I often find myself up against the effects of my childhood sexual abuse, not only as a woman, but now as a mother. In hopes of finding a connection to others struggling as I do, I searched for literature and blogs documenting survivors' experiences of motherhood. I found nothing. That was the encouragement I needed to write and share this article.
"Momma, Can I put on some makeup?"
I tell my daughter she is beautiful without it, but "Sure honey, what's the harm?"
Internally, I am struggling with ideas of beauty and sexuality and safety and how all of this will play out in her life. I can't help but want to tell my daughter "no," she can't wear makeup; and in the years ahead of her, "no," she can't wear anything that sexualizes her in any way. I want to protect her as much as I can against catching the attention of a predator -- even knowing that idea is a farce. Makeup and fashion statements have nothing to do with victimization. Predators don't look for lipstick and short skirts. They look and wait for opportunity, usually within surroundings that are comfortable to a child.
At her age, I became a sexual object to someone. I know enough now to know, it had nothing to do with what I looked like, but more the opportunity given to a man with a sick addiction and no self control. It's not what the child looks like, but how vulnerable she is.
Does every woman grow hollow inside when she hears a man tell her daughter that she looks pretty? It shrinks me into a scared 10-year-old little girl, now wondering if this man too will do to me what other "good" men have done. Except, it's not about me anymore. It's about my daughter. It's about the compulsive urge I have to protect her from ever being preyed upon, like I was.
I could be wrong. Perhaps the guy at the cookout that complimented my daughter is of no harm. But when I got that kick of uneasiness in his presence, I paid attention. It doesn't occur every time I or my daughter are around men. Only sometimes. So every time, I listen and know that whether the man involved is her best friend's father, the town pastor, a friend's brother or even someone related to her, I will never let her be in a position to be groomed by him.
I have to teach my daughter how to listen to and feel that sixth sense that we all have. The most effective tool she can possess is trusting herself. For now, we call it the "uh-oh" feeling. It's an idea a school social worker taught me while interning at an elementary school. I connected with that "uh-oh" feeling because I recognized it. It's what made me keep a secret for over eight years. I want my daughter to not be scared of that feeling like I was, but to pay attention to it and to react to it no matter what.
The most difficult part to all of this is when that uneasiness sets in at times I know are irrational, like when my husband helps our daughter with her shower or is having a playful game of tickle monster with her. I have to convince myself that in spite of what the literature and statistics say, I will never continue the cycle of abuse -- as the victim or the abuser. I have to pull myself out of the hole these innocent events and ingrained thoughts push me in, and recognize the irrational fear.
After my failed search for stories on what it's like to live and experience motherhood as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was reminded of how quiet survivors are. I know the role that shame has in keeping it that way, but a discussion on the effects of the abuse that resurface, or suddenly arise, when we become mothers is something we need to talk about. I feel like it's vital to our ability to raise healthy children ourselves.
If we don't speak up, who will? If we don't educate our children and our communities, who will? If we don't eradicate shame and be the strong women that we can only hope our daughters will someday be, then who will?
We have to do exactly the opposite of what was ingrained in our immature brains not to do -- speak up. We, as mothers, have to make known the life-long effects of childhood abuse and do whatever we can to prevent the cycle from continuing.
I don't have a large stage to shout from, but what I do have is a voice and a pen. I will continue to write about parenting as a survivor. I will continue to support other mothers and fathers on their own journeys of recovery through a community I and fellow momma survivor, Joyelle Brandt, have created. I hope you will join us in creating a conversation and consider submitting to the anthology we are creating on this topic. It is our goal to have our stories at arm's length for anyone who is struggling like we have.
Be brave, fellow survivors. We are the experts on this. We have to be the ones to start the conversation. Let us all raise our children confidently as well as our middle finger to a culture that shames us. No more. Let us stand united in saying we are not to blame for what was done to us. The abuse has made us how we are, not who we are. It is only with a parent's fury that we can take on the fight against childhood sexual abuse.
Let us fight together to get Erin's law passed in every state. Let us stand united against the power of shame. Let us listen to the voice inside all of us, and trust that the cycle of abuse stops with us! Our daughters and our sons are depending on it.
Originally featured on Scary Mommy.