Eight years ago I was on a slippery slope – a runaway train really. I was looking to fill the emptiness inside in any way possible: alcohol, relationships, denial. I was holding tightly to the rails – the rails being the bits of hope that had taken root in my heart from many Sunday school lessons during my childhood…the truths that in my heart I knew were true, even if I didn’t feel them. There were times, as the train picked up speed – as my life seemed to spin more out of control with depression and shame – that I thought about letting go of those rails, of diving head first into anger and bitterness. I mean, it only made sense. Didn’t I have a right to be angry and hateful? I had been used. I had been sought out and preyed upon. Could anyone really blame me if I let go of the rails and quit holding on to the hope of something better?
Also eight years ago, my life changed unexpectedly when a good-looking man walked into my life – well, my office really. He was looking for a motorcycle loan and I was looking to meet my quota of loans for the month. He was tall, dark and handsome – and looking for a date to go along with that new motorcycle. Everything about the timing was screaming “Not ready yet!! I’m still a mess. I have too much to work through.”
You see, a man had hurt me, to an extent that I couldn’t even grasp at that time. He brainwashed me with messages that what he had done to me was love. He abused me because he loved me.
My heart wasn’t ready to give to someone else – it was in a million pieces. Those pieces were hurt, confused, angry. They were lying on the seat of an old pickup truck, a scene of one of many crimes committed by this man.
It was in that pickup that my worth was determined. For years before and after, every “act of love” from him drove home the fact was this is what I deserved. I must have done something naughty. Or, there must be something special about me that got me this kind of love. For years I kept this secret – the secret that my grandfather was molesting me. I finally told my parents – kind of. How could I put into words something I didn’t understand? I was a child, between the ages of 10-12. When I finally told them, it was neatly swept under the rug with “Shush, we don’t talk about that.” With their words, they had confirmed my suspicions about my worth. I believed them. I also swept it under the rug. Grandpa remained just as big a part of our lives as he always had.
Until the runaway train happened. My life had spun out of control. I was empty inside. I was absent, disengaged from my own life. I lived for the nights I could go out with friends and drink away my depression. I looked for the love I knew – secretive, wrong, dark. I found what I thought I was looking for – a man who was ready to give me the love I thought I deserved. It came from the attention of an unavailable man. Again, the voice that spoke my worth kept replaying the same message “This is the love you deserve. This is the best love you’ll ever get.”
The train accelerated speed. There was no slowing it down. Flashbacks of my past surfaced: the pickup, my Grandfather sitting me on his lap in the living room, molesting me while my Grandmother was in the next room, the Certs candies that would start in his mouth and end up in mine. I had dressed myself in a thick cape of shame, wanting to hide out from my life. Until I couldn’t handle it any more. My pain was too much. I called my parents and told them “I have to deal with the memories; deal with what happened with Grandpa.”
Once again, my worth was communicated – this time by their actions, or more importantly, their inactions. Grandpa will continue to be a part of our family. He will be at the Thanksgiving table; at the Christmas celebrations. He was at my wedding. He was chosen. His worth is more than my worth; his comfort more than my comfort; his sorrow is more than my sorrow. Not only did I learn love from my Grandfather and his actions, I learned a different kind of love from my parents. Their love for Grandpa is unconditional. It doesn’t matter the horrific things he did, the years of his life that he preyed upon not only me, but others including his own daughter. It feels like their love for me is conditional. As long as I come home for Easter; as long as I send a Christmas card to Grandpa; as long as I behave as they want me to, I have their love.
So, how could the love of the tall, dark, and handsome Prince Charming, who rode into my life on a shiny Harley Davidson, be different than the “love” shown to me in that old truck? How could I trust someone who claimed to love me wouldn’t hurt me the way that I had been hurt? Would he love me with conditions, like my parents had?
It was then that the voice that spoke my worth began to change. It started to speak of the hope and truths that had been planted long ago. This wasn’t the life I was meant to live. I knew it wasn’t my purpose to run and hide, especially from my life. I bought a book about hope for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. I asked my doctor for a referral to a counselor with an expertise in trauma, in working through the pain instead of hiding from it. I learned about what I actually went through and the words that went along with the actions. Molestation. Sexual assault. Criminal. Perpetrator. Victim. I was no longer going to listen to words that others used, such as “physically inappropriate; too friendly.”
I didn’t want to be a victim. I wanted to not only survive the abuse but go on to thrive in a healthy life. I wanted to get married, be a mom. I clung to the hope that the love I knew wasn’t really love at all. I did the work. I started on my long road to healing. I told myself that my ideal end result, a happy and abundant life, would be worth the risk of stepping away from the shame I had always known and changing the voices I had listened to. I was right.
Turns out that guy with the Harley Davidson did give me a love I had never known before. He stood in my corner, cheering me on as I fought, and as I continue to fight. I fight to use my new-found voice; to be confident in my worth; to stand in my greatness; to maybe even plant a seed of hope for someone who hasn’t found their voice yet.