Incest: One Casper Woman’s Journey
A few weeks ago, we published a raw and very personal reminiscence from our colleague Tom Morton. It was an account of an emotional valley in his life that led to a suicide attempt.
Well, we are almost at the end of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and another of our fellow employees approached me and asked if it might be an appropriate time to share her memories of years of incestuous assaults that have had lifelong and damaging effects on every relationship in her life.
Sometimes it takes more than hearing cold statistics to make us think about this. Sometimes, it takes one woman's story. This is Tammy's.
We should warn you that again, this is raw and very blunt. But, so is the topic of sexual assault, no matter what the age of the victim. It is food for thought for all of us.
Roger Gray - News Director
Family. At my age I’ve learned that it’s not all the hype. Mine wasn’t particularly dysfunctional – rather I think there’s no such thing as normal. We all live with some kind of family dysfunction.
There are a lot of different flavors of dysfunction but the one that affected me the most was having been molested for seven years; seven very formative years. It shaped and colored every aspect of my life as a wife, a mother and friend. The story sounds smooth and well put-together, but it’s only in hindsight that I was able to assemble the whole puzzle.
Studies report childhood memories of contact sexual molestation at rates ranging from 6 to 45 percent for women and from 3 to 30 percent for men.
Someone close to our family molested me from age five to twelve. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse, but most of my memories obliterated themselves indiscriminately, both the good and bad.
I’ve given myself permission to distance myself from unhealthy, toxic family members; the crazymakers; those who only want me around when I’m doing well. I’ve created a new family consisting of my co-workers, closest friends, and a few select blood family members.
Like many other people, I felt different growing up; isolated, unaccepted, the loser, the black sheep. In my core-being I never felt good enough. Something was missing. Our family home was way out of balance, but because it was all I knew, I didn’t question it. It was normal to us. There was yelling, hitting, smacking, pinching, name-calling, breaking of prized possessions for retaliation. Home was not a safe place; certainly not a haven.
The molestation stopped when I was twelve. At the time I didn’t know what was going on. I must have been blocking the memories as fast as they occurred. At twelve, I turned myself into an angry, hostile teenager and there was no getting close to me; definitely not close enough to “tickle”. I’m sure in my head, I said, “Try to take down my panties now, pal.”
Men who take advantage of children usually do so in one of two ways. They either get as physically and emotionally close to their victim as possible, using the holographic platform of love, protection, silly games, tickling, et cetera. The other type simply threatens. “If you tell what we do, I’ll kill you, (and/or) your family.” Or, “if you tell, your family will be so disappointed in you.”
My perp was the “nice” type. He was and is today, known for being phenomenal with kids. He plays games, gets dirty, and has prizes, like candy and soda pop.
When I was nineteen (grown – in blissful ignorance of what he’d done) I went to stay with him. I had already a baby who was a couple of months old. I was having gall bladder attacks. He offered to rub my back. His hand slipped under my arm and snaked toward my right breast. I slammed my arm closed, shooed him out the door and blocked it with furniture, boxes and anything else heavy I could find. I never stayed with him again.
A few years went by. My perpetrator called a meeting at my house to discuss a family matter. Other family members were present. He confessed to molesting me. His motivation was that he thought it would be brought up in court. He didn’t realize none of us knew. My memories from that evening consist of shoveling spaghetti down my throat until no more would fit and then I threw it all up. Interestingly, the other people that were present that night only remember bits and pieces and none of our memories match.
The three of us made a lot of assumptions that night. We assumed that he shared that meeting with his wife. We assumed his daughter grew up knowing what her dad had done with me. We assumed there was some kind of disconnect – that perhaps it wasn’t as bad as others had done, or it was “okay” because I wasn’t a “blood” relative, or “he had a moment of weakness.” I don’t know what they believed in their heads.
My heart was racing as I realized that hazy memories I had undulating in the back of my mind were most likely true. I did the safest thing and pushed them down, squashed them and decided to think on them another day.
I went through years and years of therapy and groups at the Self Help Center. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. They healed my brokenness. They gave me myself and my life back. They showed me how to love myself. They taught me to forgive. Holding onto unforgiveness only hurts me and those close to me and makes me a beacon of hatred and negativity. I choose light, life and love.
Then came the years of healing and therapy. I have a relationship with my perpetrator today. I forgive him. He lives under a heavier burden of guilt that I could ever impose on him. I didn’t regain any further memories throughout the years. Until recently.
Fast forward thirty-odd years. I’m a writer. I’ve written thousands of words – in the form of poetry and stories and memories – related to me being molested. The ramifications of how I was affected and shaped, are probably impossible to identify completely. I used to be quite promiscuous. In self-analyzing, I think it’s because that’s how I was taught to relate to men – sexually. Men touching me sexually equals love. I must comply sexually in order to be loved; it started with him. He loves me and that’s what he wants, so therefore, that’s how all men are.
It also impacted my sister. My mother. My children. My sister’s children. All of us have spent the last thirty years knowing that none of the kids could be alone with “Uncle Stan.” There were no sleepovers at “Uncle Stan’s” like there are in other families. We all have a deep-seated mistrust of balloon men, clowns and Santa Claus. No sitting on those laps!
Due to the conflicts with him during my teen years, I was conditioned that name-calling, bullying, and physical abuse are normal. Therefore, those are the type of men I chose and felt comfortable with. I know what to do with a man who knocks me to the floor and kicks me. I know what to do when my hair gets pulled, when he’s trying to poke out my eyeballs with his thumbs. I know what to do and where to go when it’s twenty below and I can’t go home and I have the kids, the dogs and no money, and no family to run to.
I don’t know how to deal with a man who remains calm and doesn’t raise his voice or his hands. I don’t know what to do with a man who just laughs and smiles and says, “Just kidding,” or “No worries.” Wait. What? There’s always worries. My body doesn’t know what to do if it’s not in “fight or flight” syndrome.
So my boyfriend tells me this cool story of this crazy woman who went viral on YouTube. And how this cool group, Skrillex took a clip of the crazy woman’s voice and made it into art: a song. So he played the viral video of the crazy woman, then he played the song First of the Year (Equinox) - Skrillex.
The song was monumental in my life. I sat there with my mouth open. It opened further and further as the song played. I was astounded, shocked, overwhelmed, exhilarated. I felt I had been disemboweled. This video was made for me. It was made for all children who’ve been hurt. My boyfriend had no idea that he was impacting my life in a major way, in simply showing me the history of a song and why it interested him. I would call that a divine moment ordained by the Universe.
A few days after that my grandkids were being tickled and I flipped out. The laughter I heard and the discomfort I felt in my gut almost made me have a meltdown. At the same time, I was supposed to attend a family event where my perpetrator would be present. I knew I couldn’t go.
My stomach was in knots, my inner being was in turmoil; I had to elect for self-care. The reception from my family was not very favorable. They always think if I’m “isolating” that I’m using or drinking. They’re a family who doesn’t believe in second chances, or people changing. In the past I’ve struggled with addictions and they’re never sure of my sobriety.
I spoke with my sister. We started tracing backwards and comparing stories. There were inconsistencies and holes. We wondered how much our family members knew. We wondered if my molester’s daughter knew. We decided to talk to her.
Last Saturday we met at a coffee shop. It was more emotional than I expected. It did not pan out according to my script; things rarely do. In hindsight, I wouldn’t do it again. I had to sit and tell someone that their father molested me. The poor thing; she had no idea. She grew up without ever thinking her family was tarnished with the incest label. Every foundation she believed in was shaken. She was certain her mother didn’t know. She did know.
To her immense credit, even before she investigated at all, she said she believed me. She validated my feelings, my experiences. I was so upset at the thought that thirty years ago they shoved it all under the rug, in effect erasing it. I do not want to be someone’s dirty secret. I do not want to be the dark skeleton in the family closet. Everything I suffered has to mean something. If it is kept secret, it means nothing.
She went to her father of course. All of us wondered what he would say. He confessed to everything. He said he’s willing to do anything I need from him to heal and move forward. I am not going to revive all the anger and hatred that I have buried. But. I need a break from all of them. I need to chill and heal with my new family.
Although I found it easy to forgive him, I have struggled my entire life with mother issues. It’s been a love/hate between me and her always. She certainly is not the person I get my accolades or validation from. She does nothing but stir betrayal, abandonment, embarrassment, rejection. From the moment she told me I was conceived in a horse barn, it was all downhill from there. No one should hear they were conceived by accident in a barn.
The incest was compounded by the fact that I remember as an eight year old little girl asking my mother for help, and why is my leg always wet after Uncle naps with me? She doesn’t remember the conversation. I have never been able to completely forgive her for exposing me to that man, and for failing to protect me.
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if I will ever get the memories back. I don’t know if I can talk to him anymore. I don’t know if I will be able to forgive my mother. I don’t know if I will write more on this topic.
Today I’m grateful that I’m part of a twelve-step program. My life is unmanageable stone cold sober! The program gives me the tools to live a successful, productive life. Thank God, I have a sponsor. I’ve only reached this place I am in life due to that twelve-step program.
I won’t let them erase my life; my suffering. It happened. It affected me greatly. I will not be silenced. I will speak out for my inner child, and for other children suffering. I will be their voice. Our voices will merge and we will sing of our suffering. We will heal. We will rise. We will not be silenced. We will not be stuffed under rugs. We matter.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted by a family member or close friend, feel free to seek assistance with the Department of Family Services 473-3900 or The Self-Help Center 265-2813.
By: Tammy Dominguez