Tuesday, March 8, 2016

My Name is Mia and I Am Not Ashamed

My name is Mia and I am not ashamed.

Your memory is a monster; you forget, it doesn’t. It simply files things away; it keeps things for you or hides things from you and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory, but it has you.
John Irving

If ever any phrase rang true it was this one, for me, on the first night after I had tried to commit suicide. I was in a psych ward, or what they now call them, “Behavioral Health Unit,” and I wanted nothing more than to disappear into the floor beneath me and cease to exist. I was ashamed, scared, and alone. The two thoughts that plagued me all that sleepless night were, “How did I get here?” and “How can I get out without anyone ever knowing?”

How I got there was how I believe everyone who has ever gotten to the point of acting on suicide gets there: overwhelming pain. Suicide is more about a person wanting to end pain than it is about ending life. I couldn’t see out of my pain enough to believe that I could have life AND learn to deal with the pain. I had been living with overwhelming emotional pain for most of my life and had tried so many different ways to hold on and push through but I had reached my capacity to endure.  

The cause of such pain is as individual as the people experiencing it; for me that cause stemmed from the childhood sexual abuse I had experienced at the age of eleven and never told anyone about.

My name is Mia and I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

However, this isn’t just my story. Childhood sexual abuse is the plague of our time but a plague we often choose to shy away from because the subject matter is hard or dark. I believe that the more we choose to look into the darkness, the less power it will have.

To me, darkness and shame are cut from the same cloth. If we are to overcome either of those we have to begin to look at them and speak them to life; BrenĂ© Brown said it best when she stated, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”

We often talk about shame in the context of light embarrassment and guilt but to me it goes much deeper. Author Kirsty Eager defines the type of shame I’m talking about in this way: “Shame isn’t a quiet grey cloud, shame is a drowning man who claws his way on top of you, scratching and tearing your skin, pushing you under the surface.”

That is the type of shame I faced when I was 11 years old and was sexually abused by two adult women.

Yes, that is correct, I said women.

We don’t want to believe that a gender that we consider most apt to nurture, protect, and mother children could include beings capable of abusing a child in any way, least of all sexually.

But it does happen, and I know this because it happened to me.

When we refuse to believe it can happen, we allow those female pedophiles to carry on with their abuse because their cover is our inability to comprehend that they exist. They are free to hurt and damage because more than most they can say to their victims, “No one will believe you,” and they would be right.

Sexual abuse carries along many other types of abuse in its wake – its very nature is that the abuse of the physical body also attacks and damages the heart, the mind, the soul. Damage comes sexually, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and mentally.

There is much to my experience that will remain mine, that remains too much for me to share. So often we want to know the details: who, what, how, when, where. I believe we want details because we want some type of way to say that it won’t happen to me, to my loved ones. But the truth is that no one can definitively say it won’t happen to them or those they love.

The details I will choose to share are this: I was a shy, self-conscious eleven year old who didn’t have many friends. I finally found some friends and in that process, two adult women came into my life. These women were skilled; they knew what they were doing. They became friends with my family, my parents. They became caring adult “mentors” that I could look up to. After months of grooming the opportunity presented itself, as I was to be in their care for a few days.

During a four-day period I was emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abused—I was called names, I was made fun of, my body was made fun of. I was told I was fat, ugly, pathetic, and disgusting, that no one would ever love me, and because of this they would have to sacrifice and overcome their own disgust with me to show me love. I was a witness to their sexual acts, then drugged and sexually abused by one of them.

It was a hell unlike anything imaginable to a child. How was I supposed to tell what had happened when it was too much for my little mind to process, let alone find the right words to explain what exactly was happening? I had recently been given the “sex talk” by my mom, but it was explained to me in a much different way than what was happening—a person was supposed to be married and in love; a man and a woman did it together, not a woman and another woman.

I had been taught that danger came from strangers and that those strangers were men. What had happened was from people I knew, women I knew, and women who shared my same religious faith. I had been told during those traumatic days that it was my fault. They shamed me into believing that what had happened was my responsibility and that I was so dirty and wrong now that if I told anyone, they wouldn’t believe me. I thought my family would kick me out, my church would shun me, and … that I would be alone forever.

I came home changed.

The Mia everyone knew before was gone, but I tried very hard to keep her going, to make sure no one ever found out. I was terrified and ashamed to my very core about what would happen if anyone knew.

I came home, and to cope subconsciously, I started to eat anything and everything. I believe it helped to literally keep my mouth full so I wouldn’t talk. It numbed the pain, and it helped me avoid the thoughts that would come as I would try to pretend it never happened.

My name is Mia and food has been my drug.

I remember the first time I ate until the point of sickness. The women who had abused me were holding a barbeque for a couple families, mine included, only two weeks after the abuse happened. I hadn’t seen them since and I was terrified to be in their presence. I remember not wanting to go but not being able to say why, so the entire morning of the barbeque I was fighting and yelling with my mom about staying home.

My mom said that it would be rude for us not to go after all they had done for me and so we were all going. I only remember feeling terrified that whole day, terrified and ashamed of what looking at those woman brought to my mind. At one point I was sitting at a table with some other kids my age and one of the women came over to the table and stood behind me, talking to those other kids, with her hand on my shoulder.

In that moment I remember wishing I was dead.

When she finally left I began to eat and kept going to the point of making myself violently ill. I was sick the rest of that evening.

I am ashamed to admit that the barbeque was not the last time that I would use food as a way to cope with the emotional pain I was feeling. Eating eased my pain and kept me from reliving moments and memories that were too much to bear. I would eat in secret, normally at night when all others were asleep and I needed to push back the fear. Sometimes it was binge eating and other times I was bulimic.

My parents could see something was going on but I was good at convincing them that nothing really was wrong, that my behavior followed the pattern of normal early adolescents. I hold no judgment against my parents because hindsight is always our best teacher but if I could say anything to parents now it would be to watch what your children are not saying - watch the behavior. So much of how children express themselves with difficult emotion is through behavior because they don’t have the words or sometimes the ability to cognitively express what is happening to them. 

What else I would say is to talk to your children about emotions and feelings; help them to see that emotions are okay to have and to express, and that sometimes even adults feel a certain way and don’t know why. Model for your children as you work through emotions; you don’t have to give all the details of a situation but you can express, for example, that when they saw you angry that you also possibly felt fear, hurt, shame, or grief.

My name is Mia and I am a survivor.

Life will throw at all of us different events that we won’t believe we can survive. But that is not true because we can and we do survive. I ask you to think about your life; stop reading and look back upon all you have gone through and all the times you thought you couldn’t make it.

The fact that you are reading this means you have survived!

It doesn’t mean you might not struggle or feel broken or beaten down from time to time because you will and so will I; but it does mean you have risen each time you have been thrust down by life, when you didn’t believe you had it in you. A track record like that is something to grasp, to cling to and hold in your memory for the hard moments that will come again.

I am still recovering from the fallout of all that experience of childhood sexual abuse has brought into my life and will probably face aspects of it for the rest of my life. That is what trauma does—it colors an individual’s life throughout their lifespan. It is a thief that is never caught, that continues to steal parts of someone’s life long after the initial event has passed.

I believe that is the hardest part for people to understand. One would think, “It’s over now, so if you look forward and stop talking and thinking about it, you’ll be fine.”

But trauma doesn’t work that way. Trauma changes an individual’s brain, especially trauma experienced in childhood when the brain is still forming. And the longer one goes with that trauma still in the mind, without getting help, without someone knowing, the more pressure builds. That is why we cannot compare trauma; we cannot seek to believe that how I react is how someone else will react. Individual timetables are different, and different life events will push into someone’s life and cause that trauma to shift, to change.

What I have been trying to do since the day it happened was to move forward, but sometimes moving forward has been like running along a sandy beach; other times it has been like walking in quicksand.

There is still much to say about trauma, about sexual abuse, about protecting children from that abuse and what we can all do. My suicide attempt and hospital stay were three years ago, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, but healing has come for me as I have begun to speak my shame and name my fears.

My name is Mia and service helps me heal.

I have gone on from my experience and have chosen to continue to fight that darkness. Last year I completed my master’s degree in Social Work. During my last year of internship I worked with an agency dedicated to practicing therapy with children who had experienced abuse or trauma, mainly sexual abuse.

Some might think that doing that type of work would trigger my past experience but I can honestly say that none of what happened to me ever came up for me when I was working with a child, it was always about them. I never shared my background with any of the children or parents I worked with, but I do believe that my experience allowed me to have a level of empathy and understanding that came through in my work.

I have since been hired to work for an organization that has clients struggling in many areas of their life: drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, severe mental illness, domestic violence, unemployment. The work is hard but it is also rewarding. Through the experiences of my youth I never felt that I was seen. There is much that I can’t do for those I work with but I can listen and I can see them, see their pain and love them; loving someone in their weakness and pain is often more powerful than any words I can say.

Healing has also come as I have begun to share my story; I write, I speak. I feel success in this comes if only one person feels less alone, who realizes that if I can speak my shame and hurt so can they.   
If you are hurting, if life is difficult for you or someone you love, I am so very sad, and I hope you know I am hurting for you and with you. It is okay to speak your truth; it is okay to share your story, whatever that story may be. You might not share it in a public setting as I have chosen to do, but if you can push past the fear and tell a friend, a family member, a church leader, spouse, a parent, a therapist, me, anyone—you will begin to see that shame is afraid of your words and the more you speak, the less it defines you.

My life isn’t perfect.

I work really hard every day to overcome my past and my pain. Sometimes I’m okay and sometimes I’m not.

If there is one thing I have learned in my own experience and in listening to that of others, it is that no one is immune to pain, no one is immune to shame and what it can do if we allow shame to take root.

What I have also learned, however, is that the human spirit can withstand so much more than we believe; it can overcome so much more than we think. Overcoming will look different for everyone and it doesn’t always mean an absence of future problems or pain.

You can be okay again; your children can be okay again. There is hope, there is healing, there is a way to deal with those parts of us that don’t heal exactly how we want them to.

You are strong. You are brave.

You keep fighting; don’t you dare give up!

I won’t, and please don’t. Remember, the battle isn’t you against me —it’s you, me, and everyone else against pain, shame, fear, trauma, childhood sexual abuse, grief, addiction, sickness, infertility, inequality, domestic violence, human trafficking, and anything and everything else that seeks to destroy the soul and ruin the lives of men, women, and children the world over.

We will not and cannot lose when we choose to fight together.

My name is Mia and I am with you.

*Please remember the purpose of the "My Name is" series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow.  Mia will be reading your comments, so please give her your love. You can also follow Mia here:

** Mia, the world is a better place because you're in it. Thank you for being so vulnerable and brave as you fight for light and love and hope and healing. You are changing lives and I'm so grateful our paths have crossed. 

To read more stories of inspiring women in the "My Name is" series, go HERE.

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  1. Wow....this was powerful! Thank you for sharing and being willing to, help others around you. I agree that it is so hard to just "move on".

  2. As a fellow survivor of same gender (male) abuse, I admire your bravery in being so out about this. I remember many years of drawing inward, having the temper of a wounded bear when poked. My drug of choice has been pornographic stories depicting as much of the opposite of that abuse as possible.

    I wish there was an easy way to let go of the pain of the abuse. Letting go of the additional feelings of "my family should have known better" gets easier with experience, but I don't know how to completely let go of the other. I know Christ says, "it's ok, I've got this for you", but letting go is still hard.

    Thank you again, so much.

  3. Incredible. This was incredibly articulated and moving.


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