“Well, Bobbie, that’s just what men do,” she said to me tenderly. “My uncle did that to me too.”
My eyes grew large as I looked at her and said, “No. That is not what men do.”
The discussion was about her granddaughter. Her granddaughter who had been sexually abused by her son. She was able to accept this as the way things were. I cried. I cried for hours. I couldn’t stop. You see, I didn’t want to believe he could do this. But if his mother thought he could, well, then, I knew he did. Later years he finally admitted to me that his niece’s accusations were, in fact, all true.
I shed tears that day for her, her granddaughter and for myself.
Triggers Show Up Out of Nowhere
I was in my early 20s and suddenly on that day a flood of memories hit me. I remembered the abuse I suffered at just four years old and again at 11 by a trusted family member. I wept for myself and the little girl I had been. For the toddler who was terrified and shocked and the pre-teen who was ashamed and embarrassed that anyone would touch her “there.” I wept for the teen I grew to be that developed breasts too late and was teased. I wept for the teen whose breasts ended up being larger than everyone else’s. I wept for the girl whose breasts were always a subject of discussion, whose breasts got touched “accidentally” by doctors, teachers and even church members. The breasts that boys bragged about touching even if they didn’t. This woman sparked memories in me that I had hidden so deep I thought they were buried. The flood gates opened.
I tried to self-destruct. I tried to run from the memories. I was trying to drown the memories so I could put them back where they belonged. I punished myself for the action of others. Indelible in the hippocampus was the shame I felt so many years ago (sorry, couldn’t resist—it is such a good line).
During my entire adulthood I rarely spoke of these incidents. My sister, my best friend and my husband were aware of the details. That is all. Then as I was working Step Four with my sponsor, I wrote out my resentments. So many names on my list referred to the men in my life who had sexually abused me. I wrote out the names, I wrote out the incidents and I just let it all sit there for a few weeks. As I was working Step Five, I spoke of these incidents to my sponsor. She listened. She nodded. She was gentle and reassured me I had no part in these resentments. We went to her burn pit and lit them on fire. I was free of the incidents that had haunted me for the first time in my life. They no longer took up space in my head and my soul.
When You Know Better, Do Better
I truly don’t believe that anyone thought they were hurting anything when they hurt me. I have come to believe that they were doing the best they could with what they had. “That’s just what men do” came from a woman who came from a generation that believed that. I am not saying this to excuse the behavior. I am saying this because this is how I am able to forgive. We are getting better. We are raising our sons to do better. We are teaching our daughters not to be silent. I have wondered, with recent headlines, what would happen if we all spoke up and named names? How different would our world look? I know that I don’t have the guts to do this. I know that I am okay and even better than okay most days. I truly don’t have it in me to destroy families by speaking up. I’m okay with that. Just as I am okay with the women that want to speak up after so many years and tell their story. I will stand up with them.
Triggers Can Go Both Ways
What I really hope is that my abusers remember what they did. That these headlines have triggered memories in them that they are finding difficult to live with. I don’t need an apology. I would love, however, some living amends to be made on my behalf. I want all of our daughters to feel safe in safe places. There are terrible people out there, for sure. But, there are places the terrible people are not supposed to be. Your home, your church, your school and your doctor’s office to name a few.
I hope that they see the hurt and feel the pain and stand up and say, “This is NOT what men do.”