Trigger Warning: Reading this story could trigger feeling of discomfort, please use discretion.
It is amazing how silencing pain can be, how isolating shame and embarrassment can feel.
The anxiety and uncomfortable vulnerability I feel as I share this is hard to articulate, but the more I share, the easier and more empowering it becomes. I realize I am taking back the control I once lost.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I can tell you first-hand how isolating and lonely it feels as a child and how those cognitions followed me into adulthood. The brain cannot fathom the horrors of the experience let alone realize how widespread this form of child abuse is.
Still, the reality is, this form of abuse is rampant in our society, and it will follow these children into adulthood. It manifests in many different ways, often times negatively without proper treatment and support.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to abuse drugs, to suffer PTSD as an adult (in my case Complex-PTSD), or to experience major depressive episodes throughout their lives.
We need to talk about Childhood Sexual Abuse. Coalitions need to be built and communities need to come together; we need to discuss Prevention, Education, and Resources!
After years of estrangement, I received a package of photos in the mail from an aunt on my dad’s side of the family. This is the side of the family that I experienced all of my childhood trauma with.
For the vast majority of my life, I have not had many photos of myself with this side of the family nor of them in general. In fact, I can count on one hand how many photos I have with my dad and I. Photos with both of my parents are non-existent, my mother died when I was 18 days old.
As I went through the many pictures, I found baby photos of myself at the hospital and quite a variety from the 50s, 60s, and 70s of my dad as he grew and made memories at his birthday parties, playing in the yard, his high school graduation and even military headshots. Also included were some of his family photos.
As I looked at them, I came across a few and my throat tightened up; I could not swallow, I could not breathe. I felt adrenaline course through my body and my heart rate pick up.
In these photos I found pictures of my dad, my mom, and my paternal grandparents.
Pictures of the pedophile who stole my childhood from me and who was protected by my family; he looks exactly as I remember him.
From so early an age I cannot remember my grandfather molested me. He stole my innocence and left me wrecked and broken. Sexual abuse leaves a mark, for life. I was in 7th grade when I told him I did not want to do things with him anymore; I was 12 years old.
When I was 14 years old my father and I became homeless living with my aunt; shortly thereafter I moved in with my grandparents on my mom’s side which led to many years of estrangement from my father.
After moving in with them I opened up to my grandma Flo. To this day I don’t know what prompted my disclosure after years of silence.
My First Protector
She immediately took me to see a counselor who then reported my disclosure of sexual abuse. Within a year I was the center of a court case against my grandpa which charged him with multiple counts of child molestation and rape of a child. He was facing 17 years in prison if convicted; at his age – that was a life sentence.
The Witness, The Suicide
The first day of the trial, during a meeting with my attorney and the detectives I found out my dad was going to testify for the defense; in his deposition, he called me a liar and said I had an active imagination. He admitted I had told him about my grandpa but claimed I was in sex education during school and I was confused. I remember to this day how quickly the tears came, how overwhelmed I was with despair at the weight of that complete betrayal. My heart did not just break in that moment, it shattered.
The next day I was scheduled to take the stand; early that morning my grandpa shot himself.
That was it. The trial was over. I packed up and went back to live with my mom’s side of the family. A few days later I celebrated my 16th birthday as if nothing had ever happened.
Many years later, shortly after my 21st birthday, my dad attempted to reach out through family but our re-connection was tense and hostile. It held little substance, I didn’t trust him. Shortly after we began talking again, he died; never once addressing my abuse or his role.
No justice. No closure.
Just death, pain, loss, betrayal, shame, confusion – all suffered in silence. It was too much, so I just turned it off.
For over 20 years I have never forgotten, it has just always been someone else in my memories. A different me, a dead me. I am learning however that I cannot run from my pain, it will find me. There is a little girl inside me that needs my love and attention. Reconnecting to her, to myself as a child and feeling this pain I have bottled up for so long nearly destroys me some days.
But I am facing it, feeling it, and learning from it, when I am not drowning in it. I am finding my voice.
I stood up once and fought back, I can do it again.
I am listening to that little girl now. I am finding her voice, facing the unwarranted but very real shame and embarrassment I feel, and learning to accept that what I feel and think is normal given my experiences.
I am also hopeful my sharing lets others who are coping silently know they are not alone and gives insight to loved ones of survivors about the struggle of healing from complex PTSD and trauma.
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