‘I asked to borrow his Walkman. ‘Sure.’ My brother was breathing heavy in my ear. I froze. He told me not to tell.’: Assault survivor shares emotional journey to peace

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Disclaimer: this story contains details of child abuse and sexual assault that may be upsetting to some. 

“My mother was the one person in the world that was supposed to protect me no matter what.

Growing up, I used to cry a lot. Sometimes it would get so bad that my grandmother would have to take out the Bible and recite passages in hopes to calm me down. My mother claimed that I was a terrible child and that this was the reason she was abusive.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that my aunt told me I was a good child, that the reason I cried and cried was not because I was bad, but because of my mother’s neglect.

My mother never wanted to take care of me. I cried of rashes when my mother refused to change my diaper. I cried when I went to school with messy, knotted hair. I cried when I was beaten and forced into corners for hours without food or water because of a bad grade. When my mother would sit on my stomach and force feed me her crap spaghetti.

My brothers would always have to stop her when she’d grab me by my hair and throw me around our home, hangers and sandals in her hand ready to beat me. All I can remember is hearing them yell at her over and over ‘Stop mom! You’re going to kill her!’

Little girl smiles as she rests chin on hands that are on railing
Courtesy of Lizzett Sariñana

I have images of my hands reaching up from a tub full of water, scratching and pinching at her neck because she was drowning me in front of my little brother for having to potty during bath time. Other times I had forgotten to wipe the droplets on the toilet seat after jumping out of the water and sitting on it. I have scars on my face from when I would shrug my shoulders in a response to a question she asked.

She once took a broom and smacked me so hard in the forehead that it began to gush with blood. She asked me to lie and tell my school that my brother hit me with a shovel. I have a scar behind my ear from when I was hungry and looking for a snack in the fridge.  The moment she heard me, she pulled my ear so hard that it split open. When it began to bleed at school one day, the nurses asked over and over what had happened. I said that it was my fault and that I had scratched myself too hard, but they knew I was lying. They called Child Protective Services on my mother.

A few days later, I came home from school to find official personnel leaving through the doorway. As soon as the door closed, I got the beating of my life. Punching and kicking me she screamed, ‘They are going to take my babies away from me because of you!’ Unfortunately, they didn’t take us away. They just put us in daycare for evenings and returned us for dinner and bedtime.

My mother didn’t have a job until I was a teenager. I grew up without my father and repeatedly asked where he was. Finally, when I was 14, she told me that she found him and was talking to him in court about providing child support. When we took a paternity test, however, the results were negative. To this day, she still claims he is my father.

But let’s rewind back a few years to when I was about 8 years old. Although I hated school and can’t say I was very bright, it was the only time I could get away from my mother. I loved weekends because that was when my aunt would take me away. Those were the only happy times I can remember.

Around this time, I started to notice one of my older brothers paying extra attention to me. I didn’t think much of it, thinking that he just wanted to become closer to his oldest sister. After a few days of being really nice to me, it began out of nowhere.

Three young brothers stand beside statue of Teenage Mutant Nina Turtle
Courtesy of Lizzett Sariñana

I remember asking him if I could borrow his Walkman, to which he responded ‘Sure, if you let me touch you.’ I wasn’t sure what he meant so I said okay. We were home alone at the time and standing in the kitchen. Right away he turned me around and started caressing my body up and down. From my neck all the way down to my privates. I could hear him breathing heavy in my ear, and I was frozen. I wasn’t sure what was happening. He told me not to tell. I didn’t understand it. I ran away crying, with the Walkman in my hand, as he said he was sorry.

I knew something wasn’t right but since he was my older brother, I did what he said. Anytime I wanted to borrow something, or needed something from him, he always obliged as long as I let him touch me. He would always find ways to come close and just randomly touch my privates as he was walking by. When I began to develop, these times became more frequent as he always pretended to bump into me and touch my growing breasts.

As weeks and months went by, it got worse and worse. He would play pretend wrestling with me and my little brother. Whenever he would lift me, he took the chance to touch to my privates. Monday night wrestling would always put him in the mood to wrestle, so Mondays always sucked for me. When I would scream to make him stop, he would get mad at me. He would ask if he could kiss me but I always turned away. Other times he would turn on my light in the middle of the night and put a pillow over my face so no one could hear me cry as he touched me.

Weeks and months turned into years. My mother was always out partying every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. She would leave us home alone a lot and bring home random men that we would never see again. My uncle ended up having to move in with us when I was about 12.

One day, I was sitting on my couch, and my brother came over to bother me. All of sudden, we heard my uncle’s car pull up. He rushed to get off of me and run into his room next to the living room, but my uncle opened the door quickly. My brother pretended to have a conversation with me, but my uncle knew something was up. He looked at me and asked, ‘What is going on?’ I stayed quiet and the conversation ended. That was the last time he ever touched me.

Even though it ended, I began to realize my behavior. I was always sad and withdrawn from everyone. My bedroom and my music became my sanctuary. Not once did my mother ever try to find out why I was so lonely and sad. I began shoplifting as a teenager and was even arrested for it. I was rebellious and messing up in school.

For some reason, when I was 15, I blurted out what had happened to me to cousin of mine. She told her dad, who was the one who had walked in on my brother and me that day. He sat me down and said that he knew it. He asked if I wanted to press charges and I said yes.

That same weekend, my godfather picked me up and took me shopping. When I returned home, I noticed that my uncle, mom, and brother were all in the living room. On the floor was a smashed table lamp. Everyone was crying.

My uncle very calmly asked my brother, ‘Did you do this to her?’ He said no. And that was it.

No one talked to me for weeks. No one else asked me about it. That was the end. I didn’t understand. At this time, I still hadn’t told my aunt about it even though I saw her every weekend.  I felt ashamed. When she’d drive me back home, my stomach was always in knots. I spent the rest of my teen years spiraling out of control. I hated my life.

When my mother continued to make me live with my brother, I left home at 16 and enrolled in Job Corps. I was allowed to go home on the weekends, but I eventually stopped going home. Instead, I’d live with friends and other family members. While I was gone, my mother trashed talked me so bad that my family began to withdraw from me.

Then, at the age of 21, I became a mother and it brought us all back together. I had to mature fast because I had this beautiful baby boy who stole my heart and I so badly wanted to give him the life I didn’t have. I got a better job and I moved back in with my mother who turned into a wonderful grandmother to my son. We never talked about what had happened to me, but I had my little sister back too and I was happy.

Five years later, my depression returned. Out of nowhere, I began having thoughts about suicide and self-harm. I decided to seek counseling and was informed by my therapist that it might help to confront my mother and let her know how the whole situation impacted me.

At this time, my mother and I lived in different states. So I took the advice and traveled home to have this conversation with her. To sit her down and tell her how I felt about all of the years of physical abuse, the lies, and the sexual abuse. I waited for the perfect time.

I admitted to her that I was seeing a therapist and she laughed at me. In this moment, I realized that she was never going to change. She was never going to love me like I needed her to. I walked out of her house with my daughter. I texted her later that night asking her to reconsider, but she never responded. I also texted my brother and asked him to come clean. I told him what his abuse had done to me. I didn’t want to punish him, but I just wanted him to tell my mother so she would finally believe me. I said that I wasn’t angry anymore. He never responded.

I texted my two brothers and sister about what was happening. My little brother replied with a short response. ‘Go kill yourself.’

They continued to allow him to babysit their children. In an effort to protect them, I told them that that I would go to the authorities if they didn’t get him to come clean. My godfather revealed to me that after my uncle had walked in on my brother and I, he tried to get my mother to believe what had happened. She told them that it was a lie and that I just wanted attention.

After this, I was completely destructive for the next two years. I began drinking heavily. I wasn’t a very good mother, and I was ruining my life. I had a house, and a great job, but it was all crashing down around me because I wasn’t healing. I was full of hate and remorse for myself for not speaking up sooner. I felt was full of hate and remorse for even speaking up at all. Could I have lived with this forever if I just swept it under the rug? I was at my breaking point.

Then I met a wonderful friend named Bri. She was and still is the most beautiful person I have ever come across. She saved me. She taught me how to be a strong woman. How to love myself. She taught me that I could be independent and still be worthy of someone else’s love. She was the one who introduced me to hiking, which I found very therapeutic. Adventure time became my favorite time of every season.

Woman smiles in selfie with friend whose older brother sexually abused her
Courtesy of Lizzett Sariñana

My first hike of the season was always the best. I had never experienced anything like it. When I felt my anxiety or depression sinking in, I would run away and go for a hike alone. I would sit on the edge of a summit and breath in and out and I would tell myself, ‘Look at these mountains, my problems are not that massive.’ And I always felt better. I no longer needed anti-depressants. I even stopped drinking and started focusing on my health and my children’s happiness. I started to lose weight from cutting back on all the drinking I was doing.

Because of Bri, I learned to self-love the crap out of myself. I never wanted my kids to look at me, talk about me, or think about me the way that I do with my mother. I’m a mother to 2 beautiful children who are happy, smart, and know that no matter what happens, I will always protect them.

Woman whose brother sexually abused her sits in chair in home with two kids on her lap
Courtesy of Lizzett Sariñana

Today, I am in a very healthy relationship with someone who loves me for who I am and doesn’t see me as a broken, fragile human.

Woman whose brother sexually abused her stands smiling outside with her husband
Courtesy of Lizzett Sariñana

I know my depression will never go away completely, but I am stronger today than I was 5 years ago. I am happy to say that I survived my horrible past. And how? I realized I didn’t do a single thing wrong. I am the happiest that I have ever been in my life and I will continue to hike and love myself like crazy.”

Woman who was abused by brother stands smiling outside near canyon
Courtesy of Lizzett Sariñana

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lizzett Sariñana of Colorado Springs, Colorado. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more empowering stories from sexual assault survivors:

‘My father picked me up. After a short drive, he stopped the car and told me there was a ‘problem in our relationship.’ I had an instant sick feeling. I was 12 years old.’

‘I was staring at a naked picture of myself on my father’s computer. ‘What the heck?,’ I said out loud, the last words before rage overtook my body.’

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