When people ask me about my story . . . about what happened to cause me to be in the place I am currently, I struggle to answer. It’s not a nice little story that fits comfortably in a two-minute sound bite. It’s a long story with many tangents.
So, here’s my attempt to sum it up neatly . . .
[Updated October of 2011]
In 2001, I had a nice, well-paying job in a growing industry. I had a nice home and a nice life. Things were good. Then came the terrorist attacks on September 11th of that year.
In the wake of those attacks, the economy reacted negatively and my industry crashed. I lost my job (April 2002), had a very difficult time finding work of any kind, and spiraled down into financial ruin. It was nearly two years before I was able to find even a minimum-wage job – I kept hearing I was too overqualified. By then, I was living in the spare bedrooms of various friends and family members, and my mom was buying my groceries for me.
That was a very dark time for me. There were many nights I sat on the floor, wrapped up in a blanket, talking myself out of taking my gun out into the mountains and ending the struggle. I would stare at the clock glowing in the dark and focus on toughing it out for ten more minutes . . . I’d tell myself I just had to concentrate on getting through the next ten minutes. When those ten minutes were up, I’d focus on the next ten minutes. I got through many nights that way.
I finally found a minimum-wage job (January 2004) and was very thankful for it. With that little bit of income, I started getting back on my feet, a tiny step at a time.
Since my industry had all but dissolved and/or moved overseas, I knew I had to find a different career path. This challenge was made more difficult because I didn’t have any way to pay for training or other educational advancement. I was going to have to find a way into a new career with just my wit and tenacity.
A few career possibilities started taking shape (Fall of 2007) and I started feeling hopeful again. At that point, I noticed I had learned some significant life lessons during my time of desperation. Surely this newfound wisdom would serve me well the rest of my life . . .
I started making plans for how I would become “successful” again. I tried to follow my plans, but found myself unable to stick with them. Instead, I’d often curl up in a ball under my bedcovers. I wondered why I couldn’t just get out of bed and do what I need to do. To find the answer, I hired a psychotherapist named Mark (February 2008).
In digging through my psyche, Mark and I discovered all kinds of stuff I didn’t know about myself. The most shocking aspect of the therapy was that I started having flashbacks to sexual abuse – the shock being that, prior to working with Mark, I had no reason to think I had such a history. I kept thinking, “But, I know this is not true!!!!! Right . . . ???”
But the memories kept coming – a true Pandora’s box. And, I discovered I had many of the symptoms that one would expect to see in someone with a long history of abuse – physical, emotional and sexual. You could have knocked me over with a feather! It took months to piece together all the snippets of memory and build the following storyline . . .
As a young child, I loved music. That isn’t much of a surprise given the fact I come from a very musical family. Extended family get-togethers often included ten or fifteen people gathering around the piano and/or organ in someone’s living room and playing and singing for an hour or two.
I grew up being surrounded by musical instruments, including the piano. I often performed at school and at church. I really loved music – it was easy for me to sing harmony and to play hymns by ear.
When I was about three or four years old, the music director at our church became my “buddy”. He would allow me to sit with him on the piano bench as he accompanied the choir during their practice sessions. Sometimes he would let me play along with him on the high end of the keyboard.
He often gave me little gifts like candy and toys. The church people found it humorously cute that we called each other “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” despite the fact he was married.
One day he gave me a heart locket on a chain. I put his picture in one side of it and my picture in the other side. I told everyone I was going to marry him when I grew up – and I was serious when I said it. I found it annoying when people laughed at my declaration. I remember being very jealous of his wife and wishing she would disappear.
After church on Sunday mornings, he and his wife would sometimes take me home with them to spend the afternoon. In the early evening, we would head back to the church for choir practice and the evening service – and I’d be reunited with my parents.
In the time between Sunday morning church and evening church, he, his wife and I would eat lunch. Then his wife would take some heavy-duty painkillers to deal with the aftermath of a back injury. She would go upstairs to bed for the afternoon and he and I would go downstairs to his office.
My snippets of memory around what happened in that basement include me sitting on his desk with my feet in his lap . . . and him masturbating me. I remember how good that felt . . . how good it felt to have his undivided attention and his approval . . . to hear the seductive silkiness of his whispers in my ear . . . to feel my body respond in such a thrilling way . . .
And then I have snippets of memory of being face down on a chenille bedspread and being aware of his sodomizing me. I also clearly remember not liking that part of the afternoon.
I also have snippets of memory of (hearing? seeing?) him walk away from me in disgust, throwing my play clothes at me and growling for me to get dressed . . . I remember wondering what I did that made him not like me . . . trying to do anything to get back in his good favor . . . without success . . . at least until the next Sunday when he would again seem glad to see me.
As I’ve recovered memories, I’ve come to believe that he told me that we were “creating children” . . . and that God is very pleased when a man and a woman create a child. Of course I wanted God to be pleased with me! If God were happy, my parents would be happy! It makes sense that I would submit to being molested if it would make everyone happy with me!
As an adult in the present looking back in time, these memories . . . these flashbacks . . . were surreal. I struggled to believe what I was remembering . . . but the pieces started fitting together all too well . . . the story became clearer. In time, some of the peripheral facts were substantiated by people old enough at the time to have more accurate perceptions than me.
I wrote a letter to this man (July 2008) – I hadn’t had any contact with him for about 20 years – and asked him if my memories were accurate. As soon as he received the letter, he called me on the phone and angrily denied it. He aggressively berated me for trying to ruin his life.
He told me that I’d never been in his house. When I insisted I had, he asked me to prove it by describing his house. I did . . . inside and outside, main floor and basement . . . in great detail. He acknowledged that my descriptions were accurate, but then he discounted my memories by saying I could be describing anyone’s house.
He finally calmed down when I told him that I didn’t know for absolute sure that my memories were accurate . . . that I was just trying to make sense of the flashbacks.
My reaction to that conversation is that it he “doth protestedeth too much”. My therapist, Mark, reacted the same way. I came away from the conversation believing it was further evidence that my memories could be trusted.
It took quite a while, but I finally started to believe myself – I started trusting my memories.
In the middle of all this remembering, my housemates bought a piano, on a whim, at a garage sale. I had shied away from music for 20 years – maybe because my molester used music as a grooming tool. Or, maybe it was because music affects me profoundly on an emotional level and I have been working so hard most of my life to be numb – I couldn’t afford to allow myself to feel that much emotion.
After this piano serendipitously showed up in my life, I began remembering how to play the piano and began reconnecting with music. It started playing a significant role in my healing.
My therapist, Mark, was very helpful as I started dealing with this newly exposed personal history – until he tried to pressure me into embracing the Christian faith. We went around and around about this. He wouldn’t back off. So, I quit therapy (October 2008).
I really struggled to make sense of this new way of thinking of myself. I felt compelled to tell my story – so I could get “it all off my chest” – so others going through similar events could know they weren’t alone – and, so therapists who are hung up on forcing religion upon their clients might learn why that doesn’t work. So, I launched my blog in which I publish the contents of my therapy and personal journals (January 2009).
I noticed I wasn’t doing such a great job of dealing with stuff. So, I hired a new therapist, Dr. Barb (February 2009).
Therapy with her was a disaster, to say the least. We never did get on the same page about the best way for me to proceed. I wanted a safe space in which to process traumatic memories and she wanted me to “quit giving it energy and choose to leave it behind”. I’m rather opinionated and combative, and she is rather set in her ways, so we actively butted heads the entire time. I quickly ended my therapy with her (April 2009).
For the next nine months, I followed a self-directed therapy process, which involved working through a number of self-help books and journaling incessantly. I posted my journal entries on my blog. The feedback I got from other survivors and mental health professionals helped to fill the gaps in my process.
I was doing much better during that time – I was waking up a bit happier and my depressions were fewer, shorter and shallower. I started socializing and doing fun stuff again. I actually started to get excited about what was happening in the here and now.
I even lessened my use of destructive behaviors to numb out – maybe to 5-10% of the level I was using them two years prior. The good news is that the reduction came easily – not through white-knuckling it, but because I wasn’t feeling the need to be numb as much.
The flip side of not being as numb is that I started to remember stuff . . . emotions and bodily sensations. Because the remembering was becoming overwhelming, I decided to go back to my first therapist, Mark (January 2010). I have always felt very safe with him physically, so I figured he could help me process the memories from the physical trauma despite the conflict we have had over the religion boundary.
Well, things didn’t go any better between us the second time around and I quickly ended my therapeutic relationship with him (March 2010). I immediately launched a well-organized search for a new therapist and found one named Edward. He has turned out to be a gem. I am lucky to have found him and I’m grateful for the dramatic progress we have been making ever since.
Edward has been helping me figure out how my personal history has shaped my experiences of today – and he is working with me to process that history so I can move out of the trauma of the past and start living in the present.
Obviously, the sexual abuse has had a significant impact on how I show up in the world today. But, there are other components of that traumatic history that have played a big role, as well. The following describes some of the “biggies” I have been processing with Edward’s help . . .
My parents were very religious – and morally conservative. We were not allowed to dance, go to movie theaters, play with “gambling” cards, listen to pop music, get our ears pierced, wear shorts (except in gym class) . . . you get the picture.
My dad enforced these rules with verbal abuse . . . he told us that he would disown us and our children and our children’s children if we caused him shame – if we were caught drinking alcohol, if we were caught having sex, if we showed up pregnant – in other words, if we did anything that would make it seem he was unable to raise “good” children.
He further enforced his rules by telling us that God knew our thoughts and He would know if the thought of disobeying our parents was in our heads. He told us that the thought is as sinful as the act . . . that dwelling on the idea of being disobedient was as sinful as actually being disobedient. He made sure we knew the Bible said unrepented sin would cause us to go to hell. So, even if our parents didn’t know about our sinful thoughts and behaviors, we would still be punished in a way worse than our parents could ever dole out.
The punishment we received was not just limited to verbal abuse. It also involved substantial physical abuse. My dad believed it was his job as a parent to “break” the sinful will of his children . . . his challenge was to do that without breaking the spirits of his children. (He used to “break” horses – I think that is where he got that idea and language.)
As soon as one of his children demonstrated a disagreeable spirit – which, according to him, usually began occurring within the first six months of life – he would use physical pain to facilitate that “breaking” process since a six-month-old child does not yet understand words. For children that young, he would limit the punishment to spanking with his hand.
Once a child was old enough to carry on a conversation, he believed it was appropriate to use his leather belt for punishment. He believed punishment is effective only if it is significantly painful – if it wasn’t painful, it wouldn’t be an effective deterrent.
My first memories of getting hit with the belt are from when I was maybe three or four years old. I remembering him coming into the living room and telling me he had to punish me . . . and I reacted by standing in the middle of the room and peeing my pants in terror at what was to come. He quickly learned to fix that problem by telling me to go to the bathroom before he would tell me I was going to get whipped.
I have clear memories of trying to cover my butt with my hands while he was whipping me. He didn’t want to damage my hands, so he would tell me to stand facing the nightstand in their bedroom with my hands on either side of the nightstand – he wouldn’t allow me to take my hands off the nightstand. When my knees would buckle under the pain and I would drop to the ground into the fetal position, he would tell me to stand up again and return to the assigned position with my hands on the nightstand. He then would tell me to lock my knees so I wouldn’t fall down again.
When he was talking to me about what I did wrong – which he always did right before he whipped me – he expected me to be remorseful. If I tried to argue my case, if I showed anger, or if I didn’t drop my head and eyes to show my remorse, I would get extra punishment for being rebellious.
When he whipped me, if I didn’t cry soon enough or hard enough, he would tell me I was being defiant and he would whip me harder. If I cried for too long afterward, he’d hit me again because he said I was being melodramatic and feeling sorry for myself. He required me to demonstrate compliance and submission with every fiber of my body.
My mom had/has a very quiet, gentle spirit. But, when I was a child, there were times she would explode with [misplaced?] rage and would take her anger out on me. She would grab whatever was available – a wooden spoon, a spatula, whatever – and hit me without restraint.
At least my dad would contain the welts and bruises to my buttocks. But, when my mom would finish with me, I’d have welts from my shoulder blades to my knees. There were many school days I wasn’t able to find an angle at which to sit that would keep pressure off of the welts given to my by my parents.
I believe that the verbal and physical abuse from my parents definitely left a mark on my soul. But, I think I was most injured by the inability of my parents to hear my cries for help during the darkest times of my childhood.
The memories I’ve recovered of being molested don’t include specific words. I only can remember my emotions and other people’s body language. I have a vague memory of trying to tell my mom about being molested. Of course, I had no concept of “sex”, I just knew that I craved the attention of this man – and I knew some of the things he did to me were very painful. The discord between the pleasurable attention and the pain was confusing to me.
Again, I don’t remember the words I used when I tried to tell me mom what was happening and I don’t remember the words she used in response. But, I do remember the very clear message sent by her body language and her facial expressions: “Shame on you! Good girls don’t say things like that. They don’t even think things like that. Don’t ever say those things again! Shame on you!”
That is the moment I figured out that anything having to do with pain in my private area was not to be mentioned. In fact, it was to be ignored and discounted. I internalized that message so thoroughly that years later, at age nine, I suffered with pinworms in my rectum for two weeks without saying a word. My mom happened to catch me scratching and started asking questions, which caused her to take me to a doctor. Otherwise, I don’t know how long it would have gone untreated.
From the time I was molested at age four, I routinely fantasized about being forced to participate in painful rituals with men that would result in my becoming pregnant. I wasn’t exactly sure what that “painful act” entailed, and I didn’t have a name for it because I had not yet been given “the birds and the bees” talk. I knew that having a baby was painful, so I equated the “painful act” with having babies. I’m sure part of that association came from the words whispered to me by my molester as he raped me.
When I was nine – a few months after the pinworm situation – I became concerned that the fantasies might cause me to become pregnant. So, I asked my mom how women’s bodies knew to not get pregnant until after marriage, even when the women were older when they got married.
She answered my question by having a very healthy “birds and bees” talk with me. She patiently answered all my questions as I grappled with understanding this new concept of a man putting his penis inside a woman’s vagina . . . I didn’t even know I had a vagina until that day.
In the weeks after that talk, I struggled to reconcile the skewed sexual education I received via being molested with the information my mother had given me. When I started asking questions about painful sex and about being forced to comply with a man’s request to have sex, my mom once again made it clear that “nasty” talk such as that is sinful and shameful. So, I turned to my girlfriends for more information.
My girlfriends responded with disgust. They called me a pervert. So, I stopped asking questions. I just pulled my secrets back inside of me and resigned myself to keeping my private hell very private. I concluded that I was a sinful, disgusting, shameful, damaged and permanently broken girl. How else could I explain the shameful, violent movies that ran non-stop in my head?
I was so devastated with what I had concluded about myself that, by my tenth birthday, I had spiraled into severe depression. I became passively suicidal. While I never attempted to kill myself, I prayed daily for God to take my life – I was going to hell anyway, I might as well go sooner as later.
In between the violent sexual fantasies, I fantasized about all the ways I could kill myself. And, I pushed the memories of being molested deep into the dark folds of my brain where they would stay buried and inaccessible for the next 30 years.
For the next few years, suicidal thoughts overwhelmed me. I tried to ask for help without actually admitting I was weak enough to need help – I asked for help by becoming angry. My parents labeled my angry outbursts as defiant and insubordinate behavior. They tried to fix my “bad attitude” with more punishment.
Because I was developing breasts, my dad would no longer touch me except for an occasional pat on the shoulder. Instead of whippings, he dialed up the threats of disownment and eternal damnation – and added dire warnings of not being the kind of girl a Christian boy would want to marry. Oh, and he decided it was okay to slap me in the face when he was very angry with me. I guess that allowed him to keep his distance from me while still inflicting pain.
He made it very clear to me that he would be satisfied with nothing less than a pure and devoted-to-God daughter. He told me that not only should I not have sex before marriage, but that I should not even allow myself to entertain sexual thoughts until then. Of course, I knew the truth about myself . . . that I compulsively masturbated to violent, vile sexual fantasies. I knew I could never let anyone know that about myself.
My main focus in life became proving to everyone that I was a very good girl. I knew I really wasn’t, but I hoped I could hide that fact well enough that I could retain my place in my family and in the church . . . and that I could still be good enough to marry a good boy.
I was desperate to win the approval of my dad. But, by the time I was 14 years old, I figured out that would never happen. I knew I was never going to be the girl my dad wanted me to be. I would never be good enough; I would never be enough.
So, I threw myself into finding some boy, or some man, who would give me love and approval and acceptance. No boy wanted to actually “go steady” with me, but there were scores of boys who were willing to hide in the bushes or go behind the bleachers with me – and kiss me and squeeze my boobs. I quickly learned that I could use my body to gain a little bit of the attention I so desperately wanted.
That was the beginning of a long history of promiscuity.
When two boys cornered me on my walk home from school and threatened to rape me, I slipped away and ran back to the school. I asked a teacher for help but begged her to not call my parents. I knew that if my parents talked to the boys, they might learn about the groping in the bushes I had been allowing.
The principal called my parents, someone tracked down the boys and brought them back to the school, my parents came to the school and talked to the boys. To my relief, the boys didn’t spill my secret.
Two years later, when I was 16 years old, I was in the music room of my high school, putting away my trumpet after playing in the pep band during a basketball game. The music room was in the dark bowels of the school’s basement. As I stepped out of the music room and into the dimly lit hallway, the school’s bully grabbed me and pulled me into an isolated corner of the hallway.
With one hand, he pinned my hands above my head. With his other hand, he fondled my body. He told me that he could do anything he wanted to me and that no one was going to come to my aid. I started fighting with all my strength. I got my hands loose and exploded out of the corner, kicking and hitting. I landed a solid right hook to the side of his head. He immediately grabbed his head and started spinning around in pain. That gave me the opportunity to run.
I learned later I broke his eardrum. I guess I could have reported him to the school’s admin staff, but I didn’t. I was too terrified of my parents discovering what I allowed boys to do with my body . . . I was terrified of being disowned. And, I felt I deserved the assault. Who was I to get upset when one boy wanted to do what I’ve let many other boys do?
The week of my 18th birthday, I left home and headed off to a tiny Christian college 700 miles from home. I desperately held onto the hope I could convince one of those good college boys that I was a good girl – a good catch – despite my secret belief to the contrary.
Within a few weeks of arriving at the college, I started drinking – and I would keep drinking until I was numb – and until I blacked out. Blacking out allowed me to have sex without having to make a “conscious” decision to do it, and it allowed me to not have to remember the shame. Getting drunk allowed me to forget the pain of being repeatedly dumped after each one-night stand.
My best friend, Melodie, intervened and convinced me to not use alcohol in that way. I followed her advice – it made a lot of sense – and stayed relatively sober while still making promiscuous choices. Fortunately, it was not difficult for me to kick the alcohol. Apparently I didn’t have a chemical dependency on it, just a psychological one.
When I was 21, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area and took a job with a very large church. I shared my secrets with a few of the members in an attempt to get some help. But, instead of help, I got judgment. Those members decided I shouldn’t be in a leadership role because of my secret battles. They cornered me in prayer circles and pushed me to quit asking questions and just accept their teachings without debate – God would solve everything if I would just submit to His will . . .
I was already struggling with a spiritual crisis when I started with the church. The interactions with the members pushed the crisis into full bloom. I left that church and didn’t find another to replace it. I decided I no longer aligned myself with the Christian faith. Instead, I settled into believing that all love-based religions lead to God.
After working at the church, I landed a really cool job programming computers at a government site. It was a job that required a top-secret clearance. The money was great; the opportunities were unlimited. I was feeling pretty good about the success I was having on the professional front.
Behind the scene, I started drinking again . . . and acting out in promiscuous ways . . . and then getting depressed. I would pray to die. Actually, I had never stopped praying for death since I started praying for it at age nine. I hated being alive. I hated that I was broken and damaged and sinful. But, my success on the professional front helped me forget about the hell I was experiencing in private.
A couple of years later, when I was 23, my dad died. I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with him a year before he died. It was one of those conversations people would like to have if they knew the other person was going to die soon. We had the conversation because we both had a premonition that he was going to die in the near future – neither of us knew how or exactly when, we just both knew it was going to happen soon.
It was a healing conversation, I guess. I didn’t share with him who I really was . . . that was too risky. But, we did say affectionate things to each other, and he assured me he was okay with dying. When I got the call a year later that he was in the hospital and that he was going downhill quickly, it was no surprise. I knew what was coming. I guess that made his death a bit easier for me to accept.
A few months after his death, I got pregnant and wasn’t sure of the paternity. It wasn’t much of a surprise, given my continuing desperate search for a man – any man – who would love me. I was glad my dad was dead . . . he would have been so ashamed of me.
I addressed the pregnancy with an abortion. I wasn’t psychologically impacted by the abortion nearly as much as one would expect. I think it had something to do with how disconnected I was from my body. I had to be disconnected from my body in order to survive a lifetime of men doing whatever they wanted with it.
When I was 27 years old, I was invited to work on a very special project. There were only four members on the team. I was the only one without a computer systems degrees (my computer skills were all self-taught); I was the youngest team member and the only female. So, it was important to me that I prove to everyone that I could hack it.
The team was led by a guy named Jesse. He was new to our software development group . . . and his arrival was causing quite a buzz. He had recently retired from the Marines but was still active in the reserves. Before he retired, he had been involved in a number of special ops assignments – his training for those assignments included survival techniques and hand-to-hand combat. He wouldn’t talk much about those assignments, but he did hint at having killed people while executing the assignments. He would say, “Well, that was just part of the job.”
He was everything you would expect a Marine to be . . . physically tough, focused, smart, driven . . . and he took his job very seriously. I was flattered when he took me under his wing. He made sure I was respected by my teammates and that I got help with technical issues anytime I needed it. His support was very valuable to me.
A couple of months into the project, he started asking questions about my personal life. At first, I was flattered by the attention because he was acting like a big brother might act. For example, I was getting ready to travel out of the country for the first time and he walked me through what to expect and how to be well prepared.
Then, his attention turned more jealous. He would ask about my dates, and he joked that I would surely be more “satisfied” with someone like him. I was surprised and uncomfortable with his comments because he was my boss – and married.
About four months into the project, he and I were scheduled to attend a weeklong training class in Orlando. We got our plane tickets and hotel reservations. A couple of weeks before the trip, he called me at home and invited me to take advantage of a special deal being offered to military people by allowing him to switch my hotel reservation to his hotel. He said we could get adjoining rooms, which would allow us to have some privacy.
I was starting to get really freaked out by this point. I had no idea how to handle the situation. My life experiences had taught me that I had no ownership of my body, nor control over what men could or would do with it. I had been taught that I didn’t have the right to set boundaries – that I wasn’t entitled to preferences – that I was required to be compliant.
I also was afraid of what standing up to him – rejecting him – could cost me. It could cost me my job and maybe even my clearance. I didn’t want to rock the boat with him. I wasn’t sure how vindictive he would get. I instead decided to just not encourage him. I was hoping that would be enough to cause him to back off.
I thanked him for the hotel offer but declined it. I made up some excuse about frequent traveler points or something. He didn’t push it further.
We flew to Orlando on a Sunday, the day before the first morning of training. I was very sick with the flu. I prayed he wouldn’t hit on me because I felt too sick to deal with it. No such luck – on the plane, he kept his hand on my leg or on my arm the entire flight. He kept scooting over closer to me, trying to “cuddle”. I pretended to be asleep.
During that flight, a really sick feeling started taking shape in my gut – and not from the flu. It was the first time I became seriously concerned about my physical safety. It was obvious my “not encouraging him” strategy was not working. But, I didn’t have a better strategy.
I created a variety of plans in my head for how I would handle if and when he became physically aggressive. I figured the best plan would be to make sure I was never alone with him. I would keep all kinds of excuses handy.
At the same time, I kept telling myself that he surely wouldn’t try anything because he had too much to lose. If he did try something and I reported it, he would lose his marriage and maybe custody of his kids. He would lose his current standing as an officer in the reserves. He would lose his job. He could easily lose his clearance, maybe even his freedom. I assured myself he wouldn’t risk all that.
Anyway, we landed. We each got our rental cars and headed to our respective hotels. I sighed a big sigh of relief. I put my pajama’s on, took a big dose of flu medication and settled into bed to watch a bit of TV. Then, the phone rang. He said we needed to go over the logistics for the next day – he was coming over and would be there in 10-15 minutes. He didn’t leave it open for discussion; he just announced he was on his way.
I still felt I had no right to say “no” – after all, I felt obligated to be a compliant employee. So, I acquiesced. I got dressed, made the bed and spread the contents of my suitcase all over the bed. I was out of breath when he knocked on the door.
He came in and we had a bullshit meeting for ten minutes or so. When it seemed we were finished, I stood up, gathered up the class literature and started saying things like, “Okay, I think we are all set to go” and “Thanks for stopping by, I’ll see you in the morning.”
He stood up . . . and in a split second he had me pinned against a dresser. I fought to get away from him. He kept trying to kiss me . . . I remember clearly that his breath smelled like poop.
He got me onto the bed. I knew I had no chance of fighting him off. I knew he was going to rape me and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Strangely enough, I wasn’t very concerned about being raped. I figured it wouldn’t really matter because I also knew he was going to kill me. I knew he was going to rape me and then he would realize what raping me was going to cost him . . . and he would never let that happen. I knew he was going to kill me so I couldn’t cause him to lose all those things he held dear.
And, strangely enough, I wasn’t very concerned about being killed. I just accepted that it was going to happen. My biggest concern was that my mom would never know what happened to me. We were 1,000 miles from home . . . and very close to the Everglades. I knew it would be easy for him to tell the training folks I had to cancel the trip at the last minute . . . and no one in D.C. would be expecting to see me or hear from me until a week later. That would be plenty of time for him to dispose of my body and clean up the evidence. It would be easy for him to do that, given his military training and experience.
I continued fighting for my life. But, at the same time, I was trying to find a way to leave a clue that the police might find. I knew there was a pen in the nightstand, so I tried to work my way across the bed to the nightstand. I figured I could fight to get onto my stomach – hopefully he would be okay with raping me from behind – and I could write his name with the pen on the underside of the bed or the nightstand or low on the wall. Then, I could drop the pen. Hopefully the police would find the writing and find the pen with my fingerprints . . . maybe Jesse wouldn’t find it and dispose of the evidence before the police found it . . .
All of the sudden, he stopped his assault, glanced at me with the funniest look on his face, jumped up, grabbed his pile of stuff and ran out the door. I don’t know what changed his mind.
It took me a second or two to wrap my mind around the fact that I was alone and that he had stopped before raping me. Then, I jumped up and flipped the deadbolt.
I called my sister in Colorado – I had no idea how to handle it. She told me to report what happened to the hotel management and to ask for a new room – and to tell the front desk to not give out my room number. She told me to contact our corporate office in the morning to see how to handle the incident within the corporate ranks.
I took her advice and got moved into a different room. Jesse and I avoided each other for the rest of the week. I filed a report with the corporate office. However, they said I should record the incident without including his name because I really didn’t have a case . . . I had never established a clear boundary with him and I had never said “no”, therefore he really didn’t violate any clear boundary.
The corporate office – along with my sister and a friend – helped me set up a very clear boundary in writing with him. Our plan was that I would attach his name to the report if he ever violated the newly established boundary.
I asked to move to a different project and we pretty much avoided each other. About ten months later, it looked like we were going to be on a project together again, with him as my manager. He told me I had to be willing to work with him after regular office hours – just the two of us, that I had to allow him to call me at home, etc. He said that if I didn’t go along with that, he would make sure I got fired.
That is when I told him that I had already filed a report and that all I had to do was put his name to it – and I dared him to keep pushing the issue because my butt was covered. A week later, much to everyone’s shock (except mine), he resigned. That was the end of that.
In the months after the hotel incident, I struggled to deal with the emotional trauma. I told myself that he didn’t rape me, he didn’t kill me . . . so, basically, nothing happened except he tried to kiss me. I told myself I had overreacted – it was nothing. I was never in danger of being raped; I was never in danger of being killed.
I did talk about what happened to a handful of people – but, I disclosed only the clinical, factual aspects of what happened. When I did talk about it, I always downplayed how scared I had been. And, I never told a single soul that I believed he was going to kill me because I was ashamed of how far I had blown it out of proportion in the moment.
I told myself to just get over it and move on. But, instead of getting over it, I withdrew because it no longer felt safe to be attractive. I quit my gig as volunteer firefighter. I quit going out to dance. I quit flirting. I quit dating.
Instead, I stayed home and started binge eating in a major way. I became more depressed and started seriously courting the idea of suicide. I gained 50 pounds in a couple of years – I went from being in great physical shape to being a lump on the couch.
Two years later, I had a really cool opportunity to move back home to Colorado. I took it. It turned out to be a fresh start for me. I started socializing again and started getting back in shape again. I got the binge eating under better control. I started dating again.
At the age of 32, I got married to a nice guy after a whirlwind courtship. Six weeks after the wedding, I knew I had made a mistake. This “nice” guy was saying some really hurtful things to me and he was physically bullying me.
I again turned to my best friend, Melodie, for support. By this time, she had a psychology degree and had been working with troubled teens for many years. She is intimately familiar with the cycle of abuse. She told me that things were only going to escalate and that one day he would hit me . . . and things were going to get worse from there. She explained that he was already being abusive.
This concept of “abuse” was new to me. I thought his behavior was within the norm and I wasn’t really concerned about it. I felt I could find a way to fix it, but she felt I needed to leave him. I thought she was overreacting . . . until I contacted a couple of mental health professionals who confirmed what she was saying.
That was a major turning point for me because it was the first time I became aware that much of how I have been treated in my life is easily considered to be abuse. It blew my mind.
I kicked my husband out of the house and filed for divorce. I started rebuilding my life . . . again. Two years later (2001), the terrorist attacks occurred and the aforementioned financial and career downfalls started happening . . . which was followed by therapy and the recovering of my buried memories . . . which was followed by the start of the healing . . .
And that brings my story full circle . . .
Anyway . . . I’ve been immersed in the therapeutic journey for about four years now. Once I started down that path, I realized there was little time and energy for anything other than staying employed and healing.
I stopped riding my motorcycle, I stopped hiking, I stopped going to bars, I stopped dating . . . basically, I now spend my time, money and energy on working, sleeping, healing and journaling about the healing process. More or less, I’ve become a recluse.
Is being reclusive healthy? I don’t think it is for the long term. But for now, it feels more healthy than not. I feel I need to keep myself to myself for now. I feel the need to be quiet and reflective and prayerful for this current season of my life.
I’m not sure I will return to riding motorcycles. I now understand that activity was a vestige of the “daredevil” persona I used to please my dad and to attract men. I’m learning that I really don’t care to be a daredevil. So, if I return to motorcycling, I’m sure it will be with a far more laid back approach than before.
I do want to return to hiking – that activity feeds my soul. However, one of the biggest demons I’m battling right now is how easily I get triggered on the physical level by the therapeutic work. I’ve been disconnected from my body for my entire life. I’m now starting to reconnect with my physical body. I’m starting to have a sense of ownership. I’m starting to set boundaries. I’m starting to acknowledge my personal preferences and dislikes. But, it has been very challenging to move into my body and to be keenly aware of bodily sensations.
I’m experiencing the body memories and the triggers created by the historical trauma – memories and triggers that have been lying dormant for decades. I’m finding I often feel I have no ability to care for and to protect this body of mine. Though, I’m starting to learn how to do that, too.
I’m finding that purposeful physical exercise is very triggering for me. Losing weight is triggering for me. Anything that moves me towards being more physically attractive is triggering. When I’m triggered, I numb out by withdrawing into my safe zone (under the bedcovers) and binge eating. And, I’ve been triggered a lot during this process – enough that I’ve actually gained another 30 or 40 pounds during the last four years.
I keep telling myself that I’m making progress on the inside even if I’m not making progress on the outside – that the healing occurring on the inside will cause changes on the outside, when they do finally occur, to be more sustainable. Some days I have trouble keeping the faith.
I’m fine with not returning to the bar scene. That clearly no longer fits in with how I’m currently showing up in the world. In fact, drinking alcohol has pretty much disappeared from my life. I might have a beer once every few months if the situation feels comfortable to me. But, for the most part, I’ve found alcohol to be less desirable and more unnecessary.
I still struggle with wanting to die. However, this year, for the first time since I was nine years old, I’ve become ambivalent about dying. I’m not ready to say that I’m excited about living, but I’m okay with not dying just yet. I think I’m okay as long as I’m still willing to talk about it with my therapist.
And, here is the biggy . . . I’m learning that relationships are a key part of healing. I’m also learning that superficial relationships are of little value to me. When I connect with a person, it is important to me that the connection be respectful, meaningful and thoughtful.
That way of relating to people – especially to men – is very new to me. I had to take some time away from social interaction with men so I could break the compulsive, addictive, destructive behavioral patterns I’ve utilized in the past. I had to develop some self-respect and some new skills before attempting to relate to men in a healthy way.
It has always been easy for me to relate to women. That is still true today. However, this business of relating to men in a non-sexual, respectable and healthy way has been very challenging for me. My attempts to establish quality relationships with “safe” and gentle-spirited men have been, at best, awkward. I struggle with knowing what to say, where the boundaries should be, how to not be offensive or clingy or uncouth. I am at square one in the learning process. But, practice makes perfect.
And dating . . . ?? Well, let’s just say I’m a long way from being ready to date. The thought of dating – and of having sexual contact with a man – makes me want to vomit. I have to get past that first, I dare say.
Even casual and/or affectionate touch from men is still difficult for me to handle. It takes a lot for me to be in close proximity of a man and not be on edge – I have to feel very safe with him. And actual contact with a man will often cause me to dissociate for a few moments. I’ve not yet reached the point where casual touch from a man can occur without me being hyperaware of it.
One activity that has again become a huge part of my life is music. It is one of the most powerful healing modalities I’ve found. It seems I have stumbled onto and settled into a new career as a piano teacher – and, I love it! I now can’t imagine doing anything else.
I feel very alive when I teach – it energizes me. I find myself being very invested in the wellbeing of my students, especially the children. Those relationships breathe life into my soul. I find it incredibly empowering to take the venue that was once used in my childhood to harm me in the most egregious manner and use it as a way to nurture the intellectual and emotional health of these precious children.
And, I’ve been composing music that reflects the mix of emotions contained in my soul. Capturing that emotion and then performing the resulting music is very powerful and healing for me. So, I spend a lot of time doing that now.
So, in summary, this process is shaping up to be a long journey. I have good days and I have bad days. I’m grateful for the support provided by my therapist, Edward, as I work through all the crap that comes up for me. He is an extraordinarily talented therapist.
And . . . that’s where the story stands right now!