I am finally home...
For those who have been following my story, my three kids and I launched from traditional "sticks and bricks" living in a 4 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath house on half an acre earlier this year to live in a 30 foot 5th wheel trailer to live the nomadic lifestyle. It wasn't initially ideal and there were challenges, but this was what I had wanted. I expected some challenges, but I was truly looking forward to it as it would solve my financial struggles, but mostly I would be able to be there more for my children.
The process of transitioning begun long before we launched and things came up that tested my resolve, patience, and sanity. All of that was somewhat to be expected, though. After all, we were making a huge change from what is considered a "stable" lifestyle into a lifestyle that would cause most to feel uneasy and anxious. But for me, it meant freedom from all of the anchors that created stress and an impossible lifestyle that I could no longer keep up with. My last blog post outlined my emotional struggle, but to me, even while writing that post, it all seemed so disproportionate to what I had expected to be a positive life change. Why was it hitting me so hard?
I was on the superhighway nose-dive into depression.
Back in January, something happened that significantly altered my emotional stability. I was sexually assaulted. I not only tried to stay quiet about it, I actually had convinced myself that it was just an unfortunate incident that occurred by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and making the wrong decisions. I brushed it off as just a pushy admirer. But that's not what it was and he was not just an admirer. He was the mayor of a city who used his position to manipulate me, overpower me and do whatever he wanted. I was sexually assaulted.
The fact is, that my actions as it was happening and how I coped afterward, were a direct result of this incident dragging out my skeletons of childhood sexual abuse. However, since I thought I had dealt with that through psychotherapy in my early 20's, it hadn't occurred to me that my behavior was completely normal and typical as a survivor. I was coping the only way I knew how and no one - not even myself - could understand why I did the things I did. Contrary to apparent popular belief, there is no set of directions, no checklist of how to act, behave, what to say or to whom to say it to. I did my best to "act normal" as if nothing had happened, just as I did when I was a child.
But in reality, my emotional stability was crumbling as a result of the assault, not because of the lifestyle change like I thought it was. I was hostile, angry, combative, stressed out beyond comprehension and barely able to cope on a basic survival level. All this was happening while I was hoping to feel a huge sense of relief from after we left the house for good. I didn't feel relief. What did happen was a feeling of complete and utter loss of control, absolute instability, a higher level of stress and even more intense feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, not deserving of feeling peace and happiness. I was hanging on by a thread. I was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I didn't even know it.
I made the decision to not only come forward, but to do so publicly. Victims of sexual assault are protected and their identities are kept private because of the nature of the abuse, but this didn't sit well with me. I hadn't done anything wrong, so why should I be in hiding? The perpetrator, especially the ones who hold public office, always get the press. They get the publicity and my experience in advertising, marketing and public relations reminded me of the old saying "there's no such thing as bad press." It may have been "bad press" for him, but for a political figure, it seems to always rally their supporters while the victim is shamed and blamed for the assault.
I am not just a survivor, I am a fighter who stands up for what I believe, even if its unpopular. I wanted to meet his publicity with my own, but this wasn't for me. This was for all the victims of sexual assault who have had to hide due to the shame of their abuse. They hide as a result of what someone else did, even though it was not their fault. Sadly, when they do come forward, they inevitably receive harsh criticism from those who've never been assaulted and believe they somehow brought the abuse on themselves, among other accusations. Sexual assault victims are the only crime victims who are told that it was their own fault. It is a warped perspective that perpetuates the rape culture of our society. We hold the victim - not the assailant - accountable. This must change.
The week my story was made public to everyone including my friends, my family, and my enemies, time stood still and I felt a surreal calm at times like being in the eye of a category 6 hurricane. There were times I honestly felt like my heart was going to just stop beating, that I would not be able to take another breath, or that my feet would be unable to take the next step. I was emotionally open to the world and I was raw, but I had to keep moving. I had my kids who continued to need their mother and I refused to back down and let my assailant win. My damaged little girl inside me needed me to stay the course.
I continued to move forward because I wanted to finally give sexual assault a face, a real person for the critics to see and to know that I wasn't a "plaintiff," I was a real person. I am your neighbor, your friend, your colleague, a mother, a sister, a daughter. I am real. What I experienced was real. I didn't bring it on myself. It wasn't my fault. I want every woman who has experienced this to feel validated, to know she is not at fault, her pain is real.
Even with the amount of support I received, there still was enough negative backlash to reinforce why victims of sexual assault stay quiet, rarely report it and most of all, stay hidden with their identities protected. I have been accused of lying and destroying a man's life in the name of money. There were those who said if it did happen, that I was a willing participant, yet none of them were in the car with us when the assault happened, so how would they know? They don't, but they seem to feel they have a right to assert that they do.
I went into seclusion. I deactivated all of my social media accounts, my blog and withdrew socially even more than I had before. I needed to process a lifetime of emotional baggage that was pulled to the surface and I couldn't do it with all the "input" from anyone who felt the need to share their opinions or advice. I also needed to quiet the noise of life and just be.
That's when I met someone.
I spent a lot of quiet time just breathing, sitting in my chair outside watching butterflies, birds and feeling the breeze and the hot sun. I was making sure I was getting up every day. I was taking care of my kids and pets, but most of all, I found that I was worthy of taking care of myself. I had never before put myself ahead of anyone. I always had been last, if at all. I wasn't worth putting a value on myself first before now.
I learned that so much of my every day behavior, how I viewed myself and the decisions I made - even the little ones - were so heavily influenced by the ingrained effects of being a survivor of childhood sexual assault, and now as an adult survivor just 8 months ago. It was all so fresh, but with all the distractions of life gone, I could now very clearly see myself.
Very few understand, nor do they seem to want to, but the most important people in my life do - my partner and my family. Those outside of my family who do connect with me, do so because they, too, are a survivor. The most interesting phenomenon with coming forward has been the number of women who reach out to me to share what happened to them. They share their story of survival with me because they recognize in me what they also experienced. They know it is real. Each story brings tears of relief to know I am not alone, and at the same time, sadness to know that I am not alone. So many remained silent until telling me. I have somehow given them a voice and my openness on this subject validates them and helps them heal, even if just a tiny bit.
For me, the process of healing has begun. I have shed unhealthy relationships that were comfortable because they followed my typical patterns, while reinforcing my negative self-image. I abandoned routines that regurgitated toxic behavior. Most of all, I have nurtured my inner child the way she has needed to be nurtured, forgiven and loved for 35 years. It wasn't her fault.
PTSD no longer has the death grip on my inner child that it has had the past 8 months, but it is still there and instantly surfaces even with the most subtle triggers. It is going to be a long road. I am far from healed, but the journey has begun. I am finally on the right path for spiritual wholeness, true inner peace and real happiness.
"Home" really is where the heart is, and as my heart and soul progress through healing, my life in this little 5th wheel trailer with my kids and pets is where my heart is. Yes, home is where the heart is and I am finally home.