A Recovery Story
Addiction, alcoholism, and abuse….in my experience these three things touch the lives of almost everyone. The blessed few who are spared the devastation of these demons are just that…..blessed. Not all of us who have lived with addiction of one kind or another or been the victim of abuse at the hands of another have story of recovery to tell. I am very grateful to be able to say that our guest today has hers. Karen from Mended Musings caught my attention as one of the most incredibly open and honest writers with whom I share the common bond of alcoholism and yes, recovery. I adore her and am grateful to her for being here and having the courage to share her experience, her strength, and her hope. ~ Sandy
The day after Warren Erickson fondled me up my shirt, down my pants, and stuck his tongue in my mouth with his beer breath and pokey blonde mustache, I sat on top of a picnic table at Jacob’s park. Maria convinced me to go with her because she wanted to see her boyfriend, who was Warren’s friend. I met them for the first time the night before when I was invited to babysit with Maria. At Maria’s urging, I sipped my first beer, learned how to smoke a cigarette, and told the men that I was 2 years older than I really was. I was supposed to be learning the ropes of babysitting and instead I was pretending to be cool. That mostly meant keeping my mouth shut and going with the flow so when Maria and her boyfriend started making out on the bed, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Warren and I would do the same thing. But it did. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t that. It wasn’t painful or entirely unpleasant but it felt unnatural. Like kissing your father or eating dog.
As the two men approached us at the park, I wondered what Warren was going to think when he saw me. When Maria’s boyfriend got to where we were sitting, she got up and walked off with him, leaving Warren and I alone together. I stared down at my dirty sneakers and an awkward silence descended upon us. When I looked up, he was looking back at me. Then, he turned and quickly walked away, leaving me alone on the picnic table. He walked to where Maria and her boyfriend were making out and words were exchanged. I could tell he was trying to get his friend to leave and after a few minutes of dialogue, they did. Maria walked back to me and asked, “What did you say to him?”
“Nothing,” I insisted.
I didn’t want to go to the park in the first place but Maria made me. People were always making me do things I didn’t want to do and I always did them. I didn’t want to kiss stupid Warren Erickson or have his hands under my clothes but I didn’t stop him. I didn’t want him to see me in the light because I knew that I would look different than I had the night before when he was drunk. When he walked away, I knew that I was a disappointment to him. I wasn’t pretty. I definitely wasn’t sexy. I wasn’t even a woman.
I was 11 years old. He was 28.
I wrote about him in my Hello Kitty diary. Until I was in my 30’s, I thought of what happened as my “first kiss”, which felt incredibly and inexplicably shameful. It took me many years to understand that what happened was so much more significant than that. For years, I beat myself up for letting him do that to me but by the time I was 11, I had already been exposed to mental illness, suicide, hopelessness and addiction. And since I was raised in an environment where these things were to be endured, not questioned, I came up with my own reasoning and understanding of how to cope.
And I made a lot of mistakes. I believed the lies – lies that were told to me and lies that I told myself:
I deserved it.
This is all I’m good for.
There is no hope.
If anyone knew, they’d lock me up forever.
Like many victims of abuse, I fell into a cycle of abusing myself. I continually put myself into dangerous and risky situations. I lost my virginity and attempted suicide in the same year… when I was 13. There was never a shortage of grown men and boys who welcomed my attention. I only survived high school because of a group of friends who were studious, smart and loving. Those girls kept me from self-destructing because they helped me feel “normal” when inside I felt wrong.
I felt wrong for a very long time. I felt it after I got married, as I tried to excel in my career, as I endured nightmares and constant anxiety, as I became a mother, and as I grappled with a gaping hole inside that could never be quite filled.
With lots of help, I learned that I wasn’t wrong but that my interpretation of those painful events in my life were.
I didn’t have to believe the lies anymore.
I started to question my belief systems that were formed from birth. I examined the different ways in which I numbed my emotions and I stopped drinking for nearly 3 years, which helped me gain tremendous clarity. I had to confront my most sacred space without the people and things that I wrapped my identity around. Then, slowly, I had to decide who and what to let back in. Who belonged in my sacred space with me? What thoughts, behaviors and beliefs would I let back in?
Our journeys are our own and while I decided that sobriety isn’t a permanent part of mine, permanent recovery is. Recovery is the process of choosing what is sacred in my life, accepting what is fleeting and embracing the truth as it is revealed to me. It is strength, empowerment, service to others, hope, support, self-care and self-compassion. It is intensely personal yet universal.
It is what saved my life.
Karen Perry lives in sunny Arizona with her husband, two kids and two dogs. She writes at MendedMusings.com about family, God, her recovery from sexual abuse and the desire that most of us have to be authentic in all aspects of our lives. You can visit her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter @MendedMusings.