Understanding How I Got Here…

Long before the ATV accident that shattered my spine I had a life and unless you know me and my story you will never understand my journey…

I have been on this earth for 47 years and in that time I have seen my life change from what I thought it should be to what I never could have imagined with sad, joyous, crazy, happy, torturous and painful things in between.

Before I decided to get divorced I was struggling to make sense of the decisions I had made and the person I had become. I was 30, married with 2 kids working 2 jobs and so unhappy I wasn’t sure if there was a point to my life,  but I just knew there needed to be. I remember sitting at home with the kids while my husband was at work ( we worked opposite shifts so our kids wouldn’t have to be with a sitter too often) I fired up the computer , waited for the dialing sound and that amazing phrase  ” You’ve got mail”.   Yes… I had dial up and yes I had an AOL account. ( 20 years later I still do… no judging) . The internet was the key that helped me unlock the trauma from my past and it was the chat rooms that allowed me to make friends outside my rural bubble and helped me to identify why I never felt at peace with my life. I typed “Rape Survivor” in the search box and up came all of these choices so I joined a few and it was in those chat rooms that I first started to realize that many of my decisions had been made based on being sexually assaulted at age 16.

Date Rape… that’s what it is called now, but back in 1987 the only thing I knew was that it felt like it was my fault.  I was 16 and he was 19 and I liked him, he was cute and funny and I was new to dating so I trusted him. Dinner and a movie, I guess he felt that those 2 things entitle him to sex. It started out like most dates, I got ready after school and drove into town to meet him, it was exciting and we had a good time and although I was nervous since I had been on like 2 other dates in my life I didn’t think anything of it when after the movie we went back to his place, I mean after all my car was parked there so why would I. It was still early and he asked me to stay for a while so I did  and at first I liked it when he kissed me but then I didn’t and he wouldn’t stop. This was not how I had imagined my night would go, it was supposed to be fun , I like him and I thought he liked me too but he took something that wasn’t his to take and left me feeling dirty and ashamed. When you are young and you think about your first time you know that it is supposed to be exciting and clumsy and maybe a little awkward but always consensual; however, that wasn’t how it happened for me.

As I write this I can still see the room, remember how it smelled, and feel his hands on my arms holding me down and the weight of him on top of me. I kissed him yes, I went out with him yes and yes I went back to his place, but was that consent, did that give him permission, how did I not see that coming? I asked him to slow down as he put his hands on me in places I didn’t like, I asked him to stop as he went under my shirt to grab my breasts and I pushed back when he put his hand under my skirt,  he just kept going, he would not stop and he kept trying to kiss me, telling me to relax and that I was being a tease and I would like it if I would just relax… He was WRONG!

He didn’t see what he did as wrong, when he was finished I was in tears and he just smiled and said ‘ oh stop,  you know you liked it” and he even kissed me again as I was trying to pull myself together and leave. I got to my car and drove home in tears,asking myself ‘how did that happen”, why did he do that”. next came the guilt and shame that enveloped me and didn’t let go.

I got home and took a shower and I didn’t tell anyone, not for some time. I never reported it to the police, because I felt it was my fault and ashamed of my stupidity for putting myself in that situation. I didn’t tell my parents until I was going through a divorce as a 30 year old woman and even then comments made by my father implied it was my fault, re-enforcing that belief and the guilt that I shouldn’t  have gotten myself in that situation in the first place.

It was in those chat rooms that I realized so many of the decision I made that followed were a direct result of that assault, starting with my emotional eating that lead me to become morbidly obese, now I was never a tiny girl and I never will be but the irrational thought that food was my comfort became uncontrollable. I now know I had unconsciously decided that if I was fat no one would do that to me again, I would be safe. After that I didn’t date for some time and when I did it was groups things; however, I did eventually meet someone who I didn’t realize until much later, I was attracted to him for all the wrong reasons. After we had been dating for a while I did tell him about the rape and he appeared to be understanding and didn’t push the physical stuff , but eventually knowing that our relationship had progressed to the point where sex was almost inevitable… I had to get drunk to do it,  I was 17  and I remember thinking “I just need to get through it and then I will be fine”. We continued to date while I was in HS and married the spring following graduation but eventually I came to understand that our relationship wasn’t based on real love, ours wasn’t the kind you can’t live without, the kind you build your life around because you cant see yourself with anyone else, at least it wasn’t for me. The uncomfortable truth is that I thought I married him for love but in reality it was because I subconsciously knew he could never hurt me physically.

When I finally faced what had happened to me as a teenager I was able to see that  it was the marriage itself that was making me so unhappy, it wasn’t him , he hadn’t changed, he was still the same non confrontational, safe man I married. It was me who had changed, I had gotten stronger, I had faced my pain and decided I needed to focus on healing myself and that’s what I did. I changed how I ate, I exercised and lost about 200 lbs.  I was on a journey to find myself and that meant that I had to leave behind the pain , the guilt and the shame that had haunted me for so long.

Figuring out how to be happy eventually required me to be on my own, it meant leaving my husband , ending our 15 year relationship and changing the lives of my children forever, but I couldn’t stay trapped in the marriage any longer. The next steps were even harder than I thought they would be but it was happening, my husband and I separated, filed for divorce, shared custody of our children, I changed jobs and moved into a place of my own. I had never lived alone. I  had moved from my parent’s house to my husband’s house and soon after that I had 2 children. Being on my own for the very first time was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I soon realized that finding yourself, defining the person you want to be and the kind of life you want takes time, courage, space and tears. Although it was what I wanted and what I needed I was sad in the beginning, because I never hated my life or my husband, it wasn’t his fault I needed out, I just did.

My revelation developed over time and it was during that process I learned and accepted that I would never be at peace with who I am until I dealt with the demons that haunted me and for a long time defined me. Facing the truth can be overwhelming at first, but accepting that fact made the hard decisions a little easier.  Risking everything I took that first step on a new path alone and found I have a better understanding of my strength and a clearer picture of who I am and where I want to be.  pexels-photo-68272.jpeg


Life is not how I thought it would be…

As, I sit at my desk contemplating where to start, I realize my life has not turned out how I thought it would. As a young girl growing up on a small farm in rural Illinois, I never would have seen myself where I am now, my goals were so much simpler then, my plans were smaller, my goals so much more achievable,  and me, well I was smaller too, not physically, but mentally. The youngest of three girls, I was the tomboy, the boy my father wanted but never got so it was overalls and baseball caps instead of dresses and tiaras, mud pies instead of tea parties, toy trucks and tractors instead of Barbies and dream cars, spending time in the barn with my dad taking care of the cows , pigs and the dog instead of  in the house with my mom and two older sisters playing dress up, decorating doll houses, learning to cook and sew and all the other things little girls do. Being “daddy’s little girl” meant something very different to me, I was his sidekick, his buddy, there were no father daughter dances but there was learning to roller skate in the kitchen while he held my hand. I didn’t go to dance class, or join girl scouts, instead I played baseball on the boy’s team, learned to drive the tractor and worked on our farm.  A typical little girl, a princess, that was not to be my life, not my journey, not who I was… or was it?

We learn from our experiences so my world view was never one of dependence and femininity, but rather independence, inhibition, tenacity, with a strong sense of who I was ( or so I thought at the time)  Those traits have served me well over the past 47 years, but they have also gotten in the way and caused me more pain than I could visualize or identify at the time. Being strong-willed isn’t always the best trait when you find yourself in trouble. Because of how I saw myself and how I thought others saw me, I often found myself in situations where I felt I couldn’t share my pain and I couldn’t ask for help.  I felt shame and self-doubt at times when I found myself in situations where I believed I should have known better, for allowing myself to get trapped in situations that I couldn’t get out of or that put me in danger and made me a victim. When you believe to your core that you have to behave in such a way as to not allow people to see you fail, or to need help, or to question your ability to make good decisions, you make decisions that can be detrimental to your health, your well-being , your life.

My childhood, and how I was raised, put me on a path that  later I would realize was not the one I would have chosen for myself if I knew then what I know now.  Looking back  with the benefit of time, education, experience and perspective I can see how and why when I was younger I made some very big, life changing decisions based on what I believed to be my truth and how that set into motion the life I lived as a young adult.

Perception of ones’ life is vital to understanding why we behave the way we do, because if you ask my parents I doubt they would believe that they instilled in me both good and bad versions of myself. However, with every milestone of development shaped by my environment and /or determined by my biology  I began to unconsciously interpret the meaning and importance of relationships,  successes and failures, socially acceptable behaviors and norms, encouragement and disappointment which in turn determined my role in society in rural America, creating what I thought was to be my future. A future where I was encouraged, if not expected to follow in the footsteps of those who came before me, to be like all the women I knew, to marry my high school sweetheart, live on a farm and be a good wife and mother, which was in direct conflict with what I knew and how I was treated as a young girl, when I was glued to my dad’s side, his helper, his self-sufficient child, that could be trusted to drive the tractor, bring grain in from the field, bail hay and help with the livestock. It wasn’t until I was a preteen (age 11-13) that my mom spent more time with me and my role  became more like that of my older sisters.  Although my parents did tell us we could do/ be what ever we wanted we had no other examples to go by, this was all we knew. No one in my family or life at that time ever went to college, except for my teachers, and those who did leave home, joined the military and that was not uncommon, in fact my father had been in the military  reserves for a time, but he was still expected to be a responsible member of his community and work on the farm with his father, eventually getting married, having children and taking over the family farm.

I was never told I couldn’t be more, but it wasn’t encourage, expected or presented as achievable.  It was a respectable future, I wasn’t expected to be more, to dream bigger, to be successful on my own. How I saw myself and what I believed to be acceptable was shaped very early on  through the development of concrete beliefs and ideals that were the foundation of  my young adult life. Rural values and christian morals were my guidelines, and if you are from my neck of the woods, you know what I mean. It was OK to be poor, but you were still expected to help your neighbor, you had children raised with manners because good parenting included a strong belief in corporal punishment, you had boys to carry on the family name and to run the farm when they were old enough. It was never acceptable to  “air your dirty laundry in public” because issues in a marriage or family were the wife’s responsibility to fix and to keep quiet because your reputation as a “good person” was important.  These ideals may seem old-fashioned , but I am almost 50 ( I can’t believe that is my age) and although things were starting to change when I got married at age 19 it was still the norm, and it was how I was raised…

Married at 19, first child at age 20 and the second less than 3 years later, I was all set to achieve the future I believed was mine. However during my marriage I realized I wanted more than to be a wife and mother who struggled working 2 jobs and still never getting out of the financial hole I was in, but that meant I had to take a risk and create the future that I wanted for myself. I could have stayed married for the kids or I could set a better example and choose to be strong on my own, to build my own future, to be happy by living by my own rules, so that is what I did. Most people in my life couldn’t understand why I wanted out of my marriage, I had done such a good job of hiding the problems, but I couldn’t do it anymore. Deciding to be a divorced mother of two was frightening, but I knew that if I wanted to be more than what I was the first step was leaving, and so I did!

When you realize that although parents do the best they can, their best of intentions can be to the detriment to the personal development of their child , you hope to do it better and I think I have, I know that I have tried, but life does seem to get in the way and of course it will be for my children to determine if I did a good job as a parent and I provided them with all the tools they needed to be successful and happy adults.

I choose to be a survivor not a victim, to live the life I want regardless of the expectations!