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My Truth

I was living in “Happy Valley”. A place where College Football ruled the town, we chant “We Are” on command, we know our neighbors and everyone feels safe. Safe from the scary things that happened in the rest of the world. What I didn’t know, was that there was a terrible secret being kept. It would cause a divide: those that believed and those that didn’t. A head coach would lose his job, a university would be tarnished, Victims would come forward, countless allegations and conspiracy  theories would emerge.   A media storm was beginning, and the whole world was watching. Quietly, away from the media noise, I was coming undone.

I knew some of these people. I obsessed about them. I could not get enough information. I laid in bed at night and agonized over the lifelong pain these victims would experience. Thinking about these men, going in to a court room to tell the world their deepest, darkest secrets – their nightmares really, was too much to bare. Listening to people question the validity of their stories, the judgements being passed on the victims, adults not protecting them, imagining how they must feel opening up their most vulnerable selves while the world watched was killing me. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t close my eyes tight enough to make my own abuse go away.

I was 6 when it started. A neighbor boy would babysit my sister and I , so my parents could enjoy a night out. He was 14. I trusted him. When he said it was okay for me to take my clothes off, I did. At first it was an exchange. “Do you want to stay up late?” If so, all I had to do was strip my little body naked, and let him stare at me. Bend over, let him see all the parts of me that my mom said were private. I knew it was wrong, but I kept doing it. Before long, looking at me wasn’t enough. He wanted more. The physical abuse went on for 2 years. During that time, I  learned how to leave my body, and feel nothing. The demands kept growing, substantially.  When I resisted, he would tell me that If my parents knew what I was doing for him, they would be disgusted by me. I was bad. When I would try to fight him, he would say that if I didn’t do what he wanted, he would hurt my little sister, do worse things to her. Most of the time, I gave in. I gave him what he wanted so that he would leave her alone.  My natural instincts to protect her, almost always won out. The times I didn’t protect her, haunt me more than my own abuse does.

My sister was the one to finally break the silence. When my parents found out, they were angry, sad and scared. They confronted him. They told his parents.  They had a counselor come to the house once. She brought dolls and wanted me to show her what happened. I felt embarrassed. I felt bad. I felt small.  My dad left the room. It reinforced to me, what I already knew. I was bad. That somehow, I caused this. We continued to live across the street from our abuser. Nothing much happened after that.

I spent the rest of my life fighting a monster that I carried with me. Mostly, I kept my secret and shame locked away in the part of my heart that had learned how to be void of feelings.  When I had my own daughter, I was  so paranoid that someone would abuse her, that I changed her daycare 5 times. I would think about someone hurting her, and I would feel rage. I never trusted men. I barely trusted myself. I would remember his touch on my skin, his eyes on my body and I would think to myself, I created that monster. I was bad. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t tell. When the thoughts became too much, I would close my eyes as tight as I could, and they would go away. On some level I knew it was effecting my life, but somehow I believed that I controlled it. I could make the thoughts go away. Then the scandal broke and there was nothing I could do to make the visions of my abuse go away. They were taunting me. It was as if what I had spent a lifetime burying was unraveling and I was powerless to stop it. Every time I closed my eyes, my monster was there. Staring at me.

As I listened to news reporters speculate on the victims, what motivated them to come forward, why they kept it in for so long, how a community turned a blind eye to the years of abuse, I kept coming back to one thought; Keeping this secret was breeding shame and guilt.  I finally understood that the only way I would heal was to talk about it. As an adult, fear followed me….. and all I had to do was talk to my family. I didn’t have to sit in a courthouse and tell the world about my abuse. I didn’t have to defend myself as a child that was abused, I didn’t have to deal with the validity of my story being questioned, and yet I was terrified. I needed to apologize to my sister, for not always protecting her. When I told her out loud that I was so sorry, that sometimes I was relieved when he left me alone, I felt a weight lift from me that I never even knew I was carrying. It was an emotional release, and I only wish I hadn’t waited so many years to let it out. The pain still stings at times. I hurt for my 7-year-old self. Not just for the abuse that she suffered, but for the emotional scars she carried around her whole life. I ache for the years I questioned my self-worth, for the years I didn’t see my value, for the years I only saw a broken girl that wasn’t worthy of love. I still have struggles, but I am free of my monster. He tried to destroy me, but I am still standing.

Kristen

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When Boundaries Are Hard

Triggers. We all have them.

It could be a pat on the back, a playful tickle, or an innocent violation of personal space that triggers you. And all of a sudden your body reacts and panic overcomes you.

I haven’t quite figured out what it is that panics. My logical, rational brain knows and understands that the person who touches and triggers me is safe. It could be someone I love, someone I trust, but the part of me that was abused jumps out of my skin and makes me feel like I’ve lost control. My heart races and whatever it is in me that demands safety, urges me to confront them.

I’ve had to confront three people that I can recall about the way they touch me. All of them are safe. All of them are trustworthy. All of them meant only good. But my body remembers the abuse and associates a loving touch with pain and a lack of control.

The first one was my dad. I hated telling him, but my body demanded that I set a boundary. I had to ask my father not to initiate hugging me. I told him with my sister who was also abused and needed to set the same boundary. She was overcome with guilt after he walked away. Teary-eyed, I told her that he was more upset with the men who hurt us and made us have to have that conversation than he was with us for having it.

A few months went by and my father can hug me without me panicking. My body finally agreed with my rational brain that he is safe. It took some time but healing takes time. Healing takes boundaries that are hard to set. But healing WILL HAPPEN.

The second two were friends. Their playful touches were affectionate and kind, with every good intention. Again, my brain knew this, but my body refused to accept it. They are safe so I told them both, “I have PTSD and you can’t do that, it freaks me out.” They responded with apologetic hearts full of grace. They respected my boundaries, even though they were hard to set.

Boundaries with friends and loved ones are easier for me than with strangers. I don’t want to tell strangers that “I have PTSD so please stop standing so close to me” or “Please don’t grab my arm, I don’t know you,” I want them just to know better. I work in a retail environment and am constantly surrounded by people. Customers invade my personal space on a daily basis and assume its appropriate to touch me. They mean well and aren’t trying to hurt me, but my body doesn’t care.

When they stand too close, I back up hoping they will receive the non-verbal message I’m sending them. When they touch me, I gage the situation quickly and either speak up or step back. Fight or flight. I usually choose flight, not wanting to be confrontational. But sometimes, I have to choose flight because my body forces me to.

I had a male customer touch my arm one day and before I could stop them, the words, “Please don’t touch me,” escaped my mouth. I shocked myself with this boundary. He was apologetic and crossed his arms for the rest of our interaction. Your body will choose fight or flight without consulting you first sometimes. It will demand fight or flight in seconds and all of a sudden you’re in this out-of-body fighting or fleeing.

I have to believe that it will get better. It did with my dad, so it has to with other people right? But I worry that I’ll never be able to have healthy relationships because of the abuse I’ve suffered. I worry that the walls my fear has built will always be too thick to let anyone in again.  I worry that my anxiety will keep me from enjoying close relationships. And then I remember the healing my Jesus has given me. I remember how far I’ve come. How much braver I am. How much stronger I am. I remember the warrior He’s made me to be.

If I’m honest, I’m afraid for tomorrow. Rationally, I know it will probably be okay, but the PTSD keeps me concerned. I just have to keep walking. Keep trusting my Heavenly Father. Keep practicing healthy coping skills. And keep setting boundaries. I have to walk in confidence and faith even when I don’t feel it.

Keep walking, dear warriors. Set your boundaries. Do your thing. You’ve got this.

skylerfulleredited9 Skyler Fuller