Sunday, February 22, 2015

If you have something nice to say, I don't want to hear it

I stood at my aunt's house at dusk two Aprils ago, comforting three generations of cousins as they sobbed  over my mother's death. "I can't believe it. She was just over here. She was so good to us. I'm going to miss her so much. I just loved your mother..."

I was numb. I wanted to scream at them, tell them how angry I was, how deeply their kind and thoughtful words hurt me, but I couldn't. I'll admit it. I have mommy issues. I have hated my mother for a couple of decades, but there is no way in that moment I could have made sense of my emotions to them. And the truth is, nothing good would have come of them knowing the truth about my mother. 

By all appearances, Mary was a good woman and perhaps an excellent mom. She worked hard to support me on her own. She recovered from every disaster to come out on the other side with more than she started. She was amazing with money, and no one could make yeast rolls any better than she. 

I am who I am, for better or worse, because of my mother. She is the reason I can cook, and I cook well. She is the reason I am punctual. Always leave the house 15 minutes before you need to. Better to be early than late- I must have heard that at least a thousand times.  Other pearls of wisdom that were ingrained in me include:
  • Friends are not important. 
  • People only want to be your friend because they want something from you. 
  • We have neighbors. Therefore you can not do anything outside where they can see you. 
  • Parties are stupid
  • Church is for the weak, and just something you do on Sunday. The preacher doesn't really expect you to do what he says from the pulpit 
  • Sex is just for the man, and women who enjoy sex are sluts
  • You will never be like those people (referring to anyone I admired) 
  • Don't be like your sister
  • Therapy and counseling are for the weak
As a child I thought Mary was wise. I would sit at the table with her and marvel at the ways she handled adversity in her life. Growing up with an alcoholic father she encountered situations I could not imagine. I heard about how she stole grandpa's keys to avoid riding with him drunk. She shared stories of running away from neighborhood boys. I realized that I was like her; I had my own secrets to survival. She had no idea how alike we were, but I knew how deep the bond was. 

As a teen I thought she was a tyrant. Her rules made no sense. For example, I wasn't allowed to date, but I couldn't go to homecoming dances stag, because girls who do that are sluts. I wanted to play sports, but I wasn't allowed to because I was a piano player and I might hurt my fingers. And then I was told over and over that I would be stupid to go to major in music in college. But the biggest argument always stemmed from the concept of friendship.

Mary had a simple take on friends- just don't have them. At all. Friends are leeches, hanging around with you only because you offer them something they want. No one needs friends. And truly Mary did not have any. Everyone in Mary's life fell into one of three categories. There were family who needed her, family who no longer deserved her, or the unrelated. 

Over the years I watched as Mary helped various family members. And over the years I listened as she ranted about them, how they were dumb and helpless, how they would never be able to make it on their own, how stupid they were. These were the things she said about my sister, my father, my grandmother, my cousins, even my ex-husband after she would get home from helping them in some way.

I don't have to imagine what she thought about me. I told her I was raped as a child, she told me I was making a mountain out of a mole-hill. I told her I was in a fight on the bus, and that the bruise on my cheek was from getting my face stomped.  She thought it was funny and told everyone we met, laughing about it, right in front of me. I told her I was date-raped at 14, she told me it was time to put me on the pill. I attempted suicide and she told me that was because I was weak. I told her I was placing a child for adoption, she told me I "could at least abort it." She kicked me out of the house twice; once as a junior in high school and the other as a pregnant single-mom.

By the time I reached my mid-twenties I saw Mary for who she was, a narcissistic misanthrope. She had no altruistic intentions when helping people; she had projects. Those whom Mary helped sat in awe of her kindness, which only served to validate her already low opinion of the unfortunate project. Whoever this project was, Mary would be obsessed about it. She would visit her project once or twice a week, and make sure all the the project's needs were met. This would go on for a while and then suddenly, without warning or explanation, Mary would cut off all contact. Since these were family members, my sister or I would inevitably run into one of her projects and be asked what had happened to Mary, why she wasn't around any more. We had no answers.

I finally freed myself of  relying on my mother at age 23. Despite my effort to set boundaries, simply to protect myself, Mary still had a negative affect on my life. I felt obligated to maintain a relationship with her for the sake of my children, but I limited how much I would tell her. Even so she found ways to meddle, attempt to sabotage even, my relationships with my husband, children and in-laws. She called John, more than once during the first years of our marriage, and warned him that I was bi-polar, depressed, and often suicidal. She took my children to see movies I told her I didn't want them to see. She convinced my in-laws to write her into their will, leaving everything to her should John die before they did.

But my children adored her. For another decade I continued to fake it for their sake. And then things changed. She didn't show for Thanksgiving dinner. When I called her she told me she had to be at home because she was having a roof put on her house. After that, she just stopped calling. My boys would call her and talk, but she would not have any time for them. Their doting, indulgent grandmother just suddenly didn't want anything to do with them. No explanation. That was somewhere around 2007. She did not attend Jared's graduation or any of John's high school basketball games.She did not see the kids on any holiday.

Mary died in April of 2013. It had been at least 5 years since any of us had had any contact with her. But she contacted her sister and nieces regularly. When they couldn't get a hold of her, they called my sister. Mary had probably been dead a week. The coroner said it appeared that she sat in her chair and died peacefully.

I knew my mother's death would be hard for me. I knew it would bring to the surface all of the feelings I had successfully compartmentalized for so long; feelings of anger and abandonment. In a strange way I was prepared for that. I even had a counselor waiting for my call. Seriously, I had seen her a year earlier to prepare myself for talking about the rape, in detail, for the first time. She recognized on our first meeting that my mother was one of the demons I needed to exorcise.

I was not, however, prepared for others telling me what a wonderful person she was. I was not, and am still not, able to listen to people talk about their wonderful memories of her. And I don't say that to demean those people; I know that they genuinely have those positive memories. But I also know that they did not have the pleasure of seeing Mary's ugly side, which is the part I remember most. Standing there on my aunt's stoop, watching my cousins fall apart, hugging them while they cry on my shoulder, hearing about all of the interactions they had had with her in the last month; it was simply salt in a wound.

I decided long ago that the cycle ends with me. I am not my mother. My husband and children make sure that I do not become my mother. I know that I  have not yet forgiven her because I am still angry with her. I very much want to let that go, and it is getting better. Forgiving my mother has been so much harder than forgiving the men who raped me, but it is something I have to do, so I continue to work through it.

But in the meantime, please avoid telling me how great she was. I know you are being nice, and it's not you, it's me...but I just don't want to hear it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


I used to get angry when I heard sexual assault victims talk about not pressing charges and seeking justice. "You don't know what it's like," they would tell me. "It's like being assaulted all over again." That is true. I did not know what it was like, I had no idea how violated they felt recounting the events over and over again to
For so long I was envious of those
who had an opportunity to confront
 abusers in court. 
strangers. But since we are being honest I can tell you that my anger was fueled by one thing: jealousy. I was so envious of them; they had everything I didn't have. They had support of family and friends. They had time on their side. Many had physical evidence. It seemed so simple to me, just press charges and seek justice.

And then I found out that everyone who had had an opportunity to help me seek justice 30 years ago lied to me. I had been told by my parents, educators, counselors, and even a police officer that the statute of limitations had run out in 7 years. The bastard had been protected by my silence during the only period in which I could have sought justice. I trusted them. And they lied.

Maybe they meant well, but the truth is, rape of a child under the age of 12 in my state is a class A felony. There is not a statute of limitations on class A felonies. On February 12, 2012 I gave my statement to the state police detective and started the wheels of justice moving. I knew it would be a long and difficult process. But I have only one goal: get his name published as being accused to open the door for other victims to go through. Anything else is icing on the cake.

I am up for the fight. In the last three years I have had 27 interactions with the system. I have been in court (with the bastard) 6 times for preliminary hearings. I have signed statements and read briefs. I have waited for the judge to make decisions. And I have weekly emailed to victim advocate in the prosecutor's office to help them remember my name and my case.

And 27 times I have dealt with an emotional response that I can only describe as rattling, as if my foundation has been moved, like I'm not grounded. I'm not sad or tearful, but I am a bit melancholy. It lasts for a day or two, and during this time I am strangely gentler than normal. I still can not give this feeling a name. None of the usual emotions seem to  fit. So I just call it rattled and unbalanced.

I did nothing wrong. I did not invite
being raped.  I do not hold any shame.
I do not have unresolved feelings about the rapist. I have been speaking this same truth for almost 39 years. My story has not changed. He raped me. He knew what he was doing. I did not, I did not deserve it, and I did nothing to cause it. It happened TO me, not BECAUSE of me. He holds the shame, not I. He mentally tortured me for the next 6 years that I lived next door to his parents. I have heard rumors that there was a group of older boys who bullied and sexually abused other boys in the town. If so, and if he was also a victim, that truth needs to come out as well. The bottom line is simple, the truth must come out.

I am not afraid to testify. This process is complicated, but the next forward step is to have a hearing where I tell the entire story to the judge in front of the bastard and the defense attorney. I am completely ready to do that. I dreamed about being able to do that for three decades. He no longer has any power over me, and I look forward to the day I can sit on the stand and let him hear my words.

And yet, I have this strange unsettling feeling every time I deal with this.

Finally, after encounter #26, I got it. I now understand what sexual assault victims had been trying to tell me.

I am not afraid of the rapist. 
I am afraid of being failed by the system.

Encounter #26 was a phone conversation with the detective. We had gotten a ruling in our favor, and the detective would have to file charges again. I told him I was scared; the prosecutor had told me that she and the judge were tired of the case. He encouraged me by saying "They don't have that option. It is their job to fight for justice for you. I am frustrated for you and will continue to fight as much as I have to for you."  His words were exactly what I needed to hear. I needed to know that someone else, someone with more power than I have, was willing to fight for me. 

Every brief, every motion, every hearing takes us one step closer to justice. But every brief, every motion, every hearing is because of some legal wrangling on the part of the defense. I have to believe that these maneuverings on the part of defense counsel are intentional because she knows what I believe- if this case ever gets to a grand jury he will be indicted. He admitted to abusing me to the state police. Once he is indicted, perhaps the flood gates open.

But each time I wonder- will the judge decide in my favor? Will justice reign? Will I ever get to tell my story on the record?

I was failed by so many people in my past. My parents. My friends. Psychologists. A psychiatrist. Teachers. School counselors. Boyfriends and even an ex-husband. All of these people told me to get over it. Move on. There's nothing that can be done. People I trusted, people in power and with influence over me, disregarded my desire for justice as teen histrionics.

Will I get the same treatment from the legal system now? Will I be told, as matter of law, that justice is a gift I don't deserve? Will I be discarded as a case that doesn't matter, dismissed and not believed?

With the words of the detective ringing in my ears I identified the lie in which my fear is based: "You are not worthy of justice," and I have replaced it with the truth:

I am worthy of justice and worth the fight.

I find it amazing how much more support I have now. My love holds my hand during every court appearance. All of my friends offer words of encouragement whenever I give an update. None of them have ever discouraged me from continuing this process. They want to help me. They join me in spirit during the fight. They celebrate the victories and mourn the losses with me.

I don't expect that unsettled feeling to go away. I did not ask for this fight, but I will finish it. I know that defense counsel will continue to throw road blocks into my path. But I am worthy of justice, and I am worth this fight. Other victims of the bastard who raped me are worthy of justice and worth this fight. And if you are a victim of sexual assault I tell you-

You are worthy of justice and worth the fight.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

I don't try to forget. I simply remember no more.

Some word pairs just seem to go together. Cream and sugar. Laverne and Shirley. Forgive and forget. We hear them used together so often that we think they are forever inextricably linked to one another.

Forgive and forget...

We've all heard it. Someone respected by us and well-meaning has said you'll just need to forgive and forget that happened. The phrase is thrown around as if it were a magic dagger- by forgiving and forgetting our problems will be over. All will be right with the world. And if, like me, you have grown up in church we can just turn that up a notch by including the qualifier

...just as God has forgiven and forgotten your sin.

In my case, that means only one thing. God has forgotten more about me that He has ever known. 

Trying to forget trauma is like trying to forget you have on only one shoe. Or like trying to forget you can see. It does not come naturally. Anyone who has been through any kind of trauma has more than memories of the event. The basic physiological response of fear means we had a heightened sense of awareness at the time of the trauma. Our memories are more than just pictures in our minds; all of our senses are attached. Rather than seeing images with our mind's eye, we have deeply planted land mines in our heads with triggers like common smells, sounds, and touches. You don't forget the smell of moldy wood or the feel of carpet on your back; sometimes I have flashbacks. 

LIE- I must forgive and forget. 

Seriously, when did we start thinking that was a good idea? Memories serve a purpose. I burned my hand on the stove because I turned the wrong knob...I remember now to look at the knobs more carefully. (True story. My husband did/does the same thing). All of us could make lists a mile long of lessons we've learned that we will never, and should never, forget. So why do we think we should forget being assaulted in some way?

My moment of truth came while sitting in a Beth Moore bible study...
when she said something so provocative I thought surely she was going to be struck dead by a lightening bolt right there on the TV screen. She said that God does not forget our sin...

Let me stop right there for a second. What is forgetting? What does it mean? isn't it the opposite of remember? Here is a list of definitions for the word forget copied from

  1. to omit or neglect unintentionally:
  2. to leave behind unintentionally; neglect to take:
  3. to fail to think of; take no note of.
  4. to omit mentioning; leave unnoticed
  5. to neglect willfully; disregard or slight.
  6. to cease or omit to think of something..
  7. to cease or fail to remember; be unable to recall:

When I look at these definitions, I immediately see that there are basically two types of forgetting. The first is a complete inaction (#1-3). If you are guilty of this type of forgetting you are unaware that you are doing it. It is only when this forgetting becomes a forget of action (4-7)  that you even know that you've done it. In other words, you only know you have forgotten something when you remember it. 

So what does it mean to remember (according to
  1. to recall to the mind by an act or effort of memory; think of again:
  2. to retain in the memory; keep in mind; remain aware of:
  3. to have (something) come into the mind again:
  4. to bear (a person) in mind as deserving a gift, reward, or fee:
  5. to give a tip, donation, or gift to:
  6. to mention (a person) to another as sending kindly greetings:
  7. to perform (a programmed activity)at a later time according to a preset schedule
On the surface, these definitions can be divided into two categories. Mental remembrances (1-3) and physical remembrances (4-7). In all of the physical remembrance definitions, the mental memory causes an action to take place. But how accurate is that really? Looking at the first three definitions of remember, why do we keep something in memory? I remember phone numbers so I can call someone. I remember I need milk so that I will buy it. I remember a friend's birthday and I send a message to her. I remember a lovely dinner with my husband and I smile. I remember being raped......

Are remembering and forgetting truly opposites?

Back to Beth Moore's explanation. In order to understand "remember no more" we must look at how God remembers. Whenever you find the phrase "God remembered..." in the bible, you will see Him take an action. And you do not find a verse that says God forgets our sins. It says he removes them from us and remembers them no more. (There is a nice explanation of the original Hebrew words for remember and forget here, if you are interested).

So I no longer try to forget. I simply choose to not remember. 

I forgave the rapes. I still struggle with forgiving my mother (and that is because she forgot me, in that she willfully neglected me, she disregarded and slighted me. She ceased to think of me and refused to help me overcome being a two-time rape victim). But the good news is: I no longer judge my own healing on whether or not I forget any of their actions. I haven't, and I won't, forget what happened to me. But I can choose to not act upon them again; or at least I choose how I act upon them. If I act upon a memory of assault or abuse now, I choose to act in ways that do not lead to self harm. 

My memories of assault were painfully twisted with my self-image and self-esteem. In my youth I acted upon my memories by being promiscuous or getting drunk. I attempted to replace the negative feelings of being unseen (by my mother) and worthless (by the rapists) by getting lots of attention and being numbed for a time. It took a lot of time, and even more pain, for me to relearn feelings and emotions, and to properly assign a value to myself.  I had to look at not only the trauma I endured, but the pain I caused others by the ways I remembered; not only did I have to forgive others, I needed to seek forgiveness and make amends. 

I chose to not remember for many, many years. Now that my children are grown, and I've had the mental energy to go through healing and reach forgiveness, I remember again. I choose now to remember by being a voice, an advocate, a hand to hold. I choose to remember by seeking justice. I choose to remember by being active and proactive in my family and community. I choose to remember by giving attention to the young women I love, that they may not find themselves in the same pit I was in. 

Forgiving is hard. Forgetting is impossible. But the way I remember gives me control. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Shackles of Silence

"Now don't tell anyone," he said as he put his pants back on, "or we will both get into trouble. This is a game only mommies and daddies play. You don't want to get into trouble do you?"

That lie bought him 7 years of silence, seven years of total freedom. He had no worries, no fear, no guilt, and no remorse in that time. In fact he made a game out of it; torturing me silently in front of our families. His gestures, his expressions; he made it clear that he wanted to get me alone again.

Forcing a victim to remain silent is nothing new and is not unique to sexual assault. Victims of domestic violence suffer in silence. Victims of workplace bullying suffer in silence. Victims of child abuse suffer in silence.

Silence is an effective tool used by the abuser. It forces a victim to internalize anger and lowers her self-esteem as a result. Silence is paralyzing and coexists with fear, depression, and self-doubt. The first step in the healing process is always breaking the silence.

So why don't victims simply speak out? If silence is the only thing holding 

these victims back, what's the problem? 

The problem is that most of us do not know how to respond to a victim when s/he first speaks up. Chances are good that a victim is NOT going to disclose first to police or mental health professional. The first person to hear about the abuse is usually a loved one or friend.

At age 13 I spoke up, to my mother. I was resolute about seeking justice. I had used the few tools that my school library had to offer to research rape and statutes of limitations, and knew that my time may be running out. And I just knew my mom would be angry and would feel the same as I did. I mean, what parent wouldn't?

"Boys do those sorts of things," she offered. Incensed I argued more passionately and with more detail.  But mom simply responded with, "Oh Trisha, that was a long time ago" and "no we aren't calling the police" and finally "we aren't going to discuss this anymore." And we didn't. She left the table and remained silent on the issue for 30 years.

Her silence spoke volumes to me. Her silence told me that I was not valuable, and in many ways, that she didn't believe the rape actually happened.  I was shackled by the silence imposed on me by the rapist at age 6, now my mother simply secured the lock. The years that followed are a very dark period in my life. I went down the path of a typical abuse victim; substance abuse, re-victimization, depression, and suicide attempts.

It was not silence that led me to freedom. It was speaking out. In the almost five years since I pursued justice, I have told my story scores, possibly hundreds, of times. And every time I tell it, it becomes a little less painful. I don't expect that pain to ever subside completely. But I refuse to suffer from the pain of silence any more. I am more valuable than that. I deserve much more than that, and so do you.

A colleague, who became friend, and I spoke at lunch one day. I had begun the process of seeking justice for the rape (yes, 36 years later because it was a felony) and she said something amazing to me.

"I'm sorry your mother did not listen to you. I'm sorry your mother did that to you. You did nothing to deserve that." If we had been in a Lifetime movie, a golden spotlight would have shown over her and the choir would have broken into the Hallelujah chorus at that moment. Her words were so simple, and yet so freeing. It was not my fault. Her silence, and the imposition of my silence, simply continued the abuse that started with rape.

I am still processing the broad impact silence had on my life. But when I broke my silence, I encountered something I did not expect; company. Suddenly friends of mine opened up to me and began telling me their stories, many for the first time. I have been the listening ear for domestic violence victims and victims of childhood sexual abuse. I am always amazed at how similar, how common, our stories really are.

And I always tell them "I'm sorry ______ happened to you. I'm sorry ______ did that to your. You did nothing to deserve it." And I always see the look same on their faces, the same spark of hope.

If you have been suffering in silence, I encourage you to speak out. I know it is scary. I know you fear reliving the pain of the abuse, and the potential reaction of whomever hears your story for the first time. In my experience I can tell you that family and friends are often more difficult to talk to than strangers. It can be hard for family and friends to listen to you without reacting strongly. People who love you should become angry for you, and sometimes that anger appears misplaced onto you,  the victim. If you seek counseling, select someone who specializes in trauma. Or you can email me (link at top). I will listen, I will believe you. I will help you find your voice.

If you are reading this but are not a victim, thank you. Don't be afraid to respond to a victim when s/he opens up to you. if they speak to you in confidence, listen and comfort. If you take the time to read the blog, take the time to say something encouraging. You don't have to have all the answers. You don't have to fix the situation. But remember, silence speaks volumes.

Here is a list of suggested responses from the website RAINN* 

  1. “I’m sorry this happened.” Acknowledge their experience and how it affected their life. You can use words to show you empathize using phrases like “This must be really tough for you” and “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me.”
  2. “It’s not your fault.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind your friend – maybe even more than once – that they are not to blame.
  3. “I believe you.” It can be extremely difficult for people to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed or they may fear being blamed for the assault. So when someone shares their experience with you, the best thing you can do is to believe them.
  4. “I’m here to listen.” Remind your friend that you are there to listen. The wake of an assault can be challenging for a survivor, as they might be making difficult decisions, such as deciding to go through the justice process.
  5. “You can trust me.” If a survivor opens up to you, it means they trust you. Reassure that you won’t judge them and respect them by respecting their privacy. Before you share their story with others, make sure it’s okay with them. They may not be ready to take that step yet.
  6. “Are you open to receiving medical attention?” Your friend might need medical attention, even if the assault happened a while ago. You can ask, “Are you open to seeking medical care?” or offer to send them information about health resources on campus.

*RAINN- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network