Sam, there was a discussion on the RFM board the other day about whether sexual abuse always leaves you broken. I felt compelled to finally tell my story but did it anonymously. And even though I know it was easy to tell that I was writing my own story, I had to tell it in a third-party way. So I’m just going to send it on to you the same way I wrote it. I tried once in my teen years (after the horrid bishop interview) to take enough aspirin to hopefully kill myself. But instead all it did was make me very sick and dizzy and I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my mother why. She didn’t know I took anything and let me stay home from school because I was puking and I never tried it again. As an adult, I found the book called “The Final Exit.” I know that if I’d had access to that when I was 17 (as kids do now), I would have followed the correct way and would have successfully taken my life. As it is, there was a time as an adult that I came close. I hate knowing that kids who feel as sinful and shamed as I did then, now know easier ways, and they actually do take their lives. So thank you SO MUCH for all your work in this movement. The shaming has to stop. The suicides have to stop. Love and acceptance HAS to be the norm. So here is my story, as good as I can tell it right now–the way I wrote it to post it on RFM.
“So a 13-year old girl is scared because her little sister wakes up in the middle of the night with blood-curdling screams and after daddy comes in and sends sister to get in bed with mommy, she tells daddy she’s scared too. Daddy lays down with her to comfort her. She loves it because Daddy never touches her or shows her any affection otherwise. Daddy must think she was asleep when he touched her in a way that made her feel really really good. She realizes after that that she can touch herself in that same way and she loves it. It comforts her and helps her go to sleep at night. Daddy never needed to comfort her like that again. She never equated it with anything bad, bad things and sexual things were never talked about in their household. How would she know.
Then about 2 years later, Mommy buys her a book. Mommy wanted to talk to her about things she needed to know as a teenager, but never knew how to. Mormons to the rescue, the church put out a book. The book was titled “About Life and Love, the Facts of Life for LDS Teens.” Yes, an LDS sex book written in the 60s by two LDS doctors. You can only imagine. I’m sure. The only actual info was a couple of diagrams of male and female genital insides and a paragraph describing the male laying face to face with the female and the two coming together. (Yes, she thought they just laid face to face until a timer went off or something that told them the sperm had been deposited). But I digress.
The main crux of the book was about how to stay pure and clean. There was a story of a girl, one of their patients, who had been an honor student, active in church, blah blah blah. And then all of the sudden one day she became withdrawn, lost a lot of weight, she got failing grades, she wouldn’t talk to anyone. (Yes, I realize now the story was made up). Her mother took her to all kinds of doctors and they did all kinds of tests. They could find nothing. Then one of the doctors prayed and God told him the answer. Yup. She’d learned that something she’d been doing to make herself feel good was bad bad bad naughty naughty (gee, where would she learn that?) God wouldn’t love people who did that. They were unclean. They couldn’t go to the temple. They would never be allowed into God’s presence.
So the holy priesthood man (author of the book) came to the rescue and asked her if maybe she was…ahem… “touching herself.” She started weeping and admitted it. He told her about repentance and that she could confess and never do it again and God would forgive her. So she did and it never happened again and immediately she was back to being her normal self. Message: If you have discovered this vile practice, you can repent too.
Only problem, It wasn’t as easy as it was for the lucky girl in the book. “What is wrong with me?” the now 15-year old asked herself. How come she could do it and I can’t? So the girl works super hard in school and gets straight A’s and attends church so that no one will ever suspect she has the same problem. But she is full of self-loathing because she knows she must confess but can’t. She is so ashamed. She hates herself.
But can we let this young girl work it out and not be ashamed? She would go weeks, maybe a few months sometime without being sinful. Isn’t that good enough? Of course not. When she’s 16 she gets her patriarchal blessing. It has two whole paragraphs about staying pure. It tells her to guard her virtue with her VERY LIFE, because NOTHING is as important in her life as staying pure and clean before her heavenly father. It’s because God knows and is telling her to repent. She adds the blessing to the book and reads them both regularly to remind herself how awful she is. But she just can’t confess. Still in all this time, she never once thought that her daddy touching her was bad. SHE was bad because she liked it and because she did it herself. She’d have figured it out soon enough anyway, but she was sure no other girl in the church ever knew about that or did anything so sinful.
She had such a horrible self image at that point. Not only did she hate herself, but she got signals all the time from family mostly, telling her (in her mind) that she was the ugliest creature God ever created and she would probably never find a husband, let alone a worthy one to take her to the temple. Lucky for her, the ward weirdo family had a boy her age. He was weird and perverted and weird, but he wanted to date her (none of the “good” girls would have dated him). So they start dating. He’s active in the church. Raging hormones, that they did a good job fighting, made him seem not so bad. They never “touched uglies” before his mission.
But at 17 a new bishop had been put in. A good family friend and her father’s business partner. She had to have an interview with him. It was uncomfortable enough having to be behind closed doors with him, but he starts asking all kinds of questions that horrified her. What could she do? It’s the bishop, you have to answer him. He wanted to know exactly what she and boyfriend did, exactly how they touched, where they touched, how they kissed, whether she’d ever felt his groin getting bigger against her, whether any non-clothed skin had been touched and yes, whether she ever touched herself. Day of reckoning. But, nope. Couldn’t do it. She lied.
After that, she didn’t just feel like dirt, she was pond scum from a radioactive waste dump. She lied to the bishop. Whenever he saw the young women he always wanted to hug them. It made her cringe. She just wanted to go to college, get a good education and job and take care of her sorry self and give up on ever being worthy to go to the temple.
Fast forward–she goes to BYU, no self-esteem to think she could find a boy to date. So high school perv boyfriend comes home from mission and they marry. I mean, she was at least good enough for him. Both sets of parents pushed for a quick wedding, hoping they could get the couple married before they were no longer worthy. But even on her wedding day she was slightly ill knowing she really wasn’t worthy to have entered the house of the Lord. But since the temple was so weird–back in the slit-your-throat days, it didn’t seem like anything she wasn’t good enough for. She would just have babies and raise them well and be a good wife and mother. By this time she realizes that what her dad did when she was 13 was so wrong, but it just never was an issue. It had never really affected her, she thought. And she’d finally done something to make Daddy happy–married in the temple. That’s all she ever wanted–for Daddy to be proud of her.
She didn’t realize that decisions she’d made that brought her to a really unhappy marriage, unhappy having given up her education, unhappy being poor as dirt, and unhappy being married to someone so controlling and sexually violent, all had their roots in that molestation and the later bishop’s interviews. Until she comes across a situation where she had every reason to believe perv hubby had inappropriately touched one of her daughters. Hubby denies but adds “she was sleeping, she wouldn’t know it even if I had, which I didn’t.”
That was the beginning of a long long journey to change her life. Eventually, when she hears that her oldest daughter had been scheduled for a bishop interview, it all came back and she lost it. She ends up jumping on the divorce train, going back to school and getting a degree, raising her kids while learning truths about the cult she’d been raised in–the one that made a not-so-ugly, very smart teenage girl want to die. She finally leaves the cult and eventually so do all the grown kids. She just wanted her daughters to have a better life and self-image than she did. Didn’t want them to be affected by sexual abuse–whether inappropriate touching or inappropriate sex talk by someone in an authority position over them.
But she never really did have her head on straight. Issues from their effed-up family life were never really resolved. She went crazy trying to protect her granddaughters from inappropriate touching by the same pervert boy from her high school days who was now a grandfather. She felt so responsible for all her kids’ problems–even in their adulthood. She’s pretty much lost all communication with her children and grandchildren.
But as the Wynonna song goes, “when you hit rock bottom you’ve got two ways to go–straight up and sideways.” She’s not lingering in the bottom going sideways. She’s trying to finally find the peace that has eluded her. She’s finally found a really good counselor who can help her put it all in perspective. She has said goodbye to her childhood abuser/father, even though he’s not quite to the other side yet and hopes her abuser/bishop rots in hell where he belongs. If she can be happy where she is, she has nowhere to go but up. She has real friends, not assigned ones. She knows her granddaughters will be fine, whether she’s in their lives or not. Maybe she’ll get the chance someday. After she learns not to project herself and her abuse onto them.
Broken? Who isn’t? It’s not that any sexual abuse is benign, because it wasn’t. But it’s the added guilt and shame from a stupid stupid stupid cult that can break you. But what doesn’t break you makes you stronger. At least it’s working that way for my friend.