Life can be serious business.

Let’s Just Not Talk About It.

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Charolette Philby

I’ve spoke about being a one in three statistic before.  Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse isn’t something that you file away somewhere and dispose of the negative affects.  In time, I’ve learned how to manage the unwanted flash photos and broken record moments that plague my mind but it still, and probably always will, influence how I think about things.  I can’t help but feel I’m being disingenuous if I didn’t admit the origin of some of my thoughts that occur because of that experience.

I’m sitting here, trying to write about a topic that I sort-of, kind-of know what I want to say about and an ASPCA commercial, high on drama and Sarah McLaughlin, comes on the tv.  I rolled my eyes.  Not because I don’t feel for stray, hungry, abused little pups but because it’s odd to me to see a campaign so heavily supported regarding our pets but nothing of that level or even close is done about the one in threes that are right in front of us.  The younger me’s that are disregarded.

Could you imagine, and why aren’t there, commercials that show children who are hit, neglected, raped?  Ugh … it’s hard to even type those words let alone consider the need to watch something like that.  In comparison though, it just seems odd that we can stomach one televised version of neglect and abuse but not another.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m too close to the issue or just because I’m simply human.

A study conducted in 1986 found that 63% of women who had suffered sexual abuse by a family member also reported a rape or attempted rape after the age of 14. Recent studies in 2000, 2002, and 2005 have all concluded similar results.  This is reflective of a breech of trust.  A misrepresentation of value.  How is a child, a being that is in the midst of learning the value of trust and love, suppose to value any part of her mind or body when a person that is recognizably a part in teaching her those values, violates and negates the ethics being “taught”.  Like respect.  If a girl or boy is taught to disrespect his or her body by it being disrespected against, they will certainly fall victim to those that are inflicted with the need to perpetrate them.  It’s a toxic cycle that I can’t understand how has fallen so far off the radar.

The affects of the epidemic that is sexual abuse are basically ignored.  People shake their heads and say things like, “Pedophiles should be hung by their balls” and “How could anyone do that to a child” but the truth of the matter is the people that violate children get a minimal punishment and very little, if any, psychotherapy to address why this perpetration happened in the first place No one wakes up one day and decides to be the kind of person to violate a child.  That kind of dysfunction is bred from somewhere.  I’m not making excuses for an abuser or placing direction of blame by any means.  I’m just saying that the identifiable parts we have come to know as a convicted sex offender are ignored almost as much as the invisible scars that they leave behind.  And that is part of the problem. 

I previously worked in a community that is plagued with sexual offenders, most of which are level 3s.  When you look this particular city up on the convicted sex offender registry, it is hard to differentiate how many actually exist in one single area because there are so many red dots.  I’m not exaggerating…click here.  But lets not talk about that because it makes our skin crawl.

Why don’t we see the sort of magnitude of awareness around the issue of childhood sexual abuse that we see regarding neglective/abusive pet ownership?  Is it a cultural lack of value for the well being of children?  Is it a higher empathetic nature for animals over children?  I can’t believe that. It feels ridiculous even suggesting it.  Is it because it is just simply too hard to recognize that perpetrators are both the skeevy alcoholic, dirtbag you see within your own circle of friends and/or acquaintances and the “upstanding” members of our communities that go to church on Sunday and hold higher education degrees?  I really don’t know.

We will sit through and absorb commercials that list things like “loose stool” and “oily gas” or “nipple leakage” as a side effect to something that is suppose to make us feel better but we wouldn’t be able to sit through a 30 second block of time that gives us the warning signs of a child that is being sexually abused.  They are far less disgusting.  A list would probably read like this:

  • withdrawn
  • low self esteem
  • possibly engages in self harm
  • prone to depressive symptoms such as crying spells, abnormal mood swings, thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • overly complacent
  • experiences violent outbursts

That’s not a list I pulled off of Wikipedia (I resisted the urge), just my own educated guesses.

We are bombarded with visually stimulating charity requests for children with cancer and rightfully so.  I’m not disregarding the epic need to find a cure for a life depriving disease such as cancer.  I’m just wondering why the epic failure to recognize the lasting affects of sexual abuse with such compassion and vigor.  PTSD is a cancer on the mind if you ask me.  I don’t know why that is so hard to understand.  I just don’t get why there is such a lack of response and outrage to something that could be prevented if we would just admit it exists.

If anyone needs big pockets and/or grass root efforts to help fill a need, it is the local mental health clinics and those that work in the communities to support mental health services.  The additional social workers these places need to address the “side effects” of abuse is astounding.  It is an epidemic in this country that is evaded mostly due to the population that is predominately conflicted.  This population contributes less financially to the economy and votes less.

We are visual people and I understand marketing enough to know the visual effect trumps all.  It’s pretty hard to profit off of damage you can’t see.  That’s the thing with sexual abuse.  There are usually no visual effects.  No heart wrenching physical scars.  No observable damage.  The damage lives and wrecks havoc inside of you.  And the small amount of people that devote their lives to verbally bandaging those wounds are not supported enough.

I have worked with wounded adults.  By the time I, as a mental health Intensive Case Manager, entered their lives’, the damage had been done and it was my job to assist them in adapting to it.  There are far too few people to accommodate the need to prevent the children from getting to the point that I helped manage as adults.  It’s senseless really.  The enemy and the environment that breeds them could become so easily recognizable.  But the opportunity to expose it just isn’t.  Because it makes people uncomfortable.  How disgusting is that?

I didn’t tell my story for nothing.  It is a part of my being. It needs to be acknowledged to understand other perspectives I share.  I will from time to time talk about this topic.  It’s not easy and it’s next to impossible to put a humorous twist on.  But for me, putting it out there initially has shed the shame in talking about it openly.  I feel like if I have a thought that derives solely because of that major and unfortunate experience in my life, than I need to speak up.

Life can be serious business.

Happy Re-Birthday To Me: A Sexual Abuse Survivor’s Coming Out Story.

Life changing words.
Life changing words.

November 18th, 1995, 18 years ago today, I boarded a plane in Atlanta by myself.  I was finally getting away from the abuse.  However, it took me years of on again/off again therapy and just simple time to finally free me of it.  Perhaps that is still a work in progress.

At 14, I was handed a plane ticket and told I was going to live with my Mom and sister in NY.  I was so conflicted.  I was finally getting what I had always wanted, which was to be with my Mom, but at the cost of leaving everything and everyone I ever knew.  As an adult now, I see this decision for what it really was.  It was the coward’s choice.  It was easier to send me away than admit and deal with the now exposed fact that for the last eight years of my life, I had been sexually abused by a family member, a man that was supposed to be my main protector.  That choice taught me that I wasn’t worth fighting for.

Since becoming mature enough to understand the significance of that move in my life, I have dubbed today my re-birthday.  This year I’m choosing to celebrate big.  I’m choosing to unload the weight this secret has put on me.  I know a lot of people will ask why tell such a secret? I tell it because secrets that hurt people aren’t supposed to be kept.  This particular secret is hurting me.  This shameful secret is a cancer on my spirit and it’s just finally time to let it go.

I’m tired of whispering about it.  I’m tired of the misconception that what happened to me is rare.  I am the statistical 1 in 3.  Let that sink in for a minute.  1 in freakin’ 3.  I’m tired of not acknowledging that being sexually abused has effected almost every aspect of my being including being a Mom.  I’m tired of making sure the spine of my survivor self help books are not showing to ensure my company does not suspect I am damaged goods.  I’m tired of this being the one subject that I won’t talk about.

People that could ignite a conversation about this are not seeing ignoring the correlation between sexual abuse and addiction, self harm, psychiatric disorders and generational dysfunction.  Between working in the field of mental health, and personal relationships, I have witnessed the common thread.  I would dare say at least half of the “mental health patients” I work with have a history of being sexually assaulted.  It is no coincidence that survivirs rotate through the broken mental health system.

At 32, I have learned how to mourn the girl I was at birth.  I’ll never truly know her because the abuse killed any chance of her becoming who she would have been, in a sense, it killed her.  I can’t say I’ll ever be “ok” with that but I have made progress on making peace with it.  Being sexually abused at six years old, and for such a long time after that, created grooves in my brain that were never suppose to be there.  It caused my system to go haywire at an age that I wasn’t able to process it being any thing other than normal.  It created confusion and a lack of understanding of what safety, love, self worth, and healthy sexuality is supposed to be. Becoming a teenager only heightened everything and the residual affects of my child hood abuse led me down one too many dangerous paths.  It poisoned me with shame, fear, anger and a lack of self worth that has lingered for far too long.

The abuse made me not who I am but how I am.  Who I am is more than the parts of what happened to me.  Figuring that piece out allowed me to make the transition from victim to survivor.  Letting it all go has been the hard part.

For today, I will celebrate…maybe even get crazy and bake a cake.  I will recognize the blessing that was that horrible, poor decision made 18 years ago today.  I will let myself acknowledge the hell I went through and recognize the woman I have become, only in part, because of it.

bday cake