Editor's Note: If you're a sexual abuse or assault survivor, the following personal essay could be potentially triggering to you. If you find yourself in need of help or assistance, please contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
I was 12 when I was molested by mom's boyfriend.
I broke the age-old vow, what happens in our household, stays in our household, when I told my mentor what happened. My mom found out about it when a Child Protective Services worker came to our house to interview me in our living room. On my way home to tell a complete stranger what happened, in the car alone with one of my uncles, he warned me that by telling the truth I'd be the reason why I'd get taken from my mom and she could go to jail.
As I sat on the same couch where pieces of my innocence were stolen and hearing the voices of family members in the next room, I listened to my Uncle's advice and chose to save my mom instead of telling my truth.
I'm 33 now. We never discussed what happened. None of us — her, him, nor my uncle. She stayed in the relationship with him while he continued to live with us. Feeling like I had to suppress anything I felt about being molested and having to hide it from everyone, I tried journaling my way through the shame and disappointment I felt. In my mind lived questions about whether I did something to make him want to touch me — was I too comfortable at home, wearing something around the house that was too revealing; did I laugh too much at his jokes so he thought I was flirting; did I do anything that made him think I wanted him to do what he did? That has been a heavy load to carry.
A few years later, one evening during a heated argument of theirs, my mama told him that she believed he'd molested me but at that time she loved him more than she loved me. Without missing a beat and sticking true to our unspoken rule on how to address important conversations, we never discussed it. I already didn't know how to tell her I was still hurting from the hands of the man that had been in our lives since I was about seven years old. How could I tell her that her words were equally painful?
It was hard living in the same space as him and beginning to believe that I was less important, it was unbearable to hear her validate how I'd felt.
Without having real-life healthy relationships, living in that dysfunction was the foundation of deciding to dodge love. I was too young to know that her version of love was really codependency. I was old enough to know, though, if that was love, then I didn't want it. With my adolescent wisdom, I believed that love would lead me to make illogical decisions that hurt innocent people. Much too young to make these kind of decisions, I'd told myself that I'd never give my heart to a man and I'd never allow people to get too close to me (so much so, this is the first time that I'm actually exposing my entire truth to people that I've known for years — I've perfected the art of keeping people at a distance). My coping mechanism was to build a wall around my heart.
For me, if I wasn't enough for my mama to choose me, then how could I be enough for anyone else?
After sweeping my shame, confusion, and hurt under the rug while battling anxiety and trying to recover from vivid nightmares over the years, it took me becoming a mom to feel the desire to address my childhood traumas. Initially, it was too late, or so I thought, because my abuser and my mama were already deceased. For years I thought getting an apology from them was what I needed to move on. In reality, God and therapy are how I found closure.
Oftentimes, we're led to believe that closure and healing begins with a conversation with those that wound us. Nothing could be further from the truth. The closure we need comes from within. A couple of months ago I spoke with an aunt about my mom, asking her questions to gain a better understanding of my mom. The more questions I asked, the more I realized that I don't need the answers to continue on my journey to heal. Just like there are answers that may help us, there are also answers that may hurt us. Giving myself permission to truly feel, acknowledge the pain I felt from him and her, trusting God, and fully diving into therapy, were pivotal in me being able to forgive them.
In therapy, I was challenged to change how I told my story to myself. Instead of it being laced with any traces of shame, embarrassment, or defeat, to find the empowering parts and speak them; speak highly of how I fought back and give less value to the abuse itself. Even though I overheard her saying that she loved him more at the time of the molestation, it does not mean that she never loved me. In a vulnerable moment with her partner, she exposed herself to her weakness. It's not my job to carry that. While it hurt and altered how I've lived my life, it's because I allowed it.
For so long, I fought to not become her — sharing her idea of love, allowing my love for my husband to not compromise my decision-making skills as a mom, that I became overly protective of our son and uncomfortable with being loved. Sometimes even doubting that healthy love was even real.
I refuse to pass that along to our son.
Putting myself in my mom's shoes without us ever discussing her trauma, insecurities, and challenges helped me to begin to confront the expectations that I had of her. I was reminded that people are just that, they're people. I'm never going to fully understand the decisions she made — I'm not her, I never knew her, and I believe her decisions weren't meant for me to understand. I feel confident in saying that she never knew herself. I don't believe my mom knew the fullness of the strength, power, and love that she possessed — enough of them that she didn't need the love from him that she wanted so badly that she welcomed having her judgment tainted by it. I find myself, now, often wondering how much it may have hurt her to choose her version of love over her intuition as a mother and as a woman.
As a mom now, I know that it had to have been a very difficult decision for her to make and then to live with daily with me in her presence. I have peace with the decisions she made — while I can't definitively say I would make the same decisions she made, who's to say that I still wouldn't stumble?
I believe the purpose in my pain was to add to the limited conversation of overcoming mother-daughter trauma within the African-American community.
One day I came across some game-changing scriptures — Acts 5:28-29. I was reminded that the generational pattern of nonexistent communication on important, life-altering situations and shame has led me to live in silence. In the scripture, Peter and the apostles were being commanded to stop preaching about Jesus and to stop speaking His name. They responded by asking, "Do we listen to man or obey God?" That question hit me like a ton of bricks! It reminded me that our lives are not our lives, they ultimately belong to God along with assignments that we must fulfill.
While I do not believe God was part of the molestation, I do believe that He has called me to use it as a means to ending mother-daughter trauma. How dare I be covered by God's grace to heal from the significant pain that's been living in the depths of my soul majority of my life, then I have the audacity choose to stay silent because of what man may think about it? No ma'am! I can't live comfortably knowing that I have something to offer another mom and daughter that may untie the knots of pain that have held them bound due to lack of perspective or poor communication. We don't do the work required to heal from situations merely just to be healed for ourselves. Perpetually, we become better so that others connected to us are inspired to do the same.
It's not easy telling others that I was molested. It is also not easy to tell people that my mom was in love with my abuser and she chose him. Hard decisions are the deciding factor between being selfish and being selfless. I choose the latter.
If you or anyone you know is being affected by sexual assualt or abuse, please contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
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