TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
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Family get-togethers, traditions, and holidays were a time to celebrate and be close to the ones you love. However, between the ages of 12 and 14 I was a victim of sexual assault from a family member whom, until then, I had been close with. My older cousin had turned those exciting family celebrations into a nightmare. There was only my sister, my cousin, and myself. We were a small close family. This meant that on the days we all got together, we three kids were to go off and play on our own while the adults visited.
It always started as a game of hide and seek. He would want to be the one seeking and we would hide. He always sought me out first so that I was alone with him, usually in dark places around the house. It had started by him touching my breasts through my shirt or sliding his hand up between my legs above my pants. At each get together he would get more and more physical.
Soon his hands were under my clothes. He would force my hand to grab him, beginning above the pants, and soon underneath his as well. For most of those two years, he had forced me to give him blow job after blow job. He would push my shoulders down till I was on my knees and then force himself into my mouth while holding the back of my head against him so I couldn’t pull away.
There are two things I remember thinking during those episodes. The first was nothing, I shut it all down and I was not present, I learned later that I disassociated and detached myself from my reality. The second thing was that I knew if he was doing this to me, then I knew he wasn’t doing it to my little sister. I felt it was my job to keep her safe. So, when it was my turn to be the seeker, he would tell me to find him first. I knew why he wanted me to. But instead, I would find my sister then she wasn’t alone somewhere in the dark with him. We would see them on average once a month. So at least once a month every month for 2 years, I was forced to perform different sexual acts to him and let him touch me however he wanted.
He would ask me in a threatening voice if I had told anyone. I always said no, and it had been my darkest secret for those 2 years. I hated seeing family, I hated the holidays, I hated him, and the worst part was that I hated myself so much. I had felt disgraceful, I felt ashamed, and I felt like it was all my fault. A couple of weeks before one Christmas I had confided in a girlfriend at school. I was miserable and I was severely depressed. I wrote a note in class and handed it to her, but when we left class that day it fell out of her books and on to the floor. The teacher had found it, read it, and gave it to the school guidance counsellor right away. The counsellor then called my mom and told her what the note had said.
The note didn’t contain the severity or even details about what was happening. It had said who was doing it and that I was being sexually abused. We lived on an acreage then and I was in the children’s Christmas choir at our church, so that evening my mom was driving me to practice and she had asked me if anyone in our family had touched me inappropriately. I said no, and she proceeded to ask about each individual member, male and female, and each time I would say no, including when she asked if my cousin had.
I didn’t want to admit it because I knew he would be mad if he knew I told someone. She reassured me that I would not be in trouble and that I could confide in her. She went through the names again and this time when she asked about my cousin, I said yes. All I told her was that he touched me. After some tears were shed, I went to choir practice.
Later that night, once home, my dad called my aunt and told her what I had said. She then talked to my cousin. My aunt called us back and told my dad that he had told her so much more and that I wasn’t giving them the whole story. My parents confronted me about it, and I spilled the details. My dad was furious. He called my aunt back and told her again what I had told him.
Unfortunately, my Aunt seemed to change how she felt about everything. Originally, she seemed supportive and concerned, but with this last phone call, she was now dismissive. She had told my dad “they are just kids, it’s probably just hormones. It’s not a big deal”. I can’t ever recall a time in my life where my dad was as furious as he was after that final phone call. From what I know today, they have never talked or seen each other since that night.
Now that everything was in the open, things were different. No more did we have complete family get-togethers. No more did I have a cousin. We only had one and he was disowned by my side of the family.
I remember shortly after everything happened that my parents took me to the RCMP station in town and I reported him. Unfortunately, they did not handle the situation well, I had a one on one interview with a male officer by myself, which was highly uncomfortable. My parents weren’t there, there were no other females in the room. That makes it harder and more traumatizing to tell your story and what happened when you lost faith and trust in males. But I did report him, and they audiotaped the interview.
After the interview, my parents asked if I wanted to press charges. I declined. I didn’t want to bring everything up again. Who knew how long till we would end up in court. Would I want to bring up all those awful memories again? Absolutely not. A lot of people who I told my story to don’t understand why I would let him get away with what he did to me. I wanted to forget the last 2 years of my life and pretend they never happened. So, I signed the form saying that I will not press charges against him. I heard that the cops did go to his house later to talk to him. I don’t know what came of that.
My parents went into the back of the station to talk to the officers, they were there for a while because I remember falling asleep on a bench in the reception area. My mom said a couple of days later that I should see a counsellor.
Since the events had started, I no longer was an honour roll student. I lied a lot and I was extremely moody. I went and talked to a therapist a handful of times, but I didn’t want to be there. So, I told her what she wanted to hear, and I was released soon after. Looking back that wasn’t a good idea. During the rest of my teen years and my early adulthood, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. I became suicidal and I hated everything and everyone. My lying got worse, I fought with my mom about everything. I even ran away once because I thought she was checking up on me at work, turned out she wasn’t.
I was plagued with guilt, shame, disgrace, and so many other things. I blamed myself. I hated myself. On multiple occasions, I wrote friends goodbye letters because I was done with life.
Around 20, I went to my doctor and finally went on antidepressants. It took a long time to find the right one for me. Some made me feel absolutely no emotions, others made the emotions heightened. I would stop taking them randomly, thinking I didn’t need them, then I would start taking them a few months later again. I didn’t do it through my doctor. I thought I knew what I needed. I hated the idea of relying on medication to feel better.
At 24, I saw a psychiatrist because the antidepressants weren’t working, even though I was on a very high dose. He handed me a survey and 10 minutes later looked at it and said, “you have Bipolar II Disorder”, wrote me a prescription and that was it. I went to my family doctor with the prescription, we went through a couple of other things, and for 4 years I was on an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer combination. However, I disagreed with the diagnosis, it never felt right. But at this point, I realized that doctors knew more than I did so I never questioned it.
At 28, after I had my son the depression came back even stronger. I had postpartum depression now and I despised my son. I didn’t want to play with him, I didn’t want to hold him. It was heartbreaking for a mother to not want anything to do with their newborn child. I never had issues with my firstborn. Maybe it was because it was a boy this time, who knows.
It wasn’t until my ex-husband cornered me one day and told me something was very wrong with me and I needed to get help. So begrudgingly, I went to see another counsellor. I had mentioned to her in one of our sessions that I had been diagnosed with Bipolar, but I never felt right about it. She referred me to another psychiatrist who specialized in postpartum issues as well. I went out to Didsbury and sat with the psychiatrist for an hour and a half. She never handed me a piece of paper, we just talked. I told her everything. At the end of it, she said to me “you definitely don’t have bipolar II, you are suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorder” and then gave me a list of resources to reach out to help.
I felt a bit relieved. I knew I was right about the bipolar and the cPTSD made a lot of sense. It also was a release that finally someone would listen to me. But I didn’t know what to do next. I contacted Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse and was put on a waitlist. I eventually started therapy and for 9 months I went every 2 weeks.
The sessions were hard and painful. It brought up so much that I had suppressed over the years. But by the end of the 9 months, I was a completely different person. I was so much more aware of myself, of my choices, of my past, and of my thoughts. I am by no means cured, however, I was given many different tools to help on those darker days.
So today I am who I am not only because of what I went through as a child but also because of the hard work and effort I put in as an adult. I should have done the work sooner and maybe things would have been different.
But today I have 2 beautiful kids, both of whom I adore completely, I have a career I enjoy, and I have a passion for psychology and helping others. Each day is not a struggle, but it does require constant focus and attention. I still have my issues. I have trust issues where I struggle to trust new people in my life, I have issues with anxiety attacks where they will get triggered out of the blue it seems and I can’t stop them, and I can have troubles sleeping.
I feel I am complicated, but I don’t feel alone. I know that I’m not the only one that has gone through something like this and I know it was not my fault. Each day is a new day and even though I can get worn down and burnt out easily because I am constantly fighting those inner demons, I am able to bounce back on my own a lot quicker than I used to be able to, couple days usually versus a couple of months.
The worst feelings I ever had through it all was that I was alone, I deserved this, and that nobody would be able to love someone so “damaged”. I hope that nobody ever feels like that themselves because you are not alone, you absolutely did not deserve it, and you probably don’t realize how many people around you right now love you. Tell your story, ask for help, don’t give up.
THANK YOU JENN for sharing your story.
If you want to share your story (you can do it anonymously), please don't hesitate to message me. It's time we empower survivors and show them that NOTHING can hold them back.