I believe in a God who moves mountains. Not just for me, but for the women in this world walking around in shame and silence. In my experience courage has always held more power than shame. Shame builds walls, whereas courage (and a whole lot of prayer), moves mountains. Let’s move mountains together.
That year, my friends and I found freedom and rebellion in the form of a drivers license. There was no unpredictability or adventure in that little town of ours, not even a traffic light. So we headed to the next town over. The town with the malls, the boys, and a college campus. None of us had a fake I.D. but we soon discovered that on a college campus, you only needed short shorts and a flirty attitude to get what you wanted. At sixteen what we wanted most was to feel grown up, to feel like we had the world figured out.
One late summer evening our hunt for a big college party came up short. With audacity that can only be explained by ignorance, we decided to walk into the campus liquor store. We quickly befriended the tall, thin man who worked behind the counter. He was lanky, wore an old concert t-shirt, had blond hair that had rarely been cut, mousy features and ripped jeans. He was awkward and even a bit creepy. But our desire to rebel outweighed any logic or gut instincts. My friends and I flirted with Tim, the rather odd 27-year-old man. He was a college-drop-out who worked at the liquor store at night and spent his days playing video games. He was friendly and never once asked us for an ID or why we had come into the store so we took advantage of the opportunity. It took next to nothing to convince Tim to sell us alcohol. (Score!)
So we started making this liquor store our first stop every time we got a chance to get out of town.
As long as Tim was working, it was a bottle of Boone’s Farm Wine, Mad Dog 20/20 and a spicy bottle of Aftershock to go. It was all we could afford or stomach on our inexperienced pallets and part-time, minimum wage jobs. We would take our alcohol stock back to our little farm town, find a few friends, get lost on some back roads and pretend we had life figured out. It all started with an innocent coming of age rebelliousness.
Tim never asked for our ID’s and he didn’t need to. He knew the truth. At one point a student teacher who had been placed in our school came into the liquor store. We sat up on the counter top with a deer-in-headlights look on our faces, “Busted,” we thought.
But nope, the teacher-to-be just acknowledged us with a grin and quick comment and went on his way. We giggled nervously, told Tim how we knew the teacher and with no consequence, we were proud of our above-the-law moment!
By the third loitering Tim had a “great idea!” “You guys can come back to my place and hang out with my roommate and I. You don’t even have to buy anything. It’s on me!” Of course we said yes! A place to drink and free alcohol? What could possibly go wrong?
Tim’s apartment was nicer than expected. It was in a new neighborhood, not where the college kids lived, which makes sense looking back, since he was 27, and a grown man. He wasn’t a kid living in a doom or college apartment like we had known before.
Our crowd of friends hung out, drank the Boone’s Farm, ate pizza and talked about things that made us feel grown like smoking pot, and losing our virginity. That night I was the sober driver. Of all the dumb things we did, I celebrate the fact that we truly did have a safe driver every night.
At a pause in the conversation, I got up to use the restroom. Tim met me right outside the door. He told me that I was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. I was flattered. I thought my friends were much more beautiful than me. I felt special and seen. He started kissing me. Although I wasn’t the least bit attracted to him, I loved a grown man who lived in such a nice place giving me attention so I didn’t stop him. He lead me into his bedroom where the kissing progressed.
I wasn’t inexperienced sexually and had just told him all about that in the conversation with my friends. I’m not sure if that’s why I didn’t say no, or if I just couldn’t find the words to stop him. Maybe I even liked it a little bit. I can’t tell you for sure.
All I know is that for four hours, when my mom thought I was safe, sleeping over at a friends house, I was sexually abused by a man who was eleven years my senior and should have known better. At the time none of those thoughts entered my mind. I knew I didn’t like what he was doing. I knew it seemed like it was taking forever for it to end but I didn’t know how to stop it or if I even had the power to make it stop.
At some point while being sexually abused your mind and body just goes numb. He would give me an instruction and I would obey in hopes that it would end soon. I honestly felt nothing; Not bad, not good, not even shame. I just obeyed. I recall the red digital lights of the alarm clock next to the bed, changing ever so slowly.
Looking back, I only remember pieces of that night and I have relived those pieces a million times; in nightmares, in therapy, when I drive past the liquor store that still looks the same, even in the bedroom with my own husband. It’s maddening to know that your mind is strong enough to delete the most horrific details in self protection but that your voice wasn’t strong enough in that moment to protect you by saying “No!”
Like a child mirroring the same dangerous game we had played when we walked into that liquor store, Tim called me at home the next day. This was in the days of calling a home phone, connected to a wall in my parents home! He knew it was possible that my parents could have answered the phone, but he called anyway. He apologized for what had happened the night before. He proceeded to tell me how he couldn’t resist me when I was “all over him” and that I would get him in a lot of trouble if it happened again. I didn’t realize how calculated that call was until many years later. Tim was spinning a web of shame and embarrassment and I was trapped. I had no idea that I would be stuck in this web of deception for years after this season ended.
But the web he had woven had me wrapped tight. You see my friends had fun when we got free alcohol and I didn’t want to be the reason that didn’t happen. If you remember your life as a sixteen year old girl, pretty much nothing is more important than your friends, so I found myself back there over and over again. Doing things I never should have agreed to and not knowing how to make it all stop.
Even now, as I type this, fully prepared to share my story with anyone who needs it, I feel It all again. I hear the questions, the doubts, I feel the disgust boiling in the pit of my stomach.
Here are the shaming thoughts and questions that women who have been sexually abused ask themselves in one way, shape or form. These questions like a broken record repeat even once you think you have them fixed, healed, gone, they keep coming back.
Was it my fault? I mean what does a 16 year old hanging out in a liquor store expect?
Didn’t I know better?
Why didn’t I say no?
Why didn’t I tell an adult?
Why didn’t friends stop me?
Why didn’t the teacher say anything?
Why did we go back?
Where was my common sense?
Weren’t you just a slut anyway?
You already had sex once, so should this matter?
What was I thinking?
What was I thinking?
What was I thinking?
You are gross.
You deserved it.
You aren’t worthy of more.
No one can shame me or ask me a question I haven’t wrestled with for over two decades now. I have answers, real, heartfelt truths for all of them. I do, I actually have spent thousands of dollars on therapy and countless hours in prayer and in the Word to remind me. Sometimes I have peace and total belief and sometimes I don’t. Here’s what I know for sure:
This chapter of my life broke me, exposed me to the gross things of this world. If this happened to my daughter, I would want revenge, justice, punishment just like my mom wanted for me when she found out years later. But there will be no revenge, I don’t even remember Tim’s last name. Truth be told, I may never have known it which brings up it’s own feelings of shame. But this brokenness, this nightmare, has lead me to continuously leaning into the faith that shows me the strength of God. It has not only lead me to the one who makes me whole, the one who heals my brokenness and the one who shows me joy and healing but it leads me back to Him over and over again because trauma comes to the surface over and over again. While I cannot always comfort myself with answers to the questions above, He can comfort me with the truth about who I really am in Him and each time I come back the answers are the same. He never changes what He says about me.
1 in 4 women will experience some kind of sexual abuse in their lifetime and while that statistic may scare you or evoke anger or sadness, I also want you to know that my story doesn’t start or end here. Over the coming weeks and months I am going to share my entire story with you. One of survival, one of healing, but mostly one of great faith. And I am hoping that maybe something I share will shift your perspective whether it be in parenting, in your own healing and survival or how you view those who have been abused.