Back to the Beginning

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Sitting in the lobby of the Tempe Police Department I was a mess.  I couldn’t believe the day had arrived to legally expose the truth of my childhood.   My mind was racing and my heart was beating out of my chest.  I decided to go to the bathroom because I didn’t know how long the meeting would last.  The truth is I was fidgety and it was just too difficult to sit and wait.  As I washed my hands I leaned towards the mirror at myself and sighed.  My eyes were red and slightly swollen.  Last night had been overwhelmingly painful and my heart matched my eyes – and hadn’t completely recovered.

I thought about my conversation with my father.  He stopped by my home to officially say goodbye before moving to Texas.  I wasn’t completely sure why since he stopped speaking to me many months prior.  It’s one thing to not call or text someone but to walk in a room and have them completely ignore your existence is on another level.  My parents were living with my sister and her family and I had  lunch with her about three times a week.  So this meant very often I’d see them.

I would walk through the front door and enter her living room where sometimes my dad sat in the dining room.  Although I knew what would happen I’d say “hi dad.” 

No response. 

Or if he happened to be in the living room would practically run out of the room without saying a word.  This had been our routine for a while now.  He refused to acknowledge or even be in the same room with me.  I obviously had done something but didn’t know what it was because he completely shut me out.  At first I was determined to make him talk to me, then became irked over it, but eventually the rejection overtook and my heart felt wrecked with pain.

One day I was surprised to find him standing by my car waiting to for me.  He asked if he could come over that night to talk.  Everything inside me screamed NO, but I heard myself agreeing to it.  I guess if there was a chance for peace and reconciliation I was gonna try.  As I drove away I wondered how a father and daughter could ever get to this place?  As much as I told myself I wouldn’t allow it to get to me – it did. What made it worse it that my parents would be gone in a few days so if it didn’t get fixed soon it might never happen.  So I really didn’t have the option to say no – or at least that is what I told myself. 

The first 5 minutes after he arrived revealed the reason for his silence.  I was so stunned thinking “this can’t be it – there has to be something else.”  It just didn’t make sense.  The punishment didn’t seem to fit the crime.  I sat quietly processing what he said, and not sure how to respond.  I was just stunned.  Slowly I realized the true underlying reason for his rejection.  It’s where it always stemmed from – my abuse.  Anything I said or did to protect myself or to move forward he was against.  Okay I take that back.  Anything other than quietly praying – giving it to God – and never mentioning it again he was adamantly against. 

I panicked because any hopes of reconciliation i could quickly feel slipping away.  I was desperate for him to change his mind and heart towards me.  To do that I would have to betray myself and go backward in my healing.  As much as the little girl inside me begged myself to do it – I knew I had come too far to ever go back.  Even if this meant my father forever withholding his love and affection for me.  In my final attempt to bypass his mind and reach his heart I told him a story.  I hoped my transparency and vulnerability would unlock the door.  Several years prior I discovered he took his brother (my abuser) in and supported him.  When I found out I was shocked and livid and called my parents.  They both defended their actions and he hung up on me twice.  I immediately began to emotionally spiral downward as my wounds ripped open.  I almost forgotten how painfully deep these wounds were because they were scabbed over for so long.  I was trembling and shaking and crying uncontrollably and had an emotional breakdown. 

I couldn’t control it – it was if my mind and heart took over and my body was just along for the ride.  Once the idea of ending my life became forefront in my brain I got scared.  I knew it was wrong and I knew it would only bring more pain to my children.  Suicide just somehow appeared attractive to me – a way to finally be free.  It was if I had stepped firmly in super sticky gum that I couldn’t remove.  I finally mustered the courage to tell my husband who instantly took control of the situation and got me help.  He loved and supported me in ways that I will forever be grateful.  His devotion, God’s power, counseling, and a determination to live helped me through it.  That gooey-grip that once felt frustratingly impossible to remove one day (after a lot of hard work) completely dissolved away.  What had once seemed impossible became completely possible!!  So I shared my personal and painful story to show if I could find my way out of that then I truly believed we could find our way through this situation between us.   

We sat knee to knee on my couch as I cried through my entire speech.  I could feel how uncomfortable it was for him to hear my words and watch me cry.  When I finished his eyes looked down on the floor and he said “oh man”  in a sorrowful tone.  As a parent I thought of how difficult it would be to hear your child tell this story.  Part of me felt guilty to do this to him.  But nothing could’ve prepared me for what he said.

“I want to feel love when I look at your face but I don’t”….

“I don’t know why.” He said solemnly. 

It was if the carpet was pulled out from under me.  I never in a million years expected him to say these words to me.  It never entered my mind that my father couldn’t or wouldn’t love me.  It took me a few seconds to process the words that came out of his mouth and I crumbled.  I began to sob and heard guttural sounds come from deep inside me that I’d never heard before.  I was embarrassed to do this in front of him because it made me feel weak.  Robbie heard me from the next room and immediately came over to comfort me.

I composed myself and looked my father in the eye.  I can’t tell you where my strength came from and said “dad – until you or I die I will always hold out hope that things will change between us.  I forgive you for everything and want you to know that I love you.”  He asked if he could give me a hug and I agreed.  I walked him to the door and watched him walk away.

Looking at myself in the mirror now I wish I would’ve stuck with my first instinct and declined to meet with my dad.  Tears immediately filled my eyes and I thought “Okay stop it – only focus on today”.  I wiped my eyes, took a few deep breaths, wiped my eyes once more and made my way back to the lobby.

I tried to will myself to feel stronger in attempt to mentally prepare for this meeting.  Imagining the questions that would be asked, but later discovered I really had no idea.  Ten minutes passed and the double doors opened and a man walked towards me.  He formally introduced himself as Detective Bacon and shook my hand.   Okay the irony is not lost on me.  If I had to guess he was in his mid-to-late thirties, average build and brown hair.  We had communicated by phone and email a few times which had gone well but still wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was a big ball of nerves and his kind face and non-threatening demeanor helped me to relax a tiny bit. I also learned that a victim’s advocate would be joining our meeting as well.

Not long after a second person stood in the lobby introducing herself as Maria Gonzalez – the victim’s advocate.  We then made our way towards the room where it would all begin.  As soon as I stood up I could feel the tears pushing against the iron wall inside me that held them back.  Walking down the hallway my mind went back to my conversation with my dad.  It hadn’t mattered how much I opened up to him he wasn’t ready to have a relationship with me.  I think it was a combination of the lingering pain from last night and nerves from my current situation.  But I could feel my internal wall starting to shake.  I told myself “damn it do not cry , do you hear me? do.not.cry.”  We stopped at a seating area off of the hallway.   There were four chairs facing each other on a circular rug with a table in the middle.  This area had floor to ceiling glass windows where the sun was streaming in through the trees.  If I wasn’t in the back office of the Special Victims Unit I might have enjoyed it.

Detective Bacon immediately explained the role of the victim’s advocate and why he had invited her.  She spoke for minute and then said we could talk more once everything was over.  The detective then explained what would happen.  As he did the wall inside me collapsed and tears flowed from my eyes.  I just couldn’t control it.  They both just patiently waited until I regained my composure.  When I did I said “I’m sorry this is just so surreal and I’m overwhelmed right now”.  They politely nodded and the victim’s advocate handed me a tissue.  My heart felt like it would jump out of my chest and I was pissed at myself for crying the first few minutes of this meeting.

I was then led to what I would describe as an interrogation room.  It was small with a table and three chairs.  Two were placed at the table and one was by the door.  There was a trash can, a box of Kleenex and a large window along one wall.  It was a two-way mirror where the victim’s advocate sat on the other side.  I couldn’t see into the next room but she could watch the questioning.  There was also a camera filming our meeting.

A file was placed on the desk in front of me and the questions immediately began.  I had previously recorded a phone statement so I had an idea of what to expect. My memory bank of over four decades now had to be dusted off and reopened.  Some information was easy to access while others took some effort.

“What room did this interaction you just described with your uncle take place?”

“My brothers room.”

“Can you describe the room to me?”

“Ok”.

“As you walked down the hallway from the living room it was the first room to the right.  It was small and there was a window on the south wall, and a closet to the left.  The bed at this time was on the right.”

“Tell me the color of the walls”.

Long pause

“For some reason I see a mustard yellow color but it could have been the color of the bedspread.  I’m not exactly sure”.

“Tell me what he was wearing”.

Longer pause

I was taken back to that moment in that room on the bed.  My uncle was on top of me and touching me.  I ferociously strained my mind to locate the information that could recall what he wore that day.  All I could feel was his mushy hot skin on me.  My breathing increased as I literally was transported back to that moment.  I choose to endure it in attempt to find the answer.  It was deeply painful and with tears streaming down my face said “It’s was a long time ago and I just can’t remember”.

Defeat immediately washed over me.

About this time in the interview I realized this was going to be harder than I initially thought.  My natural solution would be to end the meeting – go home and crawl into bed – get under the covers and begin to emotionally stuff everything back into my ancient burial ground inside me.  This coping mechanism I’ve used my entire life I realized only worked up to a point.  It was useful short term but ineffective in helping me to more forward.   As badly as I wanted to retreat, hide and disconnect from life I purposely sat firmly in my seat.

“Bita we can stop anytime and reschedule for another day if all this becomes too much”.

So now I was given an out a way to end this mental and emotional torture.  I wanted run out of that room and never return, but my soul begged for justice more.

“Okay thank you but I can’t do this a second time -let’s just continue”.

Question after question it quickly became evident to me how far down I buried my past.  It took great effort for me to shovel the memories back up to the surface.  Some memories faded over time while others were still intact.  Some memories triggered others I completely forgotten existed.  It was like opening a time capsule to my life and left me mentally and physically drained.  As I spoke my answers to the detective I could smell and feel and almost taste the past.  Something I always believed would kill me but I was wrong – it didn’t.  I also realized in burying my past I wiped away the good memories too.  I loved my neighborhood street and many people in it.  The homes where we played – the trees and fences we climbed -dinners with friends – walking to school together – absolute special times.  When my world began crashing around me I frantically rushed to rid myself of my painful childhood memories anyway I knew how.  I was a child and didn’t know how to separate the good from the bad – so it all had to go down deep if I were to survive.

What would happen now it was all on the surface? I slowly began to remember and I mean truly remember.  At first I was cautious because I was afraid of what could show up in my mind.  Small impressions formed and a bunch of little details popped up like fireflies at dusk.   Standing alone it might not mean much but all together created a beautiful but sorrowful painted masterpiece.  My past was calling out to me and bringing me full circle.  I was four years old when my abuse started.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me and when I finally realized it wasn’t good I became confused.  I was tricked into keeping secrets until I was a teenager.  I made myself believe that stuffing the memories and emotions would save me.  Believed pretending to be okay would be the best it could ever be.  I mean how many times throughout the years did people say “just let it go” or “give it to God” or “choose to be happy?”  I can promise you I have tried to do all these things all of my adult life, and it didn’t work.  The funny thing is I’ve repeated the same survival skills knowing they were as worthless as a three dollar bill.

I was a little girl when I believed these things would work.  It made sense at the time and I’m proud of her for doing what it took to survive.  It was now time to change my method for healing.  Things were happening in my life that made me see wasn’t a coincidence.  Now I’m rounding the corner closer to fifty and the truth is like a flashing neon sign in front of me.  My long winding journey for freedom has led me to this chair in the police station today.  I was terrified.   Did I have the courage to stand and face my past full of pain and torment?  I felt weak and as if I would faint at any moment.  Not just face it but walk through it.  Force myself to speak of things that only ran rampant in my mind and heart.  Things I’d never described to another soul – let alone a stranger.  Every fiber of my being screamed “NOOOOOOOOO”, but I knew in the deepest core of my being this was the only way to move to the next level of healing.

I had been stuck for a while and didn’t know why.  You see no one in my entire life had protected or stood up for that little girl.  She had no say over who touched her or used her.  She wasn’t allowed to talk about it to anyone.  Even when she finally did discovered no one wanted to hear it.  She was made to feel as if it was her fault and in turn stuffed it all deep down inside.   To the point it almost killed her. Nervously I walked into the police station deciding that this little girl deserved a voice no matter the outcome.  Sitting in that small room and answering question after question I realized the key to my next step in healing would take me back to where it all began…

No More Monsters

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I’ve always believed God was real.  My earliest childhood memory involved me speaking directly to him.  It was more like pleading and begging to be saved from the creatures in my room.  No one seemed to know they were there but me and I never told a soul.  These terrifying shadows only made themselves known in the dark.  I couldn’t see them at first but then slowly the outline of their odd shapes began to appear.  I tried to not look at them because then they wouldn’t exist right? Inevitably my curiosity would get best of me and I’d have to look.  Fear would immediately grip my 4 year old heart when I saw the grotesque creatures spread out all over my walls and ceiling.  Paralyzed with fear I couldn’t look away or even close my eyes.  All I could ever do is tightly grip the sheets around me and pray they wouldn’t move, but unfortunately they always did…

Sleeping soundly in my bed I awoke suddenly to sounds coming from the kitchen.  I opened my eyes to see a sliver of light shining through the bottom of my bedroom door.  The banging of cabinets opening and closing over and over again.  Shortly thereafter the savory smell of food sizzling in frying pans made its way to my nose through the door.  It was my mom’s 3am ritual of preparing food for my dad.  He was a foreman in the swimming pool business.  Living in Arizona meant that if you didn’t want to die of heat exhaustion you had to (as my parents would say) get up in the madrugada (early morning).  His job was very labor intensive so it was crucial for his crew to “beat the heat” although I’m sure they were still very hot.  To get through the work day he needed plenty of water, food and a good work hat to protect him from the sun’s rays.

I now wonder if this 3am routine hadn’t taken place would I have altogether avoided the unwanted creepy visitors?  Maybe I would’ve slept through it all and been saved by the bright morning sun.  Maybe my innocent and happy childhood dreams would have been left intact.  That’s what could have filled my mind and memories for decades to come.  Instead of the over sized sci-fi spider-like creatures that tormented me in my bedroom almost every night.  If so, I could have been free of the terror I felt every morning as a young child.

Where did they come from?  Why did I imagine such things as a child?  Had I seen something like it in a movie?  Or hear others talk about it?  How does this happen to a four year old?  I don’t know.

What I can tell you is that I know now these creatures were very much real, and not just a figment of a child’s imagination.

All children are born with desire to be loved and nurtured.  They need to be helped with everything.  To be fed, to be changed, to be bathed, and even to be given a nap.  They are at our mercy for everything.  What you teach them is right is what they will believe.  They won’t know any different for many years to come.

At a very young age I was taught about the bonds of family.  Such strong feelings of loyalty and respect when discussing this topic.  A deep sense of security in knowing (whether by blood or marriage) that we were all a part of la familia.  Even as a child I can remember the sense of belonging just felt right and good.

Family gatherings for weddings, funerals, or the holidays were times to be cherished.  Some of my best memories were gathering at a home for food and fun.  Barbecues and bonfires while music played in the backyard. Spending time talking and playing with my cousins for hours.  We’d sometimes fight but mainly laugh for hours on end.  Usually we would beg our parents for a sleep over so that the fun could continue through the night into the next day.  Such special memories I wouldn’t trade for the biggest stockpile of gold that’s buried deep in Manhattan.  Or so I’d like to think….

I can’t tell you when or how it first happened but our loving family alliance was compromised and endangered.  Like a fatal disease I’m guessing it was slow growing and unnoticeable at first.  It began to seep into every area of our family disguised as a loyal and loving family member.  Maybe they had true affection and intentions at one point, but the moment arrived when they made the choice to wreak havoc and destruction.

Sometimes cancer starts with changes in one cell or small group of cells in the body.  As it continues to grow can eventually form a tumor where the cancer then takes over and (if left untreated for too long) eventually can lead to an altered life or even death.

In my case my parents trusted several family members and brought them into our home.  They sexually and emotionally abused me for years.  I was such a young child when it started that I didn’t realize it was wrong at first.  In fact, I remember being flattered they paid attention to me and even tried to please them.  When I began to understand something wasn’t right I became confused.  Why?  Because they were still  accepted family members that my parents embraced fully and openly.

I negligently learned these wrong interactions were right.   No one came out and said the words but actions spoke louder.  Over and over again.  So I was a young girl placed in compromising situations with an uncle, an aunt, a step-grandfather and cousin who were never held accountable.

You may be thinking “well maybe if you had told your parents things would’ve been different?” Believe me I thought the same thing for a long time – until I finally told them.

And nothing happened.

Their lack of help and support spoke volumes to my heart and soul.  To watch them disregard my pain and keep their arms open wide to these people ruined me.  It was hard to recover from it but I happy to say it was possible.  I don’t share such tragic and personal stuff to bash my mom and dad.  I do love them.  I’m just not responsible to hold their secrets – that’s how all this mess started.

My mission is to share with anyone who listens is that families are a wonderful gift and blessing.  It can also be your worst nightmare.  I look back now at those creatures I saw in my bedroom in the dark.  Was it a warning or foreshadowing of things to come?  I was tormented by monsters in my home and in my bed for over eight years.  They hid their actions in the dark when no one was looking.  I kept this secret for a long long time because I was afraid to speak up.

I am not that same confused little girl.

I now understand right and wrong

loyalty

healthy family bonds

love

safety

According to Rainn.org:  Out of the yearly 63,000 sexual abuse cases substantiated, or found strong evidence, by Child Protective Services (CPS), the perpetrator was most often the parent:

  • 80% of perpetrators were a parent
  • 6% were other relatives
  • 4% were unmarried partners of a parent

What does this tell us?  Very rarely are children attacked by passing strangers.  It is people that we know and love who have been given access to our children.  Just because we carry the same last name or blood does not guarantee our children are safe.  It does not mean these adults have well meaning intentions.

I discovered years later that I was not the only child in my family who was abused.  It is well known in our family.  In fact my last living abuser still is welcomed in homes of some relatives today. There were other people in the family who were outraged by these acts against our children.

Sadly not enough.

We need to stand up and speak out and protect our children.  It is possible to make it difficult for these dangerous individuals to harm anyone else.  We know them!  We can hold them accountable and warn others!  There is still time to cut out the cancer and change our family inheritance.

Please don’t hide your head in the sand believing it can’t happen in your family.  Open your eyes and ears – trust your gut instinct enough to investigate.  When I became a mother I never wanted my sons to wake up to nightmares in the dark.  I wanted them to have a chance at full life free from torment.  The reality was I knew I couldn’t protect them from every single thing life would try to throw at them.  I did, however, do my damnedest to keep their childhood dreams innocent, happy and safe as long as possible.

Imagine if cancer had spread throughout most of your body?  Terrible thought isn’t it?  What if the doctor said with treatment there was a 90% chance of survival?  How would you respond?  Fight or choose to submit to the disease?  With those great odds why would you ever allow it to kill you?

We can win the fight against child abuse – we are all related to a majority of people perpetuating it. It is possible to protect our children – change their future – and heal our family legacies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternate Ending

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Rose is dressed in her white long nightgown and slowly walks towards the stern of the boat. The sky is black and she is deep in thought.  When she finally reaches it immediately grabs hold of the rail and steps up on the first rung with her bare foot.  The wind is slightly moving and her beautifully messy white hair whips around her face.  She looks out at the ocean below and she is reminded she has been here before.  A time long ago when she debated jumping from a much larger boat and while remembering this she smiles.

The camera pulls back to see Brock (Titanic’s treasure hunter) and Lizzy (Rose’s granddaughter) having a conversation nearby.  Suddenly Lizzy looks up and sees her grandmother standing at the end of boat and fears for her safety.  Brock and Lizzy call after Rose and run to her.  A conversation ensues and then Rose finally reveals she’s had the “Heart of the Ocean” the entire time.  She holds it up ready to toss it in the ocean where she believes it belongs.  Brock panics and begs her to allow him to hold it in his hand even if it’s just for a moment.  She lowers it into his grasp where he stares in awe of the magnificent and brilliant diamond.  In the end Rose tosses it into the ocean while Brock watches with a jittery laugh while his search crew thinks they’ve all lost it!

Wait what?!!

I’ve watched the 1997 movie Titanic a thousand times and this is not how the movie ends.  Surprisingly there IS an alternate ending to mega box office hit film.  I will attach a You Tube link (scroll to the bottom) of the Soul Sparks tab of this blog where you can watch it for yourself. While I enjoyed viewing it I must say that I can understand why they opted for the other ending.  It was the right choice.

There have been many times in my life I’ve wished for alternate endings.  A chance for things to be different – to be made right.  Currently at the top of my list is the death of my father.  The phone call I received after dinner on April 7, 2017 will forever be engraved in mind and soul.  The news of his sudden death permanently solidified our separation on earth. Even a year later it’s hard to accept the fact that it’s over.  I wish so much that a lot of things could’ve been different between us, but that wasn’t the ending that was written.

Thinking back to the beginning our our relationship I realize it was built on a shaky foundation.  Love existed but danger did too.  You see we had inherited so many secrets and lies.  The desecration of our family slowly seeped into every area and hindered my relationship with my dad.  In case you’re wondering he never hurt me sexually or physically in any way or at any time.  He did, however, look the other way.  He refused to stand up for me and many times blamed me, and this caused even more pain.

“No no I don’t want to hear it – that was a long time ago so just get over it”. 

His words stung and immediately a tidal wave of emotions crashed all over me.

“How can you say that?”  I said in a tone that made me feel vulnerable and weak and I hated myself for it.

With a slight snicker he replied “Your problem is that you won’t give it God.”

Anger, sadness, disgust and disbelief became so powerful inside that I felt like it would swallow me whole.  His disregard to my safety and well-being was a huge chasm in our relationship.  Although this pattern repeated itself many times throughout the years he was still my father and I loved him.

He firmly believed that family was everything and you never ever went against them. Ironically it was also what divided our trust and confidence and hindered the bond between us.  He also had a loving and funny side too.  I loved our walks to the park and barbecues in the backyard.  Or how he would sing “La Mananitas” to me each year on my birthday.  My dad was the first person who told me that I could be anything in life – something I have tried to instill in my own children.

Here’s the thing- a lot of child abuse is perpetrated by family members.  In my case it was very much true.  A report is made every 10 seconds, but I think about how many more cases go unreported.  Why?  Maybe other families share my father’s view on family and choose to deny and remain silent.  It is possible to change family history and eradicate child abuse.  No more secrets – misplaced loyalty – or willingness to look the other way.

So many families hold terrible secrets that continue to be passed down from generation to generation.  It’s incredulous to think how long these sick acts go unquestioned or stopped because it’s family.  Our children are worth stepping out of our comfort zone. They are worth our love and protection.  It is possible to establish a strong sense of family without continuing to sacrifice our children.  It’s time for change, healing and most of all an alternate ending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth

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It was a sunny afternoon and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. What made the day even more wonderful is that it was wasn’t hot – not even slightly hot. The weather was absolutely perfect. My brother, sister and I had just arrived at a neighborhood park. There was a mini-carnival in full swing and lots of people walking around. At first I smelled the deep fried foods and popcorn being sold, and could hear loud music and voices in the air. As we approached the entrance I felt excitement build inside me for the fun that was within reach. I smiled knowing the $20 bill in my back pocket would help make it happen.

We quickly discovered our ideas of fun looked different so we decided to meet up in one hour. We each walked in a different direction with cash burning a hole in our pockets. I walked around studying each ride, game and food booth. I needed to make the right decision on how I would spend my limited funds. Just like the weather my choices had to be perfect – or so I made myself believe. I walked around for the second time when I saw it. I’m not sure how I had missed it the first time around. Off to the side was open booth with a woman sitting at a small table. She was dressed in dark colors and also had dark hair. As I walked towards her I noticed the heavy, black makeup around her eyes and it intrigued me.

As I stood in front of her I instantly became shy and didn’t say anything. She looked at me and said “would you like me to tell you your fortune?” I nodded my head and sat down. My heart was beating fast and I nervously looked up at her face. She was so mysterious and I wondered if she truly had a gift?   Was she real or merely playing a part?  I know fortune tellers are supposed to be fun but this was serious for me. I was a kid, I was desperate and needed answers. Even more than that I needed hope.

“What would you like to ask me.” She said.

I needed serious answers but needed to test her first.

“Have my parents ever lied to me?” I asked.

I was still in elementary school but I already knew the answer. In fact I had just recently learned the truth. My parents used and sold drugs and I HATED it. There were regular parties in our home, visitors randomly stopping by too. Hell even our family vacations revolved around picking up drugs in bulk. It was wrong and it scared me. I slowly also learned that this lifestyle made my parents physically and emotionally unavailable. Due to this fact I was an easy target for sexual abuse.

It had been happening for many years now and I hadn’t told a soul. Why? Because I was related to my abusers. At first I told myself I didn’t want to reveal the truth because it would hurt my father. Then I realized it was because I didn’t trust my parents. What would they say? Or do? Would they believe me? Would they make it stop?

So if this carnival fortune teller was legitimate- then maybe she could give me the answer that would help change my circumstances. Maybe my moments of peace and happiness wouldn’t end when I walked through my front door. I crossed my fingers under the table as I anxiously waited for her answer.

Please be real I thought.

“No your parents have never lied to you.” She said with such certainty and my heart dropped. I knew in this moment she was a fake and couldn’t see the past, present or the future.

I had accidentally overheard a conversation between my parents when they thought I was sleeping. They had promised me a few months earlier that they would stop drugs altogether- using and selling. They tried to keep that promise but were now back to doing both and hiding it from me. I remember listening to their conversation and feeling utterly betrayed and alone. I wanted to cry and scream out loud all at once but I remained still and silent pretending I was asleep.

I truly believe this fortune teller had the best intentions when she lied to me. I bet she thought her answer was helping our family. The truth is her lie only compounded my parent’s secret and I couldn’t escape my evil horrors. So I thanked her and sadly walked away.

My abuse continued another 4 years.

Lies even in the simplest form causes a lot of damage and destruction. As long as they exist things won’t ever get better. What I’ve learned is that truth can be painful but will bring change and eventually healing. I also now don’t need a fortune teller to give me hope – God did that for me and continues to do so everyday.  In the beginning hope seemed impossible but truth helped usher it into reality.  Uttering truth can be scary and overwhelming and difficult.  Living in truth, however, is very powerful (and necessary) for lasting peace, happiness and a fulfilled life.

Keep out of Reach of Children

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Warning labels have been around for a long time.  Posted on signs or product labels in effort to keep us safe.  They are everywhere.  Just take a look on cigarette packs, toys, and cleaning products.  McDonald’s was even forced to add a “Caution: hot contents” warning on their disposable drink cups.  I mean wouldn’t you be surprised to discover that coffee is traditionally served hot?!  Crazy huh?  The truth is that someone actually filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s for serious burns on her thighs, buttocks, groin and genital areas from their coffee.  In court it was revealed that this fast food chain brewed their coffee with heat so high as it caused 3rd degree burns within 1 – 7 seconds.  McDonald’s had been made aware for years that hundreds of customers had been severely hurt but refused to adjust the temperature. (www.caoc.org/?pg=facts)

I remember hearing about the lawsuit in the news and completely judging it.  I truly saw it as someone being “sue happy” and trying to make a quick buck.  I was surprised to learn the injured/disfigured plaintiff originally asked for $20,000 to cover medical expenses and lost income.  McDonald’s position was the customer was partially at fault and offered her $800.  It was revealed that according to the company operations manual it was required the temperature be made at a dangerous degree.  McDonald’s admitted it had known of the serious risk for more than a decade.  The number of burns were minuscule compared to the number of cups of coffee sold so they didn’t take it seriously.  In the end the fast-food chain could not explain why they didn’t adjust the coffee temperature to safe levels and why they didn’t warn customers of the risk.

So after the facts were presented it was clear this wasn’t a frivolous lawsuit.  It was overwhelmingly clear McDonald’s was liable and negligent.  In attempt to send a message to the large corporation for their gross disregard of customer safety, the jury awarded the plaintiff $2.7 million.

Message received.

Now everywhere you look you can find written caution signs for: choking, electrocution, suffocation and much, much more.

So where are the warning labels protecting children from abuse?

Who do we easily and automatically give others access to our children?  In my case it wasn’t acquaintances or strangers but family.  Relatives were automatically trusted to be around young family members.   These dangerous people were allowed babysit my brother, sister and I, take me places in their car, and even sleep with me in my bed.  Did my parents ever suspect something was wrong?  Or were they like McDonald’s and just chose to ignore it?

In 2014, state agencies found and estimated 702,000 victims of child mistreatment – this would pack 10 modern football stadiums! Around 80% of child maltreatment fatalities involve at least one parent as perpetrator.  (childhelp.org/statistics)

Another child advocacy organization reported the people investigated for abuse were: 51% relative of the child, 39% parent, and 10% known, not family. (www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/media-room/media-kit/national-statistics-child-abuse)

I believe it is possible to end these high statistics but we all have to change.  In my family the history of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect runs deep.  I was abused in all these ways by my uncle, step-grandfather, aunt, cousin, mother and father.  As awful as the truth is we can’t hide or run from it.  All that will do is allow future generations inherit the bloody scars of secrets, pain and misery.

We all have a part to play in ending this type of dangerous legacy.  Are we willing to speak the truth in the hopes of protecting our children?  Would you be willing to exclude known or suspected pedophiles to family events?  Or would that feel disloyal?  Could you muster the courage to call the police and report crimes placed against your nieces and nephews?  Even if was perpetuated by your brother, father or aunt?

It only took 1 -7 seconds for the McDonald’s customer to have 3rd degree burns on her body from the coffee.  I can honestly attest that wounds and scars from childhood abuse are much more painful and will disfigure your mind, heart and soul.

My last living sexual abuser still refuses to take accountability for his actions.  I’ve been told time and time again that he has given his life over to Jesus and is a different person.  I truly wish this was the case.  I mean even if it were true does that mean all remaining consequences just disappear?  Does that mean he is now safe to be around young family members?  Or any children at all?  There are people in our family that desperately want to believe it is so.  It is this kind of thinking and response and keeps the child abuse statistics high.

Speaking the truth, calling the police, and even writing this blog is not disrespectful and wrong.  In fact it is just the opposite.  There are too many families living in secrets, lies, denial and codependency.  Year after year, generation after generation it begins to blur and feel natural to look the other way.  There is a reason for the saying: The truth will set you free.   Setting something free means it first must be in bondage.

We need the courage to dig up those deeply buried keys and place them in the old rusty locks to rescue future descendants.  Just as I prejudged the plaintiff who filed the case against McDonald’s before knowing the facts.  We need to stop criticizing and shunning those who were too young to understand or stop the crimes committed against them.

If it were possible I would erase the many of years of sexual abuse, the beatings, slaps and decades of yelling and screaming.  I’m still learning how my abuse disfigured my thinking and responses in so many ways.  How it has prevented me from trusting and bonding with others, and most of all loving myself.  I’m grateful my story didn’t end  when my abuse stopped.  In spite of my rough start I’ve had a wonderful life.  Many challenges along the way but I’m grateful for the life I’ve lived so far.

Now that I’m older, healthier, and in a happier place I desire to become to others what I needed when I was younger.   My hope as you read my story it opens your eyes to realize there are children who need help.  Sometimes the ones you least expect.  Maybe my story doesn’t exist in your family (and I sincerely hope this is the case).  But what if you discovered it does?  April is Childhood Prevention Month which is a great opportunity to talk about how to identify and end maltreatment of precious children.

Speaking out is the first step!

Breakthrough

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Chaos erupted in a Michigan courtroom that highlighted high emotions during a three week hearing for gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to abusing 10 girls but is accused by more than 250 others.

The father of three girls who say they were molested by Nassar “lost control” during a sentencing hearing Friday, charged at the defendant and was wrestled to the floor by sheriff’s deputies.

“Let me have that son of a bitch,” the father, Randall Margraves, shouted after he lunged at the table where Nassar was sitting. “Give me one minute with that bastard!” Margraves later apologized for the outburst, and the judge let him go without any punishment or charges, but not before making his feelings clear to the courtroom.

“I can only hope that when the day comes that Larry Nassar has ended his days on this earth that he will be escorted to one of the deepest, darkest, hottest pits in hell there is.”

I sat frozen watching the entire scene unfold.  It was heart wrenching watching the father explain to the judge that he was there to support his daughters.  Only to be emotionally blindsided by the words spoken in their letters to the judge.  They hadn’t allowed him to read their statements prior to that moment.  My eyes welled up with tears as I couldn’t fathom the pain and suffering this family shared in this moment.

Situations like these always triggers me.  It sparks abusive memories which can include moments of being touched or helplessness or fear.  The big ball of anguish and misery I fight to keep locked up has now been given the key to rear its ugly head.  The abuse takes advantage of the opportunity and demands complete control over every inch of my existence.

How?  Through depression, anger, restlessness, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and more. It brings a deep desire to withdraw from others and the world around you.  It can cause you to have a short fuse when speaking to others.  It is difficult to see situations clearly or make rational decisions – or any decision for that matter. 

Sadly I admit I’ve cocooned myself (countless times) under layers of blankets in my bed hiding from the rest of the world.  I created a false sense of security and comfort that made it almost impossible to ever want to leave it.  The soothing escape of my king size bed was still no match for feeling insignificant and desiring to altogether disappear.

Some of you may understand how triggers can lead to isolation but it doesn’t have to stay that way.  Years of counseling, prayer, building a support system and plain ol’ fighting back has helped me.  Every time I desire to run to my cocoon I choose to stay away from my bedroom.  Believe me it isn’t easy, but I find something else to do.  When I’m triggered I now take a moment to find a place of peace and then fill my head and heart with other things.  It isn’t full-proof but it definitely helps.  Now I walk to edge of the pit but I don’t fall in it.

Watching this family struggling to deal with years of sexual abuse, broken trust and betrayal – I’m triggered.  I’m immediately saddened when I realize that I wish Mr. Margraves was my father.  Or more accurately my father had been like Mr. Margraves.  Watching him lunge towards Nassar trying with every ounce of his being to attempt to grab hold of him.

The father explained to the judge how painful it was listening to the words his girls spoke.  How angry and devastated he was to learn what this doctor did to his children.  He begged the judge to give him just 5 minutes alone with him – one minute even. As parents we hurt when our children hurt and there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for them.  Right?

Children should be heard and believed, and the truth should never be swept under the rug.  They should never hear words like “just get over it” or “you’re making a big deal out of it”.  Or even worse – watch as they continue to be in relationship with the very people repeatedly abused you.

I mean the thing is after many years my parents finally heard and believed me.  They just refused to defend me.  It isn’t as if they didn’t know how – I watched them throughout the years defend all the wrong people.  Even until the end of my father’s life he defended his decision to never defend me.

It is important for children to be heard and believed AND defended.

Something happens inside them when they know someone will speak up when they don’t have a voice.  Watching someone take action for them and demand justice.  They say two wrongs don’t make a right, but I’m not gonna lie it felt good watching Mr. Margraves try to pulverize Dr. Nassar.

I think part of the reason I spent so much time hiding under my covers is because I felt the shame and pain of worthlessness.  I tried to cut myself off from the world but I was actually hiding from myself.  One day I gathered the courage to crawl out of my cocoon to finally allow my wings to sprout.  You see that’s what a caterpillar does when it transforms.  At first I looked at my isolation as my safe haven, but later learned it couldn’t heal me.

Just as there are many stages in a caterpillar changing into a butterfly – so is the same in healing (more important FREEDOM).  Once my wings began to take shape so did my thinking.  I realized that as much as I desired and needed to have my parents defend me it wasn’t ever going to happen.  So I had a choice to make:  either continue my familiar trips in and out of the cocoon or do something different.

Attempt to shed my old skin and the labels that attached itself to it: Damaged, Weak, Unlovable, Undefendable.

Some days are good and other days are difficult on this journey towards freedom.  What happened to me wasn’t my fault.  It was more than one person should ever have to endure – especially a little girl.  I didn’t ask for it – or like it -or get what was coming to me.   And although the abuse was all-consuming it never defined me.  Once I refused to return to isolation I could see the truth:

I’m lovable and strong and resilient and treasured AND I am defendable.

So I did…