Saturday, May 6, 2017

Open Letter: I HAVE A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION

Dear Friends and Voters,

It's been awhile since I've blogged, and many of you have read, seen and probably hidden my political posts on Facebook.  Yes, I'm outspoken, politically vocal and unapologetic for it at this point in my life.  I decided this morning to write an open letter to post to my blog and Facebook because of the recent passing of the healthcare bill by the House of Reps.  Sure, everyone is saying it will die in the Senate, but we all know the GOP will not stop trying.  There are several reasons this bill is a shit show of epic proportions, but I'm tackling one, one particular pre-existing condition listed - sexual assault.  It bothers me so much that I decided to be blunt using a very personal experience.

Statistics are a good argument, but can be easily ignored because they don't put a personal face on the issue.  Sure, you've heard 1 in 4 women has been sexually assaulted.  Meaning, unless you live off the grid with all males, you are likely to know someone with this "pre-existing" condition.  If you are reading this and thinking, well actually, I don't know anyone who has been sexually assaulted -- WRONG!  You know me.  Welcome to the group of having a friend or loved one who has this pre-existing condition.

My story is tragic, but not special or uncommon.  Before I begin, lets address the stereotypes that make many of us justify the uncomfortable reality of sexual assault.  Lets face it, we rely on them because it's often too painful to admit this happens so often in our society, after all, we are Americans, the best of the best, right?  We have to blame someone...sadly, our culture likes to shove this on the victim.  So, before anyone makes assumptions I'll list the stereotypes and then the facts to put a face on this story -- my own.

1.  I was not under the influence of anything.
2.  I was not in a place I shouldn't have been.
3.  I was not putting myself in a risky situation.
4.  I was not dressed inappropriately.
5.  I did not lead anyone on.
6.  I did not associate with the wrong people.
7.  I didn't lie, exaggerate or make it up.
8.  I did not live in a bad neighborhood, or was neglected by my parent.
9.  I was not promiscuous.
10.  I should have reported it right away.

The facts:

1.  I was a child.
Picture of me during those years...
2.  I was in my own home, may own bedroom, and I couldn't leave.
3.  I lived in a middle-class single family home neighborhood, with close relationships with my neighbors and lots of friends.
4.  I had a wonderful, attentive mother who loved me to death.
5.  I went to church with family friends, b-day parties, dance classes and sleep-overs.
6.  I dressed like any 4-5th grader would.
7.  All my friends were from 'nice' families, made up of educators, paralegals, stay-at-home moms etc.
8.  I was a virgin (obviously).
9.  I didn't know who to tell.  I was scared, confused and ashamed.  I didn't want to be taken away from my home, my mom, friends - I didn't understand what was really happening and I was silenced with terrible lies.  Fear is a strong reinforcer to ensure silence.
10.  My mother was sick at the time with cancer and given a very low chance of surviving.  I was terrified and she was helpless.  She trusted those closest to us and believed we/I would be taken care of, so before throwing blame in her direction -  Stop.  She was just as much a victim as I was.  She was 90 lbs. at the time, and fighting the worst fight of her life - a terrible cancer diagnosis.

I was in elementary school when the sexual abuse occurred.  The predator lived in my home.  I loved him, trusted him and thought he was a good dad-figure.  Why wouldn't I, he adored and spoiled me with toys.

This girl looks like the others...but she's suffering abuse.
Me in elementary school
It began when my mom got sick, which coincided with my maturing.  I became a surrogate for affection that my mom was unable to provide.  This kind of abuse isn't sudden, but something that is manipulated overtime, gradually and is very confusing to the victim.  This is what predators do.  Yes, only a sick person would do this to a young girl with a sick mother, using the threat of her death as a tool, using guilt as a manipulation, using attention as a weapon and fear of having no one as a way to silence.  I won't go into the horrid details, but by now I'm sure you get the idea.

I don't want, "I'm so sorry this happened to you," or "I wish I would've known."  Although that is the normal reaction, it doesn't do much now.  What I want is for you to fight and vote, because it matters.

At 15 years old and after a break up with my first love, I attempted suicide.  I could not handle the abandonment, especially, after submitting to a sexual relationship for love and security.  I thought this is how it worked, I do this and you love me.  Period.  My emotional reaction to the break-up was mocked by peers, his family members and even parents of friends who I admired and trusted.  I became the kid parents didn't want their girls hanging out with because I had 'problems.'  I was labeled crazy and weird.  My ex-boyfriend teased me and spread rumors - he toyed with me to continue to get sex.  He'd call me on the weekend and say he loved me, was sorry and wanted me back (he had a new girlfriend at the time) and promised he'd break up with XYZ.  I believed him, I loved him.  Come Monday, he'd be at school with his girlfriend, ignore me and laugh.  No one believed me, and I do mean NO ONE.  This lead to a nervous breakdown - a complete udder breakdown.  I was hospitalized.  I was stigmatized.  I was abandoned by every friend and family member except one, my mom.

PSTD was not diagnosed because despite everything that happened, I still had not told a single person.  No, my mom did not know.  Everyone thought I was a dramatic teen with emotional issues.  Part of this was true, to some extent.  While in the hospital, the doctors wanted to do a pelvic examination.  Remember I was 15 yr. old and a sexual abuse victim.  I absolutely freaked out because the doctor was male.  I fought, I screamed, I refused.  This should have been a HUGE sign for the medical staff.  Instead, I was threatened and locked up.  I wasn't allowed to have a single item in my room and was threatened with restraint if I didn't comply with tests.  I received no psychological counseling.  I was in a locked floor that included juveniles accused of murder.  I was terrified and cried all the time.  My depression and anxiety were off the charts and my desire to die increased.  I received no phone calls, cards or letters.  All the things my abuser said would happen, happened.  I was taken away from my mom, locked up, stigmatized and in my head, not believed.  Of course, I hadn't told anyone, but at 15 yrs. old I thought they should all see my pain and sympathize or 'figure it out.'

What I learned from this experience was to lie, pretend and don't say anything.  I lied about being depressed, I lied about being suicidal, I lied to get the hell out of that awful place and back to my bedroom.  I pretended I was fine.  I learned to be hard, numb and indifferent.  I toughened up.  I also learned how to become less appealing to repel sexual advances.  I changed my looks from preppy to more punk.  I learned how to release the pain I felt inside, the pain I couldn't let anyone see.  I didn't know what cutting was back then, it wasn't a thing - or not one I ever heard of; however, I self mutilated just the same.  I picked and dug at my skin.  First, it was in places I could conceal and would prevent me from allowing anyone to get close (in a sexual way), it was a barrier against natural desire.  I dug my thighs and rear end.  I told my mom and friends I was allergic to toilet paper, soaps, detergent, fragrances etc. and they believed me.  In the summer, I'd say I got attacked by mosquitoes and the bites itched and I broke them open.  I used makeup to cover up.  They believed me.  I started picking at my face.  I did it when anxious, depressed, both of which got so bad, I was picking in my sleep.  I'd wake up with blood on my sheets and pillows.  I blamed it on teen break-outs, acne, reaction to make-up, face wash, soap etc.  They believed me.  I went to dermatologists that gave me topical medications and told me not to pick at pimples.  I was being treated by doctors for something I did not have, but they never questioned or suspected.  Yes, I was embarrassed.  Yes, I hated having to spend time using all types of makeup to cover up and hide the damage I was doing to myself.  Yes, I hated myself for doing it.  No, I couldn't seem to stop.  On my own, I tried cutting off my nails, putting socks on my hands when I slept at night - even taping oven mitts to my hands.  Nothing worked.  I knew I needed to talk to someone, and I wanted to so badly - but, noway was I going to because I was never going back to that horrible hospital again.

From high school on my relationships suffered.  They'd start out good, but there was always that moment when I was touched a certain way and triggered.  When this happened, the relationship suffered and would eventually end.  After the birth of my daughter, I fell into serious depression and my insomnia got worse.  I had horrible nightmares and flashbacks.  It was so bad, that I finally sought counseling.  I confessed to her father (my partner at the time) what happened to me all those years ago.  The councilor diagnosed me with PTSD and said the birth of a girl triggered the reaction, nightmares and flashbacks.  I was terrified of how to protect her.  This is more common than people think.  My mom was upset and confused about what was happening to me.  FINALLY, yes, at 23 years old, I told my mom what happened.  She was devastated.  She asked the same questions that most people would, including why didn't I tell her?  Her guilt was palpable and it caused me extreme pain to see her blame herself - but that's what parents do, that is what society does.  I worried about her seeking revenge, I worried about being pressed to go after the man who did this to me.  Part of me wanted to make him pay, part of me was terrified to ever having to face him again.  BTW, he is still alive, still free, and has never faced any charges.  He is a grandfather and living his life.  It makes me sick, and I also have guilt that my silence most likely has caused other girls to suffer the same fate. But, that's another story for another time.  I did contact some people to find out my legal options and also, a family member of his, but that's another story for another blog post.  What I do know is:  these type of predators don't stop being predators.

Nevertheless, the relationship with my daughter's father failed.  Although he knew what happened and why I reacted the way I did, the issues I had with intimacy and my depression/anxiety became too much for him.  He thought there was a magic pill or a certain amount of sessions that would make me better.  He referred to me as 'broken.'

At 26 yrs old, I married.  I refused to have more children.  I couldn't go through it again.  I was honest about my abuse as a child.  Like before, my relationship suffered due to intimacy issues.  I continued to pick at my skin despite trying so hard not too.  I didn't go to any doctors, because I married one and figured he'd be able to help me.  Since I worked in a hospital, I didn't want anyone to know or find out by seeing my medical records.  I figured he could prescribe anything I needed.  However, the shame never left me and I was constantly reminded by him that I was damaged.  Every problem in our relationship was blamed on me because of my past.  He blamed my upbringing and my mom for what happened and any issues we had.  I believed him, after all, he was a doctor and I was broken to some degree and I had triggers and issues.  My picking, mutilating my skin continued.  I tried every beauty product to fix or cover it up.  I tried facial treatments and light therapy.  I avoided activities like swimming or ones that caused me to sweat because I feared my make up coming off and exposing my horrible shame.  My kids wondered and questioned, my husband told them I had mental problems.  He belittled me, he shamed me and people believed him.  My anxiety was so severe I began to have panic attacks, heart problems, OCD, IBS and lost a dangerous amount of weight.  I developed fears and phobias: like heights, flying, leaving home, being in crowds.  Most people have them, but mine became severe.  I couldn't go up escalators without closing my eyes and hanging onto someone, I'd go weeks without leaving my home or getting out of my car, if I had to pick up the kids. I'd drive to the grocery store, but couldn't bring myself to go in.  I'd panic and drive home.  I went to medical specialists to get 'fixed.'  I was prescribed heart meds, sleeping meds, given hormone injections, brain scans, stress tests, GI tests and several blood tests.

He blamed me for every problem in our marriage.  Going so far as to justify having sex with me when I was sedated with sleeping pills.  They caused a kind of amnesia, so I was not certain if it was real or I dreamed it.  After a few times, I realized what he was doing.  I was terrified to take my sleeping pills and would stay up as long as I could.  I slept during the day and was blamed for not doing enough around the house and being a lazy housewife.  And yes, I classify what happened to me as marital rape.  Given my history, it's disgusting he would do this to me.  I suffered yet another person I loved taking advantage of me, without consent.  However, he blamed me claiming he had needs and I wasn't meeting them.  I thought, "Well, maybe it's ok, he gets what he wants and I don't have to really remember."  Crazy huh?  This is how I was living.  I was being raped when sedated.  While in this state, and while he was doing this to me, I was seeing husband's face change to the face of the man who abused me as a child.  And, if you are thinking how could a husband knowingly do this to his wife that suffered sexual abuse as a child, or why would he want to do this to a person who is asleep/sedated?  Yep...that's a really good question.  He's more of a monster than anyone knew or would believe, and trust me, no one believed me.  I mean NO ONE.

After 18 years of this, I was on the verge of another break down.  I learned my husband was having an affair.  He blamed my intimacy triggers, medical issues and PTSD for his affair.  It was my fault.   I believed him.  He said I needed psychological help.  I believed him, so made appointments.  It actually did help and after a few sessions, the counsellor suggested my husband join us (marriage counseling).  I was hesitant, but agreed.  It was awful.  He blamed me and my mom for everything, he manipulated the sessions, he lied over and over.  One session, I actually was so hysterical I walked out.  I couldn't take anymore.  He lied about continuing the affair, he lied about everything.  I was a wreck, but eventually I found evidence of his affair (the smoking gun).  No one believed me and he explained it all away to anyone who would listen.  He is a fantastic manipulator.  No one thought this wonderful man would do such a thing.  My kids thought I was crazy and felt so sorry for Dad.  I got mad, and I had enough.  Something snapped.  I said NO MORE.  I didn't care if no one believed me and despite the heartbreak I was feeling because of what my kids were being told, I filed for divorce.  I had to have faith my kids would eventually see the truth.  I was broken, but not because of me, but because of an accumulation of life long trauma.  I risked it all to save myself.

At 42 yrs old.  I left my home.  I had no job and my kids were mad and thought I was nuts and my soon-to-be ex convinced them I was the bad person.  It didn't take long for my daughter to see through the bullshit.  I had the painful task of telling them what happened to me as a child.  I told them the truth about their Dad's affair.  I didn't want to upset them, but after withholding the information to protect them, I knew I had to tell my side of the story.  It took my son longer to come around, but eventually he did, and realized Dad's role.

With help from my mom, I purchased a cute little home and the court ordered my ex to pay for further education.  I went back to school, got my Master's in Forensic Psychology, went to the appropriate doctors and was honest about the level of depression and anxiety, despite my reservations.  I was worried about stigma and shame, but knew I had to be strong and acknowledge my PTSD.  I acknowledge I have major depression and an anxiety disorder.  I'm now a Behavioral Therapist, I know what this means.  I know that it is not something I asked for and that it's not something I can muscle through or get over.  Of course, I still feel some shame and embarrassment that I have to take medication, but I'm working on that.  I do take medication, everyday.  I've gotten proper counselling for PTSD from sexual abuse.  I still pick at my skin when stressed, anxious and tired.  I have severe insomnia that I also continue to take medication for and will likely have to for quite some time.

Now, at 45 yr sold, I'm in the best relationship of my life, it's strong and forever.  I no longer have triggers with intimacy, and I've got a true partner I can trust.  I've learned so much was not my fault and acknowledged victimization throughout my life was also not my fault.  I've learned what a healthy relationship is and how to maintain one.  Since I've taken charge of my own life, both medically and mentally, I'm more confident and I'm no longer scared to put this story out there.  It took 45 years.  I'm not 'fixed.'  I am me - flaws and all.  I can't change the past, it will always be with me and it will continue to remain a challenge, but I now have the tools and support I need.

I HAVE A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION.  It is documented in my medical records because I sought the help I needed both medically (medications) and mentally (mental health counselling).  This health bill scares me, not just because of the pre-existing condition clause, but because I momentarily felt this lump in my gut of regret for being honest with my doctors and accepting help.  My initial thought was I may have screwed myself by having this in my medical records.  WTH?  I'm the healthiest I've ever been and this bill has me regretting it because I'm worried my insurance costs will go up, that I won't be able to afford it or worse, not be able to get insured at all!

Sexual assault as a pre-existing condition will likely devastate 1 in 4 women.  They may not seek help.  They likely have similar stories to me.  If you think you don't know a person who has been sexually assaulted, you do now.  Go vote, go fight - RESIST.

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