I had a great childhood.
Looking back, I remember having a lot of friends from all walks of life, riding my bike, taking dance, and gymnastics. I loved lipsyncing in front of my mirror to Donna Summer, Sonny and Cher, and Blondie. I had posters of the BeeGees, The Village people, and Olga Corbett, Patricia McBride, KISS, Nadia Comaneci, and Holly Hobbie. My mommy was the nurse at my pediatrician’s office and she was a very attentive and supportive force in my life. My dad wasn’t around much. He and I never had any real connection or a deep relationship. But my mom? I talked about everything with my mom.
Well, except that one thing.
I had a huge secret I kept from everyone. No one knew. By all appearances, I was a superstar – popular, successful student, pretty, talented, happy. But I couldn’t sleep without the closet door completely closed. I stuffed a towel along the bottom of the bathroom door when I showered. I put a doorstop under my bedroom door when I changed clothes. You see, my older brother would slide a mirror under the bathroom door to watch me when I showered and dried off. I saw the mirror but said nothing. I just scrambled to get my pajamas on and made lots of noise alerting him I was about to leave and he would scramble back to his room to avoid getting caught.
Not every night, but many of them, I would be awakened by the covers being pulled back, and my pajamas sneakily lifted to expose my developing body. I pretended to be asleep while he touched me in places I really didn’t want to be touched. But I knew that if I woke up, I would have been “participating”, or I would have had to confront him. That would have been bad or embarrassing or even dangerous. One night I did. One night I woke up, told him to leave, but he forcefully pushed me into my walk-in closet, telling me to be quiet, and that if he “put it in my butt I wouldn’t get pregnant and no one would know.”
I was 10.
He was 15.
This went on for another year or so. I told no one because he said if I did, he would kill me and my friends, and that no one would believe me anyway. I believed what he said.
Those are the things I remember. A lot of it was blocked out of my mind, most likely as a coping mechanism. But at some point, it stopped. Maybe it was because I was developing and growing stronger. I started my period at age 11, so maybe that was why. I started piling more and more towels under the bathroom door, got a lock on my door, citing wanting my privacy. My parents agreed it was a good idea considering I was 12 at the time, but if they knocked, I was to immediately open it. But through all of that, I lived as if nothing was wrong. I was able to compartmentalize it somehow and remain successful in all other aspects of my life. NO ONE KNEW ANYTHING. I was safe, as was my secret.
I was able to cut him almost completely out of my life around age 13. He graduated and moved out of the house, and I was safe. I hardly saw him after that. My parents had to cut him off because he became a drug dealer and surrounded himself with unsavory characters who my parents didn’t want around. My father finally cut him completely off because my brother claimed our address was his residence, and the police showed up at my father’s house looking for him for God knows what.
Over time, the memories of the abuse faded down into somewhere inside of me, and I thought at times they were gone completely. I went on to be a successful dancer and landed my dream job at Disney where I worked for the better part of 18 years. I moved back home, married, and had babies. We had outgrown our house so we decided to add on, which took 6-8 months. While renovating the house, we needed to move out. My father still lived in the house where I grew up and 3 bedrooms were uninhabited, so we stayed there during the renovation of our home. My husband at the time and I slept in what was once my brother’s room. My children slept in the front room, and my childhood room became a home office/playroom. My kids played in the walk-in closet in my childhood room and although I didn’t understand why at the time, I would get very agitated or anxious on occasion for seemingly no reason. I went to see a therapist but never told her my biggest secret. I just shrugged it off as stress from living through a home remodel with two small kids, and living in my dad’s house. You know, just stress, nothing as shameful or abnormal like the truth behind it.
We moved back into our house when my daughter was around age 6. By the time she turned 7, the “stress” turned into a full blown nervous breakdown. One afternoon, I was in the kitchen making my 7 year old and my 4 year old a snack, and I blacked out. When I woke up I was on the floor of my newly renovated bedroom unable to move, crying uncontrollably, and my kids were very scared. I handed my 7 year old my phone and had her call their daddy. He wasn’t able to come home at the time so he called two of my girlfriends, one to take the kids, and one to take me to a therapist we had been meeting with for couples counseling. The therapist directed me to Baylor, specifically to the 8th floor – the psych ward.
I was admitted to the IOP (intensive outpatient) therapy program where I attended group therapy every evening for the better part of 6 weeks. It was facilitated by a man who is my therapist to this day, Scott Lennox. He saved my life, as did the others in the group. There were 6 of us, total. During that time, I was able to open up about what happened to me as a child, and how it shaped me as an adult. I began my rebirth. I still had a lot of work to do, but that IOP experience was the catalyst for change. I saw that I was not alone. I saw that my experience could help others. I developed a profound sense of empathy. Also as part of the therapy program, I was also under the care of a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with PTSD, and Major Depressive Disorder. I take medication daily, and probably will for the rest of my life. I still see a psychiatrist and my beloved therapist. I also see a life coach, Ashley Baker, who is absolutely amazing!
Trauma is real. PTSD is real, and isn’t just for combat veterans or first responders. If you have trauma in your past, especially childhood trauma, seek help. Some examples of childhood trauma include growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent, witnessing domestic violence, enduring emotional neglect, being bullied, experiencing the death of a parent or someone you loved, or like me, being sexually abused. I grew up thinking I could have somehow prevented it. I resented my parents for not stopping it. If only they would have walked in on it, and stopped it. In therapy, I learned that he stopped being my brother when he started molesting me. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He didn’t care. Brothers are supposed to protect their little sisters. Brothers don’t do what he did. Abusers do. Abusers are sneaky, so they rarely get help unless they are caught.
He died last year of a drug overdose in a motel outside of Reno, Nevada. I got the call when I was putting on my makeup getting ready to go to a football game with my current husband, Trey. My dad called me to give me the news, and neither my dad, nor I, cried. While his death was impactful, I told Trey that what I felt was guilt. I felt guilty for not crying or being upset, or really feeling much at all. I felt guilty for not being sad. Can you believe that? A few days later, at Trey’s suggestion, I went to see my therapist. That’s where I learned the reason I didn’t cry. I didn’t grieve his passing because in my heart and mind, I already had. He was already dead to me. He was just another person who died of a drug overdose in a hotel room. When you read that in the newspaper, and it’s someone you don’t know, you feel sad, but it doesn’t crush you. He stopped being my brother years ago when he started abusing me. I wasn’t happy he died, but there was a sense of relief.
I am sharing all of this because the loving, happy, well adjusted, unapologetic, calm, safe, relaxed woman you now know, didn’t get that way without a lot of work. If you’re struggling with demons, you have to be brave and come out. I could have wound up much different had I continued hiding my secrets. There are so many people out there who have experienced what I have, and much worse. They continue to live with shame, fear, resentment, and hopelessness. They will not get help. They feel they can’t. Some people don’t get help for fear of shaming their family, being judged, looking damaged. Maybe they were taught by their parents that it’s weak to ask for help.
I know this because for many years, I didn’t seek help. I didn’t run into my parents bedroom and tell them what was happening on the other side of the house. My mother, whom I trusted more than anyone on this planet, died when I was 19 not knowing any of this. I didn’t tell ANYONE until I was finally admitted to the fucking psych ward. I am still working on the scars. I am still healing. But I am not scared anymore. Holding this in robs me of the possibility of helping someone else going through trauma. I can relate. I have empathy for you. You can’t shock me. You’re not weird or gross or damaged or nasty. I know this because I am not any of those things. I am a badass survivor.
I am your ally.