“Those endless times of laughter,
stopped and turned to tears
I began to have much more worries,
no longer only those monster fears.”
Like all the previous years, Christmas of 2002 was great. Family made long drives or short plane trips to fill my grandparents home with well over twenty people. With plenty of cousins near in age to occupy my time, I had a lot of catching up to do with family that I didn’t see nearly enough. In a family primarily made of boys, when we three “big girl” cousins were younger our grandparents always got us pajamas for part of our Christmas. Even better, we all matched but had different colors in the same pattern. Being the youngest aside from my sister, times like Christmas were the best because the older kids hung out with me and treated me like their little sister. I had the best cousins and they all adored little ‘ole me!
Eight years of being the baby, my cousins would crowd around me as I was growing up all jumping at the chance to entertain me. From playing peek-a-boo with me as a baby, helping me learn how to roller skate when I got a little older, to just running around and us all playing together; I truly did, and still do, have great cousins.
This Christmas was no different. Running outside in the cold crisp air, we tackled each other, ran around with no worries, and pulled pranks on each other. We each had a stocking with our name hanging in our grandparents dining room that was overflowing with Christmas goodies. The tree was filled with presents underneath, and there was enough food to feed an army. “Famiglia” and “cibo” always makes for a good time, and with a house full of people and tables of food we tend to live out the importance of family and food. We hold the traditional roles of the women staying in the kitchen cooking and cleaning while the men stay in the living room to watch sports, and the kids just being out of the way playing until called in to file in for food. While my feminist side wants to fight this, I’ve learned to embrace it and now take pride being in the kitchen being part of making family get-togethers a success.
As it came time to open gifts we ripped through wrapping paper, oohed and awed, shrieked, and gasped. The gift wrapping paper crinkled beneath our feet as we each jumped up to hug and thank the gift givers. Even after opening presents, playing with new toys and running around for hours upon hours, I didn’t want it to end. I deeply wished that time would rewind and the day could just be replayed over and over again like my favorite movies. Christmas was the one time of the year I was able to see family that lived what seemed thousands of miles away. I wanted to spend all the time with them that I could so I pleaded to spend the night.
With a house full of people, finding somewhere to sleep was a challenge. Each of the three bedrooms along with both pull out couches was full. That left the attic with two beds for my cousin and me. After hours of playing video games, we were finally given no choice but to get into bed. Trudging up the stairs to the coldest part of the house even in our mild winters, I was elated by the day. In my new purple plaid pajamas I got in the smaller bed and piled on the blankets.
Lying in the pitch black staring in the dark, my mind replayed through the day in between the shivering and “I’m freezing” thoughts. With the heat barely making it through the one vent in the room over the bigger of the two beds, the large room just wasn’t warming up. Cold to the bone, I wasn’t going to go to sleep without complaining…and complaining more. On the other side of the room I heard “come get in this bed, we’ll keep each other warm.”
Releasing my stuffed Tigger I had pressed against my face, I sat up and swung my feet to the side of the bed. Pressing my feet against the outdated linoleum floor, I slid my fuzzy socks across the floor in hopes of not banging into any of the heavy wooden furniture. Making it to the bed, I pulled the comforter and sheet back and slipped into the sinking mattress that had long been past its eight year life. He pulled me beside him and wrapped his arms around me as I lied there on my back shaking from the cold that filled me to my core. In the dark of the night we reminisced about old memories and talked with excitement about a fantastic Christmas. My voice was filled with giddiness and exhaustion as I kept trying to adjust my eyes to at least see his shadow. As the conversation drifted we started talking about school, the differences between middle school and high school, and how he would soon be graduating. He went on about “how boys are”; certainty filled his voice as he voiced how he was sure the boys at my school wanted me.
“You’re crazy, they don’t want me.”
His attempts to get me to realize I was wrong failed each time I nervously laughed and brushed his comments off. As attention starved as I was, I did not have the entire 7th grade male population after me. I had a bad habit of flirting, but turning around and running in fear if they attempted to approach me. There was a fear instilled in me from my previous “relationship” that kept me from wanting to date. All I saw in boys was that they wanted one thing, and I wasn’t giving it to them. I refused to fall into that trap again. As persistent as I was, my denial didn’t dissuade him of his certainty. There to prove a point, one of his hands made its way to my leg. With fear rushing through me from the previous year, that one touch meant one thing to me – “it” was coming. My heart was racing as I braced myself by denial; nothing is happening and everything is okay. His voice, strong and confident, spoke of things my friends had never mentioned about sex, things that were so far from what I could grasp that his words began to run together. I stared into the dark as I focused my attention on the Mario Kart video game we were playing just hours ago. Music played through my head; calming melodies to calm my fears. Numbness shot up from the tips of my toes to my shoulders and like a feather, I floated away into the darkness, my lifeless body held tightly by the mattress. Cold and hollow, even the heat from his skin couldn’t put out the chills that ran through me.
Time was a mystery as I found myself lying back in my own bed. An empty space filled my memory as I turned to face the mirror on the wall by my bed, a mirror that picked everything up when the lights were on, but was just a black mass in the night. Holding my stuffed animal to my face, there were no traces of emotions. I didn’t cry, nor was I angry. I lied there and stared into the dark until I fell asleep.
Incest. Not a popular topic. Sexual abuse as a whole is majorly under reported, leading to skewed statistics. Even though 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys being sexually abused prior to 18 may sound like a high number, I wouldn’t doubt that in reality, these numbers are inaccurate. While sexual abuse often goes unreported, most cases of incest are never reported because of the intense feelings of shame associated with this type of sexual abuse. Victims often fear speaking out about “family secrets” because there is increased pressure to not disrupt the family dynamics, leaving the victim feeling stuck, alone, and possibly continuing to endure the abuse. In other cases, victims do reach out and are denied help or aren’t believed.
The social and emotional problems that often plague sexual abuse survivors are endless. Conflicting messages alter the way the victim begins to think, believe, and feel, and as an adult you either continue to be plagued by these messages, or relearn and build up new coping mechanisms. As one who denied the effects of abuse and bottled everything up, my message is, avoidance is not recovery. I deceived myself into thinking that gave me control, something I desperately wanted. In actuality, I was completely out of control. If you spend all of your energy pushing everything back inside of you, self-medicate or self-harm, have to be in control of everything around you, find yourself in abusive relationships, are overwhelmed by intense and frantic thoughts, relive your past, experience deep depression, or can’t establish closeness to anyone – you’re not “over it”, and that’s okay.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, you will rise up again
Recovery work is undoubtedly painful. There were days my brain ran in many circles, attempted to go back to its hiding place of denial, and my emotions definitely screamed out “MAKE IT STOP!” There were days I could keep myself so occupied to distract the flood in my head that the only thing I would stop for was just enough sleep to get up and get back going. To think I was doing that every single day just to keep the past and what at the time continued to be the present “in my control”, is exhausting just to think about. Recovery is definitely hard, and it’s something that may very well be a lifelong project, but as hard and tiring as it is at times, it is nowhere near as exhausting or debilitating as fighting off the truth.