I grew up in a beautiful home. I knew I was loved beyond measure despite my overactive mouth and unbridled attitude. I was cherished. And my parents did a wonderful job raising me to be a kind human. But one thing my family was awful at was communication. Heavy things were never the topic of the dinner time conversation, and I can’t remember a single time I had a true heart-to-heart with someone in my home who was concerned about me. It was a “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality. Everything was peachy, except the underlying stuff that wasn’t.
But the thing I needed the most—the thing I absolutely craved even though I never knew how to ask for it at the time—was an opening to share what I was going through, what was happening to me.
When I was in third grade, I went to a beautiful and seemingly safe private Christian school. It was there that I had my first encounter with being molested. It was done by a fellow classmate. I remember I would sit in the back of the classroom and play on the computer during indoor recess, and he would come over under the guise of watching me play. As he would kneel beside my small 8-year-old size computer chair, he would slyly slip his hand under my skirt or my shirt. I remember feeling absolutely paralyzed.
My memory is spotty, and I don’t remember how long it went on for, but I do know it was not a one-time thing. All I remember is that one day after it had been happening for a while, he got so bold as to try slipping his hand under my simple pre-pubescent bra. When he did, I jolted up with a start and rushed over to where my friends were sitting by the coat rack talking. I never went back to the computer after that day.
I was never asked about people touching me inappropriately. I was never prepared or told what to do if it happened.
Similar circumstances followed me as I grew up and the mental compartment that was my “do not disturb under pain of mental breakdown” chamber was taking up so much of my brain capacity that there was room for little else. All of my stress came from the thought of that door being blown open one day. And then it happened.
On a beach in Hilton Head in 2018, I broke down to my husband and told him everything that had ever happened to me. Boy was he surprised. But he was wonderful, and he cradled me in his arms as I cried and allowed the truth that I had kept so heavily guarded to be brought out into the light.
I wish I could say that healing followed. I wish I could say that I sought out help and came up with a plan to deal with my trauma and baggage. But despite my husband’s requests that I seek therapy, back into the chamber all of it went, picking myself up and dusting myself off and continuing on as if nothing had ever happened.
Trouble communicating was so heavily ingrained in me that I refused to talk about it, thinking it wasn’t worth talking about. Talking about it wouldn’t change it, right? Wrong.
Five years later, my mom is now in Heaven after a 3-year battle against ovarian cancer. I allowed her to pass away not knowing a single thing that happened to me. I never spoke a word of it, and she never asked. I don’t fault her with any of that though. She had a complicated relationship with her mother, and I don’t think they ever had hard conversations either. Generations are doomed to repeat themselves, aren’t they? Again, wrong.
Today I look into the eyes of my two daughters and my youngest son, the oldest daughter just three years away from entering third grade herself. When that thought slams into me, I am undone. The fear of her experiencing even half of what I did has me paralyzed all over again, just like that third-grade Emily, unsure of what to do.
But I am not that same scared and unprepared little girl. I now own what happened to me, as opposed to it owning me. I am seeking therapy, and I am done hiding from the trauma. I am open to sharing it with others as a word of caution so that I can help fellow parents see the signs and keep the floor of communication wide open with their kids to avoid having their children paralyzed by similar situations. I will not let my trauma go to waste. I will not allow a generational inability to communicate be the story of my relationship with my children. Too much is at stake.
So I beg you . . . have the tough conversations. Do not shy away from them. Be your kids’ wide open safe space, and do not send them out into the world unarmed and unprepared. You won’t regret the conversations with them that took place. Only the ones that didn’t.