‘If I refused, I’d get in trouble. I had to keep my head down, my mouth shut. I couldn’t ‘ruin’ her image of the perfect family.’: Sexual assault survivor breaks silence after 2 decades

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of sexual abuse that may be upsetting to some.

“Abuse does the strangest things to the human brain. It can make a person forget every word they’ve ever learned and invalidate all happiness. It can take everything you thought you knew about yourself and completely destroy it all. It’ll quietly mock you while you try for YEARS to put yourself back together. For a long time, I tried so hard to find the person I was. I was so focused that I forgot to be gentle to the person it turned me into.

Different kinds of abuse have always been present in my life. From a very early age, I was exposed to emotional abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect. I knew what I felt was valid, but I didn’t have the words for it. Luckily, at 13 years old, I found a judge that did. He knew what I meant even though I only had a handful of mumbled sentences and a GAL report to back it up. He granted me a new home with extended family, and I thought I would finally be able to breathe. But I tried hard to fit in with my new family.

Courtesy of Alexandria Martin

At first, Mickey’s grooming was very subtle. He knew I was starved for affection and used that to introduce adult discussions and behaviors into our interactions. He would tell me horror stories about foster care and ask hypothetical questions about what I thought it might be like if I was ever taken from them. I knew there was no way a judge would let me move back in with my mother if I ever had to leave. So when the sexual assault started, I knew it was something I just had to deal with. This was my life now.

It really didn’t help that Minnie, Mickey’s wife, had an unnatural dislike for me the second I moved in. She gave me the wonderful ‘gift’ of a new home and I felt indebted to her. But she never allowed me to develop into any version of the person I wanted to be. She let me know when I messed it up. Every single step of the way.

She took the smallest details about me and turned them into shameful, gross, humiliating events that completely murdered any shred of self-esteem that I had left. Having my period made me ‘disgusting’. When I cut my hair short she said, ‘Only old women and dykes have their hair short.’ There is no doubt in my mind that any disclosure of abuse on my part would have only solidified her disgust with me. I would have ruined her image of the perfect family. My disclosure would have been met with complete rejection, and for this reason I knew there was no way I could trust her.

So I pushed on. I did their dishes after dinner while they played with their two daughters. I cleaned the house for hours after school every day because I knew I wanted alone time in my room when they came home. I had to be careful what I ate. When I had eaten the last hot pocket once, I was called disgusting and grounded. After that, I never ate the last of anything. In fact, I rarely ate at all. I started to lose weight.

Courtesy of Alexandria Martin

After all of the day’s drama was over, I thought I might finally be able to rest. But I still had more debt to pay off. Someone had to fix it, and that fell to me. Just like everything else in that house, I paid my dues silently. I paid them every night, for six years.

Some people ask, ‘Well, how did you not get fed up with it all?’ Beyond the exhaustion, I saw glimpses of silent threats. He’d sit in the dark until I got home and silently stare at me so I knew he was watching. He’d lie to Minnie when I’d refuse his advances so that I’d get in trouble for whatever he’d made up. I’d get threats of being kicked out or sent away to the state. All in the name of control. I knew how much worse things could get. I wanted to take all my things and leave when I had the chance. But until my time came, I had to keep my head down, my mouth shut, and wait.

You’d think that my waiting would have made me a very patient person, that I’d have some uncanny ability to look at a situation and make it work for me. My abuse in that house did the exact opposite. I had no coping skills. I was angry. I was tired. I was so ready to make someone pay for the bad things that happened to me. Every little slight, real or imagined, was interpreted as a viscous attack on my person (at least in my head). I challenged everyone and everything. I didn’t use my time, resources, or friendships wisely. I didn’t know how.

One thing people don’t really express about abuse is that every little bit of your decision-making skills depends on one thing: how to survive what might happen today. That’s it. It’s not based on what you like, what your talents are, what you’ve been encouraged to do. Rather than exploring who you are as a person, like I SHOULD have been doing at that age, I was trying to be invisible. I didn’t want to be seen, heard, needed, or anything else. Because that meant more blame, more hearing about how much of a burden I was. More hearing about being a failure, even though I hadn’t even been given enough space to try, let alone fail.

My exit was uneventful and not quite as grand as I had hoped it would be. I joined the Navy. I traveled the world. I learned to do things that I never thought I was capable of. When I left for boot camp, I was only five-foot-four and 102 pounds. I was physically sick from 6 years of it all. The Navy made me know that I was capable. I was still way too angry, but I was capable. And for people like me, having confidence in your ability to survive, and actually enjoy it, is a feeling I wish I actually had words for.

Courtesy of Alexandria Martin

The first few years after my separation from the Navy were stagnant, and possibly the closest thing to normal I had seen in my life at this point. Mickey and Minnie had been divorced for years and their two daughters were growing into awesome young women.

Courtesy of Alexandria Martin

Then the stories started coming. Their oldest daughter, 13 at the time, would tell me things that her father spoke to her about. Hearing them made me uncomfortable in ways I was all too familiar with. Bills, relationships, private conversations, and lots of guilt trips. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but I knew what he was trying to do.

In New Hampshire, the statute of limitations on sexual assault is 22 years after the victims 18th birthday if they are under age when the crime was committed. I knew that there was a VERY good chance that I would lose. But I also knew that if I fought hard enough, I could at least buy his daughters enough time to be old enough to decide, in family court, if they wanted to see him. I knew I couldn’t stay silent anymore.

In February of 2012, I filed sexual assault charges. After over a year of investigation and review of evidence that I still had, Mickey was indicted on a total of 9 counts of Aggravated Felonious Sexual Assault. Holding the papers in my hand, knowing that he knew what I was doing, was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had. I didn’t really feel anything. What he did wasn’t just an idea in my head. It wasn’t a side to pick, like it was for his friends and coworkers. It wasn’t a lie I made up to punish him for something imagined. Those charges were my reality and they were written down. On paper. And people knew what they all said. It didn’t feel real.

October 30th, 2014 is considered a holiday in my home. My children don’t know why yet, and it will be a long time before they do. October 30th, 2014 is the day that Mickey was found guilty by a jury of his peers. I will never forget walking into the court room and being notified on the verdict over the loud speaker.

At that point in my day, I had 2.5 times the dose of lorazepam in my system (which I don’t recommend) and I was still panicking. I couldn’t turn it off. In the movies when something really emotionally charged is happening, people seem to have this thing happen where all other sound is blocked out and everything is just quiet, like being under water. I didn’t have this. I heard everything. I heard the bailiff call for us all to stand. I felt Minnie’s eyes on me as I held her oldest daughter’s hand. I heard the whispers of Mickey’s friends and family. I heard every creak in the benches, shuffle of papers, every sniffle and slow exhale of everyone trying to cope.

Then the jury foreman stood as the first charge was read and time stood still. And I watched him, as he absolutely refused to look away from Mickey, and he spoke the word ‘guilty’ for the first time. The air left my lungs. It happened so fast that I could have sworn something was wrong with court room air. I put my hands over my face and let out the most primal, relieved, and grateful sobbing scream. I couldn’t help it. With every ‘guilty’ that the jury foreman proudly spoke into Mickeys face, the easier I could breathe.

I opened my eyes and looked to the jury box. At this point in my life I was not doing very well with expression of emotions, especially gratitude. I hadn’t quite figured that one out yet. But let me tell you. I channeled everything I had left in my entire soul so I could look to the jury and say thank you. I wasn’t allowed to speak it to them, but I needed them to know.

Over the years, I developed panic attacks, severe anxiety, and bipolar 2 disorder. I needed a lot of help, but I was slowly getting better. Once I had spoken my truth, I knew that I had to keep going. To put it simply, I just couldn’t shut up. It was painful and exhausting, but I dug around in my brain so much that I uncovered things I had completely blocked out for years. And I remember it all now.

After that, everything has been a blur. I have read self-help books and used websites to connect with other victims. It isn’t a quick fix, but it can help you to find the words when you aren’t really sure of how to speak your story yet.

Courtesy of Alexandria Martin

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everything was way better after that day. I still had to work through panic attacks. I still, to this day, have conversations in my head with my abusers. They usually start with some form of criticism and I just simply explain to the version of them in my head why I’m awesome, or why I’m right, or why I’m worth it, and, for a little while, they go away.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, ‘Forgive your abusers! It’ll help you move on.’ I personally don’t agree with that. I REFUSE to take any more responsibility for their actions. What they put me through is on them. I will not carry that around for them anymore because they are too selfish, proud, or buried in denial.

IT IS OK to hold these people responsible for what they did without feeling the same burden. I hold Mickey and Minnie accountable. And they know it. And that kills them a little inside every day.

For him, it’s all the things that he did and said. For her, it’s all the things she refused to do. And I don’t own any of that. I was abused for almost a decade. But I know who I am now. I know what I like. I finally know my favorite color, how I like to style my hair, what kind of person I really am. I have a family and everything else I could possibly want, including a wonderful fur baby that snuggles away the panic attacks.

Courtesy of Alexandria Martin
Courtesy of Alexandria Martin
Courtesy of Alexandria Martin

I know the one thing I am not: their victim. I am my truth. I am their truth. It is NOT my fault that they are scared of it. I am not.”

Courtesy of Alexandria Martin

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alexandria Martin of Southwick, Massachusetts. Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter.

Read more powerful stories from survivors:

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‘I received a note from my brother. ‘Have you ever wanted to see a naked man?’ I was disgusted and appalled. ‘No! Why would you ask that?!’ He my best friend. Until he shattered that trust.’

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