13 Reasons Why

I just finished the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  It’s about a highschool girl who committed suicide.  In this book the girl does not leave a suicide note, but 7 cassette tapes filled with the reasons why she couldn’t handle living anymore.  She mails the tapes, the day she commits suicide, to the first person she talks about.  They are to, in turn, send them on to the next person and then the next until all 13 people have heard them.

This girl’s life had little correlation to mine, except for the feeling of not being able to handle things and wanting to die.  I have in fact, attempted suicide before.  I was 13 at the time.  For whatever reason, I failed.  No one noticed my absence for three days and life went on.  Anyway, back to the topic.

The last person she spoke with was her teacher/guidance counselor.  She told him flat-out she wanted life to end.  She told him that something bad happened at a party, that she wasn’t going to press charges, wasn’t even sure she could press charges, and he told her that if that were the case then she needed to move on.  She walked out of his office and even though he called out for her to come back, after his door closed he remained behind it.  He didn’t pursue her or notify anyone that she may be suicidal.

Now this stuck a chord inside my soul.  I tried to tell once and I got blown off too.  I told my uncle’s wife, yes my aunt, that my pap had pulled me down on top of him when he was lying on the couch.  She said something like “yeah but that’s your pap” and the subject was dropped.  Of course, what sparked the conversation was that my step-dad had accidentally pulled me down on him when he was asleep and I tried to cover him.  He had a few too many beers and was dead to the world and I had to wiggle my way off of  him.  I can’t stress enough that nothing inappropriate ever happened between my stepdad and me.  In fact, he had no knowledge of the incident because he was sound asleep.  But it seemed like a way to feel out if I could tell and would be listened to.  My aunt ran to my mother and told her that my stepdad was doing stuff to me and what a mess that was.  He got angry and accused me of telling lies, which my aunt did exaggerate the incident to the point that what my mother heard was actually lies.  After a conversation with  my mom, where I set things straight, he apologized to me.  I was so ashamed of myself for creating so much trouble.  I never tried to tell again.

But reading about this girl and her guidance counselor brought that all back to me.  When you open your mouth, but no one really listens you start to wonder why you even bother.  The girl in the book killed herself, I just lived with the abuse and now I live with the aftermath.

Somewhere along the way you’d think people would shut up, open their ears, and listen to what’s being said underneath the words.  But I guess that’s wishful thinking.

Help

Does admitting it felt good to my body mean I enjoyed it?

Okay, calm again.  And a new memory came to me as I was crying over this statement.  I feel I need to add this because I think I may have found yet another source of guilt and shame.

After HE died and the truth finally came out, everyone in my family was told.  I wanted to die of the shame.  They knew.  After so many years of praying no one would know, everyone knew.  One uncle didn’t say anything to me about it.  I think he didn’t know what to say.  My aunt talked to me some about it and related two incidents that happened with her, although to this day she has not admitted to anything else happening to her.  My other uncle, his actual blood son, knocked on my bedroom door and asked to talk to me.  He cried with me, feeling guilt of his own for many reasons that actually had nothing to do with him.  Guilt that belonged to the man who abused me was not just mine but also my uncle’s, and neither one of us deserved any of it.

But the reaction that affected me the most was my grandmother.  Very supportive and angry in front of everyone, when we were alone it was different.  I don’t think she intended to hurt me.  But she kept pushing me over and over to tell her if I liked it.  “You can tell me, it felt good right?”  “You liked it a little bit, didn’t you?”  Over and over she pushed and I kept telling her no I didn’t like it, I hated it.

My mother made her stop.  I didn’t spend many nights with her after that.  I’m not sure if I ever spent the night with her after that.

Can You Feel Guilt and Not Know It?

When I was 12ish (I’m not really sure) my grandfather, excuse me, my perpetrator, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Yea God! Thanks for the poetic justice. He used his parts to work so God took his working parts away. 🙂 I loved the irony of it then and I relish it now. I know, I know, I’m so bad. 🙂 NOT!

Unfortunately, when his parts stopped working he decided he needed to abuse me all the more so he could still feel like a man. My abuse, that was already happening very frequently, became an every time he saw me occurence. In one way or another he would touch me or kiss me, even if my grandmother just had her back turned. My clothes came off more, the oral sex increased, and so did the fingering. I shudder just thinking about it.

His cancer spread rapidly, the surgery didn’t help it made it more faster. At the end he spent some time in palative care. He was so drugged out that I don’t know just how conscious he was at the end. One of his last days I was there in the room doing my homework. A song came over the softly playing radio that I loved, You’re The Inspiration by Chicago. I don’t know my soft singing woke him or if he was awake and it just alerted him to my presence.

He made a motion to me, very slight, and my grandmother called me to his bedside. His lips moved but nothing came out except for puffs of air. I knew what he wanted. In my mind I heard the words “it’s okay, I understand.” But I couldn’t say them. I didn’t understand and I still don’t understand.

When I went home that night my heart was light. He was dying, soon. It was going to be over. I would never have to worry that someone would look at me and know he’s just touched me. I wanted to write about my freedom in my diary, but I knew my mother snooped and I didn’t want her to see that. So I pulled my diary out and wrote that my pap was dying of cancer. I remember distinctly writing “damn that disease.” It truly is a horrible disease, and I have seen a beloved family member die from cancer just this past year. It was horrific and I wish there was a cure, now. At the time though, I was rejoicing cancer.

He died a day later. I remember his viewing. I went in, saw him lying the casket and wanted to giggle. I felt a little sick to my stomach with my own lack of grief. I pretended to be so upset that I went outside and sat in the car. My aunt wanted my little cousin to sit with me, but I didn’t want anyone with me and I said no. She was angry I think. I was taken home and I do not remember attending his funeral. Maybe I went, but if I did I don’t remember it.

So here is my question. Do I feel guilty because I was so happy he died? Not consciously. I’m still glad he’s dead. I’m still glad he suffered. I should feel guilty at being so happy that another living thing was in pain and agony, right? Do I feel it subconsciously? Am I not acknowledging it? If I’m not acknowledging it, is that preventing me from healing?  Was this a coping mechanism?  What did I  need to cope with regarding his disease and death?

I hate not having all the answers.

My Body

After spending 7 years being abused on almost a daily basis, I used to have some pretty ingrained ideas about my body.  I took modesty to an extreme level so much that I was a prude.  I tried to hide my large breasts and was ashamed of my round hips and belly.  At 19 I “busted out” of that shell though and became more comfortable in my own skin. 

I will never be thin, my body isn’t built that way.  I’m okay with that even though for health reasons I’d like to lose some weight.  My skin, once flawless, now carries blemishes caused by age, stress, and genetics.  I’m okay with that too.  I look at myself and see breasts that gravity hates and think of nursing my children.  I see the stretch marks remember carrying them and what it felt like to have them grown inside of me.  At the same time, in warm weather, you will find me in clothes that do not hide much of anything.  And I’m very okay with that.

Having been sexually abused during my formation years led me to hide myself as much as possible.  I didn’t want to attract attention.  And I knew what attracting attention meant, even though I shouldn’t have.  I was afraid people would look at me and know what was happening, afraid they would think I was inviting it, so I hid behind clothes that were too big and too ugly to attract anything but disgust.  Of course, this didn’t stop the abuse.  I know now that nothing I could have done, except for trusting someone enough to tell, would have stopped him.

But no more!  I think I’ve even become a bit of an exhibitionist, although I certainly don’t think of myself that way.  I look at my body now and see a mother and a woman.  I don’t see anything shameful that needs to be hidden.  I see my tattoos that show my creative and loving soul.  I see my defined calf muscles and see the dancer I’ve always wanted to be.  I see the extra weight I carry and see the thyroid disease that I can’t seem to beat.  I see my chewed nails and see the bipolar disorder that swings my moods until I don’t know which way is up.  I see a woman who is not afraid to be looked at and garner attention.

I’m not beautiful and I know I’m overweight.  But I see nothing that needs to be hidden out of shame.

Sexual Self Harm

I’ve been searching and reading other’s accounts of sexual abuse and I see a pattern of what they call sexual self harm.  I’ve never thought about this, I’ve never even really heard about it.  A lot of accounts talk about excessive masturbation.  And I think being extremely promiscuous would probably fall into this category as well.  But when I think of harm, I think of painful, violent things.  So now I have to think back to my own sexual history.

I lost my virginity early but then there was nothing but occasional masturbation for the next five years.  It is nothing that I would consider unusual for a teenager.  When I did become sexually active though, I chose a man much older than me and to my great shame was married.  I was with him twice and there was nothing unusual or kinky to it.  But most likely this would fall into the category as self harm simply because I was, in a way, emulating my abuse.  No, he wasn’t as old as my grandfather and he wasn’t related to me in any way.  But he was almost double my age and unavailable.  In a word, guilt inducing.

I had a few other partners after that, no one I was ever serious about.  It was just sex to me.  A way to get off.  When I met the man who is now my husband, I had sex with him less than two weeks after meeting.  Somehow, though, he broke through the walls of ice around my heart and it became more than just sex.

Now, as an adult in a committed and safe relationship, my fantasies have become more adventurous (for lack of a better word).  I have to wonder if some of these fantasies are forms of self harm.  I won’t go into them in detail, but let it suffice to say that they include multiple partners at the same time (not an option because I am not going to risk my marriage), light bondage, and intercourse that doesn’t include your standard positions and orifices.

Could these fantasies be an attempt on my part to spice up an 11-year-old relationship?  Maybe.  Do these things differ from my abuse?  Definitely!  Could they be an attempt at self harm?  I don’t know.  Do I feel guilty, dirty, or shameful at the thoughts of some of my fantasies?  Sometimes.

I prefer “fucking” as I’ve told my husband.  I don’t like making love.  I like it a little rough so long as I’m not being held down and hovered over.  Tied down is okay.

I hate that I have to question every detail of my life because someone who should have protected me decided to make his play thing.  My reactions to people, my protectiveness of my kids, and my sexual preferences are all things I have to examine and try to figure out if they are normal or a byproduct of a twisted mind.

It’s very tiring.

The Details Do Matter

Right after I finally told my mother what happened to me she took me to see a counselor at our local Family and Children’s Services office.  Boy was this chick wacko.  We went once and decided we were better off without her.  I do have to give my mother credit for trying to get me help.  When it happened to her all she got was blame.  In fact, I have to give my mother quite a bit of credit because she told me what happened to her first, sort of.

Anyway, we saw this counselor and she started off by saying that the details of what happened weren’t important.  Can you imagine, the details aren’t important?  Okay, tell my husband that the details aren’t important when I can’t stand for him to touch my breasts or when he comes toward me at the wrong angle I have a panic attack.  Tell him the details aren’t important when I can hardly stand for him to touch me before we have sex.  Tell him the details aren’t important while I grit my teeth and try to shut off the flashbacks.

And I thought I was a nutjob.  This woman had me so turned away from counseling and therapy that I went for the next ten years with no help whatsoever.  I had sex with a married man over 20 years older than me and whom I didn’t even really know.  I was 19 at the time.  I found one man I enjoyed sex with and was exclusive for several months.  Of course we only saw each other once a week and it never really got deeper than sex.  I had sex with a friend one night simply because I liked him and didn’t know how to say no.  I lost a friend over that one.  How I managed to forge a relationship with my husband is beyond me.  I had sex with him 11 days after meeting.  The details don’t matter, ha bull shit they don’t matter.

Every detail that ever made me feel small, insignificant, weak, used, shame, guilt…all of it…it matters.  It matters to me.  And if you’ve been abused then your details matter to you.  The things I can’t remember drive me crazy.  I hate not being in control of even my own memories.  I understand that it’s a big deal that it happened at all.  I’m not downplaying that issue.  Believe me, the fact that someone who should have protected my innocence stole it is no small matter.  My trust in people is shot to hell, my faith in myself is non-existent, and I can’t stand to be touched.  Yeah you can believe I understand the significance of the fact that it happened at all.  But to say that the details of what happened aren’t important simplifies it too much.

I’m not saying we need to compare notes to see who had it worse.  Truthfully, I don’t know if there is a worse.  Some people have experienced things way more brutally than I have.  Does that make what I went through less traumatizing?  Not to me.  Although that is something I have told myself in the past.  Some people were only touched once or twice as compared to my 7 years in hell.  Does that make those incidents less painful and damaging than what I went through?  Not to them.

So when you look at it on a grander scale, maybe the details aren’t important.  But I’m not a grander scale and neither is any other person who has been abused.  The details of what happened to me are important, to me and maybe to someone like me who is going through something similar.

Okay, this rant has wound its way down now and I’m tired.  Sometimes it feels wonderful to get things out in the open.  This post felt good.