The Brown Building by the Lake
I wake from a full night’s sleep. I put my feet on the floor and mindlessly go about my routine…
What should I wear today?
I open the closet door that holds my jeans and T-shirt’s and I feel it in my heart. It’s a flash of something I felt in my sleep. I can’t grasp, but it stabs me in my gut…
What did I dream last night?
I can’t remember, so I pull on my jeans.
And there it is again…
I shove the shame back down. As a mom of five, who runs a business out of her home, I have no problem staying busy and keeping my mind distracted. I don’t give emotion much time, I don’t have time. But the emotion is persistent.
The gravity of the emotion pulls me down into a dark place as I remember the details of the dream.
Me, standing in a corner, forced to look at a little girl.
She was dirty. Literally. She needed a bath.
Shame and sadness surrounded her. I wanted to help her, but instead I just stood there, looking. Someone was forcing me to look, holding my head so that my neck could not turn. I tried. It wouldn’t move. I don’t know who the girl was.
She was me.
A strange relief floods over me when I realize that it was just a dream. Nevertheless, I carry the despair all day while I smile and ignore. I’m used to it now. I’ve been having dreams like this for almost as long as I can remember, dreams that leave me affected and avoiding all day. At least now I know what to do with them. I used to be ashamed of them. As if I had control over what my mind released when I as I slept.
A few months ago I wrote a blog where I shared my sexual abuse as a teenage girl. I’d like for that to be my whole story, but it’s not.
These dreams reveal the feelings I have carried but haven’t processed. They don’t reveal the details but they have haunted me ever since I can remember.
As a teenage girl I remember having a deep uneasy feeling that I had been sexually abused as a child. I couldn’t recall any detail about abuse, so I condemned myself.
You are a liar.
You are dramatic.
You have a wild imagination.
What is wrong with you?
Often, just as I was on the brink of falling asleep the feeling of being gagged would emerge. Not a gag reflux, but a memory. I was forced to hold between my teeth, I could bite down, but I couldn’t swallow.
I didn’t understand, so I pressed the feeling down into my gut. I learned to distract myself and move on just after I berate myself again.
You are disgusting.
You are broken.
It continued and worsened as I became a mother. After the gagging, I would fall asleep, dream of something too embarrassing to even share. Sex dreams, with people I shouldn’t want to have sex with.
I would wake, repulsed by myself and by the touch of anyone: my children, my husband, a hug from a friend.
I disgust myself.
I am alone.
I am tired.
This series of events played on loop, but I never told anyone. I filled the room with words and thoughts, but never feelings. Feelings were too heavy to process. Anxiety grew into panic attacks that I chalked up to the stress of a busy life and parenting. I visited a parade of therapists who dismissed my claims, “If you don’t remember, how can I help you?”
I share a small part of my first therapy session in my book, Lifted.
I shifted my focus on faith. Maybe I just needed to pray more, be good, be enough, do better. I tried to pray away the dreams, the shame, the dark parts of my soul. It didn’t seem to help.
As my story unfolds even I have a hard time believing how it happened.
As my story unfolds even I have a hard time believing how it happened. As God seems to do over and over again, He shows up and shows off. Why wouldn’t He? He is the God of the universe right? He doesn’t show off in an arrogant way. He shows off in a “watch this trick” kind of way. I love His tricks, this one in particular is pretty cool.
A few friends and I sat around late one night on a work trip. It was a rare night away from our kids for all of us. Wine filled glasses and girl talk were just what we needed. I shared a modified version of the story I shared in my last blog. I had told this story a hundred times, flippantly, as it were a normal mistake any kid would make. “I had a 27 year old boyfriend when I was 16.” This time, a trusted friend who knew how a story like this must have impacted my life, asked me if she could pray for me.
“Sure.” I hesitated. I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t ready to assign energy to that season of my life so prayer seemed like too much.
Then she asked if she could lay her hands on me while she prayed.
My mind scrambled for a way to say no, but I couldn’t find one.
I don’t like being touched.
As long as I am laying it all out here, I thought she was being a bit dramatic.
I mean this story was ancient and we didn’t need to pray about it right now. After all we were having a some girl time, it was supposed to be light and fun. But she began to pray before I could find my words. I was happy to let her do what she needed to do so we could move onto a lighter conversation.
She gently touched my knee, her prayer was beautiful and moved me in a way I didn’t expect. Emotions welled up to the surface and I allowed tears to fall.
Whew! It’s over. I wiped away the wetness on my face.
Then she asked a question.
“Is there something else you want to share with us?”
“About the brown building by a lake? I feel like I need to ask you about it…”
“What?” I was annoyed.
“The back bedroom in the loft. It was a brown building by a lake. You have to go up some stairs to get to it. Did something happen to you there?” She questioned without reservation.
My mind was racing. Resisting. “No.”
No. No. NO NO NO!
Suddenly, pieces of flower comforters, a brown leather belt, a distant family member and a hot summer day flooded my memory. I knew the brown building by the lake. I knew the loft and the back bedroom she mentioned. I knew this is where it had happened.
My friend knew things she shouldn’t about a small brown cabin near a lake that my family visited in the summers for family reunions.
A bedroom located to the back of the loft closed off only by a curtain.
A backdoor entrance.
Scratched wooden floors.
A white metal bed frame.
These details could have only come from someone who had been there.
God gave my friend a vision that began unlocked the mysteries that had plaques me for years. I had in fact been abused in that room. The hours before that abuse were my first childhood memories.
That night was the most emotionally vulnerable I have ever been in my life. I am thankful there were others there to see the story unfold. I needed the proof to start telling myself a new truths.
I’m not crazy.
Over time, I allowed myself the freedom to experience the memories. I was able to find a therapist who specialized in trauma. She explained to me how the brain works and how it can repress memories to keep us safe after trauma occurs. The body holds onto physical responses even when it can’t explain them. When your mind feels as though it is safe and you are mature enough emotionally to handle the trauma, your body will begin releasing both memories and emotions. I wondered why no one had told me this before. Why hadn’t all the other therapists shared this with me?
Research showed me that repressed trauma is a controversial idea. Some scientists say it’s not possible and some say it’s very rare. But is it really rare? Or is it rarely talked about? When an abused woman, who has been taught to control her words and emotions her entire life, finally works up the courage to share her story is it simply rare that she is believed?
Or is she convinced to tuck her “crazy”and pretend everything is ok?
I’m not writing this to be believed.
I’m writing this for the women who feels unseen, unheard and who distrusts herself.
I’m not writing this to be believed.
I’m writing this for the woman who feels unseen, unheard and who distrusts herself. I’m writing this for the one who feels dirty, alone and shameful. I’m not writing this for science, but for the heart of the woman who wants to know why she struggles with enjoying sex with her husband even though she loves and trusts him.
I’m writing this for the little girl who was so afraid to be alone at night so she peed in her bed, not out of defiance, but out of hope that it would give her an excuse to sleep next to her mom, where she felt safe.
I’m writing this for the woman explored sex way too young because someone showed her sex long before her mind or body were ready. She’s been silent long enough. She has questioned herself for long enough. There is freedom in the her truth.
This little girl, not more than five or six is constantly there in my dreams waking me up and filling me with emotions I stuffed down into my gut most of my life. I know that she is teaching me how to process what I was never able to at such a young age. I journal what I see and feel in my dreams so I can process and release what is no longer serving me.
If any of my story feels true for you, please know this my friend, I am walking with you. Trust that God is really incredible. He has created the human mind and body to work in super cool ways. If you have been running and hiding from your trauma because it’s too scary and you think you cannot live through it again, don’t believe that lie. You already survived it. The hard part is over. Saying it out loud doesn’t give it life, it gives you freedom.
Will the person who did this to me ever pay for what he did?
Probably not on this earth and I’m strangely okay with that realization. But, he has to answer to God. The only proof I have are the memories and the fears that can only be explained by intangible evidence. If my story releases one person from their prison of shame, then God has created good from evil.
When I think of the little blonde haired girl with her deep cut bangs, in her summer romper who believed that her misbehavior was punishable by a belt and a grown man’s dominance, it grieves my heart. But I watch it play like a movie, not like a memory because I have found freedom in healing.
My heart breaks for the good men I feared after that day, like my sweet grandpa in the picture above, and a few uncles who I always hid from assuming all men were monsters. I am sad for the hyperactivity I displayed in hopes to escape the pain of my memories. If I kept moving and thinking about tomorrow, and going really really fast, then I didn’t have to process the sadness in still moments. But today, I am healing, learning to be still. Today, I am strong because I have learned that I can trust myself. I have found my voice, my truth and my words.
Do You want to know how to protect your child? Teach them to trust their intuition.
Do you want to know how to protect your child? Teach them to trust their intuition. Don’t teach them about the creepy stranger, teach them about true stories of good and bad people. The world is filled with both and we all encounter them daily. Share true dark, heartbreaking stories at an age appropriate level. Our media portrays sexual abuse and physical abuse as something that happens in dark alleys and homes of alcoholics and drug addicts, not family vacations or holidays by someone your family trusts. Find facts and educate your kids. Don’t scare them, but make them aware. When you avoid talking about topics that are hard, it doesn’t make them less likely to happen. It just makes it less likely that when it happens that it will be talked about. Listen to your child, watch them, believe and support them when they share. My biggest fear was that my truth would be rejected by those I loved the most. I was relieved when I found support and love. I was embraced both literally and physically by those I needed most as I processed the trauma for the first time.
And above all else, teach your children about faith in Jesus. Teach them about a God who loves them unconditionally and washes them clean and who holds in the darkest times and gives them strength when they need it. Love and hope is all they really need.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love
1 Cor. 13:13