My mom began dating “Guy” around the time I turned nine. For the next two and a half years, he lived with us and molested me. When it first started, I didn’t realize what was happening, as in I did not have a name for it. I had vague understandings of sex and rape, but only as dirty words connected to something that I was not allowed to know about. They were not actions, had no consequences. All I really understood about the molestation at first was that what he did felt wrong, made me afraid of him, and made me feel dirty.
Around age eleven, I began to understand what was happening and realized that he was steadily working his way up to raping me. Once that realization dawned, I went to my school counselor, who informed DHS, who called in the police. My younger half-brother, “Guy’s” one-year-old son, and I were sent to live with our great-grandmother, and I started the police process of filing charges against him.
However, my case was handled incorrectly. All the things that are not allowed today, like putting a female child in a room alone with a male officer who threatens her, happened. Rather than the cops sweeping in like real-life superheroes and making the abuse stop, I was badgered into recanting and sent back home with a mother who no longer believed me and my abuser. The abuse continued. Only now, it included physical threats and violence. I started sleeping with weapons around my bed for protection.
At the end of sixth grade, I packed my bags and went to live with my great-grandmother until my mom left “Guy.” I’d started the school year in a new town, away from all my friends, made almost no new friends, and was teased mercilessly, being told “we don’t talk to fat people.” I’d been abused by the only father figure I’d ever known. Threatened by the police. Forced to move away from my mom, my brother, leave all my things behind. Forced to change schools again. I had to walk away from everything I’d known and held dear to try to feel safe. Needless to say, it was the worst year of my life.
The years that followed came with their own struggles. I’d learned that life involved feeling dirty and hiding the truth about what was happening, and since my family did not believe me, I never went to therapy or talked through what had happened to me.
Instead, I clung to past lessons. I’d date men I shouldn’t, let them force me into situations I wasn’t comfortable with, cling to whatever new guy came along the second the old one dropped me. I’d binge eat an entire box of snack cakes and hide the evidence, covering the mirrors in the bathroom so I didn’t have to see the pounds packing on around my middle. Spent a thousand dollars shopping online and lied about how much I’d spent while hiding my credit card bills. Took three times the required dosage of sleeping medication and pace the hallways until I passed out. Carved the words “help me” into my arm, then layered long sleeves over the wounds, picking at them during the day when my depression spiked into panic attacks in class.
The worst was over, but I still struggled every day, as if there was still someone down the hall planning on hurting me, only this someone lived in my head. It would take years of self-abuse, guilt, and shame for me to reach a point where I stopped working to numb myself and started working on loving myself again. And in that process, I began to realize that the worst year of my life was also the best, not for what had happened but for what it taught me about myself.
I recently left an abusive relationship, one that I knew from the beginning I should not be in. It required me to forget my morals and self-respect; a relationship where going to bed once again made me feel sick and with a man whose touch left me dirty. But to leave him, I had to leave the only person I really knew anymore, who in three years had become my only friend. I had to move out of my home and into an apartment, alone for the first time ever. But, I realized part-way through the move that I’d done this before, and at eleven. I could do it at 28. It would still hurt, but I knew how to deal with that kind of hurt. I knew how to keep moving forward.
Whatever else I will face in life will not be harder than what I faced as a child. Moving to a new state after graduation, struggling to eat better and be healthy, juggling bills on an entry-level salary, paying down the excess of student loan debt from depression-fueled binge spending, trying to make new friends, learning to deal with my depression without cutting: I can do all of it. Though I still struggle daily with the aftermath of having been abused, I remember how my eleven-year-old-self fought to find a place where she could be safe, to relearn how to be happy. She discovered a type of strength that you aren’t born with but that you cultivate within yourself when faced with what seems like insurmountable odds.
All I have to do now in continue calling on that strength, continue striving for happy. I now know that my shoulders are stronger than I once gave them credit, that my bones bend but don’t break, that my skin is thick enough to hold me together when I’m falling apart. It’s all uphill from here.
Featured Photo by Tove Paqualin via Flickr