A few days ago a friend of my husband mentioned an author that talked about vulnerability and courage and shame. She has a show on netflix now called The Call to Courage. It stirred up so many thoughts in me that have not stopped for days.
When my husband’s friend mentioned the word shame I was very quick to say that I had never felt it. Upon great reflection I think during Yom Kippur I have realized that I felt shame on many levels. Mostly I felt shame as a young girl which is why the truth could not escape from my lips for a very long time. Equally important was the shame that I felt others felt about me. Since no one wanted me to speak the truth, or speak the truth themselves I believe it left me in a constant cycle of shame. Maybe I was not good enough for them to accept or validate. Maybe a LOT of things but shame was a big one.
I cannot write the narrative that they tell others about me or that they even believe themselves. I have to some how pull myself out of even the concern of what their narrative of my life even is. I can tell you it is not my truth. It is only the truth they perceived and/or wanted to believe OR maybe it is just all steeped in denial and their own shame. I cannot speak for them I can only speak for how it has all made me feel. I KNOW how much I need to escape from the grips of their stories now more than ever.
I have never felt pretty enough, good enough, worthy enough. I like the person that I am more than I like most people because I know my own heart and it’s ability to care. I like me yet I don’t feel worthy. Worthy of what? I don’t know. Just worthy.
Even when I was doing admirable things like helping animals in wildlife rehab or helping the elderly in hospice, I still did not feel…good enough. Good enough for what? I don’t know.
For one I am not worthy of my own parents. They didn’t feel so as they so easily left.
It’s interesting because I have taken part in a genetic study where a brilliant geneticist has made it his mission to find the mutation causing my muscle disease. To do that I had to revisit the idea of my father’s mere existence on this planet. It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist than to accept that they do but don’t choose me. He was asked to donate a DNA sample for me, the daughter that does not exist. He agreed. He wants to help me he said. He hates to see me deteriorating he said. But he has not seen me in three years. I am worthy of spitting in a cup for DNA but I am worthy of nothing else. It hurts me. (This came to me second hand as I have not spoken to him)
In this week of reflecting on shame in its many forms, I keep flashing back to this photograph that was given to me when I was 15 years old by my boyfriend. It was right before my 16th birthday and he had written on the back of it but I never read it. My mother looked at the photo and turned it over. It was a photo of him standing next to his BMW. On the back he had written, “ From the two things that love to ride you most,” meaning he and his BMW. My mother was unaware I had been having sex at 15 years old and was mortified and I was sent almost immediately to a GYN to get on birthcontrol. I was so ashamed. I was ashamed she knew. I was ashamed that he had had sex with me at all. How ironic that I had not felt shame before. His is my fist recollection of feeling shame. Not when I had been molested by men for the 5 years prior.
I had met my boyfriend on a blind date when I was 15 to go to his homecoming dance an hour and a half away. I always wondered why my mom let me go on this blind date so young. But I also wondered why she let me go to the mans house who molested me all those years before. These things I will never understand because I don’t believe on my mother’s part they were intentional but in my own heart I just wanted to feel safe again. I had hoped it would come from her or my father. It came from fleeting moments of abusers who were mascaraing as people who loved me. Well back to my story…The night my boyfriend had sex with me I think was the first time I truly felt the dissociation that is PTSD. This was no romantic story. This was not a gentle loving experience. But he was my first love. I had no idea what he was doing was not only without my consent but that it would lead me down a path of shame that I would feel for years. It was in some back room. Ramming and ramming and ramming and blood everywhere and him leaving and me trying to hide EVERYTHING. From 11 until many years after I knew love as pain and sex and dominance over me. I find it sad now that I was so in love with…well…a rapist. I was in love with many men who turned out to be rapists. Once a child has been through sexual trauma at an early age their is a veil over what love even is. I did not know love until my husband when I was 24 years old.
So when my mother read the back of that photo she felt ashamed of me but had no idea the shame I felt for myself. She had no idea how horribly the GYN would treat me after finding out I had sexually transmitted disease because NO ONE at the time knew I had been being sexually abused for years and years prior. For some reason I felt that since my hymen was never fully broken that what the men had done to me was not really rape. It was. I guess I just had a super strong hymen! Well that hymen misled me greatly. They were actually more gentle with me than the boy I had fallen in love with at 15 years. Gentle rapists and child molesters. That’s what I thought. But there was nothing really gentle about them. They had just groomed me for so long and I was so confused that I did not know what was good, bad, right, or wrong. I knew that it all felt terrifying. I knew that it all made me feel sick. But I had no safety net or safe space to speak my truth and I had no way of knowing how to get away from ALL of these men who were around every corner of the waterskiing world and after. Everywhere! Men just waiting! Like they somehow knew ” oh yep, she’s been raped before, yep, lets take her!” That is what it felt like. Hmm. I guess that is why sleeping in my car at my Sea world job felt so safe. There were NO MEN.
I was thought of as an introvert, shy, soft spoken. That made me “sweet.” I stayed traumatized and quiet most of my life and those child molesters and rapists upped their game as I got older knowing there were no limits on what they could do. I got passed around from person to person and my value and self worth lowered and lowered and lowered.
By the time I decided to speak my truth I spoke it loudly. And I became not “sweet” anymore. I became angry. Apparently having a voice gave me a new label and changed my personality completely. That is not true. I just…became. Since I started telling my story I left all of the shame behind. In my growth and age I learned that these things done to me were not my shame. I had a blog called: Not my shame…no my secret. I stopped writing that blog a year ago after 3 years of bearing (no clue how to properly spell this word so be easy on me!) my soul to the world. I needed more time to reflect. I needed quiet time to grow more about myself. It is hard to know one’s true self when that self has been layered with lies by others and at the hands of others.
During Yom Kippur I realized that I had every right to be angry but that stooping to the level of those who have hurt me IN that anger was wrong. I have said some unnecessary things that came from emotions and even though they were factual they were also hurtful and mean. That is not me. I allowed that to come from me out of pure fury towards my family who has denied me and shamed me. So as I continue to tell my story, my truth, and facts about my life, I will be aware to not be malicious in intent. I cannot make myself the person they believe me to be.
While watching Brene Brown on Netflix she spoke about who will step into the arena with you. Who will be courageous and vulnerable and speak the truth. Those who cannot will throw criticism at you and I have felt that criticism. I am brave. I am truthful. I have allowed myself to be vulnerable as I have spoken about the abuse I endured in great detail. That detail, those details, made my family ashamed of me. I was even told that no one wanted to hear the details. That would not be true for the 40,000 women and men who contacted me over the 3 year period of writing my original blog. YET a few family members seem to have more power over my own self worth than those 40,000 people. How astounding!
I was molested and raped more times than I can say between the ages of 11 and 24. That was just my life. I had succumbed to it. So many men. So many times. There has not been justice for me. There has been rejection, abandonment and loss. There have been nightmares, triggers, PTSD moments, suicidal moments and ongoing therapy. I cannot change certain things. I cannot change what happened. I cannot change how anyone reacted to it. I cannot change my family. I’ve spent too much time hoping I could and not enough time accepting I cannot.
My father spoke with the geneticist of me fondly. Fondly. That’s his narrative of me. He remembers me fondly as a girl who was sick as a child and as an adult who is suffering with a debilitating muscle disease that he can now help with by spitting in a cup.
I rarely share how much pain I am in with my own husband and I have never shared the pain I am in with my father. My father has no idea how much I suffer. He does not know me. He has created little parts of his nostalgic feelings of me into a relationship that does not exist and where his love is actually real. What he has been in my life is not love. He lives in a narrative : Where he never shook the hand of the man who molested me. Where he never made me second to everything else in his life. Where he spent no time with me and never knew anything about me or what I was going through. His narrative is not true but it is one he created. I am sure my mother and the rest of the people that have left have created there’s too. They think they know how I feel, what I’ve been through and what I am going through. If nothing else I know they view me as weak and someone to be ashamed of. That is not what I THINK their story is of me that is what I know to be true. Because if they were proud of the mother, wife, daughter, woman that I am…they would be here. They are not. I roared. They ran. I am still as equally as sweet as I ever was. I am just no longer silent. But see how much I have gone on about them. Well it is hard not to when someone or a group of people affects you so profoundly in a negative way.
Their narrative should not matter. For some reason it does. So when I told my husband’s friend that I felt no shame, that was not true. I FEEL the shame others are putting on me. My body REMEMBERS the shame of learning I had sexually transmitted diseases because of molestation and rape. My body remembers my mother’s face looking at that photo and her shock at her daughter having sex yet having no idea the same daughter had been molested for countless years prior. My mind remembers the smells, the hands, the pain, the suffering, the desperation, the loneliness. PTSD will not allow me to forget. It seems to have tightened its grip on me firmly. I do not feel shame about what was done TO me by the abusers. The shame is not about them.
So while I capture beautiful moments in nature as a coping skill, it is to practice my mindfulness and to balance out the trauma with something wonderful. It does not mean the trauma is not there. But there are only so many things I can control. Behind the lens of a camera I feel no shame in anything. There is no past or future and just that one beautiful moment.
Learning how to not care about the narratives others have created about me is another story. I have to overcome this. I have to eventually not care because I know none of it is true. I can’t make others proud of me or make me feel worthy. I can’t make my family anything other than what they are and what they were. As I focus on me and my own healing I would say the hardest part is facing, accepting, moving forward, from my family and how they have made me feel.
I am living the truth. It’s all I can do. I wish I had the luxury of living in a lie or denial. I don’t. If nothing else at LEAST I can say I am authentically me. May other authentic people step into the arena with me. It has become quite lonely in here…