When I first started working in the field of child sexual abuse I ran into many hurdles. I had created the REPAIR Your Life program and was currently working for a leading HMO in southern California. The San Diego office had studied my program and decided they wanted me to teach it in their Weight Loss Clinic. Their stats showed that the majority of their obese patients had been sexually abused as children. I was elated. After having gone through five years of recovery from incest myself and having spent another three years creating the program which I had followed in my own recovery, I was eager to share it with others so they could become as I now was, the happiest person I knew. I was going to be teaching it on my own time and was going to be earning no money from it. I had spoken to various departments at other facilities and they too wanted me to begin teaching classes on how to REPAIR your life for those who had been sexually abused as a child. I talked to my boss about it and she was supportive and approved my efforts. I was even happier when I ran in to so many people who worked at my facility who had heard what I was going to be doing and saying it was a desperately needed endeavor.
Shortly before I was to begin my first class my boss came into my office and told me that I could not teach the class after all. I reminded her that it was on my own time, was not a conflict of interest and that I didn’t really need her permission. I was appalled at her change of mind and asked why. She refused to answer but told me that if I went forward with my plans she would fire me. I was stunned but had no choice but to comply as I needed to keep my job. I called the Director of Human Resources who was a friend and asked her if she knew why this had happened. She said the program was badly needed and she’d get to the bottom of it and call me back. A few days later she called and said if I went forward with my plans I would be fired. Then she abruptly hung up. When I told the San Diego offices that I couldn’t teach the class and why they were confused and said they’d try to find out what was behind it. They were never able to pinpoint the reason. I was devastated. I remembered vaguely that upon opening my boss’s mail (part of my responsibility as I was her Administrative Assistant) I had seen a clipping from a newspaper with an article about someone who had been sexually abused as a child and the repercussions that had ensued with a note attached saying perhaps that would help. It had been sent to her by a co-worker who was a friend of hers. I drew my own conclusions but still wasn’t sure if that had been the reason.
This happened back in the 90s and I am still disappointed at my inability to teach the class as I had envisioned going from one facility to another (there were several in the southern California area) and sharing what I believed was a practical and almost magical way to heal from the scars of child sexual abuse.
I have now spent almost 25 years in this field and continue to be appalled at how many people, even with the ME TOO movement, don’t want you to talk about having been sexually abused as a child. My frustration at some of the reasons continues to grow. One person told me that her husband’s sisters had been sexually abused and he was angry that I was talking about child sexual abuse and didn’t like me because of it. Another said that by continuing to talk about it I was telling the world that I was still a victim. This last comment angered me. I understand that once upon a time, before I got into recovery what my father had done to me was so shameful that I didn’t even want to think about it much less talk about it. The images this put in my mind made me feel dirty as if it were my fault and I must be a bad person. Back then I had felt like I was a victim without even realizing that was what I thought of myself. That had all changed once I completed recovery.
I remembered the last time I had seen my father. I had blacked out my teen years beginning with the first rape at the age of 13 and ending when I ran away from home at the age of 18 after a beating from my father that almost killed me. I continued to keep it in the back of my mind, in a locked room one that had a sign on it that said, “You had a nightmare, go back to sleep.” These were my mother’s word to me when I screamed and screamed for help. She had been a heavy sleeper and by the time she got into my room to deal with her hysterical daughter my father was standing in the hall, clutching his robe and watching with interest. Now here I was, many years older at my father’s house, at his request, four hours north of where I lived. He had remarried after my mother died of cancer and his current wife was mostly paralyzed from a stroke she had suffered a few months earlier. She lay in a hospital bed in their kitchen. My father was changing her IV and he looked at me with stricken eyes and said, “Kiddo, do you remember a few years ago when I told you about the incest relationship we had when you were in your teens?” I vaguely remembered that night, another night I had locked into that closet in my mind. “Yes…..” My body stiffened and I held my breath.
“I need to talk to you about that before it’s too late.”
“No,” my step-mother shrieked. “No, don’t talk about it. I’ve had to listen to you talk about it for 25 years and I don’t want to hear it again.” She writhed in agony on her bed her head as she sobbed and rolled her head back and forth.
My father stopped talking, finished what he was doing. Nothing further was said. I left for home the next day, confused about what had been unsaid. Then I locked it again into my closet never to open until I began going through recovery, another three years. By then my father had already passed away, dying of a massive heart attack a few weeks after I had seen him last. I’ve often wondered if that had to happen first so that I would feel safe enough to deal with the past.
Today, my one biggest frustration is the response of so many mature, sane and sensible people regarding talking about child sexual abuse. It doesn’t matter if your own child suffered at the hands of a perpetrator. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard so much about it on the news. The majority of people I know continue to keep their head in the sand and wish you’d do the same. I have friends I used to be close to who have distanced themselves from me since I have gone public. It breaks my heart and makes me feel alone.
I try to put myself in their place. What would I think if a friend of mine divulged that this had happened to her when I had never experienced it? I would feel such revulsion. I might even wonder what they had done to cause it. I might think they were making it up just to draw attention to themselves. I would probably wish they wouldn’t talk about it. I too might say Sssssh! But I hope not. Has society advanced so little that we still don’t want to talk about it?