For years, I tried to make it go away. I wanted so badly to wish away the memories, the scars, the nightmares, like a child wishes over the candles on her birthday cake then blows them all out. I wanted to go to sleep one night, then wake up the next morning never having lived that part of my life. If only life was that simple.
Now that I speak and write openly and honestly about my past, I discover that I get different reactions from people. Some are shocked and want to learn more about the tragic lives that some of us lead behind freshly painted houses and manicured lawns. Some are so moved, they want to help others still in their prison of fear and control. But then there are others who back away. They shut down. They don’t want to go there. Some people don’t want to know or believe that it exists. “It couldn’t happen here, could it?” “Not in our nice community!”
What is “it”? Sexual Assault.
I know some of you will stop reading this article at those very words. And that’s ok. We are all where we are at. But please, at least share this article with everyone you know. You never know whose life you’re saving.
For those still reading, I must honor Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As a sexual assault survivor and RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) speaker, I must write this column to offer hope to all those who are reading this and still suffering in silence. Please know that I’ve been there. Right where you are today. And I can say this to you, without any question, doubt, or hesitation: There is a better life for you. You did nothing to deserve this. It is not your fault. It is not who you are. It is not your fate.
You deserve a peaceful, loving life without fear, without intimidation, without violence. But, you do have a choice to make. You can choose to reach out for help, guidance, resources – to people who have been there and understand how to help. You have the power to do that.
Now, I know some of you are doubting whether your situation or someone you care about situation really, technically, qualifies as “sexual assault” or “domestic violence.” I know I doubted for years. Because my abuser never actually struck me (hit me, kicked me, punched me), I didn’t know if what I was experiencing really was, or would qualify, as “abuse”. He did it all through intimidation, verbal assaults, control, threats, extreme anger outbursts that usually resulted in something in the house getting broken, and/or holding me down or pinning me against a wall (literally, this isn’t a metaphor). It wasn’t until one night, when we were out walking our little dog that I finally got it. That was the night he got so angry that he yanked my dog’s collar so hard that it instantly killed him. That was the night I knew I had to create a plan. I knew I had to get out. But how?
First, I thought about when I could leave, who I could stay with, and how would I have any money. Immediately I started saving a little leftover from my lunch money and my grocery money. I was given a certain “allowance” for each week to spend on my lunches (usually about $5) and for groceries (about $40). I was able to save only a few dollars each week, but they added up.
I have to tell you, I was so afraid even to try to leave. That was the hardest part because I was so scared. I was scared to stay, but I was terrified to leave. I thought he would come hunt me down wherever I went. Like in the movie “Sleeping with the Enemy”, (which, ironically, we saw together at the movies and he commented that he couldn’t believe that a guy would treat his wife that way.) That’s what kept me frozen in place for years. Afraid to stay, but more afraid to go.
If you are in that place, this is what I would like to share with you:
Pray. Pray for guidance and revelation as to what is the next step your life. Pray to receive a peace so you know what is the right decision for you.
Talk to someone who can help you. Family and friends are great, but some of us don’t have any of those. And even if we did, some family and friends are too close to the situation to want or know how to help. Talk to someone who is trained and has helped many people in your situation. They are priceless. I’ve listed some great resources below. They can provide counseling, help you decide what is the next step for you, create an escape plan, find a place to stay, and help you find resources and on-going counseling to rebuild your life.
And finally, remember that you are not alone. I have opened up my past to the world for one end: to offer hope and healing. By breaking my shaming silence, I shed a light into what is happening in your home and many, too many, across this county, this country, and our world. You are not forgotten. You are not alone.
Here are some very reputable resources:
Emmaus House Women and Children’s Violence Shelter of Hollister
24 Hour Hotline: 1-877-778-7978
RAINN: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
24 hour Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Love IS Respect