade.

I had a crush on a boy at church. He may have been one of the most sadistic people I’ve ever met and to be clear he moved away and I don’t believe he ever moved back to that area. Further, there were plenty of boys I dated during that time that were incredibly sweet, but this guy- he scared me. The more he scared me the more I was drawn to him. He knew it and capitalized on it taking every opportunity to tell me I was ugly, stupid, fat, worthless and then end the insult with “Just kidding” so that would make it OK. It wasn’t OK.

I was very close with his sister and he’d frequently tell me to get away from him when I said hi or tell me to stay away from his sister because I was gross. He got pretty creative with the insults and eventually stopped saying he was kidding. The more he insulted me the more attention I paid, trying to get him to like me. After a couple months he switched to telling me I was pretty and even beautiful. For a few seconds my heart would soar until he brought it crashing down by saying “Just kidding.” He’d flirt with me relentlessly to get me to sit next to him in church. When I did he’d punch me in the arm, grab my hand during prayer and bend my fingers and wrist back, give me what he liked to call shark bites by pulling up my skirt and pinching and twisting the skin on my inner thigh or behind my knee between his middle and index fingers as hard as he possibly could, always resulting in tears and severe bruises. On two occasions he broke the skin by flicking what he’d pinched until I screamed and finally wrenched myself away. He smiled and laughed when he saw the blood and told me I must be on the rag.

He was older, a foot taller than me and had a decent amount of strength to work with; he would use his size against me frequently. He’d tell me to hop on his back and then jump up and drop me, kick me if I bent over to tie my shoe (while calling me fat ass), punch me in the arm hard enough to leave a knot, even pushed me off of a dock into the river once. On multiple occasions put me in a headlock.

You might be saying, why didn’t my parents notice? Sometimes they did and I quickly developed a reputation for being clumsy (even had to start tripping or bumping into things on purpose in front of them so they wouldn’t suspect). To this day I laugh at the “she ran into a doorknob” jokes when I have a big bruise, but inside all I can think is if they only knew. His sister helped me cover for him. She said that since he met me he’d stopped abusing her as much and this admission completely cemented my decision not to tell anyone what was going on.

My brother knew something wasn’t right. My best friend at church knew something wasn’t right. They both asked me about him frequently and even threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t leave me alone. He told me if they said anything else to him he would tell everyone that I was a slut, hurt my little brother, and never talk to me again. The thought of anyone hurting my little brother or anything happening to him absolutely mortified me. I’d never let that happen.

Why didn’t I just ignore him? I tried, but his sister would get upset because he and I couldn’t “get along”. If I ignored him she’d get defensive and angry. He’d tell me to apologize for being so sensitive and get over it. So I’d apologize and the cycle continued. His Dad even went as far to say if I couldn’t get along with him that I couldn’t be friends with his daughter any more and told my parents that I was the problem (to which they lectured me and I, of course, didn’t stand up for myself). He’d broken my confidence down to nearly nothing at this point, so what did it matter?

The whole horrible 5 months came to a head the night before the family moved. Our families were close so we had them over for pizza to say goodbye. My brother, his sister and I were hanging out in our backyard talking. It was pitch black, no lights on with the exception of some street lights down the hill. I swear he was hiding there in the dark. Stalking me. Planning how it would all go down.

I hear a quiet voice drift out of the darkest part of our yard, “Hey Gen, come over here.” My heart leapt into my throat. He sounded like he was being nice. After all the physical and mental abuse I could tell when he was baiting me and his tone sounded genuinely nice.

I walked toward his voice, away from my brother who called after me, obviously concerned. I told my brother everything was OK, I was only walking a few feet away. He continued to protest that he couldn’t see me and I assured him it was OK. I took a few steps and my leg bumped into a reclining law chair. He was in the chair. Waiting for me.

I still have nightmares about that moment.

I stood over him. “What?” I asked, trying to sound tough. If this was a joke I wasn’t going to fall for it.

Very softly he said, “Sit down.”

“Where? I’m not gonna sit on the grass, we have dogs back here.”

“On me!” He said cheerfully and patted his lap.

I’m completely suspicious at this point. “I’m not gonna sit on your lap. You’ll push me off.”

“I won’t push you off. Come on, I promise. Please?” He sounded whiny, like he was trying to give back some of the power he’d stolen from me for so long.

I continued to say no. He resorted to begging. It worked. I sat down on his lap.

“I’m too big, I’m gonna squish you.” I started to get up.

“You’re not squishing me. I’m fine. Now be quiet.” He pulled me back down and put his hand on my cheek, gently turning my face toward his. He kissed me. I felt like my head was going to explode! I was so happy. I asked him if this was a joke and he said no, he’d always liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend.

I already had permission to spend the night with my friend in their RV, provided that her brother spent the night in their house. He snuck me out of the trailer and I spent the night with him. We didn’t sleep. I had a lot of firsts that night, some that ruined certain things for me until I met my husband. Most that made me feel deeply ashamed (part of being a preacher’s kid is a healthy dose of shame on a daily basis). I snuck back into the trailer to get ready for church in the morning.

I went home with them again after church. The three of us decided to go for a walk in the trees in a nearby park. That’s when it happened. That’s where it happened.

We laid down a blanket and he told his sister to go away. She asked me if I would be OK and I told her I would be. She walked away toward the water. We started making out and he took my clothes off. He held me down. I said No. He said no means yes. I said no again. He didn’t stop. I was silent and before long I heard leaves crunching. His sister came back and said it was too quiet and asked me if I was OK. He shouted that I was fine, she countered with disbelief and rushed over, pushing him off of me. She pulled me away while gathering up my clothes. Although I did bleed that night he didn’t complete his mission, she got to us before he could technically take my virginity. Over the past months he’d taken a lot more than that.

That night I tried to apologize to him at youth group. I still tried to get him to pay attention to me. He told me to get away from him, told a group of our friends that I kept following him around, wouldn’t leave him alone, thought I was his girlfriend, was in love with him, that I was gross and fat and generally horrible. His sister apologized for everything. I was physically bruised and emotionally eviscerated.

I was 11 the first time thought about and I tried to kill myself. A group of girls were bullying me on a church trip. One even suggested I kill myself. The second time I made a plan was that very night. I didn’t go through with it, but the guilt of what happened to me sat like a 200 lb weight on my chest for another 4 months.

We’d moved to Idaho, settled in with my Grandparents and a church I’d gone to on and off since I was a toddler. I was finally feeling safe again. I was watching Oprah reruns one Saturday afternoon. My mom was doing the dishes in the kitchen. Rape and attempted rape victims told their stories. Victims of date rape and rape by strangers. I sat straight up, watching the show attentively, feeling my heart racing and hot tears spill down my cheeks, the lump in my throat so large I didn’t think I could breathe, let alone talk. I tried to calm myself, I knew my mom might come in the room any minute and ask me what was wrong.

It wasn’t long before she did just that. I explained that the Oprah show made me very sad. It was so sad those things happened to other girls. I had a friend it happened to. I began to tell her everything under the guise of another girl in our former church. My mom listened quietly, urging me to go on when I couldn’t. When I was done she narrowed her eyes, looking at me intently and asked, “Are you sure this didn’t happen to you?” I insisted it was another girl, it wasn’t me. My mom said that she hoped the other girl would tell her parents and told me that if something ever happened to me I wouldn’t be in trouble and I could talk to her. I saw the look of concern and scrutiny on my mom’s face. I was afraid I would break her heart if I told her the girl was me. I thought I could save her from the pain I was experiencing. I thought about how I would feel if I had a daughter that had been raped. Most of all, I thought about the possibility of my mom telling my Dad, tracking down the family, eventually getting the police involved. My mom went back to the kitchen to start dinner and I thought about these things for another hour or so. Finally, I got up and walked to the kitchen. I saw my mom standing at the sink, holding a dish towel limply, staring blankly out the window.

I crept up behind her, “Mom?”

She continued staring out the window. “Yes.” she sighed heavily.

I could barely force the words out. I started to say never mind, but screwed my courage up the best I could. I choked it out haltingly, that lump threatening to smash my vocal chords.

“It was me.”

She turned and ran to me, took me in her arms and said, “I know. I knew there was something wrong with that boy. I knew something happened. It was that night you spent the night over there. I knew it had to be.”

We held each other, we cried. She explained to me that it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t do anything wrong, that I didn’t make this happen, that the things he said weren’t true. I made my mom promise not to tell my Dad until I was ready. I made her promise not to do anything, not to get the police involved (although she wanted to). She then told me about her own experience, something that had happened to her at 16. She understood every ounce of my pain and had already felt it herself.

I’d like to say that was the last time something like this happened to me. I’d like to say that I was more careful as I grew older and became sexually active. I’d like to say that I listened to my gut when it said someone would hurt me. I’d like to say that I fought off the next person who brutalized me. I’d like to say I never thought about suicide again. I can’t say those things.

I believe this experience and others are all part of the tapestry that makes up the dark and light sides of my personality. The voice that’s always there to tell me I’m not good enough, I’m ugly, I’m fat, I’m worthless. That shadow that plagues me during my deepest bouts of depression. They’re also the magnet that draws me to those with similar experiences. Throughout my life I’ve had more friends that have experienced sexual or domestic violence than have not. I’m drawn to give love and understanding to others that hurt in this way. I have a deep sense of compassion and empathy for any being in pain and I’m crushed if I feel I’ve cause that hurt myself. It’s drawn me closer to Buddhism and given me a better understanding of the term “Do no Harm.”

My husband helped me save myself from these memories. He’s tried for years to help me love myself. He’s taught me that healthy relationships are two people doing the work to make it easy, that the nice guy is nice all the time and is worth trusting (something that has been very difficult for me.) He’s proven that during the toughest times I won’t be abandoned, that he’ll always be by my side.

I know it wasn’t my fault. I know I didn’t deserve it. I know it doesn’t make me a bad person, or a weak person. I know it’s happened to others and I’m not alone. I know it’s helped me raise a son that respects and reveres women. I know it’s helped shape who I am today, and she’s still working on really and truly being OK.

If it helps someone else feel less alone, then it was worth the pain and doubt of writing this post.