“Mom, does your history of sexual abuse still affect you?”
My son asked me this question after reading my memoir, The Interventionist. What follows is an excerpt from my first book, The Interventionist.
Let me preface this excerpt in an attempt to help people understand why it takes decades for survivors to speak up. Primarily, it is shame. Somewhere in our wounded soul we believed the abuse was our fault. Our silence protects us from taking misdirected blame upon ourselves. It also protects us from the outer world that too many times reinforces the thought that it was, indeed, of our making. As I have matured, I have come to terms with the reality of the situation that happened to me as a child and that it was not my fault.
This illumination of the truth to myself has been hard won. Experienced professionals using many forms of psychotherapy have walked me through the fires of mistreatment that rained down upon me as a kid. Walking through those flames has provided me with vital healing.
I was forced to deal with the sexual abuse when my unremitting addictions would not abate. As I have stated, addiction, when it rears its ugly head and manifests itself, is the perfect storm of three factors—genetics, psychology, and social influences—that are colliding and show themselves in a variety of destructive behaviors.
When I was detoxed and mentally stable enough, a wonderful therapist at La Hacienda Treatment Center in Texas took me on a journey into my past of sexual abuse. Other therapists have continued the work she started.
I did not want to go there—to look at what had occurred to me when I was a kid, just 11 years old. My inner shame was so deep that if brought out into the light of day, I might need to take responsibility, and I felt that the truth—the twisted truth in my brain—had the power to destroy me. Ironically, it was destroying me by not dealing with it. I was medicating the past hurts to the point of life-threatening addiction.
I was not responsible for what happened to me, I know that now. My addiction, in part, protected me from that shame. They were intertwined within me, my addictions and my sexual abuse history. I chose to deal with what was the unthinkable, to me, in an attempt to save my life from narcotic addiction. But it took three-and-a-half decades of my life before I found the courage to deal with it. The wound is that deep and complicated. That is what you are seeing currently on TV today, women/men who could not deal with what occurred to them sometimes decades earlier.
So as I told my son, “The abuse no longer affects me daily, but we are always a sum total of our lives’ experiences, and I will never forget.”
I have forgiven the child within me who thought the experience was her fault. And I am sober. The sexual abuse was part of the puzzle of my unremitting addictions. But I am not done yet. Sober yes, but something continues to haunt me. My personality traits that were destructive to my life have turned out just as life threatening as chemical addiction.
My diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) was born out of the ashes of a chaotic childhood with both my parents and the perpetrator of my sexual abuse. Genetic factors were most likely, as researchers tell us, the catalyst in the very beginnings of my life that allowed BPD to come alive in me. But like all disorders, the medical community believes environmental factors push that gene forward, allowing it to manifest in pathological ways.
My third book, Wrecking Ball: Living with Borderline Personality Disorder, which I am currently writing, chronicles the origins, injuries, and ultimate success of living with BPD. My journey continues, and I am not a victim; I am a survivor.
I fear for my safety at a gut level. Something that rarely happens to us, I think, in this life. And I am taken back to another time, when a man in a car changed my life in ways I probably will never completely comprehend.
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It was a time of confusion, fear, trauma, and ultimately the abrupt end of childhood. It took place, with one exception, exclusively in a car. It lasted approximately two years.
I was eleven years old when it started. I want to write that I was afraid, but I told myself when I started this book that I owed both the reader and myself the truth. To alter the facts, to rewrite history, will neither help me heal nor bring to light how it is that pedophiles perpetrate their crimes on children.
So let me say, I was not afraid. I was loved, nurtured, and affirmed by a man. Confused, certainly, and in over my head, but I was given everything I was missing at home, especially from my father.
It was a pro-con situation. He gave me love, and I gave him oral sex and my childhood. I needed the love that badly.
My family had just moved to Arizona from California. While our house was being built, we moved into an apartment complex. We were living next door to a family of four: Milton, Naomi, and their two children, a boy and a girl. Naomi used to make the best meatballs every Sunday. Every weekend they had a huge Italian meal.
Naomi pierced my ears. Kissing my cheek and placing an ice cube on my ear lobe, she told me I was beautiful. Their family was everything mine was not. They were noisy, outwardly affectionate, and generally happy seeming.
Milton was charming, affectionate, and talkative. His daughter, who was just a bit younger than me, was frequently in his lap, absorbing his attention and interest. I do not recall my father ever having me in his lap, or touching me in any way. When I say my dad was devoid of any emotional closeness, I mean this in the extreme. My main emotion toward him was extreme fear. He was completely alien and unavailable to me in any way. He was an alcoholic.
I am sure Milton recognized the emotional landscape of our home. Our dysfunctional, emotionally barren, and fear-ridden home was a pedophile’s orchard. The child was ripe for picking.
We had heavy drapes in the living room at the apartment. Did he know I was home alone? Of course he did. Why would I still persist in thinking that his every move with me was not completely calculated? Innocence lost dies hard, maybe even now. He knew I was home alone.
I hear a tiny tapping noise at the window. I cannot remember if I responded at first or not. Eventually I peak around the drapes. I see Milton standing by a heavy cement column that supports the walkway above.
He stares at me; I do not remember if he smiles. I remember his eyes, the intensity of his gaze. A grown man’s lust for a little girl, I presume now.
He moves from behind the column, coming into full view. His penis is exposed outside of his pants.
I am shocked and utterly confused. I am a child.
I have seen a penis only one other time in my life. I saw my father in the reflection of the mirror as he stepped from the shower. I have no brothers.
I move back from the window, and the heavy drape quickly drops back into place, momentarily protecting me. And that is the end of my initial indoctrination.
Things become fuzzy. I remember that after the window incident, Milton continued to be friendly as if nothing had happened. He continued to foster a strong friendship between us. The grooming process was under way.
The first time it happened, I cannot remember why I was in his car. Over the years, the car rides revolved around his picking me up to babysit for his children. We had moved from the apartment complex, and I was the family babysitter. As I write, I realize this was odd. His daughter was one year younger, and his son was about my age or slightly older. I was young to babysit.
He always had a box of Kleenex on the dashboard of the car and never seemed to expect me to swallow. He never instructed me to, as far as I can recall. It seemed huge to me, and foreign. I had no idea what was happening in sexual terms. We never kissed, he never fondled me. I sucked, and that was all. It did not seem to take much time. He would tenderly wipe my mouth with a clean tissue when we finished.
This all took place in a car until one night. My memory is very foggy, but I remember that we went into an office. The lighting was dim. I recall that he was on top of me as I lay on a sofa. Funny, the things I do remember—the beige leather sofa, shiny with no arms, modern style.
His penis is just on the outside of me, between my legs. I am not sure if I had panties on or not. My mind tells me he ejaculated before entering me. And that is all I have ever been able to recall.
It ended soon afterward. I told a school friend what was happening, and she told my mom. I don’t know why I told my friend, but maybe, feeling that the intensity of the situation had shifted, I could no longer keep the secret.
When my mother approached me about it, I was sick with shame and refused to discuss it. She in turn told Naomi, who came rushing over to our house.
I was hastily preparing to leave the house. As I quickly ran from my home, Naomi caught up to me. Throwing her arms around me, she brought me to the curb, and the two of us sat, side by side. She held me and cried, repeatedly telling me to just think of it as a “bad nightmare.”
It would come to my knowledge, through my mother and her investigation, that Milton had a strong history of pedophilia, as well as a gambling addiction to the horse track. Apparently, the family had owned a car dealership on the East Coast. Through civil legal action taken against him for similar pedophile behavior, they had lost the family business.
Naomi must have known what was taking place between her husband and me. And she did nothing, allowing it to continue. This violation, above all else, is what hurt me the most as I matured and began to understand the situation.
I remember telling my mother that Milton threatened me, saying if I told anyone he “would cut me up, including my ears.” That was a lie—a lie told by a kid who felt guilty.
Twenty years later, my mother was dying, and I was helping her die. It would be a special time for both of us. Lung cancer was killing her. Her addiction to cigarettes had caught up to her.
We were watching the story of actress Patty Duke on TV. Molestation is a part of Patty’s story. My mother, for the first time, asked me a question that must have been in her mind for a long time. When you know your time is limited, you start finishing up unfinished business.
“Why did you never tell anyone what was happening between you and Milton? I don’t understand why you went along with it.”
My heart crumbled. Her inference was clear. It was my fault for being a willing participant.
I broke down. Through my tears I could barely speak. I attempted to explain to her how the relationship works between an opportunist pedophile and a little girl needing love. No Hollywood ending here, in my mom’s last days.
She could not or would not understand. I believe that for her to take any responsibility for the dysfunctional home environment that fostered the relationship between Milton and me was beyond her emotional capabilities. Even within our flawed family, I always knew my mom loved me. And I loved her. I was unwilling to hammer out our family’s dark past as we attempted to say our final good-byes. I could not hurt her in that way. Sometimes, forgiving others is a gift we give to ourselves, too.
Milton always smelled of Brute cologne. For years afterward, I secretly kept a bottle of it in the bottom draw of my dresser. Uncapping the bottle, I would breathe deeply. I was a young girl remembering a man who made her feel loved.
No criminal or civil action was ever sought against him.
I did attempt to find Milton about two years ago, ready in real time to deal with him. He was dead.