Tag Archives: incest

Awareness Games: Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence

Every October, when Domestic Violence Month rolls around, before it even begins I get very, very tired. That’s because every October, gaining awareness for domestic violence seems to be an uphill battle against the pink army that is the other October cause, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

That sounds really bitter, right? Like I hate people who support breast cancer or something? Wrong. Breast cancer is obviously a worthy cause that deserves attention. But does it have to steal all of the attention?

It is frustrating for those of us trying to gain support for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, trying to get our purple ribbons seen when we’re staring at an ocean of pink. An enormous part of the problem is stigma. A few decades ago, breast cancer was very stigmatized. Awareness campaigns brought out the subject and made it okay for people to talk about. Everyone understands now. Cancer is a disease; it’s not a person’s fault. The women who have it and are fighting it and living with it are considered brave, strong, even heroic. It’s a cause everyone can get behind without question; what kind of jerk doesn’t support cancer? People feel good about themselves when they buy a product that has a pink ribbon on it; it’s armchair philanthropy.

Listen, I’m not saying these things are bad. It’s amazing that the stigma on breast cancer has lifted, because millions of lives have been saved. It’s simply that, in comparison, domestic and sexual violence are still largely crimes that live in the dark. There’s a stigma attached to them that’s so severe, that one third of victims of domestic violence and two-thirds of sexual assault victims are not reporting to law enforcement. Of those victims, 41% of male and 34% of female stated victimization being a private/personal matter as reason for not reporting, 15% of women feared reprisal, 12% of all victims wished to protect the offender, and 6% of all victims believed police would do nothing.

Unfortunately, they are right about that.

Nationally, in the last 10 years the number of arrests for domestic violence have dropped from over 120,000 per year to around 85,000 per year. If a person in that one-third that comes forward to report a rape actually endures the re-traumatizing and invasive post-rape medical exam and is interviewed by police, it is highly unlikely that his or her efforts will result in justice, seeing as the conviction rate for sexual assault is only 3%— meaning  97% of rapists walk free.

How in the hell is that possible? It’s called rape culture. It’s just like how it used to be for breast cancer: unmentionable in public, the person who had it was marked somehow and there were sympathies to her face and gossip behind her back. In our culture, when a person is raped— especially a woman— she is the one with the burden of proof. She is considered a slut until proven virginal. We spend so much time focusing on what she was wearing, where she was walking, what she was drinking, and if she said no that we forget who the criminal actually is. It’s the same way with domestic violence. It is complicated and messy. There’s often substance abuse involved and children who are witnesses and fights that could go both ways. Emotional and verbal abuse are hard to pin down, though I assure you, it happens all the time. But come on: there is absolutely no fucking excuse for ignoring physical violence. And yet people do, constantly. No one wants to talk about domestic and sexual violence the way they are willing to openly discuss breast cancer. Why? Because it’s ugly; it’s painful; it’s shameful. People are afraid of it. And for reasons beyond my comprehension, people really love to blame the victims. While cancer patients are considered brave, victims of domestic and sexual violence are called stupid, lazy, slutty, and deserving of their abuse.

Every October, I feel burned out by the 2nd. I stare at the ocean of pink and wonder how in the world I’m going to gain attention for a cause that no one wants to speak or hear about. A cause that makes people uncomfortable, that triggers a flicker of shock across their faces as soon as the word “violence” comes out of my mouth. The only ones who are not shocked are the ones who have a personal connection to domestic violence. That’s when I hear the stories: “My sister had a boyfriend who hit her.” “I was married to a guy like that.” “My dad abused me as a kid.”

When I hear those stories, I have a bit of hope; these are people who will help spread the word. Perhaps they will understand, perhaps I can explain to them and make them realize how much we need to educate the public about domestic and sexual violence. I’m doing everything within my power. But when I look at all the major corporations and foundations that are sponsoring breast cancer, I think, I want those same resources for this. How do I make them realize that domestic and sexual violence are at an all-time high? 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime. How do I get them to hear that and maybe give their support towards another cause this October?

The thing is, breast cancer is no longer a crisis the way it was a decade ago. Female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000, then dropping by about 7% from 2002 to 2003.  Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, with larger decreases in women younger than 50. These decreases are believed to be the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment. Think about it; that pink ribbon has become synonymous with breast cancer, and you can find it on every product imaginable. The Susan G. Komen Foundation in particular has done an incredible job with this. Another big part of the decrease is due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies and companies that sell medical and surgical equipment will invest in awareness campaigns, the pink ribbon branding, and fund-raising for research, which brings in millions of dollars every year for the cause. Domestic violence does not have this resource because so far, there’s no surgery that can prevent a man from beating his wife, and chemotherapy can’t cure incest. Those companies have no interest in sponsoring a cause that will give them nothing back. With breast cancer, there are patients that use their products so they recoup that money. Until we figure out what part of the brain makes a person violent toward their loved ones, or find a medicine that can erase the effects of sexual trauma, those companies have no incentive to spread purple ribbons the way they do pink, or try to raise funds for victims’ services. Meanwhile, the statistics show a 42-percent increase in reported domestic violence and a 25-percent increase in the reported incidence of rape and sexual assault. Does this mean that I think we should ignore breast cancer? That breast cancer is no longer a problem and we should focus solely on domestic violence? Of course not. Breast cancer is still a killer, the second deadliest cancer after lung cancer, and obviously, we need to keep seeking a cure. But do I think it’s currently at the crisis level that domestic violence is?

No.

Saying that is going to upset people, possibly offend people, particularly those who have loves ones affected by breast cancer. I understand your feeling that way. But when you take a look at these numbers, you might begin to understand where I’m coming from when I say that.

–       About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

–       Twice as many, 1 in 4 U.S. women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

–       In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 57,650 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer (288,130 cases total).

–       Twenty times as many, an estimated 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year

–       On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. Intimate partner homicides accounted for 30% of the murders of women and 5% percent of the murders of men. Homicide is the number 1 cause of death in pregnant women. Most intimate partner homicides occur between spouses, though boyfriends/girlfriends have committed about the same number of homicides in recent years.

–       One in five (21%) women in the U.S. reports she has been raped or physically or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Three in four women (76%) who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that an intimate partner (current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date) committed the assault.

–       Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. 30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year.

–       There are only 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States; there are 5,000 animal shelters.

This is beyond unacceptable. When we have more resources for stray animals than

abuse victims, something is seriously fucked up.

This whole thing may sound like I’m trying to make the month of October some giant competition between breast cancer and domestic violence, like I think one cause is better than the other. That’s not the case. What I really want is just some more air time, a little more space, and more financial resources to do as wonderful a job of eradicating the stigma around domestic and sexual violence as the breast cancer camp has done. Seriously, we need some of the breast cancer publicists over in the domestic violence camp! Those people get shit done.

Another suggestion that has been made is to move Domestic Violence Awareness Month to May, so it won’t be drowned out. That could work. As long as there is some time dedicated to fighting for this cause. As many of you know— if you’ve read any other part of WfR— I’ve got my own (long and intense) history with both domestic and sexual violence. Whenever someone takes up a cause, it’s not a coincidence; they do it because it affects them somehow. That’s why this is such an emotional topic, and why, when I bring it up, people who are affected by breast cancer tend to get pissed off at me. That’s okay. As long as it’s being discussed, as long as it’s out in the open, perhaps things will begin to change.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2012

P.S.— In the interest of fairness I feel I must add that there are two other October causes that get even less attention that either breast cancer or domestic violence: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month. Both of these are really important and deserve attention too, please take a look at their websites for more information!

National Bullying Prevention Center

Remembering Our Babies

FirstCandle.org

Statistical Resources Included:

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Domestic Violence Resource Center

BreastCancer.org

Susan G. Komen Foundation

Human Rights Watch

ASPCA

Clark County Prosecutor, Domestic Violence Office

Centers for Disease Control


We Should Have Heard You: Ashley Billasano’s Final Words Uncut

Ashley Billasano was a girl just like me. So much like me, that this story has affected me in a deeper way than perhaps it would have otherwise. Ashley and I both grew up in the Austin area. We both were sexually abused by our fathers, raped other times, and used eating disorders and self-harm to cope with this. Both of us were failed by Travis County Child Protective Services, who neither served nor protected us. We both attempted suicide more than once. 

The difference is, I survived.

Eventually, someone heard me. Eventually, I received the help I so desperately needed. Tragically, no one heard Ashley or was able to help her before she succeeded in taking her own life. I can’t explain why I was spared and Ashley wasn’t. I can’t explain why someone intervened on my behalf and no one got to her in time. And I can’t imagine how Ashley’s friends and family are feeling right now.

But I can imagine what Ashley was feeling. I remember vividly what it felt like to think that no one believed me and no one was going to help me and I was all alone with my hellish pain. Ashley left us with a record of her pain, a record of her experiences and reasons for taking her life. She made it public for a reason. And when I heard that Twitter took those messages down I was angry, because she wasn’t heard when she was alive. She deserves to be heard now. So I am publishing her tweets just as she wrote them, unedited and uncut. Ashley wanted the world to know what she went through and she wrote it rather eloquently. Perhaps her writing will encourage other survivors to come forward with their own stories. There have been far too many deaths due to silence. Let us remember Ashley Billasano and how the system did not work for her. Let us do better the next time a victim has the courage to report. Please, let us  do better. 

A website and foundation have been set up in Ashley’s honor, their mission to help victims of abuse deal with the effects and prevent more tragic suicides. www.ashleymariejustbreathe.com

 

10:50PM Nov 6th: “I fuckked up my own suicide” yeah tell me about it…

6:44AM Nov 7th: Staying home today. Can I reach 1000 tweets??? I’m thinking yes!

9:45AM Nov 7th: just woke up

9:45AM Nov 7th: Don’t feel too well

9:45AM Nov 7th: There is somebody in my dreams

9:46AM Nov 7th: I want them gone

9:46AM Nov 7th: How can we control our dreams?

9:46AM Nov 7th: Hummm wish somebody would text me

9:47AM Nov 7th: Kinda lonely right now

9:47AM Nov 7th: There was so much more I wanted to do

9:48AM Nov 7th: Ahhh well time to move on

9:48AM Nov 7th: My thought process is too crazy

9:48AM Nov 7th: I totally think I’m bipolar

9:49AM Nov 7th: Or just crazy

9:49AM Nov 7th: Idk.

9:49AM Nov 7th: Humm I remember why we broke up

9:50AM Nov 7th: I shall do it again

9:50AM Nov 7th: Because this time I don’t have a bf

9:50AM Nov 7th: And I really don’t care anymore

9:51AM Nov 7th: I should get ready then

9:51AM Nov 7th: Should have gotten everything last night

9:52AM Nov 7th: Still just trying to raise my numbers

9:52AM Nov 7th: So I met this boy

9:52AM Nov 7th: He was very cute you see

9:52AM Nov 7th: Quite popular too

9:53AM Nov 7th: Me and this boy started talking

9:53AM Nov 7th: Then we talked a lil more

9:53AM Nov 7th: Then he let me in his front door

9:54AM Nov 7th: We walked up the stairs where everything was quite

9:54AM Nov 7th: And he whispered ‘you look beautiful’ into my ear

9:55AM Nov 7th: Shivers moved down my spine

9:55AM Nov 7th: And then he began to kiss my neck

9:56AM Nov 7th: I know you’re thinking ‘why did she go’

9:57AM Nov 7th: And all I can say is my father told me so

9:57AM Nov 7th: So he kissed me sweet and laid me down on his bed

9:58AM Nov 7th: I started to shake he said ‘give me head’

9:58AM Nov 7th: I laughed at him and said ‘I’m a vegetarian’

9:59AM Nov 7th: Then I wondered why I had really come to him.

9:59AM Nov 7th: See I’ve been in this situation before

10:00AM Nov 7th: When a boy I loved said he would leave if I didn’t give it up

10:00AM Nov 7th: And I told my friends I had done it even though it wasn’t true

10:01AM Nov 7th: Because he was telling everybody the same things too

10:01AM Nov 7th: But here is the honest truth

10:01AM Nov 7th: I never did it till I was sixteen

10:02AM Nov 7th: I did not know the boy

10:02AM Nov 7th: And I never got to know him

10:02AM Nov 7th: He was older stronger and high at the time

10:03AM Nov 7th: He probably will never admit I was a crime

10:03AM Nov 7th: His breath smelt sour like smoke and his kisses became rough

10:04AM Nov 7th: Then I tried to sit up and say ‘I’ve had enough’

10:04AM Nov 7th: My attempt of getting free were feeble

10:05AM Nov 7th: I decided to scream ‘please stop’

10:05AM Nov 7th: but he just took a pillow to my face and put me in the dark

10:06AM Nov 7th: First to go were my shoes. I feel my feet go cold

10:06AM Nov 7th: Next my pants, he was so bold.

10:07AM Nov 7th: It hurt so much as he entered me

10:07AM Nov 7th: Guys I’m telling you my first time was taken from me

10:08AM Nov 7th: He noticed and said ‘are you a virgin?’

10:08AM Nov 7th: I nodded through tears as he kept barging in

10:09AM Nov 7th: He finished and was done with me

10:09AM Nov 7th: I lay on his bed lifeless

10:10AM Nov 7th: He let me stay there and sleep

10:10AM Nov 7th: Then he offered me some weed

10:10AM Nov 7th: I said ‘no thank you I don’t do that either’

10:11AM Nov 7th: He said ‘girl you’re no fun. See you later’

10:12AM Nov 7th: I started to get dressed and he came back in

10:12AM Nov 7th: He came close; i tried to get away from him

10:12AM Nov 7th: He told me ‘dont be scared’

10:13AM Nov 7th: and like an idiot I believed him

10:13AM Nov 7th: He asked if I liked it

10:14AM Nov 7th: I shrugged my shoulders

10:14AM Nov 7th: He leaned in for a kiss, and I let him

10:15AM Nov 7th: He laid me down and rubbed my back

10:15AM Nov 7th: I cried in his pillow. He cried back

10:15AM Nov 7th: He said he was sorry

10:16AM Nov 7th: I said ‘it’s okay’

10:16AM Nov 7th: we laid there together just bathing in our fears

10:17AM Nov 7th: I don’t know why. But I saw the human in him.

10:17AM Nov 7th: He was probably just as broken as me

10:18AM Nov 7th: He drove me to my park

10:18AM Nov 7th: I got on the swirly slide. I just laid there and cried

10:19AM Nov 7th: I finally walked home

10:19AM Nov 7th: My father opened the door

10:19AM Nov 7th: Asked me ‘how was it’

10:20AM Nov 7th: I said ‘i’ll never forget it…’

10:20AM Nov 7th: as he pressed for questions. I grew impatient

10:20AM Nov 7th: Said ‘dad in so tired can I just go to bed’

10:21AM Nov 7th: he dismissed me and I trudged up the stairs.

10:21AM Nov 7th: My legs hurt. And my heart was filled with despair

10:21AM Nov 7th: I went to the bathroom and locked the door

10:22AM Nov 7th: I took apart a razor I had just gotten from the store

10:22AM Nov 7th: I did what I had to do to forget.

10:23AM Nov 7th: It seems it’s been my only way since sixth grade

10:24AM Nov 7th: When the kids called me fat even though I was a double zero

10:24AM Nov 7th: And I began to watch my weight like it was a MTV show.

10:25AM Nov 7th: I cried as I remembered how I’d starve for days

10:25AM Nov 7th: And my parents never noticed

10:26AM Nov 7th: So I laid there and watched the blood gather on the floor

10:26AM Nov 7th: Then my weak hands reached for the door

10:27AM Nov 7th: I ran into my little sister she saw and shook her head.

10:27AM Nov 7th: Then she looked at me and said. ‘Just don’t let them see sissy.’

10:27AM Nov 7th: she kissed my head and walked away

10:28AM Nov 7th: I swear after that night I was never the same

10:28AM Nov 7th: My dad became to want ‘favors’ from me too

10:29AM Nov 7th: He would use it to bribe me if I wanted to hang out after school

10:30AM Nov 7th: I didn’t know that I should have told somebody what he was doing to me

10:30AM Nov 7th: Sex just became second nature to me

10:31AM Nov 7th: My father let me as long as he got details sometimes I’d even have to let him see

10:32AM Nov 7th: I was just a young girl. Who quickly became afraid of men.

10:32AM Nov 7th: Then years past and it never stopped.

10:32AM Nov 7th: Finally on day I began to pop

10:33AM Nov 7th: I sent a boy away

10:33AM Nov 7th: And told my father enough was enough

10:33AM Nov 7th: He cried and said ‘I’m just so weak’

10:34AM Nov 7th: I looked at him and saw the brokenness too

10:34AM Nov 7th: I took pity on him and became the fool

10:35AM Nov 7th: Things never changed they just got worse

10:35AM Nov 7th: Till one day I met a boy who in the end hurt my heart worst

10:36AM Nov 7th: We met in my typical situation

10:36AM Nov 7th: We were both undressed within a matter of seconds.

10:37AM Nov 7th: But I could tell he was different.

10:37AM Nov 7th: I pledged myself by not hooking up with complete strangers.

10:38AM Nov 7th: But for him I was eager

10:38AM Nov 7th: But there was something different about this guy

10:39AM Nov 7th: He returned the favor and actually said goodbye

10:40AM Nov 7th: On the bus ride home we sat next to each other. Talked for hours on end

10:40PM Nov 7th: We held each other’s hands and told each other our favorite bands

10:41PM Nov 7th: He looked me dead in the eyes and asked if I would please consider seeing him again

10:42PM Nov 7th: I went home filled with smiles and cheer

1:01PM Nov 7th: Annyways. The guy eventually asked me to be his girl

1:02PM Nov 7th: And things were great for a while

1:04PM Nov 7th: But my dad got in the way. And ruined everything. One day I just couldn’t do it. So I told my boyfriend my secret

1:06PM Nov 7th: What happened next was a blur. I told him not to tell. We tried to act normal. We had been dating for over a month when I took his virginity

1:07PM Nov 7th: I fell in love for the first time. But my secret was too much for him. He needed time to think. I thought I was going to lose him.

1:09PM Nov 7th: A lot happened. But all that matters is that my secret was about to become puplic. Him & my friends made me tell

1:10PM Nov 7th: All my efforts to keep a normal life were crumbling right before my eyes.

1:11PM Nov 7th: I remember telling my closest teacher and CPS and the police and dectectives. I remember having to tell them everything about my dad

1:35PM Nov 7th: It was my boyfriend who told my mom. And she came to get me.

1:37PM Nov 7th: Weeks passed then I got the call. They said. ‘Sorry but there isn’t enough evidence’ I hung up.

1:38PM Nov 7th: That’s when I changed. I didn’t care anymore. And the people I was meeting gave me no reason to.

1:39PM Nov 7th: The guys I’ve been with, ha none of them care. They just look at me like I’m just some other hoe.

1:40PM Nov 7th: To that I say. I guess I am. I don’t know how else to be. It’s not my fault. Somebody else chose that for me.

1:47PM Nov 7th: Well that’s. The story of how I came to be who I am. Well the condensed version. I’d love to hear what you have to say. But I won’t be around

2:08PM Nov 7th: Take two. Hope I get this right

 


Domestic Violence Story Project: My Story- Sarah

Hi everyone, thanks for joining me once again for the final story in this series. Everyone who has contributed to this project has done a wonderful job and I am grateful to all of you, but each story has been from the perspective of a survivor in a violent relationship. I really wanted to include at least one story from the perspective of a child who had grown up in an environment of domestic violence, but unfortunately I didn’t receive any stories like that, so because I believe it is such an important perspective to include, I thought I would volunteer my own.  I will caution you, this story may be triggering and is not easy to read. But I decided not to pull any punches, and to really lay out the truth about what went on in my home growing up. Even people who know me may be surprised at the extent of the violence; I just want to be clear that I am not ashamed of anything that happened. I did nothing wrong. My mother and sister did nothing wrong. We were the victims, we are the survivors. And I am ready for the world to hear our story. 

Thank you to everyone who has written, commented, and read these stories. Just by witnessing these words, you are making a difference. 

Growing up in a violent household isn’t easy to explain. It isn’t all like what you see in Lifetime movies; it isn’t all as obvious as black eyes and screaming fights. Sometimes- many times- violence is much quieter than that, much more insidious. It was that way in my house

I think the number one word that comes to mind when describing my childhood home is this: confusing. Damn, was it confusing.  It’s not just that it was chaotic, though it certainly was. It’s that no one had a clearly defined role in the family. Mother, daughter, wife, big sister, little sister, friend, adult, child, lover, whore, caretaker, confessor, victim, savior, and others were all interchangeable roles for the three females in the family; that is my mom, my older sister, and me. We shifted personalities at the whim of my father, who also had his own little cast of characters that he played: father, husband, surgeon, family man, abuser, pedophile, rapist, philanderer, and general, all-around sociopath. We spent our days and especially our nights in a mixture of terror and exhaustion, wondering who was going to be what next.

As a child, I got extremely mixed messages from both parents, but especially my mom. On the one hand, she was very careful to make sure that she raised me to be a feminist, equal to a boy in all the opportunities I was given and the things she said to me. She gave me trucks along with my Barbies, made sure I admired Cinderella and Sally Ride, and said I was so smart I could be anything I wanted to when I grew up- no one could stop me.

Except while she was telling me all of this, I was watching her wither away in an abusive marriage. My father stopped her from seeing friends and her family, from taking a job outside the house or even working from home, from using any of the degrees she had earned. My mother is a brilliant, talented, educated woman, and he convinced her that she was worthless and stupid and couldn’t even do housework correctly. I watched him treat her like less than shit you wipe off your shoe my entire life. He slowly took away every little bit of control and happiness and sanity from her. I watched him screw other women behind her back. I dealt with him abusing my sister and me behind her back, which he knew was the worst way possible to hurt her.

When you grow up with a tyrant who rules your home like this, things are never safe. You don’t even know what that word means. Stable and secure are pretty meaningless too. Because one night your father might come home, get pissed off, and threaten to kill your cats. Or, just because he thinks it’s funny, he’ll hold an empty handgun to your six-year-old head and pretend to fire. Or while you’re doing your homework he’ll walk into your room completely naked and act like it’s no big deal. He’ll make dinner for himself and forget to feed you and your sister. He’ll pinch your ass. Pull your hair. Shove you into a wall. Molest you. Rape you.

And that’s just the stuff he did to me. He pretty much did the same to my sister. I don’t even know everything that he did to my mom, and I don’t want to. I know he abused her verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually, financially, and even reproductively, by forcing her to have her tubes tied which ended up in a hysterectomy after a post-op infection. It was horrifying.

It’s hard to really make someone understand what it is to live under the constant threat of violence unless they literally have. It’s terrifying, but it is also exhausting; physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Because you’re not only having to live with it, you have to keep it secret. You’re all living in this silent warzone, this strange compromise gets struck where you can be fucked up inside the house, but once outside it’s all pretend. It’s like a bomb in a Tiffany box; it may look pretty on the outside, but when you open it up, the contents will still kill you.

For those of you who have children who have lived in violent homes and are concerned about how they will be affected, I can tell you one thing: they are aware of so much more than you think. You think you are hiding the stress and trauma from them but you are not. They understand what’s happening and they want to help. They want to protect their parents and themselves and make it all ok. They think it is their fault that things are falling apart. They think this so they can have some control over a situation in which they have no control. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to “stay together for the kids’ sake.” The kids do not want two miserable parents together. They would so much rather have two separate, functional, happy parents, BELIEVE ME. They would rather have a struggling single mom in a safe home than a rich, extravagant home that is filled with chaos and violence. Do whatever you have to do, but make your kids feel safe. That’s all they really want.

As far as how I was affected by growing up like this, it’s hard to tell. I ended up with severe anorexia and bulimia, a dissociative disorder, self-harm issues (mostly cutting), a prescription pill habit, and horrifying posttraumatic stress disorder. But how much of that was due to witnessing domestic violence, and how much of that was being a direct victim of sexual violence myself? There’s really no way to know.  Both affected me in deep and profound ways, ways that I still deal with to this day.

So how, you’re probably wondering, did my family’s violent situation end? Well, it sort of ended because of me. I finally went off the deep end at 15. I couldn’t take it anymore and I tried to commit suicide, which landed me in a psych ward, which began the process of family therapy with the therapist who recommended my parents get divorced, which finally began when I was 17 and ended when I was 19. It took many, many years of therapy for all of us and a lot of moving around and of course, cutting my father out of our lives completely to be where we are today, my mother my sister, and me. And where we are is a pretty good place: moving forward, looking to the future, hopeful, peaceful, and free.

Finally, gratefully, free.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011


V-Report: Be Part of the Movement

Hello Recovery Writers!

I just read about an incredible opportunity for anyone who wants to help others by sharing their story. Eve Ensler, the founder of the ant-sexual violence organization V-Day and the author of “The Vagina Monologues” is beginning a project called V-Report. This is how Eve describes it:

“In the name of justice for women, V-Day is initiating the V-Report, inviting women throughout the world with a story or case to report to do so online — to tell us what happened, to share your story.

Here’s what you need to know. We will listen to your story. We will record it on this site. We will give you the space to say what you need to say and we support your right, your need to say it… let’s seize this moment. Let so many of us speak out that it’s a landslide and it turns the tide and the courts and the method of justice.”

How awesome is that?

So, to be fair, I have already posted my story on V-Report. This is what I shared.

From the ages of three to nine, my father molested and raped me. From ages eight to twelve, I had a gymnastics coach that was sexually inappropriate, calling me names, criticizing my weight, pinching and groping my breasts and buttocks, and exposing himself to me. When I was sixteen, I was alone in the emergency room of a hospital. I had been sedated, and while I was still under the effects of those drugs I was taken upstairs for a chest x-ray. The radiology technician who was supposed to be taking that x-ray instead locked me in the radiology area and raped me. I was so sedated and ill that I couldn’t fight. When I was nineteen, I was on a first date with this guy who I didn’t know that well. He was dropping me off in front of my apartment and while I was in his car he tried to rape me. I managed to escape and get out of the car before anything happened. This pattern of revictimization has finally been broken with long-term therapy and support from good people. It is possible to break that pattern, but you have to get help.

Now, I know that it seems like all I’ve been asking you to do lately is share your stories! But if you could please check out this page and think about sharing your experience; if you have experienced domestic or sexual violence in any form please take a look at this. It’s completely anonymous, just write a few words about what happened- you can help show the world what massive a problem this is.

THANK YOU!!

Sincerely, Sarah

Eve Ensler- The V-Report- Huffington Post

Share Your Story Here!- V-Report- Facebook


Good Grief: Where I Am On the Path After Loss

I was hoping it wouldn’t hit me this hard.

I didn’t want to be affected so much. I didn’t want to end up feeling like this, not like this, not for this long. I feel sad; that’s to be expected. I feel empty and depressed. I’m restless, hurting. At times very angry, spoiling for a fight with anyone who dares cross me. At other times severely apathetic, almost to the point of recklessness; a sense of fuck-it-all-who-cares.

I’ve been ignoring things I need to do to care for myself, and that’s not good. I gave up a job opportunity where I could have made really good money, but I backed out of it suddenly because I just didn’t think I had the physical energy to keep up with it. (Granted, 55 hours a week chasing after two toddlers is a hard job.) I’m scared of how exhausted and just…off I feel. It sucks majorly.

The thing is, this is not just about the one death of my godfather this past week. This feels like it’s about more than that. I think it’s the cumulative effect of so much death that happened in my life this month…the impact of it all together is crushing.

This month, July, also happens to be the month that my cousin Tyler was killed in a freak accident, hit by a train, just three weeks shy of his twenty-fourth birthday. It’s also the month that a girl I knew from treatment died suddenly of cardiac arrest due to complications of her eating disorder. Later in the month, July 20th, is of course, Tyler’s birthday. A few days later comes the memory of the day that my best friend’s brother died of a heroin overdose. He was only twenty-two. Now to all of that I get to add the day that my godfather, my Uncle Lyle, died in a private plane crash.

It’s enough that I just want to scream.

How can the universe do that? How can it cram so much death and tragedy into four little weeks? How can it bear to break so many hearts at once, shatter so many families, cause so much grief? It seems out of order somehow, and I want to argue with the universe: How dare you! What the hell are you thinking? If you have to do this at least spread it out a little so we can manage?! And all the universe seems to say in reply is: Live with it.

Of course, part of me says that I have no right to be bitching. It was not my son who died. Not my daughter. Not my husband. I did not lose a sibling or a parent, surely a much more devastating loss than a cousin or a friend or an uncle.  Who am I to be complaining about how hard it is to live with grief, when I can’t even comprehend the kind of grief that those families must be feeling? I know there is truth in that.

However, another part of me- the rational part- understands that I have a right to grieve those losses too. Grief and loss are relative things, like trauma; in fact, they are a special form of trauma in themselves.  Different people experience loss in different ways and move through it in different times. Also like trauma, people have different levels of tolerance for such events, different capacities for coping. For someone like me, who’s experienced a lot of grief and excessive amounts of trauma as well, even losses that may seem more peripheral in nature may affect a person as if they were much closer.

On the other hand, the closeness of relationships can’t be judged by their title. Some siblings never speak, some parents are estranged, some cousins are like siblings, some friends are closer than family.  For instance, if my father had been the one killed last week, my life would be no different in any way. The last time we spoke on the phone was the day he died for me, so his physical death is all but irrelevant.  I worked through all I needed to work through, grieved what I had to, and let go. So when he physically dies it really isn’t going to matter; I’ve been through that process already.

Which is what made me think, as I was standing there at my godfather’s funeral, that I wish it had been my father who was killed. That sounds horrible doesn’t it? Only if you didn’t know those two men. On the one hand, my godfather: a brilliant, generous, adventurous man- a surgeon, a pilot, and a veteran-who was bigger than life to me. He was the Gentle Giant; at over six feet tall, when he picked me up as a little girl and carried me around on his shoulders I felt like I could see the whole world. Having three sons with my Aunt Pat, he was thrilled to have a little girl to fuss over, even building me a gigantic dollhouse from scratch for my sixth birthday. He was protective and kind and nothing but sweet to me; he didn’t understand and was possibly a little hurt by the fact that I sometimes feared him and couldn’t explain why. “Why” had to do with the other man, the one whom I assumed had loved me but couldn’t possibly because a father that loves his daughter does not abuse her. He does not rape, molest, hit, and threaten her. He does not ignore her existence the other twenty-three hours of the day. He doesn’t treat her mother like shit. And he doesn’t tell her that she is worthless. That’s the man my father was…is. So why does he get to live while this other man, the one who truly did love his family, he died? It doesn’t seem right.

I should probably feel bad about wishing my father dead in place of my godfather but I don’t. I feel like the world should be a fair place, like loving and kind people should get to live and horrible human beings who abuse their wives and children should die in plane crashes.  I try to tell myself that God will even things out someday, that there will be justice even if I never know about it, even if it occurs beyond this life. And that has to be enough.

But it doesn’t stop me from wishing that I could have my Uncle Lyle back.

I will always miss him. He gave me an example of the kind of father that I should have had, the kind of father I deserved. He gave me a some of the love that I desperately needed from a father figure, and I dearly wish that I had been more able to receive it. This month will always be hard for me, remembering all the losses, the lives of people I knew, loved, and respected that were cut short. But I think the only way to get through it is a concept a friend recently mentioned to me called radical acceptance.  Understanding that while these people have passed from this life, they still live in the hearts and minds of the people who loved them. And as long as I can remember my cousin teasing me and laugh, remember my godfather picking me up and smile, they are never truly gone.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011


Voices: “Places to Hide”

So here we are at the end of our third week in our series. So far I’ve mostly discussed the experience of mental illness, particularly depression. I haven’t so much mentioned the often self-defeating, self-destructive ways that most of us cope with mental illness and the factors in our lives that have contributed to it.

The vast majority of mental illness stems from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers; most commonly addiction, abuse, and/or trauma. Those experiences along with unstable families don’t allow for the development of self-esteem or healthy coping mechanisms, so a lot of us turn to things like drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, and self-harm to deal with unmanageable feelings. This was certainly what I did. In order to cope with growing up in a violent household, years of sexual and physical trauma via my father, a stranger rape at 16, my undiagnosed bipolar, and posttraumatic stress disorder, I did all of the above. I nearly died of anorexia and bulimia several times during my 16-year ordeal with the disease; I have scars in every place imaginable from all the cutting; I broke my own bones at times because I beat myself so hard with a ceramic curling iron; I abused vicodin, valium, klonipin, ambien, and other pills. Through most of the years I was doing these things, I really believed I could never live without them.

Thank God I was wrong.

I had a therapist who used to tell me, before you can give these behaviors up, you have to honor what they’ve done for you. Don’t get me wrong, they’re killing your body. But these behaviors are protecting your mind. Respect that, and thank them for that. And then let them go.  

7/1/03

Places to Hide

 

Between the lines I carve in my skin

At the edge of a blade that gently glides in

Afloat on the streams of blood that will follow

Once filling me up, now leaving me hollow

I trace the path of my freshly split vein

Twining up to my heart, the center of pain

And just below there, my eternal friend

The stomach that’s empty, shriveled, sunken

The best place to rest and perhaps disappear

A place that I’ve turned to for so many years

One among many places I’ve found

To be safe on my constantly turbulent ground

And then there’s the throat, bloodied and bruised

From the battering in-and-out cycle of food

And my pill bottles carefully lined in a row

A disturbingly fun pharmaceutical show

So many places I created to hide

From a self that I simply cannot abide

© Sarah Henderson 2003



“Outcry”: My Father, My Perpetrator: An Epitaph

Welcome to the last week of WfR’s “Outcry” poetry series honoring Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention Month. This week I’d like to change things up a bit and end on a really positive, empowering note.

For the final two poems, I’ve selected pieces that were written just this past year. This one in particular, My Father, My Perpetrator, is about a process that was extremely painful and yet in the end, possibly the most freeing thing I’ve ever done for myself.

A little background here: My father was my perpetrator throughout my childhood; my mother did not know this. He left when I was sixteen and my parents divorced a few years later. He left my mom virtually broke after the divorce- she chose to go back to school and complete her nursing degree while working other jobs- so I was in a position where if he didn’t pay for my medical and psychiatric care I was screwed. At the time I was on the verge of death from anorexia and desperately needed hospitalization, etc, so was forced to take his money. The therapy and inpatient care saved my life, but he made stipulations that I had to have contact with him and he was allowed to have contact with my treatment providers otherwise he would not pay. This went on for almost ten years, until finally I got to a position where I was well and recovered and financially secure enough to be able to refuse. He had me very confused by saying that he was concerned for my health and he cared enough to pay for my treatment, all the while denying any abuse or neglect or mistreatment of my mother and sister. One final phone call last summer, and that was the end. He is dead now, in all but a physical sense. And I have never felt more free. So here’s to you, dad, and all your lies and manipulations and crap that you pulled over the years. And by the way? I’m keeping your last name, so when I publish my writing everyone knows who I’m talking about when I refer to my abusive father.

7/2/10

My Father, My Perpetrator: An Epitaph

Bits of reality, torn from time

Which version is yours, which version is mine?

I know what’s real, but then, so do you

Who gets to decide whose truth is true?

Is it in the middle, a mix of the two?

I don’t want to compromise my truth for you

I thought I had settled this, thought I was done

Thought we’d get to this point and be mutually shunned

But you planted this seed of tortuous doubt

And I couldn’t let go if I didn’t find out:

Who the hell are you? Who were you then?

Do you really love me? If so, since when?

How can you deny the things that you did?

The abuse that I suffered and dutifully hid

You speak to me now as if you weren’t that man

Like you don’t hold the phone with the very same hand

That put a gun to my six-year-old head

That slipped under the covers of my childhood bed

You seem to think that because we’re polite

That you have a point or you could be right

But when you mentioned Mom everything became clear:

I will never find love or nurturance here

I have only one parent, an incredible mother

Never again will I wish for another

She’s all that you aren’t, all I could need

I’m no longer willing to bow to your greed

To pretend like you care, to fake-like your wife

To pretend like you know anything of my life

God Himself could tell Mom to leave me and she wouldn’t

Tell her to stop caring for me and she couldn’t

This is the woman that I’m a part of

You can’t imagine the force of her love

You never got it and you never will

The love between father and daughter you killed

You may not be dead but all hope and doubt are

I’m not letting you cause me anymore scars

This is it, you’re no more, at last there’s an end

There are some things for which there’s no making amends

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2010