TRIGGER WARNING: The content in the following blog may be difficult to read. Please make sure you have ready access to someone in your support network before continuing.
I still remember opening my eyes. I’ve never opened them so slowly and delicately. I took a breath. The room looked exactly the same as it did when I scrunched them closed. The gun that was pressed against my temple moments ago lay on the bed. I was still alive.
I walked towards the kitchen. It was dinner time. I still remember feeling cold, and thinking the living room looked unnaturally dim. I remember feeling hollow and almost distant from my body. Years later, I learned about disassociation, but at eight I didn’t know that.
I don’t remember if I felt that sensation after my father raped me at 13. I don’t remember if I felt it a few months later, after my father’s cousin started visiting and doing things to me. I did feel it a few years later, when I was sixteen and this same person was pestering me for sex in front of my parents, and his wife and kids. I thought I was going to pass out, and I remember sitting on the floor so that I didn’t. I didn’t want to be unconscious in that room in front of those people. My heart was pounding. I was sure that, now that my mother knew what was going on, she would do something. For better or worse, my world would change.
I grew up. I left home. I went to college. I got a job. And I had no idea what else to do with my life. Survival, financial independence—that was all I wanted and I had it. I promised myself in college that if I made it that far I’d give back and volunteer with child abuse prevention organizations.
I started doing that. I met some good people and had some good conversations. It was starting to sink in that I wasn’t the only abuse survivor in the world, and that it wasn’t my fault. The best piece of advice I got was “mourn the loss of your parents, because their role in your life has died. You’re an orphan now, and it gets better from there.” That seemed absolutely unthinkable at the time, but within a few months I realized it was the right choice for me. I didn’t become completely no-contact right away, but freeing myself of the hope that I would ever get anything emotionally useful from them was monumental.
I started spending time in online support groups. Whatever I was thinking, feeling, learning, or dreading, someone else had been through. Someone had insight, and someone had survived it. I could spend as much time as I wanted there for free. And pretty soon I realized I could provide insight, assistance and support to other survivors. After a few years, that was all I was doing there—I needed very little support myself.
My mother, herself a survivor, used to say that being sexually abused was worse than death. She was wrong about so much, and I’m so grateful.
I survived child sexual abuse.
One in four women respondents to the landmark CDC Adverse Childhood Experiences Study reported surviving child sexual abuse. You can help make sure this never happens to another child. Learn how by subscribing to our newsletter and supporting our work. Read about the ten categories of ACEs by following our blog. Do you know your ACE score? Take the ACE test here.
Executive Director, Stop Abuse Campaign
A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences. Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.