FROM VICTIM TO SURVIVOR: HEALING FROM CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE - GUEST FEATURE

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Talk about a transition. This week we are taking on a new direction - one that we have never discussed before on our platform. In all honesty, this is a topic we never thought we would cover. Then we found Ashley's story -

and everything changed.

The Obsessive Outsiders intends to expand into many more areas of mental health and mental wellness. Our foundation will always be rooted in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, because that's where this all began. But this brand and movement is evolving into so much more than OCD. As a black and white thinker, my brain always feels constricted - and I hate it. Which is why I constantly challenge it. Right now, I am doing so by learning about all kinds of other areas of mental traumas and experiences that I may not have personally been through, but can eerily identify with. The goal is to open up my senses, my antennas, to be more aware in areas of adversity - because everything in this life I'm realizing comes back to mental health and wellbeing. Literally, every experience, every feeling, every fear or trauma, every new experience that will change the way you protect yourself or perceive things, all come back to the mind. Mental illness & mental disorders ASIDE. 

mental health includes everyone with a brain. period. 

Without further blabbing (ahem, Kerry) - I hope you all soak up Ashley's entire story. Ashley is a blogger and is the definition of all things chic and relevant - and the epitome of class. She's the girl on Instagram you scroll past and then analyze how her life could seem so perfect. She seems so flawless. She is absolutely stunning first and foremost - she has style and aesthetic that she somehow pulls off way too effortlessly, and my personal favorite - she is a girl who has a haunted past but ended up with the most incredible love story with her now husband. Let me just say - relationship goals is an understatement. Her husband looks at her as if she is made of pure gold - he has stuck by her through years of her dealing with her inner turmoil from her trauma. They are the most beautiful couple who go on the most romantic getaways and dreamy proposals. No one knew the PTSD that lied behind her gorgeous brown eyes until this week - when she shared her riveting story, publicly for the very first time. Thank you Ashley, for allowing me to honor you on this platform.

The following story comes directly from Ashley herself on her most recent blog post. These are her words, unaltered.

"This post is much more personal than my normal posts, but I feel it is very important to share. Lately I have noticed so many influencers opening up and getting real with their followers.

I truly think that there is something so damn inspiring about hearing someone’s journey from tragedy to triumph. I think nowadays social media allows people to portray their lives as picture perfect, and seeing such "perfection" when you are struggling can be hard, trust me… I know the feeling.

This is why I feel it is important to share the ways I was able to work through the trauma that was inflicted upon me throughout my childhood. I was not always so seemingly confident, happy or hopeful.

I have experienced severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks and flashbacks in my life, and at times it seemed as if this would be how I would feel forever. I am so relieved to say that I now live a life in which I don't think about my abuse everyday. It no longer haunts my dreams or ruins my days.

While the thoughts will still creep up at times, I feel so much more in control of my emotions. I have accepted my past, and chosen to move forward and not only make the best of it, but turn what happened to me into a positive. I am now pursuing my masters in counseling, and have a strong passion for mental health and helping others. But I am getting ahead of myself ...

Keep reading to hear my story and the changes I implemented that helped me take control of my feelings (and ultimately my life). It is my goal that in sharing this, I can give hope to someone who may be going through these things as well.

I hope that in sharing this, I can help diminish the stigma surrounding sexual abuse, and help other people speak out and tell their stories. And what I hope for most, is that my story of triumph, along with the resources I have provided in this post, will show others that IT IS possible to heal.

The following contains sensitive material, if you scroll to the bottom of this post, there are resources available if you are feeling overwhelmed by this content.

While I have gone back and forth about how much of my childhood I want to share, the details are important in understanding the amount of manipulation and fear that ultimately lead to me putting up with sexual abuse for many years.


THE UNTOLD STORY OF MY CHILDHOOD 

My life started out pretty rocky from the start, though I was always a happy kid nonetheless. My mom and I lived in a small town near San Jose, to be honest I can't remember if my birth dad lived with us or not, but I can remember he was around at this time of my life.

Although I was oblivious to it at the time, he was a raging alcoholic and had a bit of a drug problem. After my sister was born, my mom decided to split from him. Not too long after, she met what would soon be my step-father, and the worst thing that could have happened to our family.

We moved to Bakersfield, and lived with Jimmy.

Jimmy was the most controlling person I have ever met.

He was manipulative, abusive and psychotic.

He would get outrageously angry over the smallest occurrences; a dish left in the sink could lead to beatings, grounding for months, 1000s of sentences etc.

He would make us write out things like "I will not disrespect my mother and father by forgetting to do my chores and leaving dishes in the sink."

Now imagine writing that 1000 times.

I would always try and help my sister out when he wasn't looking, he was always so mean to her, it was so hard for me to watch. He was emotionally abusive to my mother constantly, he downgraded her, disrespected her and what he said ruled-no matter her opinion.

Our lives were under his control.

Certain memories can paint a better picture...He always had us eat dinner in the living room on TV trays, and my sister was kind of infamous for being quite a messy eater. I want to say she was about 7 or 8 at the time. She accidentally spilled on the carpet, and he screamed at her and dragged her out of the room like a rag doll, without dinner.

She was forced to eat alone at the kitchen table for the next week or so, and I was not allowed to speak to her during this time. He isolated her like this for many small, typical accidents young kids make. I would often try and take the blame, because I couldn't stand to watch my sweet sister constantly be beat, isolated and talked down to.

Another memory…him holding me up against a wall by my neck, my feet dangling, screaming at me, all because he found a broken highlighter in my backpack-he accused me of sniffing it to get high, and refused to believe that it broke from my heavy books crushing it.

I began to realize that Jimmy believed to his core we were bad kids. My sister and I both got good grades, we were loved by our teachers, and did our best to follow the strict rules of the house, but it really was never good enough.

We lived in fear, home was never safe, and school was really our only escape.

It was frustrating watching my mother let him rule our lives, she would secretly act like she was on our side behind his back, but was always too scared to stick up to him.

I moved schools a lot as a kid, never staying at one longer than 2 years. This was usually due to us constantly moving, as finances weren't the most stable growing up. Jimmy would also always find some random reason to pull me out of a school.

…I remember being called a slut in 6th grade. A yard duty had unfortunately witnessed my first kiss (and by kiss I mean 2 second peck) the yard duty told my parents, and I was smacked, grounded for months, and never returned back to that school.

He told me I wasn't really that pretty, and I shouldn't be acting that way or ever think that I am “all that”…

This lead to me being sent to a private school, which was during the middle of 6th grade. This was a hard adjustment for me, everyone at private school seemed so happy, normal, privileged...it made me angry.

I knew my life at home wasn't right, andI felt so alone.

I became quite emo at this point in time, listening to screamo, bangs in my face, black hoodies, the awkward phase a lot of teens went through.

I also began to self-harm, which was really a cry for help, though I didn't know it at the time.

When the school called my parents concerned that I was depressed and cutting, their solution, or I should say his solution, was to pull me out of junior high and home school me. And now we are getting closer to the beginning of my sexual abuse...

Being home schooled was honestly a joke.

As I stated earlier, I was always a good student, and school work was usually quite easy for me. My mother would give me worksheets, about 5-7 a day, to finish in the conference room of the real estate office she managed at the time.

So for about an hour or two, I would do these worksheets, and then just watch movies all day.

At this time I had zero contact with anyone my age, and this would continue until high school.

During this time, my mother decided to take in her struggling kid brother, my uncle Ryan, who was trying to get clean to enter the marines.

THE BEGINNING OF MY SEXUAL TRAUMA

Ryan would sit by me in the conference room and stick his hands down my pants, I didn’t understand at the time what was happening, I think I was about 11 1/2, 12.

I knew it was wrong because he was so secretive with it. 

But he began to get confident with it and would be touchy with me in the pool and often times I would see Jimmy peering through the sliding glass door or blinds, he saw and he knew what was going on, yet he did nothing.

This was so confusing to me at the time... was this wrong if Jimmy clearly saw and didn't punish Ryan? Did he enjoy watching me feel so unhappy and uncomfortable?

What I have come to realize in my older years is that he knew I was too scared to tell anyone, or that I didn’t have anyone I trusted to tell.

I have made my peace with what happened to me with my uncle, even though I know it was horribly wrong. One day at the office he wrote down on a notecard “you know if you don’t like it you can say no right?”.

I had never even contemplated saying no at that point, my whole childhood had been built on following rules and not questioning authority...

At that exact moment I scribbled the word no and he never did it again.


After Ryan went away to the marines, Jimmy began to molest me regularly.

It all began after he decided to give me the sex talk, and proceed to tell me all any boys will ever want from me is sex.

He then took me into the living room asked if he could massage my back, pulled down my pants and massaged my back, my  butt, my breasts and my inner thighs for what felt like forever.

He did it so confidently and fast that I didn’t know if that was supposed to be okay, even though I knew it felt wrong I was so in shock I just laid there. Frozen.

I wondered what would happen if my mother or sister came out of their rooms...

This became my every-third-day routine.

He molested me every three days for three years, while sometimes the pattern would not be perfect, this is how I remember it.

He would wait til  my mother went to bed, and then ask me to give him a massage, or vice versa, which is when he would make his move. If I was ever reluctant to agree, he would insist I was sore and “needed it”…

Over the years, the abuse would escalate. He would press himself against me, constantly insist on giving me massages, and eventually began groping me entirely. Stripping me of all my clothes for each massage and getting as close to taking my virginity as he could get.

As he got more confident with it he began to come into my room at night, and even during the day sometimes. It really didn’t matter if other people were home… because no one really paid much attention to me anyway, no one else but him, that is.

He would make me tell him when I was going to take a shower, so he could go in prior and open the window. As I undressed I could smell the smoke of his cigarette, and that’s how I knew he was watching me.

It’s hard to look back and realize how alone and isolated I was as a child.

I always felt like I didn't matter much, and that I really didn't have anyone to trust other than my sister, who was so much younger than me. I looked at her as someone to protect, not confide in.

AND SO, MY SECRET REMAINED.

During this time, there were many nights the cops were called, due to physical threats from Jimmy, him threatening to hurt my mom in a drunken rage, or threatenening to take my baby brother away and never come back. (My mother and Jimmy had a son together when I was 16).

I would have to take my brother and sister and hide away at our aunts, crying the whole way not knowing if he was going to hurt my mom. He would smooth talk the cops, making US seem crazy for calling.

I remember one specific instance where I decided to stick up to him.

He was screaming at my mom, pushing her against the wall and holding my brother, threatening to leave with him and never come back.

I called the cops and told them he was abusive, and scary, and threatening to kidnap Colton.

I was told to go inside, my stepdad again escaped without any consequence. It seemed as if he would always be in control, and that my mother would never leave him…

and that no one could help us. 

I had so many nights where I would lose it. I couldn’t hold it together anymore, I was sick of being so scared, so abused, so over looked, so helpless.

There were countless nights I would sneak around and try and find any medication I could, ibuprofen, pain killers, mostly all I would find was ibuprofen.

But I would take like 9 of them, in hopes that maybe I would die, but knowing it really wasn’t enough, often sending me into a peaceful zen, I would sit in the bathroom and just hide…alone.

I knew I couldn't run away.

I couldn't just die... I had to be there for my sister and brother.

The motivation to protect them and be a role model for them got me through a lot of dark times. 

As I got older I began to understand my role in the house: do all the chores, take care of Brittany and Colton, always be nice and respectable, follow ALL the rules, and let him do whatever he needed to do with me.

With this I knew, or at least hoped, that maybe we wouldn’t get into trouble and he wouldn’t be angry.

The abuse was always worse for all of us if he was angry...

Another fucked up aspect of this is that he would cry to me sometimes and apologize.

He would have these spurts of “change” where he insisted we go to church and spend family time. There was one night he literally cried in my arms, a grown man-crying in a 14 year olds arms, saying that I would hate him one day, and that I didn’t even know it. He read bible verses to me and said God would forgive him.

During these “epiphanies” he would tell me that he would never do it again.

But he would do it again the very next night.

This really made me hate church and religion at the time, because he used it as a means to justify what he did to me. 

While I was always willing to expose the physical and emotional abuse, it was never enough to get help... never enough to convince my mother we needed to leave him. And…unfortunately, I was an expert at keeping the sexual abuse a secret.

There is a certain guilt that victims of sexual abuse feel, despite the fact that is is never our fault. Additionally, many abusers threaten or manipulate their victims in order to keep their wrongdoings under wraps.

Around age 16, I began to express to Jimmy that I wanted to tell my mom what had been happening.  I was told that telling someone would be the most selfish thing I could do.

He told me my mother would not be able to financially take care of my sister, baby brother and I, and that they would suffer if I made that choice.

I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with, as a survivor of child sexual abuse, is the difference of mindset you have now, as an adult, versus how you thought as a child/adolescent.

At the time, I truly thought I was doing my family a favor by enduring what I did.

I was also terrified of my abuser, who was responsible for so much physical and emotional abuse in our home. And then comes the feeling that no one will believe you...

Something I was also told during my years of abuse.

In my situation, it seemed almost frivolous to tell, since the obvious physical and emotional abuse wasn't enough to rid him of our lives.

Another reason I felt telling was useless is because one night… he actually did get “caught”. It was after him and my mother went to a Halloween party. He came home drunk and stumbled into my room. I remember the smell of alcohol as he climbed into my bed and undressed me. My mother found him in my room and saw us both laying in bed, mostly naked. I laid there and pretended to be asleep, I felt such shame, like it was my fault… But I also felt slightly relieved, like finally, it happened, she saw, maybe I would be free…

I remember him getting up and following her out of the room. Neither of them said a word. The next day is one that still haunts me…My mother asked me if Jimmy was inappropriate with me, if he had ever touched me. My stomach dropped to the floor and I began to shake, I couldn’t look at her, I couldn’t speak… I remember contemplating what to say, all the consequences that might follow…and I remember thinking…well yeah didn’t you see…weren’t you there? But instead, fear got the best of me… and I muttered “no” and it was never brought up again.

I spent a lot of time blaming myself for not saying yes in that moment, but I have had to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t feel safe enough to tell, even with her. I had begged her to leave him so many times, for awful things he did, but it was never enough to persuade her. I wondered if the sexual abuse would be any different.

I was so scared I would look like a fool…scared that she wouldn’t believe me or that she would stay with him anyway. I wish I could go back and tell myself what I know now, but unfortunately this is just one of those things I have to forgive myself for. I understand now that manipulation was ruling all of my decisions at this point in my life…and I believed to my core that telling the truth wouldn’t matter.

But, the truth of the matter is, there is ALWAYS a reason to tell, and ALWAYS someone to help. Taking that first step and telling someone will be the scariest, most vulnerable feeling in the world, but it is also the first step towards your healing, and your escape. Telling is NEVER selfish, but instead saves others girls and boys from possible abuse in the future. For me, a big motivation was saving my sister from possibly enduring that same abuse one day.

COMING CLEAN

Thanks to a trusted adult and my high school boyfriend, at age 17, I finally came clean and told my mother what had been happening to me. To my surprise and relief, she was finally on my side. She called the cops, and an investigation began.

WHAT HAPPENED ONCE I TOLD

I made a game plan the night before I planned to tell with a trusted peer and a trusted adult. The next morning, I dropped my siblings off at school, waited til I knew my mother and step father would be away at work, and went home. I told my mother through text, because I really didn't think I could verbally speak the words to her. Police were called, and I was taken in for statements and a recorded phone call in which I was able to get him to admit guilt (by repeating what the policeman prompted me to say).

Jimmy suspected something was up, and fled. --Two weeks later, he was found somewhere in LA. He was later convicted for “lucid acts with a minor” and sentenced to a measly year of jail time, but a lifetime of being branded a child sex offender.

The process that takes place after you tell someone of your sexual abuse can be, in all honesty, quite overwhelming, especially as a teenager. Prior to his arrest, we had to hide away with friends in fear he would come back home in the middle of the night and hurt us, or kidnap Colton.

I had to miss a lot of school and work, and tell my principal and bosses what was going on. This process was very scary, but it was also the best thing I could have done for myself, my family, and the community.

LIFE AFTER I TOLD

Life after I told was anything but easier.

Suddenly, people knew, and that felt like EVERYONE knew, and I was no longer able to hide my depression so flawlessly. There would be days I couldn't get out of bed and weeks where crying was a daily occurrence.

Life felt hopeless and it seemed like things that used to bring me joy no longer had the same effect. Trauma ruled my life, and no amount of love, or distractions could "cure" me.

This led to a very victimized way of living for me.

I was mad at the world, mad that I hadn't got a fair chance, mad that others had happy families-their lives seemed so easy in comparison to mine. But this type of thinking won’t get you anywhere.

You have to have that moment where you say to yourself "Look this happened, and I can’t get back those years, but I can choose not to let it ruin the rest of my life". The moment I enforced this attitude was when I was finally able to begin my healing process.

The turning point for me was when I moved to Montana. I called my Grandpa one day, and shared with him my distress and depression. At this time I had dropped out of college, was solely working and taking care of my siblings, and was on anti-depressants.

My life still felt so out of control, even though Jimmy had been gone for a year and a half.

I still was not living for me, and my Grandpa could sense this. Him and my Grammy were so kind as to open up their home to me. Jeffrey, my boyfriend at the time and now husband, was so supportive in this decision, he knew I had to get away from this situation in order to heal. He knew that if I didn’t go, I would never be rid of the obligation of helping so much with my siblings, and repressing my own needs.

And so I moved to Montana.

I stayed for 6 months, but the changes within me will last for a lifetime. I had a rewarding job at the local hospital, a second night job to help me build my savings, and also enrolled back into school. My confidence began to rise as I was recognized for my hard work. I began to feel more and more understood, as my Grandpa would stay up late with me and let me vent about my past.

I’ll never forget the moment Jeffrey and I realized I was getting better.

Jeffrey would visit me in Montana as often as he could. On one of his last visits (during the end of my stay), we were driving to a local restaurant with a great view.

The music was up, the windows were down, and we were singing at the top of our lungs. For one of the first times in months… I was happy, I was me again.

I looked over only to see tears falling from Jeffrey’s face, happy tears.

Seeing me so happy brought tears to his eyes, and I remember thinking in this moment, wow this man really loves me, unconditionally. He waited through the depression, panic attacks, and sleepless nights, for this very moment. The moment I found hope that moving on from sexual abuse was possible.

HEALING FROM SEXUAL ABUSE

Healing is a complicated, anything-but-straightforward path, that is different to each person.

The book "A Courage to Heal" taught me so much about myself and helped me understand my feelings and triggers. Once I was able to identify my triggers, I was able to sort of "train" myself to not go down the rabbit hole of dwelling on memories and flashbacks that come up.

One example of a trigger I became aware of was that every time I would shower, I felt scared, and would almost always end up crying in the shower. Once I was able to identify my fear with the fact that I was forced to be watched as I showered in the past, it was easier to acknowledge this feeling, and remind myself that no one was watching me shower anymore.

At first, it isn't easy, the flashbacks still come and you work to think elsewhere, or allow yourself to embrace the memory. One trick of the mind that helped me was changing the memory. Instead of being the victim and playing out the memory as it happened, I would imagine that I stood up and stopped it.

This would make me feel powerful, and help me move along with my day without letting that thought ruin it. It reminded me that I survived, and I have the power to live the rest of my life free from any control from him. It may sound "crazy", but it worked.

Other times I would simply say to myself "No, I am not going to think about that right now" and force myself to move on to the task at hand. Of course there were times it still would get to me, at this point a strong support system comes into play.

My husband, Jeffrey, was such a rock for me during my darkest of times, and it truly made all the difference. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have found a man willing to wait out my depression, help me deal with all my "baggage" (though he would never call it that) and bless me with a wonderful love and a wonderful life.

I really recommend finding at least one person you trust, who you can be real with about how your feeling. This can be a friend, a family member, a boyfriend, a teacher, a coworker, tell someone and let them be there for you.

Soooo, back to the book, "A Courage To Heal".

This became my "bible" to healing. Through personal stories I was able to identify in other women, helping me feel less alone. Hearing their triumphs of working through their trauma sparked hope in me, that I could possibly reach that goal as well.

This book is also helpful in identifying negative thinking processes, and giving guidance in dealing with situations that arise, such as mending family relationships after abuse is revealed, or how to cope with triggers.

This book truly saved me and I highly recommend it to any women  who has been a victim of sexual abuse at any time in their life. It’s never too late to "deal with your demons" ( as my Grandpa would say) and free yourself.

Another thing that really helped me was counseling. Counseling is 100% a necessity when you have suffered from sexual abuse. This is such an intimate and personal part of  us and when taken, it can cause so much pain. I realized that trying to push away the pain was not going to work for me long term. If I wasn’t crying or depressed, I would be shaking, suffering from panic attacks, or go days without sleeping. Basically, if the pain didn’t come out emotionally, it would affect me physically.

Talking to a knowledgeable counselor helped me open up and discuss many instances I had never even spoken aloud. It was important for my to verbalize these memories to a neutral third party-someone who wasn’t in my daily life, that I couldn’t ”hurt” from sharing my traumatic experiences with. My counselor helped me implement healthy thinking patterns into my daily life.

MY LIFE NOW

I am now happy and it feels so surreal.

Sometimes I will get anxious and think something bad has to happen soon...

This can’t be my life...but it is.

I am so proud of myself for moving on, starting a new life for myself and for learning to grow everyday. For finding a man that I can say without a doubt, loves me unconditionally, and has fought for me, waited for me, loved me through my worst, and now at my best.

For being able to love him, despite my past intimacy issues. For learning how to trust, even though I grew up not being able to trust anyone. I have come to a point in my life where I am truly happy and feel blessed.

There were so many years I mourned the loss of my childhood. I was so angry at the world for taking crucial years from me, for taking my innocence. But honestly, that the past few years of my life have brought so many amazing memories, that I hardly think about how hard my life used to be.

I have amazing friends, an aspiring career, confidence, love... things I never imagined would happen for me. I will never get my childhood years back, but I can make my adult years so damn great and successful to somewhat make up for it.

I also have found such healing in pursuing a career (counseling) focused on helping others get through their own traumas. I started my grad school journey this year, and hope to specialize in trauma therapy one day, and possibly specialize in sexual abuse trauma therapy.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my story. I hope that this post can be used as a resource for survivors of sexual abuse. I hope that it can open up this topic for discussion, and maybe even encourage someone who has suffered such abuse, to come out and tell their story. I hope that in reading this, you feel inspired to learn the signs of sexual abuse, because this epidemic is so prevalent, and happens all too often. And ultimately, I hope you feel that you know me on a deeper level. When you see my posts on social media, and my life seems so “perfect”, or easy, just remember that you never know what someone is going through, or what they have overcome.”

xoxo,

ASH

RESOURCES FOR SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE

A Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse - I can’t stress enough how much this book helped me. The women who wrote it are highly educated on the subject and the effects of child sexual abuse. This book provides insight how child sexual abuse can affect you in your adult life, ways to cope, and how to begin to heal.

Lewis Howes Podcast: “ What Sharing My Childhood Rape Taught Me About Being a Loving, Vulnerable, Free Man” - Child sexual abuse happens to both girls and boys. While I can only provide insight on my own experiences, this podcast reveals a man’s perspective on his childhood rape, and it is extremely inspiring.

National Sexual Assault Hotline - (1-800-656-4673)- this service is both free and confidential. The website linked, called RAINN, is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. They have great resources on how to educate yourself on the signs of sexual abuse, resources to help survivors, and counseling services. RAINN also helps create laws and regulations that attempt to make communities safer and support survivors. They work closely with the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health & Human Services to improve the federal response to sexual violence.

The California Victim Compensation Board - I was able to get free counseling for a few years thanks to the CA Victim’s Compensation Board. This was very helpful because at the time I needed counseling most, my mother and I could not afford it. I highly recommend looking into this website to see what opportunities are available for you or your child. The resources go beyond sexual abuse and encompass other victim resources as well, such as victims of drunk driving accidents, LGBTQ resources, and domestic violence victims.

I want everyone reading this to know that I am a safe resource to talk to about trauma and abuse. I know how impactful it can be to have someone listen to you, and to explicitly say things out loud that you may have have never said aloud before. You are strong, and taking the first step toward your truth and healing will be the best thing you can do for yourself.

You can contact Ashley here and check out her blog as well right here.

Ashley was also featured on the women for greatness podcast yesterday, you can listen here.