In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month I decided to share my story as a survivor of sexual assault.
My story began when I was just a small child, aged 6. My father began raping me. This would continue for the next 6 years. During that period, he started sharing me with his child predator friends. I was 6. I had no way to process what was happening, or why. I never told, he made sure to tell me that if I told anyone, they would blame me, I’d be called a slut and that they would all hate me – especially my mother. That was sufficiently threatening enough to my child’s mind to keep me quiet. I was terrified. I was confused. I was being violated by the man I was supposed to be able to trust, the man who should have been protecting me. I was alone. I couldn’t tell anyone. No one noticed the behavioral changes. No one asked any questions. No one wanted to see the truth. I hid inside my mind. I would dissociate during each rape. My young mind had no way of dealing with the assault, the trauma. I worked so hard to detach myself that I have very few memories of my childhood. I had to shut out the good with the bad just to stay sane. I was physically and emotionally traumatized, and those scars still linger today. I repressed the memories of those 6 years of being raped. It would be almost 2 decades before I would recover them…
The emotional scars stayed with me through junior high and high school. I felt worthless, helpless and hopeless. I was a nervous wreck, scared of my own shadow and generally depressed. I was a smart kid. I could have excelled, but I didn’t. I didn’t try very hard and could have failed, but I didn’t. I lingered in the middle of the pack, never drawing attention to myself. I was still trying to hide. I didn’t trust anyone, how could I? As a result, I formed very few lasting relationships through that time. When I started dating, I dated guys who treated me like shit. I chose asshole guys, as a result I was a victim of date rape, twice. I didn’t know I had a choice. I had never been given one. I never told anyone. I had been trained to keep it to myself. I felt more worthless, more helpless and more hopeless the ever. I was reckless. I tried drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. I made bad decisions and put myself in dangerous positions. I also tried to commit suicide while in HS. I just wanted the pain to stop. I truly believed no one cared, that no one would miss me. Those scars ran deep. Luckily I was not successful in my attempt, and until this post goes live, no one has ever known I tried. Oh the signs were all there, but like the rapes no one wanted to see it so they didn’t.
Life after high school wasn’t any better for me. I didn’t go to college. My grades were middle of the road, and though my SATs were actually good I had no money and no one to cosign for student loans. So I worked. I had craptastic jobs (the kind school kids have, not adults) that rarely worked out in the long term. I had stopped doing drugs my senior year (one day I had a WTF-am-I-doing moment and decided I didn’t want a life like I saw the people around me living) though I didn’t stop drinking. I dated assholes, got engaged to a cheating asshole (I knew he was a cheat, more bad choices) – thankfully I didn’t marry the jerk. Started dating again, more assholes. Married an abusive one (I knew it wouldn’t last but he was joining the Navy and it provided me an opportunity to leave the town that held nothing but nightmares and pain for me.) and moved away. Leaving his abusive ass was one of the few strong moments in my life prior to getting professional help. He was away for schooling and while he was gone I was a different person. I’m eternally grateful to the friends who saw that, pointed it out and then supported me when I left him. It was ugly. I mean seriously fucking ugly. He drained all our accounts and maxed out our credit cards just as I needed to make my first rent payment. He stopped sending any support. Virtually overnight I found myself in serious debt. He would call me all hours of the night, leave messages on my machine that were nothing but incoherent screaming and generally made my life a living fucking nightmare. I actually had to go to Navy Legal to get help. That helped me financially but made the rest of my life even worse. Again, so grateful to everyone who helped me through this time in my life!! He refused to sign the divorce papers before he was stationed overseas and as a result I was married to him for several years after we separated. During that time I became an insomniac. Sleeping was virtually impossible for me. I would wake up frequently, suffered from nightmares and had developed a fear of the dark. I could sleep during the day, but forget about sleeping at night. I was still a nervous wreck, and now I was perpetually sleep deprived.
I was a wreck. I still felt like life was going nowhere, that I had no purpose, that I didn’t matter. I was no longer suicidal, but I was perpetually depressed.
I finally met a good guy. He helped me in so many ways. I was still a wreck. He supported me in getting professional help. We adopted a dog, bought a house and got engaged. I got help for anxiety and depression (help in this case means drugs). Just before our wedding my memories, those dark memories I had kept hidden for so long, were brought to the surface. In hind sight, we were doomed before we said “I do.” We were not ready for the shit storm that would become my life, our lives. Shortly after our wedding I started therapy, and changed doctors. I was misdiagnosed as bi-polar, and put on drugs. I went from bad to worse. I started having severe panic attacks. I was more depressed. My mind became foggy and drug addled. I got to the point that I could no longer function. I lost the first real career job I had. I was chain smoking, drinking, and hiding from the world. The doctors’ solution was more drugs. I was too fucked up to argue. It continued to get worse. I was suicidal again. I was ultimately hospitalized, un-diagnosed as bi-polar and properly diagnosed as having PTSD. I attended an intensive full-time therapy group. The best thing to happen to me. The staff there was exactly what I needed. They doctor weened me off the drugs, I started thinking more clearly, I started to recover. I had regressions. I spent 4 months in that therapy group, which included living with the other patients in gender-separated apartments. The staff there helped me find myself, deal with the past and for the first time in my life I was eagerly looking forward to the future. My future. I felt that I wanted to help other women, but I didn’t know how because being a therapist wasn’t going to work for me. I was not emotionally capable of doing that job. After I finished the full-time therapy I attended community college, I decided to follow a love of mine – earth science. I was no longer afraid to fail! I graduated with high honors and had an acceptance letter to UIC in my hand. It wasn’t all rainbows and candy. I had doubts, set backs and fears. But I was attending the weekly group therapy sessions and I would voice them there and get the help I needed.
Sadly, during all of this, I put my husband through hell. The process destroyed our marriage. I was finally healing but my marriage was falling apart. It was time for my husband to heal, he suffered emotionally through all of this, but he wasn’t quite ready. And things got worse for us. We eventually separated. It was the best thing we could have done for our relationship. We are still friends today. He struggled to find the right path to healing for quite some time. I felt helpless because I couldn’t do anything other than listen and continue to be supportive. He did finally find it and now we’re both on paths that make our hearts happy and give our lives meaning.
During my last year at UIC I started shooting. My exposure to that world caused my life to take a 180! I had found a way to help women without having to be a therapist or counselor. I finished school. I graduated with honors and I dare say I was damned fucking proud of myself! Still am. I learned so much during my years in college that didn’t come from a text book. I worked through difficult situations and gained self confidence from those experiences. I learned to lead as a board member of different organizations. I found courage to face myfears. I wasn’t afraid to be me, even if I didn’t fit in all the time.
I’ve been out of school a few years now. I started training more seriously in firearms right after graduation. I also started training to train others. Within the first year I was co-teaching NRA basic pistol classes. Shortly after that I discovered The Well Armed Woman (TWAW) – and found my Tribe. I now run my own business (seriously never ever fucking thought I’d have the balls to do it but here I am). I named it after my tattoo, inspired by the phoenix rising from the ashes to burn bright again, Phoenix Rising Defensive Training. My tag line sums up what I do “Empowering Women through Self Defense Training” That’s why TWAW spoke so loudly to me “Educate, Equip and Empower“. That word. It means everything to me. Empower women to be their own best defense. Empower women to refuse to be victims. Empower women to own their power. Empower women so they will empower others.
I have found my voice, and it’s loud! Sometimes too loud, but hey it’s mine and I own it. I still struggle with self-doubt, but now it’s a relatively normal level, not a crippling amount. I have bad days when all I want to do is cry (Netflix is my best friend on these days).
I am proud of how far I’ve come. At one point in my life I didn’t think I’d live to see 25 (I didn’t really care if I did either) let alone accomplish anything with my life. Now, I help women find their power. I help women overcome their fears. I help others feel as powerful and in control as I feel. I spent the first 3/4 of my life (thus far) as a victim. I was a survivor for a little while after that, but surviving wasn’t enough. I have become a warrior, and I will never be a victim again!
Full disclosure. I’m scared to death to put this out in the world. I have shared bits and pieces with some people but I have never shared so much, with so many… #FacingMyFears #WarriorsDontHide
Be Your Own Hero. Stay Safe.