#TimesUp #MeToo

Sexual Abuse Lindy West quote

I feel like we’re living in history making days.  Things are shifting.  Big things.  Terribly uncomfortable, but incredibly necessary things. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought much to light for many in our country.  There’s a feeling of our entire country being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, while too many are still trying to shift the blame back to the victims.  I’ve spent a bunch of time processing my experiences and feelings as someone who has also suffered sexual abuse on more than one occasion.

I recently shared in a post about the first time I was abused by an older neighborhood boy, but that wasn’t the last time.  There was the time a family member repeatedly came in while I was bathing (age 8 or 9) and touched me inappropriately.  I knew it was icky, but until years later when a friend shared about the incestuous relationship between her father and sister, I couldn’t give the incident context.  There was the man who graduated a decade before my friend and I who would drive down our country road and slow down to expose himself to us when we were in elementary school walking to meet each other for playdates.  There was a time an older boy from the middle school showed up at my elementary school and pinned me up against a wall, while telling me how pretty I was and attempting to unzip my blue jeans with my Tony the Tiger iron-on on my knee before I pretended someone was walking in behind him and ran away as he was distracted.  There was the time I was babysitting for three families – two of the dads were brothers – and one of the men showed up just after I had gotten the kids to bed and became quite sexually aggressive.  He was laying on top of me on the couch, I scrambled for the phone and pretended to dial a number, threatening to call his wife.  He watched me dial the phone, accusing me of not knowing her number.  In our town at that time, EVERYONE’s numbers began with 266-4.  He wasn’t incredibly intelligent and left quickly as I dialed the 4, saying something about this not being finished as he walked out the door.  I can still feel the relief wash over me as I fell against the wall next to the phone.  I called no one, not my mother, not a friend.  I gathered myself and began to clean the kitchen up.  A couple of hours later his inebriated brother showed up and scolded me for not being ‘nice” to his brother during his earlier visit.  I was 11 or 12 years old.  I continued to babysit for these families for years.  I would invite a friend or keep the children in close proximity, often having one sleep on the couch in the living room.  In all honesty, there were very few families that I babysat for that I didn’t have to deal with an overattentive “father.”   It was commonplace for my girl friends and I to talk about this happening to nearly everyone.  We would warn each other about the really bad ones.  There were also teachers who were inappropriate in middle school and high school.  Again, we discussed which teachers to avoid being alone with or getting too close to in proximity for fear they would “unintentionally” brush up against us or touch us inappropriately.  These conversations were often laced with giggles as we tried to minimize the fear we felt in the normalized sexual abuse culture we were growing up in.

I recall talking about this with my girl friends in front of boys and their comments would generally insinuate that we should take it as a compliment because grown men shouldn’t be expected to have self-control around those they considered attractive teenage girls.  And, if I’m honest, I believe most of us bought into that theory.  On some level I know I felt some confirmation that I was attractive if men showed interest in me, even if it was perverted and/or abusive.  I also believed that it must be my fault because every time a girl or woman spoke out about sexual abuse, I watched the adults in my life, as well as my peers, find a way to blame the victim or convince themselves that she was lying – that it never really happened or if it did, she wanted it to.

At a football game at the beginning of my senior year of high school, some friends and I were drinking.  I remember running into a much older friend of my brother’s.  He told me he would give me and my friend a ride to a party after the game.  We were drinking alcohol before going to the game and I was tipsy, but not drunk.  He gave me something to drink on the way to the party.  I don’t remember much after a vague memory of an outdoor party with loud music and then getting into his vehicle.  I don’t remember getting home.  I know I woke up in the morning with bruises on both of my inner thighs and what appeared to be semen on my pubic area.  Every time I saw that man over the next several years, he treated me as if he was disgusted with me.  When I finally shared this story with a friend who knew that man, she became very uncomfortable and told me that I couldn’t really know what happened, especially since I had been so drunk and may have even encouraged him.  She then made it clear that she was done talking about it.  I walked away from that conversation wondering if I had wanted something to happen with that man or at the very least wondering if I deserved it.  I have never blacked out in my life except for that night.  I often wonder if he put something in my drink.  I wonder a lot of things, but the truth is, I’ll never know what happened that night.

I remember as an adult being violently knocked around for hours in my home, kicked, shoved and slapped, and then raped by a man I was in a relationship with, as I tried to break things off with him.  When he left that afternoon I showered and got dressed before going to a family gathering.  I choked on my sobs during my shower, but I didn’t allow myself to cry because I was afraid he would return, hear me and continue his violent attack.  I focused on behaving normally during the gathering, numbing myself to what had happened earlier that day.  Because my family didn’t want me to date this person, I never told them about what actually happened that day.  He stalked me at my college, getting my class schedule somehow. I changed my number twice because he got the first number change and kept calling me to let me know it wasn’t over. A month or so later, he showed up at my house late at night, watching me through the glass door I had just walked through, arms full of groceries and I had sex with him because I was terrified he would kill me.  I was all alone and I didn’t know any other way to get him to leave.  I remember telling him I loved him as he left to insure he would keep walking out the door.  Later when I shared it in a detached way with my boyfriend (now, husband), his initial reaction was to blame me for not fighting harder and to accuse me of wanting to have sex with my rapist.  I was filled with shame for a long time about the choices I made because I didn’t understand them and I loathed myself for being weak and trampy. 

I think the thing that keeps blowing my mind about this is that women aren’t really shocked about any of this.  We’ve been sharing stories with each other, sometimes supporting one another, sometimes blaming one another, since the beginning of time.  The reality is, it is a rare (and extremely blessed) girl over the age of 8 that hasn’t been sexually abused in some manner.  It’s even less rare to find an adult woman who hasn’t been sexually abused by more than one person in her life.  

Think about that for a moment.  In a recent poll they found that over 80% of women have been sexually harassed or assaulted.  There is also evidence that women will often block memories out of their minds or minimize it if they weren’t forcibly raped by a stranger, blaming themselves on some level if they knew the abuser and not acknowledging abuse less than full-on rape.  I know that just a few years ago I would’ve said I was never really sexually abused because I always knew my abusers.  The few times I shared my stories with others I was usually filled with shame.  It wasn’t unusual for the listener to question what I was wearing at the time, what I said or did, or to ask why I didn’t do something else, especially if the listener was a man and/or a christian.

We wonder why women don’t speak out.  

I wonder why we don’t see that victimized women, by and large, don’t think they are worth fighting for in these situations, until others are possibly in harm’s way.  Then, when they courageously speak up, we make them reopen their deep wounds while we coldly inspect them with doubt and judgement only to usually find a way to blame them or disbelieve them.

We wonder why victims don’t speak out.

Several of my abusers were family members, close friends, bosses, and teachers.  I should have, as a young and very innocent girl, been able to trust these authority figures, these loved ones.  I should’ve felt safe.  Instead I felt like my discomfort wasn’t important enough to disrupt the “peace.”  I didn’t believe I would be believed.  I believed people would think I was to blame.

I didn’t feel safe at home, at school, at some friends’, at my babysitting jobs.  Why would I speak out?  Who would I have trusted?

Of all of the men I’ve told you about only the flashing car driver ever got in any trouble for what he’d done.  One of them became an attorney.  One of them was serving on a school board, last I knew.  Both of these men were known for their sexual deviance in that little village, students even joked about it.  The adults never did anything about it because we have a “boys will be boys” mentality in this country.  We hush and shame anyone who tries to bring it out into the light, so that the people in power get to stay in power.

Although I say women aren’t surprised because the vast majority of us have endured sexual abuse, from threats to violent attacks, I have to admit I haven’t often shared the abuse I’ve gone through because I believed something must be extra wrong with me because it’s happened so many times.  In recent months as I’ve had conversations with other women of varied ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, I’ve come to realize that not only is the frequency of times I’ve been abused or harassed not excessive in comparison to the women I’ve spoken with, but the degree to which I’ve experienced abuse and harassment is less than almost all of the women who have shared their stories with me.

While I haven’t enjoyed that the incredibly painful abuse of too many women has stirred up memories I’d rather pretend to forget, I am entirely indebted to the amazingly courageous women who have chosen to lay bare their deep and horrific wounds to an audience that has a less-than-shiny track record, at the risk of everything:  their jobs, their income, their reputations, their families, and at times their sanity.  They have jeopardized everything so that we can finally begin to purge this evil from our society.  It’s way past time to speak openly, even when it makes us uncomfortable (like when I typed semen up there) because bringing this scourge up from the depths of darkness and exposing the numerous layers of accomplice for how awful and harmful it is may be the only path to beginning a different way, the way I pray my daughter and  granddaughters can walk fully in – the way I pray my sons and grandsons can walk fully in.  

We have to look this misogynistic way of living full in the face, with all of its discomfort, own our part in the ugliness of the perverted abuse dance and then stand for and live in what is right.  Begin by understanding that ALL people, women as well as men, people of color as well as white people, are truly EQUAL.  When we begin to listen to women and people of color as equals, while believing their stories, the entire everything will shift in the most glorious way. 

It’s past time

  • to believe victims and stop blaming them
  • to empower women and people of color
  • to reject our “boys will be boys” acceptance of abusive, predatory behavior
  • to hold abuser accountable
  • to make this a safe place to hear the truth and change our destructive pattern

I don’t want to wonder why.  I want to be a part of a community and culture that holds ourselves to a standard of respect, love and humanity.  Women shouldn’t have to dress a certain way, lest men can’t help but violate them.  Victims shouldn’t alone bear the burden of proof in a culture that shames us for stirring the pot when we accuse our aggressors. This way isn’t working.  Sexual sin can’t just keep being covered up.  The rug isn’t that big.  God isn’t that complacent.  He loves us too much to turn a blind eye for very long.  It’s time for His children to take their just punishment and turn away from this too common debauchery. It’s time for the church to stop dressing up the misogyny of white men in an expensive suit holding a Bible, and downplaying the abuse of the women and children whom Jesus calls to be honored as His beloved.

Ephesians 5:1 Be imitators of God in everything you do, for then you will represent your Father as his beloved sons and daughters. And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance.  And have nothing to do with sexual immorality, lust, or greed—for you are his holy ones and let no one be able to accuse you of them in any form.

It’s WAY past time, isn’t it?

#TimesUp

#BelieveSurvivors

 

Their Discomfort is Not Your Shame

 

shame-652499_640

I have spent a decade recovering from my husband’s betrayal.  I often refer to that event as the beginning of great change in my entire family’s lives.  Betrayals in marriage make others uncomfortable.  Some of our closest family members have created distance between us and them since becoming aware of  this part of our story.  Immediately after discovering his betrayal, one of my oldest and dearest friends promised to fly out to Texas to help me through the time when I was struggling with wanting to commit suicide.  She was the only person I had shared my shame with at that time. The promise of her visit gave me something to hang on to.  We made plans for over a week.  She told me she’d call with specifics about her ticket.  I picked up the next phone call, hoping she was coming soon, when she told me that her husband said they couldn’t afford the trip and that he needed her home during that time.  I was devastated, but told her I understood and wouldn’t want them to struggle financially because of me.  Two days later I was betrayed all over again as I saw her fb pics of the tropical and pricey girl’s trip that she had chosen (and lied to me about) over supporting me.  After ignoring my texts, calls and letters for about two years, she was in Texas for business and asked to stay with us, so during the day I spent with her, I asked why she did that to me and her response was, “I’m just a sh*##@ friend.  There’s not really anything to talk about.  I suck.”

Closure wasn’t to be in that relationship, apparently.

When I talk about my spiritual and emotional health journey, I often refer to and differentiate the years before the betrayal (The Stepford Years) and the years since to mark the beginning of this incredible journey.  My husband, our three youngest children and I have been very intentional about working through our junk with as much transparency as we can muster.  We believe that this is the best way to help others and to remember how far Our Pappa has brought us since we submitted to His leading.  So, I’ve been surprised by the number of Christian friends and family members who have attempted to shut down that part of our story.  Even in my recovery walk I was asked if I realized how often I refer to that time when I worked through my steps… (btw, this is kinda the point of working the steps, right?). Fortunately, because I had another christian friend say something similar previously and had prayed about it, I was prepared with my shameless response this time.  I’m not living in that brokenness or dwelling in victimhood.  I’m testifying that My Pappa can effect a kind of change in people that can’t happen by our own effort, alone.  So, when a friend comes to me and describes a situation that resembles my B.B. marriage (Before Betrayal), I want her/him to know that I can relate and I can share the “brokenness to the point of not wanting to live” chapter of my story that He miraculously loved into the “wanting to live for Him” chapter of my story.  I can also empathize with mourning that the trauma of that betrayal changed who I was and I will live with that forever.  Always trying to remember that I best serve Him by sharing and thus shedding the layers of pain, sin and fear that stand in the way of walking in my FULL identity that He has always held for me.

I often wonder why our church videos typically share the “end” of the story without an occasional “messy in the midst story.”  We like to wrap it all up in a pretty bow after sharing a quick, not too graphic, picture of what the struggle is really like.  I think the people that are still planted in the mud, stuck in the desert, struggling to feel like their story will have a portion of joy in the morning (“For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”        – Psalm 30:5) would love to hear how truly freakin’ hard the days leading up to His miraculous healing  were for a real live person with skin.  Instead, we have stories that skim over the ugliness and then spend 70% or more of the video on how amazing things have been since the ugly ended.  I understand the motive is to give hope to struggling people, but I think we can do better.  We can be more authentic about how hard and lonely and messy our dark chapters are so that when we get to the pretty bow part of the story, we really give Him all of the glory He deserves because we see that it was only by His grace that we can be redeemed.  This is what will give hope to the hopeless, truly seeing His unrelenting, unconditional love fighting for our hearts in spite of the muck and mire.

I could tell you numerous stories of church peeps who attempted to shame us when we shared our betrayal story

– the leaders of our marriage class that stopped talking to us and then “unfriended” us on fb,

– the first Texas friend I shared the truth with after 2 years, who said she understood and would like to talk after she absorbed it all and then told me she wasn’t sure she could forgive me and cut all ties with my family,

– the family member who used to call me weekly and has called me less than five times in the past ten years because it makes her uncomfortable how open we are about it. 

Their discomfort is not my shame.  We need to be uncomfortable in order to grow.  We are called to comfort our sisters and brothers. 

“Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”     – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

There is nothing in the Good Book that tells us that we should shame others if their story makes us uncomfortable or fearful.  There is nothing that tells us we should tone down how messy things are so that the people sitting in the pews or across the table feel more at ease.  The peeps who prioritize their need to feel at ease aren’t leaning into the real story of God’s redemption and the peeps that are leaning in, need us to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, again and again, without shame.

If you are one of those courageous people who is speaking your truth in order to heal and/or to help others heal, just know that He sees you and your heart.  He loves that you are choosing to do the hard and often humiliating work of crawling your way back to health.  The people that try to shame or shun you because you are speaking your painful truth are afraid or lack compassion, but it isn’t a reflection on you or your journey with Jesus.  Keep your eyes on Him and seek His will, even when it’s lonely and doubt rears it’s ugly head because the enemy doesn’t want you to walk in the identity Your Father has for you.  Hold your head up and walk through, knowing He is with you.

“I am your anchor in the wind and the waves. I am your steadfast, so don’t be afraid. Though your heart and flesh may fail you, I’m your faithful strength and I am with you wherever you go.”  

We need to do better.  We need to love better.  We need to open our hearts to His stories of redemption and the beautiful, uncomfortable messiness that comes with it.  

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God.”        – Isaiah 40:1

 

 

 

Buyer’s Remorse

Buyer's Remorse and Sales

That post yesterday?  Violated?

Yeah.  I’m having some buyer’s remorse.  I think this might be similar to what one feels the morning after a one-night-stand or a drunken escapade…

“What did I do?!”

I considered deleting it because I keep thinking it makes people uncomfortable, but in all honesty, it makes me uncomfortable because it was humiliating and I never worked through it or discussed it with anyone in a healthy way.  So, I’m leaving it and praying it helps another person who shouldn’t feel embarrassed or humiliated because someone else violated them.  Bring it out of the dark.  Take away the power that story holds over you in secret.  You are worth the risk.  You are. 

Violated

shrubs (2)

It was summer time.  We lived in a quaint little cul de sac with a beautifully landscaped circle that the other houses all faced.  Our house was on the corner lot, furthest away from the pristine circle.  The back side of the cul de sac had no houses because, as I remember, there was a rain basin, which was a fenced off area with claylike dirt and rocks inside.

My older brothers had found a way into the basin area, but I never knew where it was, because that was an adolescent boy thing, not a thing for a 5 or 6 year old girl to know.  Until this summer day.

I was riding my bike around the cul de sac and then I parked it on the circle lot so that I could play.  There were great shrubs and trees there.  It was really lovely.  A much older boy, whom I recognized, joined me and was extremely kind.  I was playing house or something imaginative and he didn’t make fun of me like my big brothers had done on occasion.  They had also made fun of this boy before, saying he was odd, but in this moment, I felt sorry for him, because he was obviously just a nice boy and they were wrong.

We talked for a bit and then he asked me to go for a walk and I joined him.  He said he’d show me how to get into the basin if I didn’t tell anyone else.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  He showed me where the fence allowed entry and held it for me to enter.  We walked a bit before he began to talk to me in an angry way and shoved me down into the rocky dirt.  I recall feeling shocked, blindsided and humiliated.

fence basin

For some reason, I am still traumatized enough that I can’t bring to mind the next few minutes or so and I remain embarrassed enough that writing what he did to me is extremely difficult.  

I vaguely remember sobbing and running into our front door dripping with urine, not my own.  My parents were livid.  They clarified who did this to me and then my older brothers went outside quickly.  I recollect someone asking me where I had left my bike and reassuring me that they would get it for me.  My mother bravely washed me up, clearly repulsed by my urine drenched clothing, asking me several times why in the world I went for a walk with that boy!

Why did I go for a walk with that boy?  Why would a young boy do such a vile thing to a little girl who obviously thought he was kind?  

For the longest time I thought I was being punished for going into the basin, even though my brothers went in there on the regular. 

Secretly I wondered if I had done something that made him treat me that way, but what could I have done to deserve that, aside from being nice and going for a walk with him?  It was the thing that my brothers would tease me about to embarrass me as I grew up.  It was a story that focused more on what my brothers did than on what was done to me in the retelling.

Shame is powerful.  The shame of victims.  The shame of those who should protect.  

I wonder if my brothers beating him up cured him of his perversion or if he ever violated anyone again after that.  I pray something brought him healing.

Thanksgiving Day Parade

Image result for parade float under dog

I was young enough to sit up on his shoulders in the frigid outdoor celebration.  The sea of enthusiastic people was overwhelming to me from this point of view.  My relatives kept shouting at me to notice each of the HUGE characters floating by, but all I could think about was the icy wind that was ripping through my winter jacket, as well as my skin and settling deep into my very bones.  I began to wimper and an exceptionally kind, older woman, who was smooshed against us, offered me some hot chocolate in response to my father’s angry reaction to my tears.  “My mother would never let me drink out of a stranger’s thermos,” I thought as I drank down the burning sweetness, enjoying it even more with my awareness of her disapproval.  The relief was fleeting, so when I began to cry once again, my angel lady began to pour more cocoa for me only to have my father bark, “NO! No More!” at me, and then, with a change in tone, “Thank you, no more,” to my angel lady, who tried to explain it was no problem and she could see how cold I was.  She didn’t know my father, but I did, so I wasn’t surprised when he got snippy with her and made everyone uncomfortable.

pouring cocoa thermos (2)

The only other part of that day I remember vividly was that we piled into the car before heading to the parade, my father, uncle and several cousins.  As we traveled, I began asking what their last names were.  I may have been in kindergarten and just becoming aware of last names because I recall a feeling of pride at knowing what mine was and thinking, perhaps, someone else in the car may not be as sophisticated as I was in this knowledge, though I was the youngest.  The first several people I asked had the same last name as I did and then I asked my father’s sister’s son what his was and  he replied with a different last name.  I was a bit taken aback and responded innocently with something about him not being part of the family.  My cousin laughed, but my father, obviously embarrassed, shot back something about how he was probably more a part of the family than I was.  

I don’t miss the cold weather of Michigan even a little bit, and I never, in all of my 40 years of living there became comfortable with it.

My father has since asked me to remove my maiden name from my fb account and to never contact him, again.

I’m not a big fan of parades.  

But I really love hot cocoa.