As a child, I experienced what psychologists call “adverse childhood experiences”, or ACE. ACE is defined as Abuse, Neglect, and Household Dysfunction. Further broken down into physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Physical or emotional neglect. Household dysfunction is mental illness, incarcerated parent, domestic violence, substance abuse and divorce.
From the outside looking in, my family was as Norman Rockwell as they come. Stay at home mom, no domestic violence between my parents who will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this month. We were in church whenever the doors were open, involved in extra curricular activities. We were afforded the opportunity to travel with church and school groups. We did family vacations and family pictures. Had you asked me at 19, I would have said I had the perfect family.
As crazy as it may sound, until the age of 19, I didn’t know that all children weren’t molested. My perpetrators were not inside my immediate family. Close friends, close family, coaches, counselors, maybe others I don’t remember, what I do remember is that I always felt like I was wearing some sort of “come get it” sign, as often as it happened. Like I was inviting it, and was therefore responsible for it. What I know now is that I was groomed, and that child molesters can see the signs from a mile away. I now know that “innocent attempts” showed them that I was a perfect victim. At the age of 19 I innocently ran into one of my molesters. Had he not reacted the way he did I may have been in the dark about it for another decade. But this man, saw me with my baby (I’ll get into that more later) and looked at me with such disgust, like I had cheated on him. How dare I allow anyone else to touch me like that. In the same instance I recognized his guilt. He figured I MUST know what he’d done to me. I didn’t. Until that moment. That moment opened up a flood gate of memories. Memories of being naked when I shouldn’t have been. Memories of things I shouldn’t know at ages I shouldn’t have known them. Oral sex jokes and panty checks from men. Does this count as only one Adverse Childhood Experience?
As I said earlier, my family was in church whenever the doors were open. Unfortunately, the church is just a building with people in it. I didn’t have the spiritual connection to it. What I did have was a lot of pressure from the people inside to remain “pure” for my yet unknown husband. There did not seem to be any exemption from the “purity” clause if you were not a willing participant. What I carried with me throughout my childhood, was that I was not pure. What I knew of rape is that it’s always a masked man in a dark alley, and you have to say “no” or it means yes. I knew nothing of dissociating, nothing of surviving the moment. I knew I hadn’t followed the rules. I knew I was ruined before I even had a chance.
This leads me to “the baby”. Good girls don’t have sex. So good girls don’t seek out protection from pregnancy or other side effects of sexual encounters. I of course was a “good girl” who became a parent at 18. This baby is now an amazing young woman, but no one deserves an 18 year old mom who doesn’t have her own shit figured out. Through no fault of her own, she is associated with the shame that I took upon myself for not living up to whatever the fuck it was I was supposed to.
Which brings me back to my own childhood. My mother married right out of high school. Had three kids in three years. Was this something she wanted, or just what happened? I do believe that she has suffered for years from depression. My parents argued a lot when us oldest three were young. I remember the three of us sitting in the bedroom I shared with my sister wondering where we would live if they got divorced. Dad maybe, but he couldn’t cook. I hoped he would take me. I would learn how to cook, and we could live in peace. My first memory of my mother is of her throwing me across the kitchen for playing with my milk. I was a toddler. I know exactly how many times she hugged me genuinely. Once. In sixth grade. I had cleaned my room. I learned early that the best way to avoid the wrath of my mother, was to avoid my mother. My brother got the brunt of it. When I look back at the pictures. We all look depressed. I can see its progression through my siblings. At a certain age, we just go blank. We had food on the table, and the best clothes, though I suspect that was more for the audience of the public than it was for our well being.
This is not a blame my mother post. I suspect she did the best she could. I have traced the sexual abuse throughout my father’s family, but my mother’s family remains a mystery. I see the patterns of abuse that drew my parents together. While I never knew my dad’s father, my dad’s mother is a very strong woman. I suspect she was the dominant spouse. As is the case in my mother’s family. As is the case in my parents marriage. I see it playing out in my own generation. I’ve seen it since my early twenties. I have spent my life trying to reverse it in my own life. With mixed success.
Which brings me to today. I am 46. I am twice divorced. I have six kids, and I can tell you that while I was the best parent I could be, I may not have been the best parent. I didn’t have time to get my shit together, and I kept piling kid after kid onto my life. I have three adult children who are absolutely amazing and are doing well despite me. My three minor children are with their father, he and I decided when we divorced that he was the best, most stable option. I am forever grateful for him for taking on the daily grind.
What else I can tell you about my today, is that I am finally able to focus on getting my shit together. Finally able to deal with my own trauma and depression. My Adverse Childhood Experience score is 5. For reference, a 4 will 8x your chance of becoming an alcoholic. It will 6x your chance for depression. More than 90% of people with an ACE score of 4 or more will be on antidepressants. It will 5x your risk of perpetuating domestic violence. It will 6x your chance of being raped. It doubles your risk for teen pregnancy. Doubles your risk for serious financial problems. And more than doubles every risk based disease such as heart diseases, lung disease, liver disease. I had a teen pregnancy. I have been raped. I have had serious financial problems. I am probably clinically depressed. I do not have a substance abuse problem. Though I am very diligent regarding even the most minor “pick me ups” because I know it is fertile ground in which these seeds are being planted.
The reason for this post is this. I can finally feel myself fighting back. I can finally pick apart the shame that was put upon me by my abusers. I did not invite, nor am I responsible for the abuse I suffered. You need not to have fought off your attacker to have been raped. I know I dissociate and I now know when I do it and how to fight back. I know that I am absolutely enough. I don’t need to validate my life with the opinions of others. (OK, I’m working on that one). For the first time in forever I am not standing in my way.