During what part of your childhood/youth did you suffer from abuse?
At age 12, I was sexually abused by a family member that I trusted and respected. It happened during the summer while I was visiting my hometown and staying with relatives.
What kind of effect did the abuse have on your youth?
I felt like I had caused it, that maybe I was dressed too seductively. Interesting, how could a 12 year old girl “cause” a grown man to fondle her in her sleep? I had that thought much later on, but at the time, I truly believed it was my fault. I even tested my theory by covering myself completely the following night and he didn’t touch me. That just proved to me that I had caused it.
I was extremely confused. I thought he could be trusted and that he was a good man. In retrospect, he was a good man, that had an illness. He too was an alcoholic and had stopped drinking years before I met him. I don’t believe he ever had treatment or therapy and obviously, never addressed any of the underlying issues.
You would think being betrayed by an adult at such an impressionable age would cause me to guard against all men. Instead, I became very promiscuous in my later teenage years, which was also when my substance abuse escalated. In retrospect, it’s obvious to me that I was trying control outcomes. That became a continuing theme in all areas of my life and one I still battle with today. I have to remind myself daily that the only thing I’m responsible for is the effort, the outcome belongs to my Higher Power!
What would trigger those feelings?
Anytime anyone, especially male, would admonish or attempt to control me in any way, perceived or otherwise, I would resist and push back. I was extremely rebellious and relied heavily on myself. That attitude was both good and bad: Being self-sufficient was a great way to guard against any threats, but was a barrier when I entered recovery because I always found it difficult to ask for help. This is something I still work on daily.
Did you tell anyone about the trauma?
It took me two years to tell anyone outside of my sisters – and by then I was no longer in danger, as I wasn’t around him anymore. I took care of myself by removing myself from the situation. I passive-aggressively confronted him during that summer and he got the message. He didn’t touch me after that, and I didn’t see him again until I was grown, married and in recovery myself. Because I worked through this trauma in therapy as an adult, I was able to forgive him before he died. Forgiveness allowed me to reclaim my power!
How did you act out as a result of the trauma?
I began using and abusing substances more frequently around age 15. I became angry with my step-dad because I didn’t get my way, and I ran away from home at age 15. I decided to hitchhike from my home in the Northeast to my hometown more than 1,000 miles away with a boy I thought I was in love with.
This boy date raped me by telling me I would either have sex with him or the men in the house where we were staying, would rape me. I didn’t know at the time that that was “date rape” – as that term hadn’t been coined yet. This is something I uncovered during the course of therapy as an adult. This was my first sexual experience with a boy. The magical thinking in my mind was that my biological father would take us both in and my life would be better. The boyfriend was on probation and wasn’t supposed to leave the state, so the police came and picked him up.
I was devastated, but I trusted my father and did what he said. I never saw the boy again. My father gave me a stern talking to, loved on me along with my grandparents and sent me home to my mother a week later. That’s when I began therapy for the first time in my life.
However, even after therapy, my rebellion continued – as did my substance abuse. There were periods of non-use, but I would always return to what made the thoughts and feelings either tolerable or disappear.
Were you aware that you were rebelling? Did you know it was because of the trauma?
I think I knew, on some level, that I was rebelling, but it was more important to do what I wanted at that time. Part of the rebellion was simple teenage behavior, but I believe the level of intensity was due in large part to the abuse.
When you went to rehab, did you know your addiction related to your trauma?
Absolutely, I knew the addiction was related to the trauma! I think I uncovered another layer of trauma while I was in treatment, but it wasn’t resolved until I was in recovery and started working with a therapist one-on-one.
When you did address the trauma, what did you learn?
When I addressed the trauma, I could see that I was NOT to blame, he was! It wasn’t my fault, he was the adult, I was just a child! I was proud of myself for removing myself from the situation and keeping myself safe.
Does this trauma still play a role in the way you live your life today?
The trauma I experienced no longer has a hold on my life. I firmly believe that facing my past with the help of a trained professional and working through the trauma therapeutically, has allowed me to own my past, instead of my past owning me.
Why do you want to share your story?
I decided to share my story to help others to know that the past can be turned to good account and used to help others, but not until it’s been identified and worked through therapeutically. Today my past doesn’t own me, I own my past and that is possible for anyone that’s willing to look within and face those demons.
What would you want other people to know or take away from your experience that have either been through this abuse – or have a loved one who experienced this abuse?
If you experienced any type of abuse or trauma like this, above all else – know it is NOT your fault. Get professional help to walk through the healing process. It IS possible to heal.
For anyone with a loved one who has been through an experience like this, I would say, it isn’t your fault either! Get professional help for yourself and know there’s a long road to healing ahead. It’s important to surround yourself with a support network and take each day as it comes. The past is gone, tomorrow isn’t promised and today is gift, that’s why it’s called the present.