On finding positives in weird places…

There’s always that little moment I have before I say something vulnerable. My brain quickly questions, “Do I say this and risk it? Or do I change the subject to something more palatable?” Today, I risked it on something new. I let myself speak in public with an acquaintance on a topic I’ve written about, but never discussed in person outside of close circles.

I openly talked in detail – with specifics – about being molested as a child – as I was getting my hair done.

Larry Nassar is in the news. I’ve been seeing my hairdresser for five years, and I adore her. Midway through the hair cut she brought up what a tough time it is to be an MSU fan, and then we started talking about Nassar. We talked about how difficult it was to believe he got away with molesting girls and women for so long. Then, we talked about how important it is to believe children when they tell you’ve they’ve been attacked. My hairdresser mentioned that only a very small percentage of children ever lie about being molested, so believing children is important.

Then, I flashed to being five-years-old. I remember telling my mother, and I remember her believing me. I remember that she never doubted me. I’ve always felt grateful for my parents, but in that moment my gratefulness erupted into my experience.

“You know, I was molested as a child.” I told Abigail. Then, we both waited a moment for the admission to land.

“Really!? I’m so sorry to hear that.” Then, we waited another moment.

“Who was it” she asked.

“My babysitters” I told her.

“Boys or girls?”

“Girls.”

More questions followed. In a room with other people, I openly and honestly shared my experience. Maybe the #MeToo movement brought it out of me, or maybe it was talking with an amazing friend last night about sexuality. After decades, I’ve become comfortable with every question. My shame has fallen away, and by the grace of God, it has been replaced with a stillness that only the peace of Christ can fill.

Being molested as a child is a horrific experience. Living with the shame is even worse. But in the words of my friends, “In order to become a fully actualized adult you have to see the positives.”

I have a greater amount of empathy and understanding for those that molest children. Do not mistake my words here. Hurting children is wrong, and I am fiercely protective of children. When I see or meet people that hurt children, I flash to my babysitters and think, “They learned this from their parents.” Yes, many people are sociopaths, or psychopaths, or narcissists and they make the existence of others hell. But many monsters are also made. When we quickly deny the humanity of others, I believe we fall further away from understanding why people harm each other in the first place. And if we fail to understand, how can we ever stop these things from happening?

I feel incredibly comfortable and open talking about sex. A few months ago our church did a great sermon on sex. When the pastor began talking, an entire room full of adults giggled. Talking about sex does not make me giggle, and I don’t mean to ridicule those that are not comfortable with the topic. Yet, so many men and women I meet do not know how to talk to their own sexual partner about the sex they’re having. I do not struggle with that. Words like penis and vagina do not make me uncomfortable. I’m comfortable with the topic, because I was introduced to it at an early age.

I learned very early in life that bad things just happen to good people. In every news story I see, I read comments on social media that blame survivors for things that people have done to them. Blaming the victim feels nice, because it helps you feel like you could have control over every situation. Sure, be smart and make good choices. But drunk drivers hit cars. Babysitters can hurt your children. I’m grateful I did not have to spend my entire life thinking I could prevent the evils of the world. Sometimes, against all odds, shit happens.

With time and with grace, we can grow from these things. And today, I feel grateful that I got to grow from my experience.

And of course – to my parents – thank you for believing me.

Let’s talk about my breasts…

I’ve written about many different topics on my blog before. Being pregnant has brought up a topic I never thought I’d discuss: my breasts.

Breasts. Fat with glands topped off with nipples. On a biological level, one of the things that separate us from reptiles is mammary glands, which give us the ability to produce milk to feed our young. Yet, we live in a society, which has a culture. Like every culture, we give many meanings to different things. Breasts, in our culture often take on a sexual connotation. Women’s breasts have been objectified and treated as play things for other people for centuries (see: nearly any magazine, newspaper, TV show or movie).

I give this long introduction in order to say: do you even realize how much you’re talking about my breasts? Whether they’re sex objects or used for milk, someone is bringing up my breasts – and I’m not really a fan. I’ve also found that if someone is bringing up my breasts, they usually have an opinion they’re dying to share with me. I can’t think of a single time where I’ve gotten to ask a man what he is doing with his penis. “Sir, I see you have seven children. Will you be getting that vasectomy we all think you need?”

Since everyone seems to want to know what I’m doing with my breasts, I figured I might as well blog about it.

Decades ago, in a very different time, we pushed formula. In the last few decades, we as a society have come to value breastfeeding. I’m not here to tell any woman how she should choose to feed her child. I would, however, like to point out that I think it’s likely that the increased discourse on breastfeeding has led to an increase in people asking strangers the question, “So, you’re breastfeeding, right?”

I do research for a living. I’ve read A TON on the subject. I’ve come to the conclusion that people will read about what to do – and then agree with whatever conclusion they started with. Thus, I’m not about to regurgitate my own conclusions.

In the last several months, I’ve gotten asked by every type of person whether I would be breast feeding. I’ve had at least six people assume I’m breastfeeding when they’ve said, “Now when you breast feed…”

I was 7 weeks pregnant and getting my blood drawn. The lab tech, who I had never met, asked me, “So, are you breastfeeding?” It’s a simple enough question, and I’m an open person. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder whether I would be judged based upon how I answered.

I’ve thought about whether I would breastfeed, but there is another layer to the subject I’ve never heard discussed. What do we expect of breastfeeding for women that have survived assault? I’ve lived through sexual assault. As a result of that I have a strong dislike for anyone staring at or touching my breasts. Yeah – awesome side effect, right? I’ve spent years trying to overcome this shame and trauma associated with assault. Now, years later every other day someone wants to ask me about my breasts. So, I did what every logical millennial does when faced with a problem, and googled solutions.

“Sexual assault and breastfeeding”

“Breastfeeding and rape”

I did not know what I was going to get. I was hoping I would get someone who said, “Hey girl, you’ve been through enough. Screw those jerks who want to tell you what to do with your body and you do you!” Instead, the majority of websites I encountered were best summarized as, “Learn to value breastfeeding, because it’s the best!”

I felt like my experience and after effects was totally ignored. I’ve spent years trying to get over it. I know that a baby simply being born changes your life, but I highly doubt a birth helps you overcome trauma in a manner of seconds.

In the throes of feeling discouraged, I thought a long time about what is right for me and my baby. Breastfeeding sounds cool, but I also hate the idea of my boobs being attached to a baby 24/7 for six to twelve months. I want to bond, but I also want sleep and my husband’s help with feeding. So, as of today, my plan is to try good ol’ breastfeeding. If I hate it, I’ll try to pump and feed. I’ve spent way too long time feeling guilty about my breasts, so if I: hate breastfeeding, think pumping is the worst, need sleep, want more help form my spouse…. I’m grateful that formula is a wonderful option. I hear Aldi formula is affordable and well-liked.

Fed is best. Not being continually traumatized is best. That’s good enough for me – and my baby. So, can we stop talking about my breasts now?

On what an abusive relationship is like…

How do you tell the world you were in an abusive relationship? It’s easy. You just – don’t.

How do you tell the world you were in an abusive relationship?

It’s easy. You just – don’t.

We don’t fall in love with an abusive person; we fall in love with a person that becomes abusive.

Aaron was the sweetest boyfriend. He introduced me to Coach purses, Kate Spade, and Tiffany’s. He was good with my father and kind to my niece. Before we were dating he bought every girl in my sorority flowers as a kind gesture.

Abuse happens slowly over time. It starts with a question or phrase and then grows into something more.

“Are you happy with how your body looks? I think you’d look better if you lost 10 pounds.”

“I don’t like Brandy. I don’t think you should talk to her.”

“Don’t tell your family about ____________. This is between us.”

People think escape is simple and easy. “Why don’t they just leave? I’d just leave.”

Hahahaha. No you wouldn’t, because I’m supposedly intelligent and I didn’t leave. I stuck around. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I stuck around because over time you become accustomed to behaviors that weren’t there to start with, and then they grow on you.

It’s normal to turn in your receipts to be checked over, right? It’s normal to have your spouse approve all of your clothing, right? It’s normal to hang up the phone when you’re talking to your friends and your spouse walks in, right? It’s normal not to be able to attend holiday functions with family, right? It’s normal to be scared of the person you’re married to, right?

What would have once seemed strange becomes a new normal until you’re controlled to a level you never thought was possible.

In 8th grade Angie Smith told me, “You’ll never have a boyfriend. You’re too independent.” Angie Smith didn’t know Aaron the narcissistic gas lighter.

I’m not sure what paths are “normal.” But in my mind it seems there are two.

You stay because of the power He has. I get it. I totally get it. He has so much power, He is terrifying, He is unpredictable. And although He controls everything, He can have those little moments that only you get to see. He isn’t all bad. I mean, you feel in love with a human, right?

Or there is a snap. A moment. An awakening.

It’s so ridiculous to say, but the movie Country Strong saved my life. I realized that if I stayed I wasn’t going to be around much longer. A small light inside started to flicker, and I started preparing to go.

I made lists of assets. I asked friends, “Would you love me no matter what?” I started building side support structures for the day I would need them.

And then that day came. “I want out.” And I got out.

I wish I could say getting out was the hardest part, but it isn’t.

For me, the hardest part is trying to regain what feels lost. I tried to return back to who I was, but she isn’t there anymore.

I feel stunted. It took years to get out, and it feels like its taking even longer to “get back to normal.” I feel like I lost six years of my life. I see other people who were able to do so much more, and I feel like I’m so far behind. I missed weddings I couldn’t attend, baby showers I couldn’t go to, and friendships I wasn’t allowed to have. How do you tell your cousin, “I’m sorry I missed your wedding. I wasn’t allowed to go”?

Some days I try to speak to a new person, or speak up in a meeting – and that internal fear of saying the wrong thing rises up and crushes my voice. I stay silent. No one can be angry if you’re silent.

I don’t want pity. I want understanding. I want people to see how common this is.

But over time, good days outnumber bad. And over time, forgiveness occurs more frequently. And over time, Christ redeems all wounds. All that is lost can be healed.

It just takes time. It gets better with time.

For my sisters; the brave ones – you know who you are.