Quick beach stop. :) (at Kelley Point Park)
Water park time! Beating the heat after Nilit’s first day at Art camp. :) (at Jamison)
As I make the loop around our kitchen in a our small suburban apartment I count the transition, carpet linoleum, carpet linoleum. The advice I’m hearing on the other side of the line seems simple, “You just need to forgive him, he is your dad after all.” I’m so desperate for things to be simple, I go against my gut and start talking to my dad again.
It would take me another almost 6 years to realize how flawed, incomplete, and out right damaging that advice is. I am starting to believe that for many people forgiveness isn’t about healing, it’s about making others comfortable with situations that push us to the limits of our understanding and break our sense of safety and intelligence.
I cannot think of any time that forgiveness alone of sexual of assault solves the problem. In fact it causes quite a few more, here are my top 4.
1) It allows the assailant to continue to hurt others with no sense of ever being caught. This happens repeatedly in families, churches, and other organizations that try to handle things “internally.” Often assailants will feel empowered by their ability to deceive and go on to commit even worse crimes than what they were found out for later on in life.
2) It places the burden on the victim to either heal “quietly” or to ignore the problem and their ensuing emotional and mental struggles. Which often causes them to hurt themselves and others. This is a huge part of the continuing pattern of incest in most families.
3) It contributes to rape culture, by attempting to hide the extensiveness of the problem.
4) It denies us as a culture a learning opportunity that can help us prevent future attacks, and change the way that we approach dealing with things after the fact.
The fact is the only person that forgiveness really does anything for is the assailant and the people who don’t want their fantasy of that person marred by the truth.
In no way does it make our society a better place, or empower us as we face the daunting of cleaning up after a minimum of 237,868 (12 and up) sexual assaults a year. Despite all the statistics we have, with 60% of sexual assaults not reported, and an even higher amount of non-reporting for for child sex abuse, the reality is we may have only scratched the surface as to the depth of this problem.
This isn’t going to go away by being dismissive. But we can make it better by not blaming the victim, and instead start making it possible for victims to heal with education, wisdom, and a more than just a little bit of hope. Without the freedom for victims to be believed, and access to the tools to heal, we leave perpetrators in place to cause more harm, and victims lose out on years of their life and health trying to cope with stressors that no human should have to deal with alone.
All it takes is for a few people to stop worrying about the fantasy that helps them sleep better, and to start educating themselves on the extensiveness of the problem. So that anyone can be able to identify and prevent it in their own lives. Then perhaps over time, our knee jerk reaction will become one of compassion and empowerment, not just a simple call for forgiveness.
Some good places to start: RAINN for overall sexual assault education, and Darkness to Light has great tips on how to talk to your kids about their bodies in ways that can help prevent and identify abuse.
Trigger warning, this story contains sharing the history (but not details) of traumatic events.
One of the most frustrating things about sexual assault in any form, that is especially complicated in incest, is the aftermath emotionally and physically. The constant struggle between your desire for a father daughter relationship and being terrified of your assailant is awful. For years the events were so traumatic I had blacked them out, but the evidence of them lived in my body, my soul, and in almost every relationship I had.
During high school I struggled with Anorexia, I started dating an emotionally abusive boyfriend, who later also assaulted me. A common theme among incest victims. Even though at the time I didn’t understand how to identify sexual assault, and thought if I had done things with someone and was in a relationship with them it was their right to use my body. There is so much miseducation around this, something I hope to help with over time. Regardless of the way in which an assault occurs, the emotional and mental damage is often the same.
Which is where I am now. How does someone recover from something that destroys their sense of safety, hope, and completely alters their brain? In my case very carefully, very deliberately, and very persistently. One of the best resources for making a recovery plan can be found at RAINN.org, they also have great info on prosecuting and understanding sexual assault, as well as how to cope as the loved ones of someone recovering. It was a great place to get started.
To keep on track I chose therapy, having someone at set times outside of the situation and my immediate family makes a huge difference at getting through the confusing moments. The help of a Third Wave CBT or Mindfulness based therapist has been a huge relief. With Freudian based therapy I felt triggered constantly, simply talking about it didn’t help me deal with the stress day to day. Mindfulness based therapy encourages self-care and being present, while still allowing yourself to feel and process the emotions as they arise. It’s made a world of difference for me, and is part of the reason I’m able to even write about these things at all.
Most incest is coupled with other types of abuse and neglect, and often includes both parents. For this the book Toxic Parents was invaluable, and had some of the best plans for dealing with incest of any book or article I’ve read on the subject. She also details why Freudian therapy is so ineffective for most incest victims (of course this is somewhat dependent on the therapist), as well as advice on how to deal with the day to day family relationships and issues that often linger in incest/child abuse situations.
Most importantly throughout this process I take my time and I make sure I have non-family supporters. In addition I’ve been living by a few principals to maintain my sanity; I don’t have to have all the answers today, I don’t have to make sense of the non-sensical, it’s okay to just know where I stand and not worry about where it leaves everyone else, taking care of myself today takes precedent, and it’s okay to not be ‘okay.’
My main focus has been on building my life and my own support network so that I have help when I need it. Instead of setting out on this journey alone like I have in the past, this has been the difference between the constant heart ache I had before and the slow journey to more sunny days than gray. Every time I’ve tried to do this on my own it’s been too much, or it’s taken over my life in unexpected ways. If you are a sexual assault survivor, even if your not 100% sure yet, be kind to yourself and be strategic in your recovery plan you deserve to some happiness while healing. :)
Trigger warning, this story contains sharing the history (but not details) of traumatic events.
I am starting a new blogging journey. It starts on a warm California night with the fading pink sunset in the distance. I stand in the IKEA parking lot in Costa Mesa, mesmerized by my missed call message on my phone. I can’t. I just can’t call him back. I stand there frozen in time, unable to comprehend the terror that grips me. All I know is that I can’t talk to him, it’s death itself to do so.
Four months later in the final trimester of my first pregnancy, we have moved to Oregon, and I still haven’t called him back. Angry letters, and 3am calls torture my mailbox and phone. Then it starts. The flashbacks, the reason why I’m so terrified. I wake up unable to breathe. My mind searching for any answer but the obvious. I can’t believe it, but the flashbacks and dreams don’t go away. It takes me months to call. I try to process on my own, rebuild a relationship with him, to reason away what I know, but I can’t it’s more true than anything I’ve known about myself in a very long time.
It’s taken 6 years, hours of therapy, hundreds of conversations with my husband, loads of internet research, and watching others lives unfold to come to the point of saying it aloud: my father sexually assaulted me. It still stings to say that. I am becoming less and less emotionally distant from that fact as I go through this process of honesty and healing and the emotions are at times…extremely intense. You can’t make this up. It’s not possible, there is no way to fake the agony that rips my soul when I allow it to.
When I see stories where people question the motives of a sexual assault victim either in the assault, or coming forward it grieves me. No one wants to feel this way. As a society we do not comprehend the physical, mental, emotional, and life long toll these events cause.
It’s like having your brain always on fire, always stressed. The Post Traumatic Stress from these events is mind altering in a not so fun way. It changes everything from how I interact with a bad driver to my kids. With therapy it helps, but the reality is with childhood related Complex PTS there is currently no surefire cure and little more hope exists for those who get PTS later in life.
Meanwhile, most cases on a judicial level are difficult to prosecute and society uses the term innocent until proven guilty to justify ignoring the fact that you can’t always tell who’s dangerous and who’s not.
So as a victim you are left with what? A damaged brain, hurt relationships, a life long list of questions, and your abuser moves onto the next victim? This is the sad state of the world we live in, but something I hope to effect some change on in the course of my life even if it’s small. Which is one of the reasons I put this out there.
I’m not looking for a cheering squad, but the more we talk about the toll of sexual assault and incest the less a hold it has over our souls. Not just those who are victims, but everyone else who loses out on what those victims could have brought to the table as whole individuals. This is not to say that victims have nothing to share, but I do believe we lose more than what the statistics would tell us.
That is not to say that I don’t have a good life. My life is really good, despite going through the process of confronting my Dad this spring while in my third pregnancy, my life is more amazing than ever.
Decades later it still hurts. In some ways after years of trying not to feel these things it feels good to hurt, but it’s confusing and frustrating and some days debilitating. But I’m here. I’m honest with myself that this is a day to day journey, which is far more than my many attempts to just wish it away ever gave me. I no longer make my journey about making my story more convenient for the world in denial around me.
I share this for all of you out there who are on the same journey to live your life in all it’s glorious ripples and ugly reveals even when it leaves you feeling alone some days and destitute others. For you I write, because there are better days if you allow yourself to enjoy them and work to have them. Not every day, but many better days. I hope you stay the journey on the lonely days, even if it’s just for a moment to just let things be and not have all the answers. Sometimes that’s all we need to get to a better moment.
My father continues to state that this did not happen.
Is that the local news streaming on my iPad? Why yes it is. :) Thanks @mikey_p
Nilit’s Valentine’s Day cookie, which is pretty much what she thinks Valentine’s is about. :) (at Pearl Bakery)