My story started 45 years ago but I didn’t become aware of this huge part of my history until 4 years ago. I was a busy mom working as a social worker with homeless families. I was working 30 hours a week taking care of all these people, and then I would come home and have nothing left to give to my own family. I was drowning. I decided to quit my job which financially made zero sense. I started with my therapist John that spring because I didn’t know what I was doing with my life.
The first major thing that struck me while working with John was that I didn’t know it was not normal to feel worthless. I had felt this way as long as I could remember. It was in the fall that I was introduced to the idea and started to accept the idea that I was depressed.
My biggest fear in accepting that I was depressed was that I would become that person who couldn’t function and I just couldn’t do that with five kids. So I continued going to therapy all through that fall. One time John asked me a question very innocently about trusting my body and I was like, “are you kidding me? What do you mean trust my body? I don’t trust my body. My body is…” and then I started down this rabbit hole. “My body is gross, disgusting, yucky” and my social work intellectual brain knew instantly what those things mean but every part of my being was like “fuck no. This is not me.” The next day was the first day I couldn’t get out of bed and it scared the shit out of me.
Things were bad for a while. It was getting to the point where people were starting to encourage me to think about going to the hospital, and I was like, “no way in hell I am not going to the hospital. I’m not crazy.” But progressively throughout the fall it was getting harder and harder to go to therapy because I would go and rip off this bandaid and then I’d have an hour to talk about it and then I would have to put the bandaid back on and go stand in the carpool line to pick up the kids and pretend nothing was wrong. I ended up planning a retreat for myself at my therapist’s retreat center. I had in mind that it would be good to go and not have to be anyone other than me. Not have to be a mom, not have to be a wife. I could just rip this band aid off and just stay with the confusion, fear and pain. I wanted some information and answers about what the heck was wrong with me.
My friend from church came to do reiki with me, and during the second session all of a sudden I had this picture of me in my mind. I’m about 5 or 6 and I’m at my old house. I was like “ok, fine, what happened in this house?” Younger me, who I call Missy because that’s the name I went by when I was that age, starts to lead me through the house. She leads me down this long hallway to a door, and the door opens. I don’t see anything except bright white light, but it’s my parent’s bedroom, and I instantly know that whatever bad thing happened, it happened here, that it was my dad who did it, and that my mom was not home.
I was freaking out. I went outside and I was just screaming like “what the fuck is wrong with me?” I felt absolutely 100% crazy. Soon after that I met with John and we took a walk in the woods. There was a point where we sat down on some stumps and all of this shame started pouring out of me. All of this little girl language like, “I’m a bad girl, I’m gonna get in trouble, I’m bad, I’m yucky, I’m gross.” That was a really significant experience for me because in the months and months and months to follow, when I totally doubted the truth I was discovering, this shame was not something that I could have made up.
I started to have body memories after that. The worst one was at my son’s orchestra concert at school. For some reason the only people that could come were me and my dad. The left side of my body was sort of squished up against him, and I was absolutely frozen and terrified, and the thought never occurred to me that I could get up and walk out of that room. I had sat next to my dad hundreds of times, why was this happening?
I would also get overwhelmed sometimes by my son, who was five at the time. I would look at his complete innocence and know that this is what a five year old understands and does, and how much they love their parents and have complete faith in them. I would look at him and be blown away. It was almost impossible to realize that the person who had been abused was me at his age. It would just overwhelm me, because it was right in front of my face every day.
In February that first year, I wrote my parents a letter and read it to them. Since then I have not been in contact with my parents, though I got their responses to the letter I read that week. My dad’s response was very short. He said, “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. Something happened to you, but it wasn’t me. The things that you told me about were disgusting, but I could never do that.” My mom’s response was this six page letter that was all about her. The killer in that letter, and this part always makes me cry, is that she said “I was wondering what to do and wrestling with God. Should I believe you, or should I believe my husband?” And she says a beam of sunshine came from outside the window and shone on her face and warmed her face, and that was her message from God to believe her husband. So a fucking beam of sunlight took my mom away from me. My sister initially believed me, but she has since decided that she doesn’t believe in repressed memories. To this day my family is just waiting for me to get over this and move on.
This whole experience has been incredibly hard on my boys. There was one time when I had a conversation with one of them, and he said to me “I just don’t know what to do, because I love Poppy and I love you, and I just don’t understand how he could have done this.” And I said “You know I completely understand what you’re saying, because I feel the same way. I love my parents. But I don’t understand how they could have done this.” There’s a part of my dad that is good. I have many more memories of good things than I have of bad. But the bad things are really bad. By this time I have had flashbacks with details of multiple incidents including being raped.
It’s so hard to do all this work and still have to function as a mom and as a wife. There have been times when it’s been easier and there are times when it’s been nearly impossible. Right now the abuse defines me, because I am trying so hard to work through it and heal. It’s a part of almost everything I do.
I was hospitalized once. It was the worst six days of my life. I know things are bad when I start to isolate, because I can convince myself that it is better to be by myself and not have my toxic-ness affect other people. I can get to a place where it’s easy to believe that people would be better off without me. That they would be less hurt. It is hard not to feel ashamed of having these thoughts and feelings. Shame is very strong and has been an emotion I battle every day.
I find great help and support in groups. I’ll never forget hearing somebody from the intensive outpatient program I was attending say during group therapy that they knew on the way between their work and house which tree they could hit to make it look like an accident. That was such a relief, because I didn’t realize that anybody else had thoughts like that. I know which tree between here and my therapist John’s that would most look like it was an accident. For me it’s been so helpful to know that I’m not alone, and that I’m not crazy. Or at least if I’m crazy, I’m crazy with other people. For me that’s been life saving. I’ve done a lot of advocacy work and gotten involved with SNAP, leading a support group for sexual abuse survivors. There are many different ways that people go about healing, and trying to help other people and give back is one way that makes this make sense to me.
Dragonflies became a symbol of hope for me early on, because they spend most of their life in the muck and the mud in the bottom of the creek, and they have to struggle and struggle to get through that mud and through the water and finally emerge at the top with these wings that are so delicate and so new and not strong and ready, but soon enough they become these beautiful iridescent things that give strength and give freedom. They are a symbol of change and a symbol of enduring.
I don’t know where I’m at with the God thing. Where was God when this abuse was happening to me? One of the things that a good supportive friend said to me that has really made me think was that maybe the way God was present was in creating the brain in such a way that I could dissociate during times of abuse. Maybe that’s God taking care of me by taking my mind away to some place where I can feel safe and feel warm and feel happy, protected from the reality of the abuse happening to my body. I struggle to have hope. I have good people who hold the light for me while I struggle. I just have to trust them to do that, because I don’t have the ability to hope most of the time for myself.
Another modality I have used in my healing journey is art. I have found a new creative part of me that likes to spend time doing activities like art journaling, painting, writing poetry and creating beauty. These activities have given me an outlet to both heal and find some hope.