Empowered but Free

Before I start, there is something I want everyone to know. I have 7 drafts of this post. I’ve gone over and over every word trying to find the best way to deliver my story and message without stipulating that its the best idea for anyone in my situation. In fact, I think this is a pretty rare outcome to an all too common experience. But it happened to me, and I think its important to share.

Unless you and I have never met, you probably know that I love Ellen DeGeneres! I love strong women, and Ellen is the strongest of all. When I was a preteen and teenager she taught me that you have to be true to yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks. As a young newlywed in a new town, her talk show sometimes was my only friend. And it got me through some hard days. And then of course there the saving my life part. Not figuratively, but very literally. She interviewed Maura Tierney (another one of my favorites) about her battle with breast cancer. 2 years later, right before my 31st birthday, I remembered that interview when I found my own lump. It was the reason I had it checked at all. And after being told by a medical professional that it was probably nothing and I shouldn’t worry about it, it was the reason I insisted on a mammogram. It was the reason I was diagnosed early enough with a rare rapid forming tumor to have a fighting chance. And its the reason I’m still here today. So obviously she means a lot to me!

But if helping me still grace this earth with my quirky, loud, opinionated, lets save all the cats attitude isn’t enough, she recently did one more thing for me. I think she saved my soul. Okay, I know that was corny! I was gagging a bit myself while typing it! But I don’t know if I have the words to describe it any other way. So if you’re not too grossed out, or just really curious how a television talk show host that I’ve never been able to even meet in real life can do all that, lets continue on!

For the past few years I have been very open about being sexually assulted as a child. I was 7 years old, still struggling from seeing my father die right in front of me a few months earlier, and deperate for the love and approval of a man. I was vunerable and clingy and too trusting. He was 21 years old, and had come to visit my family after spending 2 years out of the country. He assulted me in my home, and then left like nothing happened. But it did, and the affects of that day has followed me around for 30 years. I told, he was arrested, and I testified against him in court. I really didn’t know what happened after that, execpt he paid for a few years of therapy as I picked up the pieces and tried to be normal. What he did was a secret, I was too ashamed to say anything. I thought it was my fault, and I thought that everyone else would think that too. Then when I was 13, our lawyers decided that he had spent enough time with a felony charge and asked for me to decide whether or not to remove it from his records. I remember that day, sitting across the table from him and his new wife, listening to his explanation on why he did it. And then they asked me right in front of him of my decision. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I new what they wanted. So I agreed to remove it from his record, and I never saw him again.

The problem is that day has haunted me even more than the actual event. I have always wondered if my decision led to another girl getting hurt. That if I have been braver and not been such a people pleaser I could have protected somebody else. But I felt so pressured, and I felt like his happiness and comfort was more important than mine. Everyone wanted to fix his life, but mine didn’t matter. And I started to wonder if all those lawyers and therapists and every other adult with a clipboard I’d talked to over the years even believed it happen. Because I was sure they didn’t care that it did. That day made me feel very unimportant and I regretted ever doing it. Through my teenage years that regret turned into low self esteem and depression. By the time I was out of high school it was replaced by crippling anxiety and self doubt. In fact, I still struggle a lot with a little voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough, important enough, or special enough. And by the time I had become a mother for the first time it had turned into rage. A lot of people never saw it, but I always felt it. It was almost like an itch in the only spot on your back you could never reach. So eventually you just learn to live with it.

Then the Me Too movement started. Women were starting to stand up for themselves, and more importantly for each other. While watching these brave women come forward, I found my own courage and I started telling my story. It was both terrifying exhilarating telling a story that I had always kept a secret. I received several messages from friends telling me it had happened to them and they never told. And that they admired my bravery. But among it all I was discouraged on how angry I still was. And since I had no contact with my abuser, it made me even more angry thinking he was enjoying his life while I still had so many issues. Then last spring I came across the interview Ellen DeGeneres did with Savannah Guthrie. Now I’d seen this before when it originally aired, but this time felt different. And for all my fellow right brained friends who need a visual aid, I did include a link to the interview below. I got your back! Anyway, I know Ellen wasn’t talking to me in that interview, but it felt like she was. It felt like she was only talking to me, and that immediatly empowered me! First of all, she’s angry too. The nicest most generous human being in the entire universe is angry too. That was definetly a confidence builder for me! But then she said she hoped that she was empowering women, because we just can’t be quiet anymore. That really dug down deep in my little soul. I’m not a quiet person, and I’ve told my story. And I’m pretty sure I have that anger thing down! So what now?! Then it hit me…..I need to tell HIM everything I was both saying and holding inside. The person who hurt me so much needed to know what I had and was still going through. The concept was terrifying. But my girl Ellen DeGeneres had my back, so I knew I could do it.

Now this is where the story starts getting interesting.

First I had to find him. But thanks to the modern miracle we call social media, that was the easy part! He still lived close by where that fateful metting happened all those years earlier, so I found an address and knew it was him. Then I wrote a letter to him. A long letter full of 30 years worth of emotional turmoil. I mean I laid it all out there. How it affected the way I grew up, my relationships, my confidence, and the way I parented. I was surprised how the words just flowed out of my hand. And then I told him that there were still things I needed to know. And he was the only one who could answer those questions. And that he owed me at least that much. I dropped it in the mail the first day of summer vacation, and then I waited.

It was a very long summer! We found out we were moving a few weeks in, and spent the entire summer prepping our house to sell so we could move 2 hours away. As of now our house is almost ready to go on the market, and we’re praying we are able to sell and find something we can afford in our new town. But in late July, just as I had convinced myself that he wasn’t interested in talking to me, I received a text. It was him, and he was agreeing to answer any questions I had via email. It took me 7 weeks so compose an email full of every question I had to ever wanted to ask him. My anxiety skyrocketed as I studied every little word I typed. Even though the hard part was over I was a little scared over the answers I expected from him. Would they bring closure or more pain? Could I handle the truth after all these years? But I stayed brave and sent the email, and he got back to me right away. I want to share some of his answers along with my insights I got from these emails.

In my mind for all these years I envisioned him a bad man. He wasn’t bad when my family first met him of course. But obviously since the incident I only could envision him one way. An uncaring man who got away with it without any regrets. A man who never thought twice about me, even though I thought often about him. What I got was the exact opposite. He told me details about that day that I never knew. About the perfect storm of events that took place that day that ended with both of our lives changing forever. He told me about the feelings he had tried to fight off and the concerns that he shouldn’t have ignored. Now obviously I’m not going to say it wasn’t his fault. At the end of the day no matter the circumstances he made that terrible decision, and he took full responsibility for that. When I voiced concerns over how I felt that the way I dressed that day or the way I clung to him was why I felt the fault was mine, he was quick to tell me he never considered that for a second. He talked about his frame of mind during that time and expressed how much regret he had for his actions and decisions that day. He told me about his family and about the parent that it made him become. I asked him very specifically if he ever hurt another girl. And he confidently reported he never did. BUT….that we had both been lied to. The meeting was to remove it from his records, except they never did. It was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor, which did help. But he’s carried this around everywhere he’s gone, or will go, for the rest of his life. He’s had to share this story more times than I have. And as for all those people and organizations who I thought protected his well being over mine, well I’m sure you can see where that went too! Nobody protected him. Justice was served.

As I read these emails, I felt a literal weight began to lift from my shoulders. It was the strangest feeling. It was like I could finally breath again. Like my mind was clearer. Or going back to that itchy back comparison, like someone just handed me an amazing back scratcher! One of those really good ones that your children won’t break when they sword fight with them! I realized that he will pay for this for the rest of his life, but I didn’t have to anymore. I can finally let this go and stop holding on to a past that I cannot change. When all my questions were answered, I had a new found peace I don’t think I’ve ever really felt. My back didn’t itch anymore! (Last time, I promise!) So I made one more decision. I told him that I forgive him. And I meant it. I’m letting this go. I’m moving on. It’s over.

Now referring back to what I said in the beginning of this, I know this is a rare ending to a sexual abuse story. And I am in NO WAY saying every victim, or even any victim, needs to do something like this. Seeking out the person who violated you to bombard them with questions can be dangerous and more harming in so many way. And nobody should have to forgive or move on if they don’t want to. A lot of offenders do not deserve to be forgiven, and never will. This is just my story. Its as unique as I am. All of our stories are unique, and all of our outcomes will be that way too.

But guess what…..I’m STILL angry! Like Ellen said, I’m angry that some people don’t believe victims. Or that they downplay the situation or the emotions that follow. I’m angry that in 2019, women are still afraid to speak up. They’re afraid to report their assults, and they’re ashamed that something so out of their control happened to them. I personally know people who still need to say something! I’m angry that we’re told to teach our daughters to dress modestly, so that the boys won’t be tempted. When instead we should be teaching our sons how to treat girls with all the love and dignity they deserve. And I expect I will still hear that bully of a voice in my head reminded me how not good enough I am. But I will keep fighting….fighting those inner demons and for victims of sexual assault. And I will not take the task I have of teaching my 3 little boys how to respect women lightly. This cause is near and dear to my heart and nothing will change that. Every woman deserves a voice and someone standing beside her. I hope I can do that for victims everywhere.

I’m so gratful for Ellen DeGeneres. I’ve dreamed of being able to thank her in person for so long. I’ve come close a few times too. A lot of people have told me to give up. She just too famous and too popular to care what she did for one single person. But I don’t believe that. And I can’t give up yet! In fact, when she announced her show was going on for 3 more year, I sat on my floor and cried! I had been worrying a lot about her show ending without me being able to really thank her, and her announcement gave me so much hope! So I will continue to try until the day finally comes. When someone has saved both your life and your soul, she’s worth waiting for!



Life lessons 1: to lead or to follow

I’ve been reflecting back on experiences that patterned the way I have decided to live my life. And I’ve decided to share some of those life lessons. When I was 18, in between graduating from high school and meeting my future husband, I took a trip to Hong Kong with my uncle and aunt. My uncle was working in import/export and took me along on one of his business trips. Growing up in a small town I didn’t have a lot of experience with big cities, especially ones as populated as Hong Kong! But on my first afternoon, we were busily weaving through a sea of people in the streets when I stopped to catch my breath and nearly started to cry. I was just so overwhelmed. My aunt, who I must add has made the decision (along with most her children) to no longer speak to me, said one of the most profound things I’ve ever had said to me. When I replied I can’t do it, she looked me in the eye and said “This is life. And you have to decide if you’re going to be a leader or a follower.” I made it through the streets of Hong Kong and ended up having the most amazing vacation of my life. I returned home, met Todd, and started a new life. And as I’ve learned to navigate though moving to other big cities, infertility, and other obstacles, her words have chimed in my mind many times in the last 20 years. I’ve always tried to be a leader because of those words, and I think being a leader has given me amazing opportunities. So even though we no longer have a relationship, I’d like to thank my Aunt Dee for this life lesson! So next time you find yourself in a situation that overwhelms you, ask yourself one question: Are you a leader or a follower?