It has been one year this weekend, friends.
One year has passed since My Laura and I laid eyes on each other after a thirty-five-year separation. A separation over which we had no choice.
One year has passed since I stood on the train station platform with my heart beating like crazy waiting for her to step off the car so I could hug her again.
One year has passed since she and I curled up in front of a roaring fire with tea and warm blankets and finally found all of those missing pieces to the puzzles of our lives.
One year has passed since we sported our white “Invincible” coats and stood camera ready for My Michael to capture a moment we would never forget.
One year has passed since we ventured to Carlisle to find his grave.
One year has passed since I hurled behind a dumpster.
One year since we met Officer Paul Smith, our hero.
One year since we learned that there was, at least, one other little girl he abused.
One year has passed since we held her momma and cried together.
And from that one year that has passed to this very moment
THOUSANDS have said, “ME TOO!”
We founded Say It, Survivor.
THANK YOU TO ALL WHO HAVE BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN HELPING US AND OTHERS.
Officer Paul Smith
The beautiful girl’s Momma
My Dearest Clare, who has been my closest pal since age 14 who knew my secret from the start
Friends, family and everybody has read Marymorphosis, shared, offered kindness and love
Taken at the time of my grandparents visit which I share below. I am seven.
This morning I sliced a banana and put a dollop of peanut butter on my plate. All of a sudden my stomach lurched. I remembered something that has not crossed my mind in years.
I was triggered.
Anyone who has suffered trauma is triggered from time to time. Trauma happens as a result of anything that challenges or strays from what feels right to us as human beings. Whether the trauma is the result of an accident, the horror of serving during a war, sexual abuse or any other event, trauma happens.
I was seven years old and in the second grade. I got off the bus at the end of the driveway, walked up and entered my house to greet my mom, Nana, and Grandpa, who were visiting for a few days.
THE Grandpa. My abuser.
Mom asked if I wanted my usual snack, peanut butter in a small orange ramekin. Of course, I accepted.
As I sat there enjoying, propped up on the kitchen chair by The Yellow Pages, and swinging my little legs. Grandpa looked at me, curled his lip and said, “That’s disgusting.”
That moment turns my stomach. Not the peanut butter, mind you, but the way he was turned off by my snack choice.
All the while, he was sexually abusing me.
So peanut butter is disgusting. What?
I have been thinking all morning about how insanely twisted and skewed that scene was.
My grandparents came to visit often. I remember their visits as a young girl before my abuse had started – before I was seven-ish.
I loved their visits.
I have fond memories of sitting at our octagonal kitchen table with the yellow 70-ish chairs playing Rummy 500. Dad and Grandpa would drink a Knickerbocker Beer and Smoke Raleigh Filter tips, the ashes of which they flicked into the amber, plate sized ashtray.
We had fun.
I remember that Nana was dear to me. She was kind and sweet and spoiled me. When I had an occasional temper tantrum kicking and screaming on the floor, she would gently put her foot on my back and say, “OH! What a nice rug!”
I would soon come out of it and return to my cheerful self. She would give me a chocolate out of the box with the red bow on it. I always chose the candy with the pink rosebud on top.
Grandpa was standoffish. He left me alone for the most part. Then things changed. He took an interest in me.
We would walk to the playground. I would run my little fingers along the chain link fence that abutted the sidewalk. I would pick up the remnant of a deciduous a tree – that little bit that looked like a coat hanger and hold it up to my face as if they were my mustache.
One thing lead to another.
Things changed. He was not longer aloof. He paid attention to me. I was little. I did not know what he was doing.
He was grooming me.
You see, sexual abuse does not always just start with a “BOOM!” Most of the time it happens at the hands of a family member or a close family friend who takes the time and interest to foster the victim.
It happens over time. I may start with things like tickling, or an inappropriate touch or the perpetrator telling secrets as a way to build a bond. The abuser wants to build trust.
Over time, it changes. There is a sick takeover, an overpowering, so to speak.
Children are usually dumbfounded, scared out of their wits and lose their sense of selves. They don’t know what to do.
I knew what he was doing to me was wrong. It felt yucky. But I did not know what it was or meant. Was it the baseline? Did it happen to every little person?
I was ashamed and embarrassed. I did not know how to communicate what had happened to me to my mom and dad. Even if I did have the words, I was too mortified to speak them.
Much like most children, I looked up to my folks. I was a pleaser. I was teacher’s pet and was the only seven-year-old at the YWCA that was brave enough to jump off the deep-end diving board.
I did not want to “upset the applecart,” anger my parents or make a fuss. It was only me after all.
Yup. That is when that feeling started. It was only measly little me.
Way. Back. Then.
In my case, I kept my mouth shut. For years. I did not have the words. I did not know how to tell anyone that that “innocent kiss” did not feel right. I sat on his lap, but I was told to do so. I had to. Most of the time I quickly struggled and squirmed away. Again, it felt yucky.
I would give anything to go back in time and change it all. I wish that I had shouted “no!” I wish that I knew how to say the words. I wish that I had the confidence in myself to tell. I wish that he was locked away.
If I had, my cousin would have been spared. And others would have been spared, too.
I do not feel responsible for the abuse that happened to My Laura and other children. I did not know any better. No one taught me.
I did know enough to warn Laura about what Grandpa might do to her. But she laughed. She had NO idea what the details of my warning really meant. She laughed. She was little.
To a child, my words, my warning, the details sounded preposterous.
How can a child effectively warn another child when she, herself, doesn’t have the words?
As adults, it may be uncomfortable to do so, but necessary. Imperative, even.
I am not sure that people think to educate themselves as to how to protect their children. I protected my child out of absolute fear; I was overprotective, and a helicopter but that was because I was keenly aware of the peril.
But I never studied or researched HOW to protect my babe. I made it up as I went along.
Now I know. Now I know that there are tools and sources, and there is valuable information to educate us.
Parents. Everybody. You can learn the warning signs. You can teach your children the proper language to express inappropriate behavior or violation by another. You can convince them that it is safe to tell. You can cut it off before it begins.
There are no guarantees that you can prevent sexual abuse, but you can arm yourself. Be smart. Be proactive.
And if it has already started, that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is if your child never tells you about it.
I eventually told my parents. My abuse was swept under the carpet; it was not acknowledged by the other family members who were also told.
And neither was Laura’s, except by her mom.
Here is the takeaway.
Smarten up. Don’t be uncomfortable or embarrassed that you will insult someone or hurt their feelings if you are suspicious. Call the person out. Interject if you suspect someone has inappropriate behavior. Listen, speak up.
Join the bandwagon because when it comes to peanut butter and incest, you know which is is disgusting.
For more information or to register for a workshop or a lecture, please visit sayitsurvivor.org
I spent some time with a good friend yesterday.
I was mentioning how the past year has been one full of changes in my life. Great changes, hard changes, exciting changes.
I shared that the most impactful changes in my life have been around friendships. I have made some incredible friends over the past year, and I am so grateful for all the new people with whom I have connected.
But then I shared the sadness I am experiencing over the loss of some friends over this past year.
These are friends I have known for years. These are friends who I thought would be in my life forever. They seemed to have disappeared. They have stopped being there. They have stopped engaging.
I told her that there seemed to be a direct correlation between me losing my friends and me telling my story.
This year I stood firmly in my truth, in my story, and spoke of my sexual abuse, shamelessly. I made a conscious decision to speak out, to reach out to all who would listen.
And the good that has come of doing so has been humbling. It has been life-altering. Speaking out has helped people.
She said, “Well, you took some very personal information and shared it all over the internet. People might feel that it is just too personal to share. It may make people uncomfortable.”
You see, therein lies the problem, folks.
I do not see it as sharing PERSONAL information. In my opinion, my abuse was anything BUT personal.
It had nothing to do with me, personally.
I was not a “person” to my abuser. I was his prey. He selected me for no other reason than he COULD. I was available. I would not tell. I was safe, and I was an easy target.
Then I played out a scenario. I played devil’s advocate.
What would happen if an entire family became homeless overnight as victims of an arsonist? What if someone violently set their house on fire? What if they lost everything tangible and were out in the cold. What would happen?
The media would be all over it like white on rice. Social media would be the gasoline and their story, too, would run ablaze.
People would flock to help them out. People would pull together and pitch in. Money and blankets and clothes and casseroles would abound.
People would feel so badly for these victims. They did nothing to deserve this horrible crime.
My tragedy, my victimization, and that of all my brothers and sisters in survival was no more personal than theirs.
My perpetrator victimized and desecrated my body. Their perpetrator victimized and desecrated the physical structure where they resided.
Does it matter how one is victimized?
Think about it. There is no shame in being the victim of arson, right? Those unfortunate people didn’t do anything to deserve it.
So, then, why is there so much shame attached to being the victim of rape? Of sexual abuse?
Because “Sex” is private.
Actually, sex is selectively private.
Turn on primetime. Is sex private?
Nope. Not on primetime.
Now, walk around the mall. Flip a magazine. Not there, either.
When sex is nonconsensual, that is private. When the topic makes people uncomfortable. Then it is private.
But if a crime becomes shameful to the general public merely because of the nature of the crime, sexual, that is criminal in itself.
Everyone has the right to respond the way they respond. People have very different reactions. I have no right to judge others on how they feel about it if they want to stay silent or ignore it.
I respect that everyone has their story. I believe that everyone is living with the best of intentions.
But for the love of the Good Lord, can we stop saying that sharing this is too PERSONAL? There is nothing personal about it.
Hello, friends! I am so very excited to share my new blog with you.
(MARYMORPHOSIS will still continue, this is an additional blog!)
I have taken my great passions of cooking, design, and writing and put them under this one banner.
Here I will share recipes, kitchen tips, design ideas, seasonal decorating ideas, table settings, thoughts and stories and, of course, lots of photos.
I hope you will follow me. Please join in!
Let’s start Living Lovelier.
Ireland’s Greenery- Taken July 2015
If you meet an amazing person who can’t dress well – hang on.You can shop together later.
If you meet a jerk who dresses to the 9s- dump that one for the one previously mentioned.
Offer the benefit of the doubt. Believing that others are living with the best of intentions
is holding them in high esteem.
Write thank you notes. Always. Don’t forget.
Live in appreciation and the world will look so beautiful.
When someone apologizes, don’t leave them hanging. Accept it.
You get to pick your partner. You don’t get to pick your parent. Let it go.
The only one who can take care of you is you. Go.
You are the boss of yourself.
Demonstrate sincerity and honesty with eye contact.
Believe. Even when people tell you otherwise.
Riding horseback in Ireland. Bucket list- another check!
Honey, I’m good.
I have written about abuse, trauma, bullying and how society is so skewed. I have written of the unfairness of things. I have written about love.
Love is my favorite.
Bad things happen. And we get to grieve. We have a right to our reactions and our feelings no matter how they play out. No one gets a say in how we manage. No one gets a vote on how we survive.
The aftermath of tragedy and trauma is stifling. The effects are physical, psychological and social, at least.
The result of my sexual abuse smothered me. Living with it is much like being suffocated by a pillow. For years, I struggled to breathe. I could gasp, and that kept me going. It was no way to live.
I just could not get enough air.
My abuse did a tattoo on me. It wormed its way into the deepest part of me and, like a parasite devoured me. The worse I felt, the more I fed it.
And much like metastasized cancer this malady took over.
Finally, I decided that feeling broken had to stop. I needed a new baseline.
We have the right and responsibility to come up for air and take charge of our lives and reclaim our joy.
I made a conscious decision, a conscious commitment to put the kibosh on low self-worth, anxiety, and sorrow parasitically existing in my soul. And Honey, that took YEARS. And I am still at it.
I am not fully there yet. I know that it is not possible to squeegee my past so that my screen is clean. But I can squeegee my mirror so that I get a clearer picture of myself, a picture that is not smeared and muddled.
I have said before that there is great power in vulnerability. One may think that vulnerability is a weakness. It is nothing of the sort. Quite to the contrary.
Vulnerability takes strength. It takes courage, and it takes Moxie.
My cousin, Laura and I have recently co-founded Say It, Survivor (sayitsurvivor.com,) an organization committed to shedding a light on sexual abuse, helping other survivors to stand firmly in their stories and putting an end to this horrible epidemic.
We have had an overwhelming onslaught of love and support. We have heard from thousands all over the world; People are speaking up, reclaiming themselves and joining our bandwagon. It is awesome.
Often there is the predictable reaction when I share my story. Folks are uncomfortable (understandable,) profusely sorry and express pity.
Another reaction that I have heard more often than not is, “But you are so NORMAL!” That one makes me chuckle.
But Folks, there is no pity-party happening, At all. Not even a smidge of a pity party.
Then, there is the other side of the peanut gallery. Brace yourself.
There are haters. There are those who believe that we are trying to attract attention to ourselves. These are the people who gaff and roll their eyes and call us sensationalists. There are those who think that this is self-serving. There are those who are aghast that we would bear such “private” information about our past.
“Private.” That is why we are doing this. We are trying to tell our private stories and encourage others to do so. Privacy equates to secrecy and that in turn evokes shame.
Shame. That is the cancer, the malady I am talking about.
There are people with whom I was close. Friends who I kept for years. I have not heard from them. That is ok. For some, it is too painful and may stir up their emotions or past. I understand and continue to send love to them. I hope they heal if they have not already.
For some, it is not a “nice” topic.
Some, believe it or not, are embarrassed by me. And that is all good information.
Everyone has the right to their opinions and feelings. I can no sooner judge other’s opinion of me personally or of my charge. I am an activist and people are not going to like me or what I am doing.
That’s not going to change.
I am sad for people who have that perspective. It must be painful to live with a perspective like that.
I have compassion for them.
In my painful past, where I was suffering from parasitic self-loathing and insecurity I would be defensive and hurt and embarrassed over this.
Laura and I did not choreograph our dance. It was improvisational. We did not premeditate what happened at the Carlisle Police Station on January 18. My car turned itself into that parking lot.
Our story is not exceptional nor is it unique. We are not heroes. We are just two women who decided to take charge and find peace in telling our stories to anyone who would listen, And Officer Paul Smith did just that.
Our charge is not self-serving. We have plainly decided to do what I said. We decided to take charge and shake it up like a snow globe.
And every serendipitous turn, every co-incidence were God moments. We are not thankful for our abuse. Not at all. But we also refuse to stay mired in it. We refuse to be victims.
In Say It, Survivor we are working for a greater good. It is healing and empowering to help others.
“Honey, I’m Good.”
Thank you for your kindness and compassion and love. Thank you for the outpouring of support. Thank you for spreading the word. Thank you for holding hands with Say It, Survivor.
But All, please don’t view me broken because quite to the contrary I am better than ever. I am empowered and charged up and ready to take this on. I am privileged and honored for those who have faith and put their trust in us.
What a privilege.
There is something powerful, cathartic and joyful in putting one’s pain to work. And ill-wishers shall be ill-wishers.
And I will bear witness to others with kindness, compassion and love.
Love is my favorite.
Let’s change the world, Friends.