Pain to Shame is the personal story that Brandi, a survivor of sexual abuse, has bravely shared with us. We would like to take a second to thank her so much for sharing this story, and acknowledge how much courage it takes to put her story out into the world. We thank you, and we are proud of how far you have come!
*Please note that the following story may be triggering and includes topics of child sexual abuse and self-harm. If you need to talk call our 24 Hour Crisis Line at 940-382-7273 or 800-572-4031.*
Pain to Shame
I used to believe that sexual abuse was a curse in my family. My great-great grandmother was disowned and forced to move from Czechoslovakia (at the time) because she had gotten pregnant by rape. Following my great-great grandmother, almost every female in my family experienced sexual abuse… including me. This fact had me assume that my family had been cursed by some Bohemian gypsy back in Czechoslovakia.
I decided to start telling my story and I found that my story was similar to my friends', co-workers’, classmates’, and acquaintances’ stories. The curse I thought I had was actually more of an epidemic, not just to my family but to women everywhere. Abuse can happen to anyone, but it is much more common for women.
My first memory is being abused. I was three years old. Most people can’t remember anything before 5 or 6. In my research, I found that a young brain can be awoken by a traumatic event. I was being sexually abused by my older neighbor, my best friend at the time. I was then groomed to be raped by her father who was also abusing her.
I became a scared… no… a terrified child. I was terrified of nighttime. I was terrified of being alone. I was terrified of getting in trouble. I was terrified of men. I was terrified of talking in front of people. I was terrified of being wrong, and doing wrong. I was even terrified of wiping myself after using the bathroom. I felt terror in the clenching of my insides. Anytime I was stressed, I clenched. My whole female anatomy was controlled by fear.
I was a very sickly child too. It now makes sense that the stress wore down my tiny body. Because I was so young, there were no warning signs for my family. Scared, sensitive, and sickly just became my personality.
I had my first flashback at 19. The flashbacks became brutal. I experienced my pain in my head and even in my body, over and over and over again. These flashbacks should have caused me to be upset, and maybe even wanting revenge, against my abusers. Unfortunately, the upset was all internalized and created shame that only wanted to hurt me. The shame and pain caused me to hurt myself. I hated myself to the point that I wanted to die. Why did I want to take my own life for someone hurting me? Why do victims take our pain and turn it into shame?
My grandmother, a victim of the wide-spread “curse” in my family, believes that abuse is deserved. She believes that rape is the victim's fault, even as a victim herself. This answered my questions. We tell women to dress appropriately, to not go out late at night, to not drink with men, to not go to a man’s house alone, to fight back, to have a rape whistle… we have been taught that we as women, MUST prevent rape to stop rape.
The advice of our old-fashioned grandparents have not stopped rape or abuse. There is still sexual assault happening every 98 seconds in America according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). So blaming the victim has obviously not succeeded in ending abuse. It has just created a new form of personal abuse, which is shame.
My shame became stronger as the people around me added more shame. I became a little too open about what happened to me. My best friend told me I could be making it up. My therapist said she can’t help me until I learn to help myself first. My doctor said I was using my abuse as a crutch to get more meds. My classmate said it shouldn’t take this long for me to get over it. My coworker said I was too dramatic. My family friend said that everyone gets raped, so what’s different about you? I had 99% of my friends leave because I was just too much.
Shame began to build up while reading other victims' stories. A woman was trapped and repeatedly raped by her father for 24 years in Austria. I would feel like all my feelings were inadequate to what she has had to feel.
I felt shame about the scars on my wrist. I felt shame about the weight I gained. I felt shame about wanting sex and not wanting sex. I felt shame about wanting to die. I felt shame for not being able to hold a job. I felt shame about not having energy to study. I felt shame for sleeping all day. I felt shame for being depressed. I felt shame that I needed medicine to make it through each day. I felt shame that I wasn’t beautiful enough to be abused.
Today after 11 attempts of suicide, after multiple sexual assaults, and an overwhelming amount of shame, I have become myself. I am a bold, trusting, energetic, charismatic, strong, powerful, loving, loud, intelligent woman that has experienced pain, but no longer feels shame. I found such a wonderful person behind all the abuse and shame. I am the most important person in my life. I will not let my past hold me back. I will only let it make me stronger, which is why I am here today speaking in front of you. No matter what happens to me now or in the future. No one gets to have 20 more years of my life. Because of organizations like Denton County Friends of the Family, because of my mother, because of my cousin who passed as a victim, because of my best friend who wouldn’t let me stop going, and because of my brilliant fiancé helped me see that I am worthy of love: I am, now, a survivor.
Unfortunately, a world without sexual and domestic abuse is not in the near future. There is law enforcement not taking abuse seriously, as seen by the multiple police calls Nicole Simpson made to police of domestic attacks before her violent death. There are judges like the judge in the Brock Turner case that do not take sexual assault seriously. There is a social stigma pointed at the victims but there’s rarely a finger pointed at the abusers. There is a depressing reality that abuse is not near extinction. It takes death by sexual and/or physical abuse to have rape or domestic violence finally realized and legally recorded.
But there is something we can change here while we fiercely and strongly take back the night. For those who know someone who has been abused: Treat her like a warrior. Raise her up. Do not use the victim word. Do not ask her why she didn’t leave. Do not judge how she is reacting to her abuse. Do not alienate her as your friend. Do not EVER suggest that she had any part of her abuse. Do not leave her alone when she is her most sick. Please do show her that she is loved.
For those who have been abused: Treat yourself like a delicate flower. Use kind words when thinking about yourself. Point out the things you like about yourself, to yourself. Remind your soul that you are here for a reason. Remind your will of the strength it takes to get through trauma. Remind your heart that it’s worth love. Remind your body that you are safe. Remind your dreams that they can still come true. Remind your hands that they can be still while your world is shaking. Remind your muscles that tension is temporary. Remind yourself that you are loved. You are loved by you.
And if there is anyone here with power, help.
- Written by Brandi Slocum, Survivor and Speaker's Bureau member