I remember that afternoon when my innocence was taken away. I was seven years old at the time and my older brother asked me to play a game with him. Little did I know that he did not want to play a game with me, he wanted to experiment and take advantage of my body. We were deep in middle of ‘Guess who’ when my mother said she’s going away. My brother grabbed that opportunity rape me.
He was physically bigger than me and was laying on top of me. All I could her was his heavy breathing. I asked him to stop and he just kept on saying ‘two more minutes;’ After that he told me that this is our secret game. This was just the first time over a period of a few months that he sexually abused me.
When he would ask me to play our secret game, I never wanted to. He never let me have a choice. He would bribe me and force me into having sex. I clearly remember one time while he was raping me, my mother came outside the room and asked what we’re doing. He jumped off of me. I thought I was saved. He said we’re playing a game and then my mother walked away. He came right back onto me. Eventually, he got married.
They say sexual perpetrators know who to pick as their victims. After the abuse I was extremely vulnerable. That made me the perfect target for my cousin. I don’t remember exactly how it started. I just know my cousin always had an eye out for me. My cousin groomed me and then started sexually abusing me. My cousin was very violent with me and I still have scars from that abuse. My cousin would also tell me comments about how fat and unattractive I am. After two years of this torture my cousin moved away so it stopped.
I don’t recall thinking about this for a couple of years. I did not let my mind think about this. I completely dissociated from what happened. I used to have nightmares that I’m being raped but I would brush it aside. I just remember that I was always afraid to be alone with my brother. I also felt uncomfortable around him.
I remember my family spoke a lot about sexual perpetrators that went to jail. I was fifteen when I realized I had been abused by my brother. It did not even dawn upon me to speak up. Sex is not a topic that I could talk about at home. So, in my mind, I knew that when I get engaged and go to kallah classes I’ll speak up.
I didn’t have the vocabulary to speak up. I used to ask people ‘how do people have children’. I was hoping that would give me words to what happened with me and my brother. Instead, I got a reputation as being inappropriate. I tried asking my mother a question about sex to open up as to what happened to me. She shut me down right away and said its inappropriate.
My mother always educated me about stranger danger. She said if anyone would ever do anything she would have them arrested. What she did not know is that most abuse happens with someone you know and trust. I was scared to speak up and get my brother arrested. Also, how could I speak up and cause my parents so much pain?! I was also so embarrassed to say what happened. I was embarrassed that I could not stop my brother. I was scared I would be blamed. Keeping the secret was no picnic, only one who kept such a secret can understand the difficulty of doing so.
I was suffering and knew I had to speak up. My decision to speak up was made but I was clueless as how to go about that. I called a Rabbi anonymously and said I’m scared I won’t be normal because of this. He told me with proper therapy I’ll be normal but I must tell my parents because I need funding for therapy. A few days after that I did what I was running away from for years. I wrote my parents a brief letter saying there was an incident between me and my brother. I said I would like to go to therapy to overcome.
My mother believed me from the first second but she did not understand me. She asked me all kinds of questions that I did not feel comfortable answering and did not have the vocabulary to answer. Therefore, I answered ‘i dont know’ to everything. She said she’ll make some phone calls and get back to me.
A week later she told me that since “i dont remember: anything, I dont need therapy. Had I not remembered I would not have spoken up so obviously I did. She was in denial, as the situation was to hard for her to comprehend.
In a state of desperation, I turned to a teacher in my school that many girls consulted her with their issues. Her response was, “I always wonder how it happens to some people. Why you over anyone else? Did you enjoy it?” If it was not enough that I was struggling with this, she rubbed it in my face. She offered no support and encouragement. It took me months to get over what she told me.
About three weeks later my parents told me they found a therapist. I often doubt if it was worth speaking up. Maybe it would have been better to just be in denial.
Even once I started therapy, it took me months to speak up about my cousin. I did have period of a few months where every time I thought about my abuse I passed out. It was just too much for me to handle. It’s still very confusing for me. There’s a lot I don’t remember. There are just bits and pieces that I do remember. Sometimes I wish I remember more just so I have a clear picture of what went on. But maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t remember everything. What I know is enough. I’m barely handling the information I know.
At first my brother was seeing a therapist for his anxiety. When this story arose, he continued seeing that therapist and did not switch to one that specializes for sexual perpetrators. This was a disaster as my family was terribly misled. My parents put enormous pressure on me to just forget about everything and move on. They could not handle that I refused to see my brother because they said hes not a danger to me anymore. My brother would constantly come to my house for Shabosim and Yomim Tovim. When that happened, I would spend a few days locked in my room depressed and starving. By simchas, I was the one who could not come, not my brother.
I don’t know why this happened to me. There are so many people in the world. Why did it have to be me? I was seven years old. What could I have been doing that was so bad to deserve this? Why did this happen to me twice? Why is it fair that people go through life not being abused and this happened to me twice? It makes me feel like its my fault that it happened to me. Why did this go on for two years? Why didn’t I stop this? Why didn’t anyone notice? Why did no one else care enough to realize whats going on and intervene?
I never told anyone I was abused twice. What would people think of me when they hear this? People will think its definitely my fault. People won’t understand me.
My parents still don’t know about my cousin and I don’t want them to ever find out. I don’t think they’ll be able to understand me. They’ll probably blame me for both abuses. They’ll also be mad at me that I’m not allowing my brother to come. They’ll tell me to be mad at my cousin and not blame my brother. I’m scared people will be judgmental.
I was avoiding people, places, and things that reminded me of my abuse. I developed concentration difficulties and did not graduate with a diploma. This reinforced my feeling like a failure. I was confused why this happened. I felt betrayed. I believed it was my fault. I was disgusted with myself. I was embarrassed, I felt dirty, I felt guilty. Someone had to be responsible for the abuse and my brother wasn’t being held responsible, so I held myself responsible. I thought the abuse was my fault. I had so much shame and I developed so much self-hatred. Imaging being with someone you hate all day, you go crazy. I became very depressed. I also developed a fear of being abused again. I started experiencing flashbacks. I lost trust in so many people. I also had nightmares. I became hyper vigilant and could not sleep. I developed problems with food. I looked at intimacy which is supposed to be about safety, as dangerous and violent. So many things were triggering.
Every time I would get a little better, I would have some family function and have a major setback.
I was told that if my brother gets divorced it would be my fault, so I have to make sure his wife does not find out. I was told if he gets divorced he would move back into my house. I was constantly being told that I’m ruining my family’s reputation. All this was coming from my parents. I was so fed up and needed someone to understand me. I called a relative who I thought would for sure support me. However, she yelled at me that I’m ruining my family and I should just move on. If I wasn’t sure until that point that the abuse was my fault, by then I was sure. Not just that, my parents blamed me for telling my relative.
I felt different than other people. I thought if I ‘deserved’ to be abused then I deserve to die. Until I had spoken up I had been a regular great girl. Afterwards, I felt like damaged goods. I was full of guilt and shame. I lost complete faith in God. I stopped eating kosher, davening, keeping shabbos, etc.
After a lot of tears and indescribable pain, my parents went to a third party. The therapist they went to, advised my parents that my brother switch therapists to one that specializes for sexual perpetrators. My brother did and he came a long way. He started owning up some responsibility and limiting his comings. Furthermore, my parents stated supporting me a little.
With all that I couldn’t manage. I felt worthless and helpless. I felt damaged. I felt abandoned. I started self-harming and saw suicide as the only option out of my pain. It came to a point where I had to be on medication. My parents are against medication. They were so angry at me for needing medication. They said it’s because of my reaction. I was blamed. I felt broken. My friends were breaking up with me because I was so needy. I felt so alone in all of this.
I was very angry. When I did something wrong I would get rebuked for it. I couldn’t understand why I’m being rebuked but my brother was never punished for what he did. My life came to a point where I couldn’t manage.
I remember that Sunday night. I was sitting on the couch staring into space with tear filled eyes. “‘Why eat? Why exercise? Why sleep?’ I anyways won’t be around for much longer. I want to die. I don’t want to live. I can’t take life anymore. I’d be doing the world a favor. I’m not wanted. I’m not needed. No one likes me. No one cares about me.”
I was holding a knife staring at my gushing arms. I was fighting a race against time. I had my suicide letters done. My suicide plan was prepared and ready for me. I was done. Life was just to painful. Every second felt like an eternity. I remember thinking “I just can’t go on, I can’t do this, I’s to much for me” Really, I wanted to be saved. No one seemed to understand me. No one could help me.
My mother came to me and sat down near me. She asked me if I want to go to rehab. I was shocked. Me?! Rehab?! I just didn’t know what to think. ‘What about shidduchim?’ Isn’t it crazy that this is what our world has come to? I was struggling to survive. I needed help. Therapy wasn’t enough, I needed something more intense. I was scared to get the help I needed because of what others would think. ” who would marry me if I go to rehab?” To the outside world I’m a functioning person. I couldn’t believe my life came to this point.
Somehow, I made it through that night. The next day didn’t prove to be any better. I was struggling every minute, trying to survive. Something that most people take for granted, I was struggling and losing the battle with it. ‘How did my life spiral out of control to this?’
A few more long, excruciatingly difficult days like this went by. Then I realized, this can’t go on. Either I’m going to kill myself, or I’m going to get better and learn how to live. I need to be able to function.
My therapist recommended a rehab that she thought might be beneficial for me. It was in a different state in middle of nowhere. I spoke to a representative from that rehab who gave me some basic information about the place. Included in the information was the price. Tens of thousands of dollars and insurance is not accepted.
There was no way my parents could pay that money. I had just finished high school and couldn’t pay for it either. My parents started rethinking if I should go or not. They decided it might not be necessary because of the price. They didn’t realize how much I was struggling. I just started getting worse and realizing there’s no point in living if I don’t have money because I can’t help myself.
Someone found out about this and sponsored the whole thing. When I heard I just cried and cried. No one has ever been so nice to me. No one has ever done anything nice for me. I was so touched.
Even once the money wasn’t an issue, my parents were still worried about shidduchim. It was summertime, so it was the perfect time to disappear and they ended up agreeing to me going because I said if I don’t go to rehab then I won’t be around for shidduchim.
On a Wednesday I got a call that there’s a bed available at my specific rehab. That night I was on the plane on my way to rehab. When I landed I went to baggage claim. There was a guy waiting for me over there with a sign of my name, like in the movies. When I got there half my belongings were confiscated. All my life I was running away from my feelings and engaging in addictive behaviors. At rehab they took away any kind of addiction and left me with my feelings. The first few days were unbearable. But then a miracle happened. I learned to tolerate my feelings and was then able to work through my trauma and move forward.
I learned that sometimes “it’s okay to not be okay”. I also learned that anything I think and feel is normal as a result of my trauma. That doesn’t mean I should surrender to my feelings. It just means there’s nothing wrong with me.
When I had no motivation to recover, I had to remember that suicide is not working out so I’m going to live. Since I’m going to live, I have to do stuff to make my life better. I have to create a life that’s worth living. I cant change what happened but I can change how it affects me. I can learn to accept it and be okay with it.
I learned that I can be loved. At rehab I was loved and accepted for who I was. I just wish my community would be this way too and not be so judgmental. I didn’t have to do anything to earn everyone’s love. Even though I was broken I was loved. Broken crayons color and broken mirrors reflect.
Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. I control my mind and I decide if I want to think painful thoughts. People were always putting pressure on me to forgive my abusers and move on. I’ll do this at my own pace when I’m ready and no one can tell me when to be ready. But I do realize now that my abusers have no control over me now and I’m not letting them take up space in my head.
I moved from being a victim to a survivor. Its now three and a half years since I went to rehab and I have a love for life. I’m happy to be alive and I’m enjoying life. I know there are so many people suffering silently. But I’m here to say it does get better. It is possible to reclaim your life.
Please feel free to reach out to me and send any comments to [email protected]