Stained Does Not Mean Unclean… Healing After Sexual Assault

I’ve been keeping an ugly secret since I was six years old.

I kept quiet for a lot of reasons, the biggest being shame.  MY shame.  I am ashamed of myself, ashamed of the circumstances I allowed myself to be in, ashamed of my stains.  It’s never a fun thing to admit that you’ve made a mistake, even if the mistake wasn’t completely your fault.  The secrets I keep have enveloped me in shame for all of my life.  In fact, shame has been a fundamental part of my emotional make up for so long that I don’t really even notice that it’s there anymore.  I ALWAYS feel shame.  Humiliating, shoulder drooping, brow beating shame is just a part of my everyday self.

I think the second reason I’ve kept my disgusting secrets is to protect people.  To protect myself, of course, from the shame I just talked about and from punishment for my actions, but also to protect the people I feel I’m supposed to protect.  Namely my family.  My parents.  My parents, and the people my parents care about.

If they ever find this blog post online….   Sorry Mom.  For being stained, and for being damaged.  And for failing to be everything I could have been.  And Dad, please don’t kill anyone.  I know you’ll want to, and that’s okay.  It just means you love me.

When I was a kid I was the victim of sexual assault.  I think the specific term is “sexual molestation,” but I really don’t like that phrase.  In my head that term is really one sided, and it triggers visions of a pervy old man teaching “hands on” piano lessons.  That term makes me think that the offender is 100% to blame and the victim is purely innocent, caught in the offender’s wave of destructive behavior.

My story isn’t that cut and dry, I don’t think.

I was about six years old.  My story involved an older boy, and an older girl.  I honestly don’t know how it all started, but I know for sure that I was not the one that started it.  I really don’t like the term “victim,” but if it’s important that there’s a victim in my story the victim was me.

Since I decided a few weeks ago to talk about this publicly, I’ve debated back and forth in my head whether or not to go into detail.  Part of me thinks “it’s brave, it’s what you should do, it’ll be freeing and cathartic and therapeutic.”  The rest of me thinks “eww gross, and no one wants to read that, it’s too much.”  On the one hand it really is MY story to tell regardless of anyone else’s involvement.  “Fuck the perps, if they didn’t want to be ratted out they shouldn’t have done bad things.”  I believe in total honesty and taking responsibility.  I also believe in “go big or go home,” so now that I’m talking about it AT ALL I’m okay telling ALL of it.  On the other hand…  I think there are some things that only priests, juries, and paid therapists should hear.  (Yes, that was some snarky dark humor.  If we can’t laugh through the bad stuff we’ll just die cranky, right?)

I decided eventually to strike middle ground as best I can.  “In all things seek balance.”  It’s kind of my motto.  (I might even get that printed on a t-shirt.)

I don’t know when the abuse started, or at what point the behaviors became “abusive.”  Just like most things that are really great or really horrible it was a culmination of events, not a single catastrophic occurrence.  What started out as an innocent touch eventually became more than that.

The two people that caused me pain were trusted by my parents enough to be invited into our house.  One was around for sleepovers.  Our families spent time together.  There was plenty of opportunity for innocent touch to evolve into more forceful, more sexual behavior.  It took YEARS to become something destructive, and almost as long to change into something that made me feel guilt and shame and fear.

At the end of it all I was eight years old and I knew what it was like to be french kissed by both genders.  I had experienced giving and receiving both male and female oral sex.  I knew what it was like to have hands and fingers between my legs, how to masturbate, and how to masturbate someone else.  I was extremely familiar with my sexual organs.  By age seven I understood what sex felt like.  At age seven I knew what it was like to WANT SEX.

For the most part I think that kids are innocent until shown otherwise.  In an isolated environment, kids remain fairly sexless until their hormones cause a cascade of change that eventually leads to sexualization.  More simply put, a child will learn about sex either through puberty or their environment.  In our country it almost always happens through their environment.

AND OHMYGOODNESS DOES IT EVER HAPPEN, and it happens EARLY.  A recent study shows that girls are aware of their sexuality and sexual appeal by age SIX.  SIX YEARS OLD.  That baffles and disgusts me.  When I took my kids to the dentist last week a question on the form said “For females age ten and older, are you pregnant or do you think you might be pregnant?”


TEN YEARS OLD.  DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN, please hold a hand of protection over our kids.  They are supposed to be innocent for as long as possible.  Not IGNORANT, but INNOCENT.

[I could talk about the frightening subject of children and sexuality for hours, but I won’t.  It’s not the purpose of this post.  Just know that our kids are becoming sexualized early because we as adults have little to no restraint when it comes to how WE behave, and how WE live.  Attitude of our young ones reflects the leadership they follow.  That’s all on that for now.]

I was ignorant AND innocent until someone showed me otherwise.  I was innocent until suddenly I was not.  Suddenly I had adult sexual drive and awareness in a child’s body, with a child’s mind and a childish emotional scope.

I was a kid, but I wanted sex like an adult.

And oh that part was so confusing.  I’ve done a lot of reading throughout my adult life to try to come to grips with my abuse, and one of the most common beliefs among victims of sexual abuse is the idea that “in some ways I wanted the abuse because on some level I wanted the sex.”  That belief is DEVASTATING.  It’s difficult to get over, and it’s SO HARD to understand why that belief is wrong.  And IT IS WRONG.  Victims of sexual assault often believe that because my body DID RESPOND, because my body WANTED SEX, somehow what happened to me was MY FAULT.  That I “asked for it.”  That because I ENJOYED it on some level it made what happened to me “okay.”

That’s just not true.

What people forget is that our bodies are machines.  Our components are meat and bone and nerves and blood, but we’re still machines.  Like any machine we work on the most basic levels in purely “cause and effect.”  Stimulus = reaction.  Period.  When a person gets junk up their nose they sneeze.  When we think about yawning or we see someone else do it, we yawn.  (Curious to know how many of you yawned just now.)  When we are sexually stimulated we react with sexual response.  Men know this better than women, having a sexual organ that very often has a mind of its own.

Often what the victims of sexual assault don’t or CAN’T understand is that regardless of how their bodies responded to the unwanted stimulus, if they didn’t CONSENT it was purely physical reaction.  Their CONSENT is the issue, not the sexual response.  SEXUAL REACTION DOES NOT EQUAL CONSENT.

Aaaaaaaand there it is.  The issue of CONSENT.  For ME that’s the most confusing part.  If I need professional therapy to get through this, it’ll be for THAT PART.

If you’ve read my blogs you know how I feel about freedom of choice.  I believe that we are only victims when we refuse to choose for ourselves.  We are only victims when we ALLOW people to choose for us instead of submitting to only our own choice, our OWN will.  I can preach for hours about freedom of choice and how “a person ALWAYS HAS A CHOICE.”  “We always have a choice” is one of my foundational beliefs.

I’m sure part of me feeling so strongly about that concept is because of what I’ve been through in my life, but therein lies the controversy.

How does a person tout the concept of FREE WILL and “I WILL NOT do what others put on me,” and “I am my own person by my own choices,” and “OWN YOUR LIFE, ALL OF IT…”

How does a person say all those things about themselves and then say to the world “It wasn’t my fault, I’m a victim.”


I’m just so confused.

Sexual assault is SO CONFUSING.  To deal with, and to assign blame, and to understand.  There are so many facets and so many things to consider.  Very, very rarely is it cut and dry.  Usually it’s not my idea of “sexual molestation” where one side is 100% to blame and the other side is 100% innocent.  I WISH IT WAS THAT SIMPLE.  As horrible as it sounds, I think I’d prefer it that way.  I’d prefer to be outright raped.  I’d rather be knocked in the back of the head and knocked OUT and raped than deal with what actually happened to me.  If I had been knocked out I might actually buy the line “it’s not my fault.”

[And ohmygoodness…  for anyone that has been raped, please know that I’m not minimizing anything you’ve experienced.  I wish it never happened AT ALL, to ANYONE.  Actually if I’m wishing for things, I wish that all sexual deviants at conception of malicious intent have their pervy parts magically melt off.  Or EXPLODE.  Even better.  Or for their arms and legs to be removed by violent animals.  Something bad.]  

I wish my story was cut and dry, and very simple.  But it’s not.

As it is I’m left to sort out blame, and deal with my part of it.  And I WANT TO ACCEPT BLAME FOR MY PART OF IT, but I just don’t know what PART that IS.  Whose fault IS IT?

Sorting out blame for my situation is a lot like auto insurance companies deciding percentage of fault for an accident.  One person was driving too fast, but the intersection wasn’t marked.  One person was going the speed limit and was in the right hand lane and had the right of way.  One person stopped for a child’s ball bouncing in the street.  One driver was older and should have known better.  One of the drivers had a kid in the back seat that suddenly threw up, or a bag in the back seat that tipped smelly garbage all over the floorboards.  At the end of it one person hit the other person, but is the one that made impact completely to blame?  There are additional circumstances to consider.

When an older child hurts an younger child, the question is raised.  “Where did the older child learn that behavior?”  And does the older child take the blame, because they’re still a CHILD.  As a mother I’d say YES.  The older child, or the parents of the older child.  “CONTROL YOUR KID.”  But what if the parents of the older child were like MY parents, and they just didn’t KNOW?  There are so many aspects and so many parties involved when you consider the age I was, and the age of the older kids.  Where did the other kids learn such things?  How did they know what they KNEW?  Who and why and how and when and WHAT.  So many questions need to be answered before true blame can be assigned.

And then I wonder, does it MATTER?  Does it matter who is to blame?  Because really, it’s done.  It’s over with and done.  I can’t change it, I can’t take it back, I can’t be anyone other than exactly who I am regardless of how much or how little those experiences effected me.  Does it MATTER if it was my fault?  Or theirs?  Or my parents, or society?

I honestly don’t think it does.

Which ALSO makes it hard, because I’m a person that likes responsibility.  I BELIEVE in TAKING RESPONSIBILITY.  Not BLAME, per say, but responsibility.  People answering for things they’ve done.  HONESTLY.  I want pure and total and absolute honesty. People reaping what they’ve sown.  And not that I want to be judge or jury or executioner, handing out punishments left and right.  I don’t want that, and I wouldn’t do that, and I DO NOT do that for anyone other than my kids.  But I don’t think that it’s fair for someone to say “It’s not my fault” when it TOTALLY IS THEIR FAULT.


…and we’ve come full circle.

You see why it’s so confusing.

Aside from placing blame and pointing fingers, there’s not much left to do but reconcile with myself, and learn something, and let go and move on.  And LIVE.  And I’ve TRIED to live.

There’s no way to know, really, what I’d be like without my stains.  Without the ugly shadows.  I’m quite sure that the scary stuff in my dark closet would be greatly diminished, or at the very least it would be different.  I’m sure that I’d be dealing with life differently, that I would have been way less depressed.  And less disgusted with myself.  I’m sure I’d have a sense of self-worth.

It took a long, long, long time for me to even admit that what happened had any effect on me.  I didn’t want to admit it.  I think mostly because of what I said before, that I was either IN CONTROL OF MYSELF or I WAS NOT, and I don’t want to BE NOT.  I want to be able to say that everything I’ve done and everything I am is because of ME, not because of someone else.  The only way to be able to say that is to say “doesn’t matter,” so I said “IT DOES NOT MATTER.”  Not that it never happened, but that it might not have happened for the level of effect it had.

I was wrong, though.  I was really deceived for almost all of my adult life.

It took a long time and a lot of help and a LOT OF LOVE, but I did finally accept that YES, things happened.  YES they left a mark.  A stain.  A LOT OF STAINS.  The Mister helped a lot with finding truth.  He was my Flying Buttress while I found my truth, and he helps me to be honest with myself.  He held my hand and handed me kleenex while cried and told him all the ugly secrets.  He helps me find and brush off and decorate around my stains to create a beautiful picture, and loves me for the picture we paint there.  He has held me while I cried, and  he has cried with me.

With his help I have found some peace.  And self-worth, and value.  With his help I have accepted my reality, and through that acceptance I’ve come to understand how much and what kind of damage the abuse caused.   I understand what it has done to me.  What it’s MADE of me.

I’m going to share it with you.

I’m a highly, hugely, enormously sexual person.  I won’t say that I’m a nymphomaniac, I do have a sense of control over my sexual impulse, but I am extremely sexual.  I like sex.  A LOT.  Without sounding like a total perv, sex is one of my top three favorite things to do.

[“OMG are you allowed to SAY THAT?”   …I don’t know, but I just did.  Purely honest.]

Maybe it’s because I have control over what I felt I once didn’t?  Or because my wiring was changed at a young age, or because genetically I was predisposed to be that way and nurture amplified my tendencies.  I’m not sure.  Like I said I’m not sure what I’d be WITHOUT the stains, I just know that WITH the stains this is how I am.  I’m not trying to draw parallels that shouldn’t be there, but this connection I think is pretty obvious.

I believe that I am bisexual.  For a very, very long time I thought I was a lesbian, but I realized at one point that in order to have sex with women you have to spend TIME with them.  I don’t care to spend time with women.  Girls are mostly dumb.  I prefer to spend time with men.  I’m quite sure that my lesbianic confusion was due to my “first and foundational sexual exposure,” but again.  I think there was a tendency there to start with that was amplified by my young experiences.  I would have been happy at many points in my life to pursue sexual relationships with either men or women.  I feel sexual attraction to both men and women.

[“OMG, you want to have sex with women?!  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to change with you at the gym!”  ….Okay, but um no.  Male or female, I don’t want to have sex with you.  I’m in a purely monogamous, committed, last-one-I’ll-have relationship and will not have sex with any other person for the rest of my life.  Just because I COULD have sex with a woman doesn’t mean I WILL.  Just because YOU could have sex with someone doesn’t mean you WOULD.  I merely mention this factoid about myself because I feel it’s important to be honest.  Purely honest.  I want to speak the truth.  All of it.]

I do not trust people to get to know me.  I am stained, and I have spent most of my life keeping people from seeing my stains.  I’m an introvert by nature so I’ve had fewer friends than most, but even the friends I’ve had I’ve kept at arms length.  I’m VERY VERY VERY GOOD about getting to know everything about another person and never ever sharing anything about myself.

…which is why this has been such a huge journey for me, and why YOU are so important to me.  You are reading this.  You are getting to know me, and for ME that is a HUGE FUCKING DEAL.  Thanks for being here.

My sexual assault is the FIRST REASON why I am “gross.”  I have carried a self-hatred and self-loathing since I was six that could drop a full grown person to their knees.  And it DID drop me to my knees, and then it sat on my back, and it held me there for a long time.  I have hated myself for as long as I can remember.  I think if I could bottle and weaponize the self-hatred I’ve felt I could wipe out the world leaders in one week.  They’d finish themselves off.  MASS SUICIDE.  Almost all the self-hating words that The Voice of Failure uses are fueled by my sexual assault.  Although how I deal with those feelings of worthlessness and self-disgust as an adult is defining of me NOW, I believe that a great deal of those feelings were PUT THERE by the abuse.

I. HATE. PORNOGRAPHY.  I hate pornography in any way, shape, or form.  I do not tolerate it in my house.  Photos, magazines, stories, eroticism, video.  Any and all.  I will not watch it on TV, even when disguised as an R-rated movie.  I will plug my ears and cover my eyes when something shows up on the TV that makes me feel uncomfortable.  My “shame” trigger is so sensitive that even seeing two people fully clothed in a passionate embrace will make me recoil.  I also detest jokes about sex, either direct or implied. Creating sexual innuendo when otherwise there was none disgusts me. I don’t ever laugh at those jokes, and in fact the jokes generally piss me off to the point of rage.

[“Wait.  I thought you just said you like sex?”    Yes, I did.  But not OTHER PEOPLE’S SEX.  I don’t like thinking about it.  Or talking about it.  Or WATCHING IT, or seeing it, or having it implied.  It grosses me out.  I believe that sex is meant to be contained between TWO PEOPLE, and TWO PEOPLE ONLY.  JUST.  The only rule I have for my sex life is “just us.”  Mentally, physically, emotionally, visually, tangibly.  “JUST. US.”  YES I know that takes work, YES I know it’s uncommon to the point of being unlikely.  But it’s my rule.  If you don’t like it, find someone else that has a different rule.]

I am on DEFCON 1 with my kids because of my experiences.  They do not spend the night at friends houses unless I personally know the parents AND ALL THE OLDER SIBLINGS.  They do not play inside a closed play structure unless I have a head count on every kid that’s there, and all kids are under a certain age.  We do not watch TV in our house that is not supervised and monitored.  I do not watch TV with the kids around unless it’s something we can ALL watch.  I do not order or subscribe to or purchase any magazines that have any fashion ads in them.  I do not look at magazines in the grocery store aisle if my kids are with me, and even then I don’t really look.  I do not talk about my body in any way that would lead to them questioning themselves or their sexuality.  My kids know about sex already, the basics, and about the sanctity and purity and VIRTUE of their bodies.  That NO ONE WILL BE ALLOWED TO TOUCH THEM WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION, and that THEY ARE WORTH FIGHTING for.  That their VIRTUE is worth fighting for, and that as their mother I will fight for it with my LIFE.

In some ways the experience has been a good thing.  I guess there is no loss without some small gain.  “Silver lining,” and all that.  The silver lining is that the cycle STOPPED.  The silver lining is my kids are stronger and more aware and more adjusted and more PREPARED than most adults I know.  There is no fleece over their eyes, or mine.  “So that it doesn’t happen to them” is enough justification for me to have dealt with what I’ve dealt with.

The silver lining is that by going through the shit filled trench I FOUND MY TRUTH.  I know myself.  I am brave.  I can deal with conflict.  I am able to stand up for myself when it counts and say “NO MORE, THIS STOPS NOW,” because I know what it’s like when I DON’T.  Even more than standing up for myself I am able to stand up for OTHERS.  Injustice in any form is unacceptable to me, and I will fight it with my dying breath.

The silver lining is that I accept the flaws and mistakes of others without judgement.  I am stained almost beyond recognition, so who am I to judge?  I can see myself in spite of the stains, so I am able to see past the stains of others.  I can see past the mistakes and hurt and pain that they either received or caused.  I can see things in people that others who have lived more innocent lives cannot see.  I see flaws in others and I love them anyways, not in spite of the stains but because of them.

The silver lining means that I am a realist.  I understand that life is really, really shitty sometimes no matter our outlook or what we hope for.  I understand that REALITY is not cute, or pretty, and regardless of the rose colored glasses I choose to put on occasionally, I understand that they’re JUST GLASSES.  I do try to find the good things in life, but I know that there are crappy things too.

There are a lot of bad things that have come from the abuse, but there are good things too.  And I’m healing.  Slowly but surely, I’m healing.  I’m finding my way along the road of life and I really do think that when I get to the end I’ll be WHOLE.

And you know, along with The Mister my kids have been God’s way of healing me.  I look at my daughter, now almost eight…   I look at her gorgeous, breathtaking face, and I know that SEVEN IS SO YOUNG.  I look at the difference between my seven year old daughter and her twelve year old cousin and realize that THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE.  I realize that no matter how insignificant the difference felt at the time, there was a BIG one between me and the offenders.  That even if I remember that experience as an adult, at the time I was just a child.  With a child’s ability to think, and a child’s short-sighted and narrow perspective.

I hug and hold my kids and I realize that even if my son or daughter participated in such behaviors with another child, the pain I’d feel wouldn’t be because they did something WRONG, but that they were ABLE to participate in the first place.  That they weren’t innocent anymore.  My pain would be not as the child I was but as the mother I am now, pain in knowing that somehow, somewhere I failed.  That I let them down, that they weren’t more prepared.  My pain would be not BECAUSE of them, but FOR them.

And it would be purely pain.  Not anger, or disgust, or hate or disappointment IN them.  Only FOR them.  It would be only pain, and love.  So much love.

In my head lives Little Erin.  For most of my life I’ve hated her.  She’s weak, and stupid, and gross and worthless and I hate her.  She allows people to choose things for her.  Because of her size and age and consistently underestimated capabilities she’s FORCED to have choices made for her.  People don’t listen to her even when she tries to explain.  Even when she screams for help.

On a lot of levels and for a lot of (now more obvious) reasons, I really do hate Little Erin.

But then I think of what I just said.  I think of my kids, and what they deserve.

Little Erin is just a kid.

Maybe she deserves the same.

Maybe she’s not gross.  Maybe it wasn’t all the way her fault for letting those things happen.  Maybe she did the best with what she had at the time.

Maybe I can try to forgive her.

Maybe I can try to forgive ME.

And that’s what it’s all about, right?  Learning to forgive ourselves.  Even if the blame isn’t mine.  Even if it IS.  Even if my life sucked because of my mistake, even though the people that hurt me may never be sorry.  Even if nothing ever comes of this story except that I TOLD it, even if I think of it every day or if it never haunts me again.  The GOAL, “what it’s all about,” is being able to live with myself.  Being able to live with Little Erin.  To TOLERATE her.  To forgive her.  To forgive myself, to find some worthiness in myself to pass on to other people.  To make everything I’m involved in while I’m alive, EVEN MYSELF, better than when I found it.

Maybe Little Erin can find redemption, too.  Maybe I’ll let her.

Because look.

six years old. i see my daughter's face in this picture...

six years old. i see my daughter’s face in this picture…

Little Erin. You're a good kid, no matter what.

Little Erin. You’re a good kid, no matter what.

She was just a kid.

I was just a kid.

One day at my Grandma’s house I was rummaging around in a pile of laundry for a clean towel to hang on her kitchen towel rack.  Grandma’s quite particular when it comes to appearances and company was coming over, so I was looking for a towel that was pristine.  She approached me, reached in to the pile and pulled out her trusted, very used, very loved, favorite dish towel out of the wash.  I said “That one looks dirty, Grandma, don’t you want a cleaner one?”

She replied.  “No, this one is good.  It’s clean.  It’s just stained.”

Being stained does not mean you are ruined, or tossed out, or passed over.  It doesn’t mean you have no purpose left.  The stains mean you’ve been around, and you’ve been IN THE TRENCH, and you’ve had a purpose.  It means you’ve been functional.  And that you’ve been used, and beat on, and sopped up, but still you survived.  You LIVED.  You kept going.

Also.  Being stained doesn’t mean you haven’t been washed clean.

Or that you can’t be.

Comments ( 5 )
  • Kathryn says:

    Thank you for your blatant honesty and full disclousure. Your bravery is admirable. It touched my heart. 

  • Shannon says:

    This.  I’m breathless…and speechless all at once.

    Love you, Lady.

  • Lisa says:

    I need to forgive and make peace with my “stained little” too.  I feel like my 6 or 7 year old consequences set up my life’s trajectory and I’m forgiving and mending and redirecting as an adult.  Thank you Erin. Maybe someday I can put my own story out there too.

  • Jen says:

    You are amazing. I had a very similar experience as a child, that manifested itself in very destructive behaviour well into my 30s. You’ve said everything I knew and felt but never acknowledged. Thank you.

  • jo says:

    Honesty. I have a hope now that I can be so honest with myself. Thank you for sharing.

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