Am I a victim?
The thought of calling myself a victim of molestation is nauseating. I’ve been down this road before and each time I get to the finish line, the road extends another block. In my head, the word “victim” sounds weak. Everyone is a victim of something. Why can’t I just get over it? I can’t get over it because I am living proof that the truth doesn’t always set you free. Will telling my story cause more pain and heartache for me, or will it allow me to break free, butterfly-like, from a cocoon of secrets?
In order to protect those who decided to shift my world before I knew what sex meant, I am refraining from naming the people involved in the crime. I don’t remember my age at the time of the incident that occurred while my parents were on vacation, but my gut tells me that I was about eight-years-old. It was at a time before I had pubic hair and had not yet considered the act of sex. I was sitting on the couch in the den of my family’s home with a man (friend/family member). We had been watching cartoons when he subtly landed his hand near my crotch. He inched his thumb and forefinger towards my penis and attempted to squeeze it through my shorts. At first, I wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish. But he explained that we were playing “Can you find it?” That made more sense. I told him that his hand was in the wrong spot and I guided his thumb and forefinger to the actual location of my penis, which was barely large enough to crease the cottony pajama material. It was now my turn to try and find his penis. I remember putting my hand where I estimated his penis would be above his blue jeans. I looked up at him smiling down at me and shaking his head like I had made a wrong guess. He proudly redirected me, “up, up, up, left.” I was in disbelief when I saw the surreal enormity of the outline of his penis. “That’s not it!” I exclaimed in disbelief. I remember reaching for his penis like a child greedily reaches for a gift on Christmas morning. “I found it” I said with excitement. I had won. Unfortunately, “Can you find it” ended abruptly when we heard the footsteps of his wife approaching. I remember the excitement that I felt when we played that game. It was our secret game and it made me feel special.
That’s it. That’s all that happened. If the story ended here, I might have been able to walk away with a minor emotional scratch or scar. But that’s not my story. This experience may (or may not) have taught me that I yearned for attention from a man or an adult. This became especially confusing around puberty when I began fantasizing about men, including the molester. Was I fantasizing about the attention I received from this guy because I was gay or because it made me feel important to have the undivided attention and sexual arousal from an adult? I think it was both.
Either way, I hated myself for potentially being gay. I was confused, depressed, lonely, and too weak to kill myself. This state of mind opened me up for a second chapter (Chapter 2 will be shared at another time) of child abuse and a promising future of yearning for and obtaining instant sexual gratification. By the time I was 17, I was dabbling in an assortment of drugs, and letting others treat my body as a blow-up sex doll. I was like a wild animal seeking the same gratification from others that I had received from my perpetrators. Yes, perpetrators – plural – because there would be more than one.
The Unexpected Twist to My Story Our Story
Addiction is a progressive illness. The progress of mine seemed to be gauged by the increasing layers of secrets and emotional trauma that I was harboring. When I was 21 years-old and a sophomore in college pursuing my degree in psychology, my past and my secrets were comfortably compartmentalized and hidden by a thin layer of substance abuse, fraternity life, and scholastics.
That normal routine was interrupted by a phone call from a distressed family member that changed everything. When I answered his call, I could tell by the somber tone of the greeting that this was not going to be a casual conversation. Frankly, it was a relief to have the opportunity to listen to someone seeking my help. I had been seeing a therapist at the Student Health Center at this time for depression and chemical dependency. He was lightly sobbing and was having a difficult time revealing what was troubling him. I knew that if he was anything like myself, that there was little chance he was ready to share the core issue. So I dared to use a method that no one had ever tried with me; the blunt, no BS, un-sugarcoated approach. I asked him three questions that unearthed a decade of repressed feelings and memories.
“Were you raped?”
“Were you molested?”
“Was it (Perpetrator’s name)?”
Victim – Question:
“How did you know?”
Me – Answer:
“Because he molested ME TOO.”
The conversation stunned us. We both realized that we were not alone or at fault for what had happened. I wish I could say that I was comforted to no longer be alone. Instead, it filled me with rage. I realized that my childhood encounter with this adult wasn’t a “special bonding.” It was a crime scene.
I Am A Survivor of Child Abuse
In retrospect, this conversation initiated a series of life events that forever altered my life’s path. As a young adult, it was finally confirmed by association with the other victim that I was the product of sexual child abuse (the word “misconduct” is insulting). I had so many questions, emotions, and feelings come up that it left me feeling off-balance and rudderless.
Most people don’t understand the complexity of recovering from child abuse. In this situation, the duration of the actual abuse was about five minutes. I carried the secret with me for over 10 years before I was comfortable sharing it with one person. When a victim shares their story, the recipient of the information now has the responsibility to process it, inform another person (or people), or keep the secret. When I shared the secret with my parents, they became victims and blamed themselves for the abuser’s action. When extended family members found out about the abuse, they shamed my parents for “allowing” it to happen and how they “handled” the situation. I can’t help but think of how this is also going to affect the perpetrator’s children who were my friends when I was younger. The victim list keeps growing.
I kept the secret because of shame and fear of how people would react. And when I found the courage to tell people what happened to me when I was eight years-old, I had to live through the abuse again while I was simultaneously feeling responsible for possibly placing a strain on my parent’s relationships with extended family and others related to the incident. What’s worse? Harboring a secret of my child abuse? Or revealing my secret that will inevitably split up families and put me on trial for public scrutiny?
It has been over 20 years since I came to realize what happened was molestation. I sit here now, ready to tell all, but I can’t. I can’t express the details because the perpetrator is still involved in my family’s life. And the other victim is not comfortable sharing his story. All I can do is share bits and pieces of my struggles so maybe another person dealing with this type of abuse can find some relief.
To The Survivor:
If you are a product of abuse, you are not alone. If you are withholding secrets to save someone else’s face, you are not alone. If you are just realizing now that abuse is part of your story, I can relate.
To the Perpetrator:
Hopefully this story will find its way into your hands so you can better understand the devastating after-affects of your self-seeking actions.