Family Believes Abuser, Not Me (Content Note)
If you'd asked me during my childhood whether or not I'd experienced sexual assault, I would've give you a very firm no - and I would've believed it.
When I was 19, I was raped, and it was my first experience with sexual intercourse. A guy I'd been hanging out with and fooling around with - he was drunk and I was there to do the usual hangout + fooling around. In the heat of the moment, I asked for sex. He did clarify - "Are you sure?" - and I affirmed. However, after about five minutes, it was too painful and I needed to stop. When I told him, he said, "No," and pushed me back down to the bed. He raped me for an hour and a half in every way possible. He now lives with his wife and baby daughter.
A year later, I was on a flight to Florida to see my grandparents. Though I've been flying since I was a preschooler (my parents divorced when I was a month old and I started flying at age four) with nothing more than occasional motion sickness, I was suddenly struck with the most painful headache of my life. I've never been prone to headaches, but out of nowhere, it felt like someone was taking a meat cleaver to my skull. Tears ran down my face and I was unable to stop them - or the pain.
When I arrived at my destination, I met my grandparents at the baggage claim: my father's mother and his stepfather (who'd adopted him as a toddler). I was immediately struck that my grandfather barely looked at me and wouldn't touch me - not even for a "hello" hug after not seeing me in 5 years. I brushed this off and the trip continued. Still, he didn't touch me and anytime I was alone in a room with him, he'd stare at the ground with a very distressed look on his face, never speaking to me. This was odd - as a child, I was his shadow anytime my mother sent me to visit he and my grandmother. I was his buddy - I spent all my time with him when I could. And now this silent treatment? I felt rebuffed.
During my visit, I was meditating in my room after they'd gone to bed. Out of nowhere - like my headache - I had the most horrifying visual: a third-person image, looking at my four-year-old self, who was staring at the wall, eyes glazed over, while my grandfather had his head between her legs with her nightgown pushed up.
The memory came like a bold of lightning - sudden, unbidden, shocking. I saw it for a split second, and then it was gone. However, my body knew it. Reflexively, my body curled into the fetal position, my hands over my head, tears running down my face, rapidly repeating "it never happened, it never happened" over and over like a prayer in a panicked whisper.
I left without speaking of this to anyone and didn't speak of it again until my next dating relationship. During this relationship, I wound up in couples therapy with my then-boyfriend and my therapist unearthed strong sexual compulsive behavior I hadn't realized wasn't healthy or "normal." I’d been unable to connect in any aspect during sex with anyone. Anytime I had sex, I would go somewhere else in my head. During this treatment and a moment where my boyfriend was coercing me into sex, I had even stronger flashbacks of the same image I'd seen in Florida, and the same physical responses.
I moved into therapy with a therapist who specialized in abuse cases, but who never encouraged me to "explore" or "remember" anything. She didn't even ask me about the memories. She just talked to me about how I felt in the moment, as an adult, here. During my times with her, many more memories came up of my grandfather inappropriately touching me and rubbing his genitals against mine. I would also remember that my grandmother knew in a sense and hated me for my “special relationship” with him. She punished me for this, calling me a whore, dressing me in clothing that was uncomfortably “modest” – for example, a skirt that was too long to move freely in, which was horrible for a young girl who played in the dirt. The abuse lasted from ages four to eight, but only during the few trips I took out to see them.
As I began to trust my therapist and share these things with her, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of fear. For a week, I was terrified unless I was in an enclosed room with the lights on. Anywhere else, I feared attack from an unnamed predator. I'd call my boyfriend to meet me at my car when I pulled up to my apartment so he could walk me up. I would later remember that my grandfather would always threaten me that if I told anyone, he would find out, and he would come find me. Once I realized this and knew I was truly safe, the fear dissipated. I began to research sexual abuse information and found I fit the criteria by every comparison.
I called my father and told him. He was shocked and asked many questions. I answered them while I cried, and he seemed to believe me. However, I would later discover that, despite my request that if he were to confront my grandparents, he tell me first – he did not do so. He asked him, and when my grandfather denied it, my father immediately believed him. Five years later, he will still maintain that, while he believes I was abused, there’s no way it was my grandfather. He even tries to get me to reconcile with him and only once I insisted he did stop conveying messages from him like, “Your grandfather loves and misses you and wants to talk to you.”
It's unfortunate that during this time, while the sexual compulsion did begin to resolve itself, I experienced another rape. My best friend, while my boyfriend was out of town, raped me one night while I was crashing at his apartment, while I was sleeping. I woke up after he'd already penetrated me. I never told my boyfriend, but I did cut the friend out of my life.
I’ve since experienced more memories – darker ones. I have a very fuzzy memory of my grandfather forcing his penis into my mouth while his brother watched and participated. I have memories of being ejaculated upon and being digitally penetrated – all of these memories where I am a child, used as an object, completely disconnected from reality.
While the memories have continued to come on occasion, I’ve healed from the damage as well as one can expect. I live a life I’m proud of, filled with people who love me and always encourage me to be my best self. I co-parent two young kids from my partner’s previous marriage. I run a successful business and am involved in many activities that bring me joy.
While there were other sexual abuse incidences from other people – mostly older children – my grandfather raping me is the most upsetting. I was in therapy for five years and still go back as needed. I have a deeply supportive partner who loves me and helps me whenever I need it.
But I am haunted. It’s never quite left me. I don’t think it ever will. What upsets me most is the fact that my father’s family completely denies any possibility and thinks I’m angry and projecting abuse perpetuated by others onto my poor grandfather. That side of the family does not reach out to me because they do not believe me. My grandfather, however, tried many times to message me on Facebook – until I blocked him. It scares me that they do not believe me – who knows him better, after all? I feel invalidated. I’ve considered hypnotherapy as a way to go back into the memories I have and see them more clearly so I can know for certain that the people in them are who I think they are, all because everyone who knows my abuser believes him without even considering they might be wrong.
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