“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” I Corinthians 10:13, NRSV
I have struggled for years with how to write this particular post.
Forty years ago I was 14 years old, in the ninth grade at Ballard A Junior High School in Macon, Georgia, and in the band. I loved band for many reasons: I was really good at it, it was an escape from life at home, and I truly believed it would be my ticket out.
Forty years ago was also when my junior high school band director began grooming me for what would become four years of sexual abuse. Four years of being a vulnerable young girl who craved the love, affection, and attention she did not get at home. Four years that impacted my life so much deeper than I have ever understood.
Life at home was difficult. My mother suffered from debilitating depression and schizophrenia. She tried to commit suicide three times that I know of. My father worked on logging equipment in the woods of central Georgia. That was long before the days of cell phones, and even C.B. radios. Once he left for work in the morning, he would be out of contact until he came home, whenever that may be in the evening.
Our family was not affectionate. We never said “I love you” to each other. We very rarely hugged. As I realize now, my dad was in survival mode. His burden was heavy. It wasn’t that he didn’t love us. I think he loved us so much he was overwhelmed and probably depressed himself. And he was an introvert, as am I. Damn silence.
My mom was on heavy anti-psychotic medication, which made her sleep a lot and very forgetful. My dad would ignore us, literally act as if we did not exist sometimes. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I camped out on the second level, with an occasional visit to level three.
Band was my escape and the attention from my band director made me feel special. He complimented my talent. He encouraged me to learn new instruments. I became obsessed with pleasing him. Then he kissed me. I was 14.
For the next four years, I did everything I could to spend time with him. My parents, especially my dad, thought the world of him. He was charming and an expert manipulator. As things evolved and became physical, I would wait for him in the junior high school band room office. When I was in high school, he would take me to his house after the jazz band played at basketball games, then drop me off in front of my house. My parents had no clue. I was 15, 16, 17-years old.
I was able to break away when I went away to college. I thought it would be the end of something I knew was wrong. The abuse ended but the trauma had just begun.
I set out to find true, real love, but had no clue what that even meant.
I dated a lot in college, had a lot of first dates with no second date in sight. The soundtrack in my brain became, “I’m a whore. I’m a bad person”. I was a mess.
I started asking, “Dear God, WTH?”
The 70s and 80s in the Deep South of Georgia were still very much about appearances. Girls never had sex until they were married (wink, wink) and boys could cat around as much they liked. That was always so funny to me- the girls weren’t having sex but the boys had all they wanted. Who were they with? Really????
So the shame, blame, and guilt piled onto my consciousness like layers of fine snow. It grew slowly, imperceptibly, microscopically, until it weighed me down. Blame, because I thought I was somehow complicit. Shame and guilt, knowing it wrong, but needing and craving the attention.
I lived for forty years with a millstone around my neck, dragging it everywhere I went. The older I got, the heavier that damn millstone became.
But I thrived.
I have earned three degrees: my Bachelor and Master degrees in Music Education and a law degree, all while dragging that millstone.
I taught middle school and high school band for 16 years and had some incredible band programs. I still call former students “my kids”. I am extremely fortunate to have close relationships with many of them, some by way of Facebook and some here where I live. I treasure my time as a teacher and those priceless moments with my students, all while that millstone was trying to pull me down.
I had very few close friends until recently. My ex-husband could never understand why I had only one close friend in each place we lived. Fucking millstone.
I never told my ex about the abuse the I suffered. I was terrified of anyone finding out that I was a whore and a really bad person. I had to keep it secret because I knew he would hate me and leave me.
Oh, the irony.Really? Dear God, WTH?
I left the classroom in 2003 and began working in non-profit. My life’s work has always focused on helping others improve their lives. In spite of the millstone, I was able to help a lot people. I worked for Meals on Wheels because my mom got meals delivered to her. I worked for the Alzheimer’s Association because my mom had Parkinson’s Disease. I worked for Big Brothers and Big Sisters because I knew how important it was for children to have an adult they could trust and count on.
In addition to my work life, I stayed busy with personal projects. I was the president of a local women’s club and helped reorganize the local food pantry. I hiked the Grand Canyon, from the rim to the river back to the rim in a single day. I ran races- 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 milers, half and full marathons. I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon. I volunteered for the local NAMI chapter and helped organize their fund raiser walk. I went to Paris, alone.
In July, 2010, my thriving became surviving as I began the process of chiseling the millstone away. I came to realize I was deeply unhappy in my marriage of 25 years. I hated the job I was in, and became so depressed I could hardly move.
I remember making a call to my doctor’s office on a Friday afternoon. I told the receptionist that if I didn’t see the doctor that afternoon, I did not know if I would make it through the weekend.
I separated from my husband and we eventually divorced. He still did not know of the weight I had been dragging throughout our entire relationship.
I quit my job, applied to law school, and started dating the man who would eventually become my safe place to be, my soft place to land.
I began to thrive again.
I decided to tell my story of abuse when the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual abuse started to tell their stories. They were courageous. I could be, too. It’s hard, knowing that our society defaults to blaming the female for the transgressions of the males. Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Brock Turner, Bill Clinton.
There are, sadly, countless instances of students who have been abused by those in authority.Just Google band director sexual abuse. It’s sickening.
This is what I have learned so far:
I am not to blame for what happened to me as a 14 year old. I was a child. He was an adult who was in a position of power. He was, and still is, a predator and a criminal.
I am not that horrible self-talk of being a whore and bad person. I never was, but trauma is evil when it isn’t dealt with in a healthy way.
My instinct to fight is stronger than my instinct of flight.
Being abused is not who I am, it is something that happened to me. I’m just beginning to heal after 40 years of silence. The millstone is still here, but it’s getting smaller and smaller.
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26