The bravest thing I have ever done was run away. I ran away and hid in a bathroom stall. I stayed in that stall for what seemed like hours until someone safe came to get me. Later, I stood in a courtroom and testified against someone who hurt me. Multiple court dates. Months of it. But the bravest thing I’ve done - it was running. I still can’t believe I did it. To this day I cannot believe that I had the courage. Me, the girl who refuses to walk through tall grass because of snakes. But I did. I had twenty seconds of insane courage. In those moments, I saved myself. Those moments were a definite stand of No. I will not let this happen again. I refuse to live this way. I do not deserve this.
When I was a little girl I was molested by a neighbor. I remember every moment of it, clear as day. I can feel it happening like it’s happening right now. I remember the feelings that came with it. The shame that tickled low in my belly. The nausea, the offness of the situation. The cold stripe of fear that ran through me when he locked the bathroom door behind us. The sudden emptiness that occurred the moment he took my dress off, my underwear. The darkness that followed.
Within a year, I began to be sexually abused by a female. It happened often, like clockwork, for two years. It was disgusting and vile and perverted.
I never said anything. I did not tell a soul. I lived with it, tried not to think about it, tried to erase those memories like they did not happen to me. Then, when I was 12 years old, I saw both of the people who abused me within a week of each other. It had been 4 years. I had tried to forget, but when I saw them, everything rushed back and plowed into me. The woman walked up and put her arms around my waist, saying I missed you and I shoved her, hard in the chest. I looked at her and said don’t you ever touch me again.
Maybe that was brave. It probably was. It did not feel brave. It felt like I was prey about to be eaten. I felt like I was drowning, on the verge of collapsing into terror.
When I saw him, later that week, he was with my family. They loved him. I couldn’t breathe. When I got up to go inside to go to the bathroom, he followed me in. I could hear him breathing, his steps synced two steps behind me. I became ice. I panicked when we got inside. We were alone. We were alone. I was not going toward the bathroom; that could not happen again. It couldn’t. I couldn’t take it. So I walked into my grandmother’s kitchen, each step feeling like it took hours of my life that I’ll never get back. I reached up to grab a cup that was red and shaped like the Kool-Aid man. His hand wrapped around my thin wrist, hard. A sharp twist, his body flesh against mine, blue eyes centimeters away. Silence. My heart pounded; everyone could hear it for miles. The kitchen watched, the oven watched, the clock on the wall. Outside, I heard my mother’s laugh. His lips moved, almost touching mine. “I’ve missed you.”
I said nothing. I stopped breathing. After another set of infinity-like hours he let me go, turned, and walked away. He never acknowledged me again. I went into the bathroom and dry heaved. I felt disgusting. I felt like I was rotting away inside. Everything I had felt as a child felt new and raw and I couldn’t run from it anymore. It was so real. It was too real. The terror I felt ravaged me. I was an angry, terrified little girl.
Later that week I cut myself for the first time. This continued for years and years and years. Then I stopped eating and got razor thin. I stopped thinking, stopped drinking, stopped living. I was a paper doll with a paper heart beat. I stopped feeling the skinnier I got. I got so thin I think I know what it feels like to be dead.
I got better. I stopped starving myself, stopped slicing and carving up my thighs. I got tattoos instead. I fell in love with a boy. I moved far, far away from the place those people hurt me at. I have a dog, my beautiful little girl, and a husband. I have friends, a church, and so many people who love me. I have a future here before me, full of babies and a career and more dogs than I can count and a life I desperately want to live.
All that pain almost killed me. It kills people. It can eat you alive. It’s unforgiving.
I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if I had told somebody ten years ago, at 12. Or at 15. Or at 7 or 6 or 5. I told my friends, finally, when I was 15. I told a counselor when I was 17. I told my boyfriend when I was 19.
I want to tell you five things. They are important. They are what I have found through nearly two decades of living with the things those people did to me and my body and my soul. I wish I would have heard these things sooner. Talked sooner. Gotten help sooner. I am so lucky to be alive. I want you to be alive. I want you to stay alive.
- Some people will not help you. You will be courageous and tell them and they will let it slide off their shoulders like raspberry jello. The first counselor I told at 17, that I had been molested, responded with, “there are many types of molestation. Fondling, intercourse, etc.” And that was it. That was the conversation. Literally. He was not a good counselor. With all that being said -
- Find people who will support you. Find them. They exist. Find a good counselor. Talk to them. You don’t have to tell them specifics. I have only told three people in detail about what they did to me. My counselor, Lacy. My friend Ashley. And my husband. I did not have to. It was my decision. You can still get counseling - get help - without describing it.
- Refuse to be unheard. What happened matters. How you feel matters. Even if you don’t want to go to court or report it, it matters. This stuff can destroy you. You don’t have to fight it alone. Tell people you trust and love. If they don’t listen, tell someone else. Tell it louder. For twenty seconds, be crazy brave and say, “Something awful happened to me. I need help. It’s hurting me. I need you to help me and believe me.”
- Know that it may become harder before it gets better. You’ll talk about it in counseling. You’ll feel the things again. You may have nightmares. You may be terrified or angry or inexplicably sad. However, there are ways to have therapy without experiencing the trauma. You can talk to a counselor about doing some of these things so you don’t have to relive it over and over and over.
- It gets better. I was so angry at God for years because I still felt the pain of my abuse. I hated him. Hated it. I begged him, screamed at him, cried, bartered for him to just make the pain go away. It didn’t for a long time. Now, after nearly 4 years of counseling, I can definitely, finally say that I have gotten 40% better. I no longer experience panic attacks. I don’t want to kill myself. I let my friends hug me. I stand up for myself. I don’t hurt myself to try to save myself anymore. I am learning how to live with all the things that have happened to me. Truly, I tell you: they do not define me or my life. I thought they did for a very long time. They still exist in my life, but I am not backing down.
I have so many people on my side. I have told my mother, my grandmother, and many of my friends. And many others. My pastor* and his wife, those who have had similar experiences. I talk to the kids I nanny about people touching them - I tell them to TELL ME or their parents when - if - it happens. It happens so much. In your home, at your church, at the mall, at school, in a bathroom.
I am still learning, still growing and healing. I have a tattoo of flowers on my leg. They’re blooming. Learning how to flourish after years of being still, dead, and cold.
Please, if you’re reading this today, even if it’s scary, get help. Tell someone you trust. If they don’t do anything, tell someone else. If you’re hurting yourself, tell someone. If you think about killing yourself, tell someone. If you’re slowly dying inside, tell someone. Find someone who refuses to stop helping and loving you. You deserve so much more than you have been given. If you want to, you can tell me. I can listen. If you want to, tell the police. If you want to, tell your doctor or a counselor or your aunt.
If someone tells you: believe them. Fight for them. Below, I have shared my favorite passage from one of my favorite books Exit, Pursued by a Bear. In it, a young girl is drugged and raped. She has a best friend, Polly, who refuses to leave her side. Who goes through hell with her, refusing to let go of her hand.
“Finally, there is a good chance that somewhere in your life, there is a champion. She will be an older student. A teacher you have never had. The secretary. Someone else’s mother. But that person will have a car and she will make time for you, and she won’t judge or ask questions. Finding her might be hard; you might never have spoken to her before. If you’re lucky, she’ll find you. Trust her when she does, even if no one else has ever stood up for you. I gave Hermione a Polly, but I think Polly might be the least fictional person in the book.”
There are so many Polly’s out there. They will believe in you. I do.
*I just want to say that my pastor, who is a pastor at a Southern Baptist Church, took my history of sexual assault, including an issue that happened in college with another man, very seriously. He believed me and fought hard to protect me. He loved and cared for me and, if I had gone to the police, he would have been there with me. Every church, every pastor should be like this. I was lucky to have been given such a church right when I needed it.
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” - Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo
Johnston, E.K.. Exit, Pursued by a Bear (pp. 247-248). Penguin Young Readers Group. Kindle Edition.