*Please note – This is a copy of posts from my old blog. The old blog was redesigned to point to this one, but not before I got all the old posts transferred. What is here and the next few posts to the “Posts from The Old Blog” are copies of what I did thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and many thanks to Tracie Nall at FromTracie for telling me about this. The links probably do not work and the pictures may not show up and to my dismay, the comments are lost. I will try to reconstruct the links, but I apologize for these posts. ~Jackie
Today, President Obama spoke in my home town. He spoke in Atkinson, Illinois. If I were able, I would have gone. I love the fact that the president spoke in my town. I am excited that Obama is president of the United States. Not everything has gone as he thought and hoped, but I think the fact of who he is, his heritage, ethnicity, etc., gives me hope. It takes a looong time, but society and attitudes can change. That does not mean there isn’t a struggle, and there aren’t people who are angry, but things can be different.
I know someone who used to work for the President, and I sent him this email when I found out about Obama’s trip to Atkinson. “Hi Mike. I know you don’t have direct ties to the president anymore, but if you have his email, could you let him know on his trip to Atkinson, Illinois, he will be in the town of a convicted child molester who no longer has to report, and who has brutalized the lives of at least nine people? I just think he should know.” After I hit send, I added, “Here’s my blog address if he’d like to read up.”
Did he speak about child abuse while he was in Atkinson? No. Did he have the police arrest my father for just being a general danger to society? No, unfortunately not.
But it doesn’t really matter. Just by sending that email, it is a reinforcement to me that things have changed. I have changed. The way people see sexual abuse survivors and the way laws are written and enacted is changing.
It is slow and painful and there are days that I don’t believe one single thing will ever be different. Children are still being abused. People are still turning away and ignoring it, but people are also aware. Mandated reporting has become the norm, not the exception. It is harder for priests and ministers to say they couldn’t report because of confidentiality. Some states are also moving toward charging a mother or father as an accessory to a crime if they knew and did nothing.
People like Chris and Ophelia de Serres are posting videos and speaking out in the My Name is Project and Male Survivors, helping people find their voices. They are letting people know that there is no shame in being abused.
People like me, from small town, rural, 950-people Atkinson, Illinois are telling their stories. I found my voice. I lived through the pain, the self-hatred, the shame, the thoughts that it would be better if I were dead. I got through always feeling like a freak, an outcast, “unclean.”
These are all things I never thought I’d do. And most of the things I do in my life are all things I never thought I would do. I never thought I’d go to college. I never thought I’d get a master’s degree. I never thought I’d travel outside the country. I honestly never, ever, ever thought I’d survive.
The pain of being abused was blinding. I could not see anything that was not connected to abuse. I saw abuse in everything I read, every sentence that was spoken to me. It was everywhere. My senses were flooded with it and I could think of nothing else.
There are still days in which my senses tingle with the memories. The anxiety sometimes lives just under the surface and makes it hard to breathe. I see men that look like my father and feel the flight mechanism take over, then have to remind myself that it isn’t my father and I am safe now.
I’m still cautious and aware, but I am no longer haunted with flashbacks. It has been years since I had one. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have one, but to me, it means I’ve worked through a lot of the pain.
In most situations, I can now say to people, “I am a survivor of sexual abuse” without feeling like my insides are being ripped out. I can listen to the pain of another survivor who is struggling and actually listen. I am no longer overlaying their pain with mine.
It took a lot of therapy from a very good therapist and the love of truly understanding friends. I could never have done it by myself. But I have moved through most of the pain. As a girl from a small town, I did things no one expected of me. I have done things that were not only not expected, but discouraged by my father.
I am reminded again of the grace and tenderness of my friends. They could see the potential through the broken, anguished person I felt I was. And they held on. When I wanted to give up or thought I had had all I could take, they were there with open arms on which I could lean until I was able to move on my own.
It is a constant process, but I see myself more through the eyes of my friends and people who believe in me than through the eyes of a pedophile. It is an amazingly different perspective.
I’m still a small town girl, who is proud that the president went to her town today. But now I’m a small town girl with dreams and tangible potential.
I went to the fair with my friend last weekend. She knows practically everyone in town. And she has friends from high school with whom she still hangs out. They play and frolic like kids when they get together.
And seeing that was a beautiful thing. They laughed, they sang, they danced. It was like being in some sort of dream. I will laugh and have a good time. I used to sing, but I never dance.
I do not feel the freedom. The music touches my heart, but it does not touch my feet. They root to the floor and refuse to let me move. I am afraid I will look stupid. I am afraid that people will be watching me. I am afraid I will lose control.
As a survivor of abuse, I spent a lot of my life feeling completely and totally out of control. I used to be in gymnastics and swimming. I think I had some talent at it, but what I had to wear made me too uncomfortable to learn the moves or enjoy the water. I felt exposed. I always felt that I held back because I didn’t want to be noticed, either for a talent or for my body.
I didn’t want to be noticed. Most of the time, I wanted to hide. I wanted my life to stop spiraling out of control and not having any say about it.
I wanted to stop hurting. I didn’t want to be scared. I didn’t want to have to hide such a horrible secret. I didn’t want other people to have to hurt as much as me.
There are many survivors I know who are dancers. I greatly admire their physical presence and the freedom they exhibit in their dancing. My friend is a dancer. She created a dance about healing from sexual abuse. She choreographed it, and her best friend wrote and sang the song in the first video. I have watched the video several times before, but never listened to the song until today. Before, I loved the grace of the dance. It gave me chills before. Today, it touched that deep place in my heart that has no words, but strums the heart strings.
As a reminder of part of the freedom I have gained, I got a tattoo on April 11, 2000. I had wanted one for a long time, but held back. I finally got it on a trip to California with my sister. I got a dolphin on my left shoulder blade. I love it. The day after I got it, I was still in a little bit of pain, but we went to Disney Land. I felt more free on that day than I ever had before.
People ask me why I got a tattoo. I always ask them if they really want to know. If they say yes, then I tell them because I was sexually abused as a child and it helped me reconnect with my body and it helps me to feel free.
As I said when my friend dance at the fair, I was reminded that dancing allowed them to be free and in connection with their bodies. She kept apologizing to me because she was having fun and I was sitting on the sidelines.
I wasn’t having fun necessarily, but I was having a moment. I was getting a reminder of something that was taken from me. I was reminding myself that even though I don’t dance, doesn’t mean I don’t know what freedom feels like. I just have to remember.
I had to get a tire changed on my car today. I also had to get the car jumped last night. It’s a new to me car and I believe it sat for a while, so it has some issues.
Those seem like simple things, but for me, because of my abuse, it is not always easy.
My father was a diesel mechanic. I guess he still is, but it is hard to talk about him in present tense because then I have to wonder about the safety of any child with whom he may have contact.
It sounds silly, but it is hard for me to get anything done with my car. I can do it, but it sometimes takes some convincing. The memories are close to the surface when I see the shop, but especially when I smell the grease. My father always had grease on his hands. It did not matter how much he washed his hands or what he washed them with, the stain of the grease and the smell never went away.
When I go to get my car fixed, I have to do a little deep breathing before I go in. I have to focus. My father is not going to be in the shop where I am getting my car fixed. I will not have to go to the bathroom with all the pornographic pictures hanging around. I will not have to wonder what will happen while I am there, or on the way home. I will not have to feel the pain and disgust of what happened on the way.
An oil change is a simple thing, but it can be a lot more complicated. That is one struggle that survivors have. A simple thing that others do with ease or without thought is anything but simple for a survivor. Because there are so many sick people in the world, the list of things survivors have endured is endless. A food can be a trigger. A phrase, a glance, the name of a place, a piece of clothing, a picture.
Our minds, bodies and spirits have endured so much. It is unimaginable, and for some of us, unendurable. For the survivors who might read this, I’m going to skip the list of things that come to mind that trigger some of us. The things that we have lived through would astound you.
And I hope appall you. I think we are often desensitized to the pain and violence that surrounds us. We have to shut part of it out, so that we can continue to survive. We have to be able to believe that there is good left in the world. If we take in all the pain people actually experience, and all that we see on television, our hope is doomed.
Hope is a fragile, yet durable thing. I have often tried to give up hope. I have wanted to give it up, but still it burns within me. Sometimes, it is as small and fragile as a freshly kindled flame. It could easily be blown out. It is usually not. Hope keeps me going. It allows me to do the simple things like get the oil changed in my car. It allows me to do the hard thinks, like live through the abuse in the first place. Hope allows me to make it through the flashback and anxiety. And more importantly, it allows me to speak, loudly and as often as I can.
I may not have all the answers, but I have the tools to keep going. It helps me write, breathe and live. I am grateful for hope, and know I couldn’t go on with out it.
I hope for you hope. Wherever you find it, hold onto it. Be gentle with it, as I hope you can be with yourself.
My contribution to The Survivor Archives Project is complete. It was a wonderful, rewarding and daunting experience. The letter to my father’s other victims was by far the hardest piece of the Project to write. Even though I write about sexual abuse and my experience regularly, writing to the others I know exist gave it a startling new reality. I cannot tell their stories, yet I have to treat them with infinite care and discretion. Some have spoken out, and some have chosen to keep silent. I know there are others about whom I do not yet know. It will be another blow when I I learn of their pain, but it will also steel my determination to keep speaking. We have walked through searing pain, and come out on the other side.