Letter to my cousin..

**TRIGGER WARNING**

In the past, thought there was no purpose in writing to my abusers. I felt like I would get no closure making contact, that they would not feel shame, guilt, remorse for their actions, and so I kept my silence.  Yet, in the last few weeks, I have come to realize that, for me, the purpose of writing it less about getting my feelings out and more about saying, “That dirty little secret you have, I’m not keeping it anymore.”  It is also about making my abuser aware of the harm their actions have done, and how wrong it is if they are continuing to harm others.

With that in mind, I finally went on Facebook this morning and sent my cousin a message.  Will she see it?  I am not sure, but it’s out there in the world.  Here is what I wrote:

“I have been thinking of this for a long time, and I often decided against it.  Many times, ‘I asked myself, what good would this do?  What positive could possibly come of this?’  Each time, I turned away from the task because the answer was, ‘None.’  Yet in the past weeks, as memories of what you did plague me more each day, I find writing this is necessary.

With each new day comes new perspective, and it is just today that I realize you not only took advantage of my innocence, you groomed me for it. Your discussion of women’s bodies with me, a child who had never even heard these things, much less discussed them, served to open the door for you to use me to serve your sexual desires.  I am disgusted by the thoughts of what you did, of how you groomed and then bullied me into sexual acts with you.  Your actions destroyed every last shred of innocence and dignity I had left.

I am not even certain how many times you used me or what all happened, but I know it was at least twice.  I realize that not all the blame lies on you. My father shares some of the blame for his own actions that led to him trusting me to your care. Your mother also for not supervising you more closely.  Yet, ultimately, no one made you force yourself on me, that decision was on you.  Maybe you were molested yourself.  If you were, I feel for the little girl who was harmed.  Yet, that does not excuse your choice to perpetuate that harm on me too.

In all reality, it is my fear that you may have harmed others that drives me to write this now. I hope and pray every day that I was the only one, that you didn’t force yourself on others, and that you do not continue to do so today.

You need to understand how wrong this is… how much damage you have done to a soul.  My life is forever altered by your actions.  Since you transferred to my school in ninth grade, there has not been a week, sometimes even a day, that has gone by without some terrible reminder of what you did.  That kind of trauma leaves a scar on the memory that never goes away. It cannot be undone. It affects everything, and one’s life ceases to be their own. It took years for me to learn that what you did to me did not damage me, break me, or make me dirty and vile. Yet, no matter how much I heal, how far I come, it will always be there, and it disgusts me to the very core.

You once told me I shouldn’t be so removed from the family, that I should visit more often.  The reality is, I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I learned early in life that family is made up of people who want to harm you, that the people you are born to are not always people who care about your well-being over their own.  I do not visit, and I am not a part of the family because of YOU.  I have been forced to keep this secret to protect the family that did not protect me.

I hope one day you will have the courage to tell your uncle what you did to his daughter when he trusted her into your care.  I hope you understand how you destroyed the lives of many, not just one, with your actions.

I also pray that you seek help for the things you have done.  I do not want anything to do with you, but I do hope that if you have harmed others, you choose to make amends for the pain you have put them through.

I also pray that if you are hurting others, you realize how much pain you are causing by using them to please yourself and you seek help from professionals who assist in the rehabilitation of sexual offenders.

There is no beauty in taking the innocence of a child.

Lessons Learned

**TRIGGER WARNING**

For various reasons, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my healing journey over the last month.  Some of these thoughts, which I am sharing with you now, have been difficult, while others have been empowering.

1) Healing takes time – For most, healing from abuse is a journey.  Although we often wish it could happen overnight, the reality is that just like recovering from severe injuries to the body, healing our hearts and souls is a process that happens over time.

2) Healing starts with one often fearful, but always courageous step – From the moment we choose to free ourselves from the pain of our past, we begin to heal.

3) It is extremely important to make sure children have the vocabulary they need to describe all parts of their bodies. – Talking to your children about body parts is not dirty or nasty (as long as you keep healthy boundaries in the conversation). It’s not shameful. Teaching your children about their body parts is NOT teaching them about sex (although, there is an important time to start that conversation too) or encouraging them to have it.  Instead, it is one step toward empowering them to protect themselves.

I was not taught the words I needed to explain that my grandfather touched and put his finger in my vagina (yes, I said it). Instead, the only words I knew to say were, “He held me, and I didn’t like it.”  As you can see, these statements are very different, and while there is only one way to interpret the first, many adults will interpret the second as something much less harmless.

4) Protecting children from sexual abuse goes beyond talking about body parts. It also means we talk about boundaries, what is ok and not ok for people to say and do.  “It’s not ok for people to touch, take pictures of or talk about your private areas, and it’s also not ok for them to touch, show you pictures of, or talk to you about other people’s private areas.”  This conversation must be age appropriate and should include conversations about consent (it’s not ok for people to touch you anywhere without permission, adolescents need clear understandings of what consent means according to the law, etc.).

5) Children need to be empowered to talk about their experiences.  They need to know there is a safe person to share their experiences with, someone who will take them seriously, not over-react, and who will do everything in their power to make them safe again.

6) Children need to know that no matter who (mom, dad, grandparent, friend, doctor, coach, teacher, pastor, etc.) touched them or talked about their private parts in a manner that was not respectful, they need to tell us, we will listen, and we will take action.

If someone had talked to me about this, I would have known it was ok to express that I was not ok with my cousin talking to me about women’s bodies in a sexual manner. I also would have known I should tell someone she was talking about things she shouldn’t. Instead, my lack of information put her in a position of power over me, which she used to “educate” me about sexual matters.

7) Even after 18 years, there is still an element of the unknown.  There are still moments when I see gaps in memories, and ask myself, “What if there is more?”

8) A time comes when the question, “What if there is more?” is met with, “I am strong enough to handle it,” rather than the dismissive refusal, “I don’t want to know!”  This does not mean we dwell on the question, nurture it, or push ourselves to explore the gaps. Rather we know if it does come, we will be able to get through it.

9) There is a time when the memories fade into the background of our experience. In the beginning, the memories are intrusive, the flashbacks inescapable, and every time we relive the abuse, we experience the pain all over again.When the mind decides it is time to start dealing with the past, it will constantly feed these memories to us until we have no choice but to do something about it.  As we begin the process, the mind will continue to push us to think about these things until it is satisfied that we are purposefully processing our experiences.  Once we take charge of the healing process, the mind then relaxes and says, “You got this.”  Eventually, reliving the past becomes a controlled choice, a moment where we choose to reflect on a specific event, explore it without experiencing an influx of intrusive feelings, and bring ourselves back to the present safely.

Please remember, even though the journey can be painful, it is worth it.  I wouldn’t trade all the struggles for the life I had before.  I am stronger today. I will soar, I will fly, and I will enjoy the freedom that comes with letting go of the past.