Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Victim Impact Statement

After the perpetrator entered their "guilty" plea, they were officially sentenced a few weeks later.  At this time victims or family members of the victim are able to go before the judge and read a statement called a Victim Impact Statement, which basically describes the toll the crime has had on them and their family.  The victim's advocate (basically like the assistant to the District Attorney) really encouraged us to just write our letter and mail it in to the judge, instead of coming and reading it in person, because she thought it would be too draining on us, mentally and emotionally.  The perpetrator would be in the room and we would obviously be reading very personal and difficult things.  While I appreciated her concern, I knew that I would most definitely be there in person.  I knew that the perpetrator needed to hear the things I had to say.  Or at least I knew I wanted them to have to sit and listen to what I had to say.  I had waited and waited for this day for so long.  I wrote and rewrote that statement several times.  I prayed for guidance on what to say and how to say it.  David gave his input and added additional insight (and of course nominated me to be the one to read the statement:).  I practiced reading it in front of my close friends, trying to keep my composure as I did so, which was HARD. I wouldn't get very far before both they and I were in tears. To say the least,  I was nervous and scared but then I also felt empowered. I knew that this was something I needed to do to help me get the closure I desired so much.

The day arrived and I was filled with so many emotions.  I did fine controlling them until I walked into the courthouse and immediately saw the perpetrator and their family.  All of a sudden I felt shaky and extremely nervous.  Then I got mad at myself...I reminded myself that I was allowing this person to have control over my emotions again and it needed to stop right then and there.  I was in charge.  Not the perpetrator.  Not anymore.  I needed to be brave like Elsie had been all along.  A friend texted me this that morning:
and I knew that's exactly what needed to happen.  I needed to be braver than the hard thing and I knew I could.  We waited patiently until it was our turn to be called into the courtroom.  And then it was time.  The judge asked me to read the letter I had prepared and I did it.  My mouth was dry and my body was shaking but I got through it.  I was emotional, of course, but I was steady and strong, and said all the things I had been waiting to say to the perpetrator.  I talked about the struggles Elsie and our family had been though as a result of this person's selfishness...about how our life will never be the same...about how this person damaged our ability to trust and had left us broken and devastated.  Four pages later, I sat down. Finished.  Done.  And relieved.  Then it was the judges turn.  He gave the perpetrator their sentence and then had a stern little talk with them.  The judge said "Did you hear what the victim's mother had to say?  Did you take it all in?  She talked about choices...well guess what...you made some really BAD choices." It was validating to hear him be so harsh with the perpetrator.  Once the judge spoke, it was all over with, the legal aspect was finally finished.  

Once home, the adrenaline wore off, and I was exhausted and actually really depressed.  We had obviously longed for this day for such a long time...the day where the legalities were behind us and we could focus 100% on our family.  But then here it was and I was left with this feeling of sadness and despair.  We still had a difficult road ahead of us...healing takes time.  Lots of time.  There would continue to be ups and downs.  And it just didn't seem fair.  Were we happy the legal process and taken its course and was over with? Absolutely.  Were we relieved that there had been a guilty plea and Elsie didn't have to testify at trial? Of course.  Did we recognize that we really had the best outcome for a situation like ours? 100% yes. But at the end of the day, the punishment just didn't seem like enough for what Elsie had been through and would continue to go through.  Like my sister had told me months ago, no punishment would feel like it was enough and she was right.  I felt that more than ever immediately following the sentencing.  It's like Christmas...there is so much anticipation and preparation for that big day,  but then it's over so quickly and you look around and all you see are empty boxes and wrapping paper strewn from here to there and everywhere in between!  And that's pretty much how I felt...we were still left in the same place as we had been all along...we still had work to do with Elsie and our family.  Lots of work.  No punishment could change that.  And it wasn't fair!  I allowed myself to feel down and sad for a day, but then encouraged myself to feel happy and blessed the next day.  It was over.  That was a good thing! We could now focus on rebuilding our family without the worry of a trial hanging over our heads. We could move forward and put this behind us for good. And now that it has been several months, I can happily say that we are ALL doing really well.  There are still bumps in the road, but they are fewer and further in-between and for that I am extremely grateful.  I can see how far we have come in just over a years time and know that when all is said and done, this whole ordeal will truly have been but a moment in time. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Plea Bargain

February 5th, the trial date, was fast approaching and with that came increased anxiety and tension all through the house.  I reached out to our attorney to talk with her about my concerns of putting Elsie on the stand to testify against her abuser.  One huge thing I have learned through this whole legal process is that if you want to be kept informed about the status of your case, it is completely up to you.  The District Attorney's office is so busy with hundreds of cases, yet this was our ONE case.  It meant the whole world to us.  Our attorney was very good to work with, don't get me wrong, but we always had to be the one to initiate communication via email, phone calls, or in person visits.  I probably came across as over bearing and annoying, but I didn't care.  I made sure we were knew what was going on every step of the way.  Anyway, I called our attorney about two weeks before the trial and she made me feel so much more at ease.  She said there were several options ahead of us before we had to actually endure the trial.  She laid out a plea bargain and asked if David and I would be okay with the conditions and said, if we agreed, she would present it to the defense attorney and we would go from there. The angry part of me didn't want to accept the terms and (if it weren't for Elsie having to testify) wanted it to go to trial so the perpetrator would get hit with the harshest punishment possible.  But obviously I knew that wasn't the best route.  And truly, deep down, we wanted the perpetrator to get help and wanted them to be able to overcome their sickness so they didn't continue to re-offend, which is extremely common with sexual abusers without necessary intervention.  We decided it was okay to present the plea agreement to the defense...so now it was wait and see time... I obsessively checked my email every day, multiple times a day, waiting for word on whether or not the abuser had accepted it!  FINALLY a week later,  I got an email delivering great news...there would be NO trial.  The plea agreement had been accepted.  We cried tears of joy and immediately started notifying our family and friends.  We were most excited to tell Elsie the news.  We told her the perpetrator had decided to tell the truth so she didn't have to go before the judge and the abuser and tell about everything this person had done to her.  She was SO happy.  It was a relief for us all, to put it mildly.

Now on February 5th, instead of there being a trial, the perpetrator entered a formal plea of guilty at the courthouse and would be sentenced in two weeks (and at this time we would be able to go and deliver a Victim Impact Statement in person).  Knowing that February 5th could have been an extremely difficult and emotional day, we had planned a fun vacation in advance, so that right after the trial, if it had come to that, we would have been able to take off immediately after and escape life for a while.  We were thrilled that now we could leave a day earlier and could more fully enjoy ourselves.  We headed to the beach and even surprised the kids with Disneyland on the last day.  The weather couldn't have been more perfect and as I sat on the beach and watched my kids play, I was reminded of our trip to the beach the week after Elsie had disclosed the abuse to us.  What a contrast this trip was to that one! We all had come so far. I felt peace and reassurance.  I was happier than I had been in a long time. A huge weight had been lifted. We had been watched over every step of the way and I knew that, although this journey was far from over,  we would continue to be looked after day after day.





Monday, July 11, 2016

Trial Prep

November and December we were kept busy with the holidays and it helped to have something to preoccupy my mind as I knew the trial date was drawing near.  Then came January...January is always hard because of the post-holiday let down, but this January took hard to a whole new level.  One month til the trial. The trial where Elsie would have to take the stand and testify against the perpetrator with that person in the room.  I hated thinking about it.  She had made such strides in therapy, and had moved past wanting to talk about it all the time.  We had even started going to therapy every 2 weeks instead of every week.  But then in January, we had to go back to once a week because she needed to be prepared for the trial.  She needed to be able to talk openly and freely about what had happened to her.  She needed to have confidence and be able to answer questions not only from our attorney, but from the defense attorney as well.  I hated the idea of her being grilled and cross-examined by a defense attorney. She was a sweet, innocent, little girl! How daunting this would be for her!  In addition to weekly therapy, we added in Kids Court, a program run by the law school students that was recommended by the DA's office.  The purpose of Kids Court is to familiarize the child with the courtroom, who the people are that would be in the room, the legal terminology that might be used, etc. It would be something that would hopefully ease her mind because she would know what to expect. This was also a weekly thing, so life was extremely busy and hectic and stressful.  Maia was able to do the class with her and I was so thankful.  It really helped to put Elsie at ease having her there.  Maia struggled with all of the extra attention that Elsie had been getting, so she wasn't always kind and considerate, but every so often I would catch glimpses of her truly caring and it made my heart swell.  Elsie looks up to Maia in every way possible, so having her love and support meant the world to her.

To try and prepare her for the trial, David and I knew Elsie had to feel empowered.  We didn't want her to be weak and scared.  We told her that SHE was in charge in that room.  This was her chance to tell the judge all the things that the perpetrator had done.  Her chance to be braver than she had ever been before. She was still a little nervous about thinking it was her fault and was worried that she might get in trouble.  Again, we reiterated to her that this was NOT the case.  She didn't have to worry about anything but telling the truth about what had happened.  Maia got a grand idea...She drew a picture of the perpetrator and cut it out so that it could be held in front of your face so that Elsie could practice talking about what happened as if this person were in the room. It was another sweet moment between Maia and Elsie. We told Elsie the perpetrator was going to be the scared one because this person knew they were going to be in big trouble.  We tried to make jokes about how scared this person would be, how they would act (like a scaredy cat!), etc....anything to make her feel like she was in control.  Our theme song became "BRAVE" by Sara Bareilles (I've listened to this song a hundred times but never saw the music video til tonight...it gave me a good laugh!) We would play this song and belt it out often.  I would tell her, " Hey Elsie....Just say what you wanna say...let the words fall out...honestly...I wanna see you be BRAVE!!" It got to the point where she knew what I was going to do and would say "Mommmmmmmm!!" before I could even finish.  It was our little joke and it gave us something to laugh about, but I think it really did help empower her and make her feel strong.  And brave.  And confident.

It was easy for me to play around with the kids and listen to Brave and act like I was just as strong and confident as I was pretending to be.  But inside I was weak and scared.  I was more depressed and anxious than ever before.  I remember going to the park one day and telling a friend that I just didn't care about anything in life anymore.  And I didn't care that I didn't care.  I went through the motions day after day, but only the bare minimum and only because I knew I had to. That's how I knew it was bad. Then one day I came to a realization that, in a roundabout way,  I was ALLOWING the perpetrator to control me.  To control my thoughts and my emotions. Without even knowing it, I had let this person get a complete grip on my life. I decided I had to say NO MORE!  This person had done enough damage in our lives and the last thing I wanted was to give them more POWER over me! Again, this is always easier said than done, but praying and PLEADING for more faith, peace and hope helped.  I thought about all the things I was telling Elsie in an effort to build her up, and knew that I needed to listen to those things myself.   I needed to genuinely be the one that stood strong and tall with courage and confidence. Elsie did this day in and day out.  She amazed me at what a fighter she was, yet she still kept that tender and forgiving heart.  One day we were talking in the car about a movie she had recently seen where the "bad guys" who had stolen something, felt bad and changed into people who no longer did bad things.  She sat there quiet for a minute, just thinking.  Then she said, "You know what mom? That's my wish for (Perpetrator)...that they decide to make good choices and become a good person again." WOW.  We can all learn a lesson from that.  This was another moment where I felt complete peace, and knew that, no matter what the legal outcome was, she was going to be okay.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tender Mercies

Why is it so hard to keep the faith and continue on never doubting? For me, oftentimes, I let it be too easy for worry and fear to creep back into my life, when I have repeatedly had peace spoken to my mind.  It is one of my greatest weaknesses, but one I am working on, and one that I DO feel I am improving in, even if it is with baby steps.  I have a journal entry that begins "I had a tender mercy from the Lord yesterday so I needed to write about it before I forget just how much it meant to me, because today was a rough day." (Ups and downs ALWAYS). It's good for me to look back and see that, although life was very difficult,  I recognized the need to acknowledge the Lord's hand in my life, because it was definitely there, I just sometimes had to look a little harder.

Anyway, back to the story...I had a friend text me and ask if she could come over to talk to me.  Immediately my mind started racing as to what this could be about.  Of course I knew it had to be related to Elsie's situation, but I hadn't told this friend anything about it, so I didn't know how she would have known.  She had been around my kids the day before, so I jumped to the conclusion that one of them must have said or done something inappropriate and she wanted to talk to me about it.  I felt sick and nervous and apprehensive.  She came over and told me that Mason had told her what had happened to Elsie...(I sighed with relief that this is what it was!). She then proceeded to tell me that she had been prompted to come over to tell me that the same thing had happened to her when she was around Elsie's age. She told me that she just wanted to let me know that Elsie was going to be okay.  Those were her exact words.  "Elsie is going to be okay." Tears started streaming down my face because this had always been the number one concern...whether or not Elsie would be okay years down the road and how much this would affect her life.  She told me that it didn't interfere with her relationships and her every day life, that it wasn't anything she thought about much at all anymore.  She kept reassuring me that Elsie will be okay.  She said, "Do you know what helped me the most?" Of course I said, "YES!!" Her answer was basically that having a strong and loving family, good parents, and the gospel of Jesus Christ was what got her through it.  It was a very touching and amazing experience.  I knew at that moment that the Lord had sent this friend to me to be a positive force in our lives.  In her situation, her perpetrator had told her not to tell anyone, so she had kept it a secret for years and hadn't gotten any therapy or counseling during this time.  It made me realize that, although therapy was great and very beneficial to Elsie, the most important thing for her was the love and support of David and I and our family.  Therapy doesn't take the place of loving parents and family, it builds on it.  This whole experience reiterated the fact that I needed to let go of the legal stuff we were dealing with (things I couldn't change) and focus on bettering myself as a mom and wife (things I COULD change).

As I've thought about the past year and read through my journal, my eyes have been open to just how much the Lord blessed me during that time.  Some things I could see at the time and some things I couldn't see until later.  There were so many times that a friend randomly stopped in to see me when I was having a bad day that they didn't know about.  Or I got a text or phone call when I needed it.  Treats were brought.  Flowers delivered.  Meals cooked.  Cards sent.  Friends just being friends, whether they knew about what we were going through or not.  Love and support was all around me and I KNOW these things were direct answers to my prayers and pleadings.  I wish I would have been better at letting people know how much I needed the things they offered me at that time.  Those little thoughts that we often have to reach out to someone, aren't just thoughts...they are answers to their prayers.  I know mine have been answered time and again this way, and it has encouraged me to try to pay more careful attention to those seemingly insignificant promptings, because you never know who needs to hear from you that day.

I was watching THIS video of the song Gethsemane with my kids the other night.  The picture of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffering and all alone, hit me really hard for some reason.  I remembered the times over the past year where I felt completely alone and in despair.  As I listened to this song and looked at the pictures with it, I was filled with the spirit, and it reaffirmed to me that Christ had done this so we DIDN'T ever have to feel lost and alone.  He had to suffer alone, but we don't.  He suffered for us so He would know exactly what we would need during our darkest moments.  He KNOWS what we need and He is WILLING to give it to us, but WE have to be the one to seek it out.  He doesn't want us to feel abandoned and depressed.  He wants to take every burden from us! Why is it so hard to let Him? I think the answer to that is different for all of us, but if we could figure out what it is that holds us back from accessing the full power of the Atonement, we would be one step ahead of the rest!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Operation: Be Brave

Tomorrow marks one year from the day that Elsie disclosed her abuse to us....David and I were talking about this just yesterday, remembering what life was like for us one year ago.  Our main floor air conditioner had broken (it was about 117 degrees outside), I was 8 months pregnant, and then we had the abuse disclosure.  Life was pretty dang HARD.  I will just say, I am extremely grateful that today our air conditioner is in perfect working condition (its still 117 outside:), we have a happy and healthy 11 month old baby and we are one year into Elsie's healing journey...definitely a much better place to be!

A week after Elsie's disclosure, we had to have her interviewed by special counselors at the Children's Advocacy Center.  Talking about it was still really hard for her at this time and we couldn't be in the room with her while she was interviewed, which made it even more difficult for her.  After her interview, she was given a stuffed animal which meant the world to her.  She LOVES stuffed animals and this one is very special to her because it reminds her of when she had to be very brave... and WAS!  About a month later, she and I were just talking one day in the living room and she started opening up more and more about the abuse, specifically HOW the abuse had happened...like how the perpetrator was able to get her in a situation where this person could do what they wanted and not be noticed.  It floored me at how tricky this person was.  How did I not know this??  Perpetrators are TRICKY people. (anyone wanting to learn more about abusers, read THIS, it is a great resource) They know how to groom their victims and initiate the abuse in a way that seems loving or playful or normal.  And keep in mind the abusers are almost ALWAYS a person the victim trusts...a family member, a friend, a neighbor, etc.
(Image from mamabeareffect.org)
This is why it is so confusing for the children...they don't fully understand what is happening and why it is wrong.  Elsie told us that she "felt bad in my mind but I didn't know it was wrong." That's the thing about children....they trust.  They trust that the important people in their life, their family and friends, would never do anything to hurt them.  I believe that their ability to trust freely is one of their most beautiful qualities. And yet it is this trust that makes them vulnerable to predators.

Because of the new information Elsie had given us, we had to go BACK to the Children's Advocacy Center for Elsie to be interviewed again to see if more charges could be brought against the perpetrator.  I was so apprehensive about this.  I knew that we had made great progress with her and her ability to talk about it, but I knew this was going to be really hard for her and hated even having to tell her where we were going.  Since she kind of knew what to expect this time, it made it a little easier and she was able to get through the interview quicker and I believe that she was able to talk about things more openly and succinctly.  The interviewer told me how brave Elsie was and how well she did.  It made me proud:)  Again, she got a stuffed animal and it is another cherished one.  

We were still in limbo, legally speaking, as we waited for the trial to happen, but we felt like we wanted to be doing something.  We had had our whole lives turned upside down by this event and David and I spent every night talking about it in some way.  We felt like we wanted to do something to give back, to help educate, to help prevent this from happening to anyone else we knew, but we didn't know how to do this.   One night we were talking to our kids and somehow the conversation turned to the stuffed animals the kids had gotten from the CAC.  Together we decided that this would be a small thing we could do to give back...we could organize a drive for stuffed animals and donate them to the CAC.  The kids immediately got excited and went into full planning mode.  Our oldest daughter determined that we needed to have T-shirts made for us to wear when we went to deliver them:) Lucky for me, I have a friend who is in the T-shirt business, so she made this dream a reality! We called our project, "Operation: Be Brave" and asked close friends and family members who knew about Elsie's story, to donate new stuffed animals if they wanted.  In return we gave each family two "Be Brave" t-shirts, with the option for them to buy more if they chose.  We LOVE seeing friends and family in these shirts.  It makes my heart happy and shows Elsie how much she is loved and supported.  We were able to gather over 50 new stuffed animals to donate to the CAC in December.  It was a great feeling going back there, but this time to deliver a little love and hope, instead of having to be interviewed.  They were SO thankful for our donation.  In fact the day we delivered them, I looked at their shelves and they were pretty sparse.  They had about 20 bears, all the exact same kind, and that was it.  The variety we gathered was exciting and we knew these stuffed animals would mean a lot to the poor children who have to pass through this place. 



 There are so many kids who come through the CAC place on a daily basis.  It's completely heart breaking.  We know it is a small thing, but I really think that the stuffed animals help give these children a little hope.  I wish I could write a personal note of love and encouragement on each one so the child who gets it knows they aren't alone and that they can do hard things! We have decided that every year around the time of Elsie's abuse disclosure, we want to coordinate a stuffed animal drive and donate them to the CAC.  We would LOVE for anyone to join us in this cause.  If you are willing to donate a stuffed animal, please email me at crescentmarchant@gmail.com., or message me on Facebook. We will be gathering them over the month of July and will hopefully taking a trip down there the beginning of August to deliver them. They don't have to be big or fancy or expensive, but they do have to be new. This would be a great opportunity to talk with your kids about the topic of sexual abuse and what they can do to stop it if they were ever in that situation.  Take the time to educate them on private parts and body safety rules and then shop together for a stuffed animal and tell them how much it will help a child who has been hurt by someone who broke the body safety rules. (THIS is a great read regarding Body Safety rules and how children get confused by the way we teach about them)
          If you aren't local and sending a stuffed animal is too much work, reach out to your local Children's Advocacy Center, or Children's Justice Center (they are called different things in different states) and see if there is a way you could help out.  (I think the best way to get in contact with these offices is through the District Attorney's office--they could point you in the right direction anyway:) A couple things come to my mind where you could make a difference:
1--Donate stuffed animals if they give those out to victims
2--Donate toys, books and/or games that they could have in the waiting room for children to play with while they are waiting to be interviewed
3--Donate markers, art paper and/or play dough--they often use these materials in the interview process so children who are having a hard time can draw pictures, play with play dough, etc. to help describe what happened to them.
 Thank you all for your love and support!  I am buoyed up with every text, email, comment and message. We have the greatest friends and family!  XOXO.

Also as a side note, I may be able to get more T-shirts if you are interested.  I would have to fulfill a minimum order quantity so depending on the interest it might be able to happen...Let me know! The cost would be $7 for adult shirts and $6 for youth shirts, minimum of 36 shirts.  They are nice performance cotton shirts.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Keep Fighting

I had a couple of difficult days this past week and it got me thinking...wishing maybe...that life wasn't so hard sometimes.  Have you ever had a trial that was really brutal but after you got through it, you were able to look back and say "I'm glad we're done with that! Now we can move past it and move forward." Almost like the trial had a start point and an end point, and once it was over, it was over for good.....with sexual abuse it's not that way. It is a journey. It is something that will affect our family for a lifetime.  As I look back through my journal, I see how far we've come, but then somedays I look ahead to the future and realize how far we have to go. I wish it was something that could be wrapped up in a box and put on the shelf called "Trials we've endured and conquered" and there it would stay forever--it wouldn't have to be opened and dealt with, because we'd already gone through that one, it was done! But as my therapist told me, we just have to take it one day at a time, one week at a time, one year at a time.  There will be certain pivotal points in Elsie's life where her sexual abuse will be more of an issue and there will be more things to address at these times, such as when she hits puberty, or when she starts dating, or when she's preparing to get married. These are all going to be huge moments in life and she might really struggle because of her past and everything that happened to her and this breaks my heart.
     With the recent Brock Turner controversy I have found myself in deep thought over the past week or so.  My heart goes out to the victim of this awful crime.  I ache for her and her family.  I feel frustrated by the selfishness of the perpetrator and his family and how they are dealing with the situation.  Why can't they see who the victim is here and how her life is forever changed? Then Elsie had a couple of rough days in the middle of the week and it just left me feeling deflated and hopeless.  David had to go up to Cedar one night so Elsie had a sleepover in my bed.  As I looked over and saw her sleeping, I teared up and once again asked the question Why? Why does she have to endure all of this? When will it get easier?
Living with no hope is a pretty miserable place to be.  You feel like, "why should I even try? It's not working anyway...nothing I'm doing seems to be helping so I should just give up right now." When I let my thoughts go down this path they seem to be magnified because I can't personally take the burden away.  Instead I have to watch my daughter suffer through it.  I wish so badly it could be something I could take from her and carry on my own. Once I'm feeling a little down and out, the fear  of the unknown sets in again and I start to worry about all the what-if's.   But you know what? Living in fear is exactly where Satan wants us to be.  He wants us to give up.  He wants us to believe that there is no hope.  He is miserable and he wants us to be the same.  And this is even more the reason why we should fight and fight hard.  After my couple of downer days, I decided that I wasn't going to let Satan win. I was going to go to work and keep fighting.  There is ALWAYS hope.  I'm reminded of of a quote by one of my favorite apostles, Jeffery R. Holland...
As I've said before, this is a tragic event that happened in Elsie's life, but it doesn't define her and it certainly won't define her life.  She is such a brave soul and has the biggest heart. She amazes me every single day.  I have to hold on to the hope that no matter what ups and downs we go through, Elsie will be okay.  I HAVE to believe that there are so many good things to come in her life. 

We all face difficult trials in our life and I think initially when one hits, we feel that we aren't strong enough or capable enough to endure it.  But then we dig in.  We fight.  And we surprise ourselves at how we are able to do things we never thought possible. As a result, we get stronger and more refined. I mentioned before that faith is something I have struggled with in the past. I wanted to  believe that having the peace that comes from practicing faith meant that everything was going to work out the way I wanted it to.  But that's not how it works. Faith is about being okay no matter how things turn out.  I've had to work at this ALOT over the past year, but I can honestly say that today, I truly am able to look forward to the future with hope and faith.  It's all I have to keep me going.  I know that there will most definitely be more bumps in the road. If there is any one thing we can count on if life, it's that we will have hardships.  But I also know that there is always a way to overcome and get through these setbacks if we lean to the Savior and use Him as a comfort and a guide in our life.  I know that as David and I teach Elsie this same principle, she will no doubt come out on the other side of all of this, stronger and better as well. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Trauma

One of the lessons I've learned through this journey is that the effects of sexual abuse on a child are extremely far reaching.  At first I didn't realize that so much of the emotional turmoil Elsie was exhibiting was directly related to her abuse, but with the help of our therapist and my own research, I have learned how it is all tied together.  Our therapist told us that Elsie had been through a trauma, that David and I had been through a trauma.  When trauma happens, a child is overwhelmed by terror and can experience prolonged stress, heightened fear, and an inability to cope with what they have experienced.  This is exactly what we saw in Elsie.  She acted out in ways that were extremely uncharacteristic to her.  She is normally a very even keel person...She rolls with the punches and doesn't let too many things get under her skin.  We call her the peacemaker of the family because of her ability to solve problems and disputes and make people happy. Shortly before the abuse disclosure, she was having a difficult time in school staying focused and on task. She complained of stomachaches every day, but neither her teacher or I could figure out what the underlying problem was.  I was at a loss for why she was acting the way she was.  Then came her disclosure and things started to make more sense.  The behaviors got worse before they got better and those first several months were really difficult.  She was irritable and on edge.  Had outbursts of anger.  She was unable to cope with little upsets.  She was scared the perpetrator was going to come back and hurt her again. She was full of self hate. She had a hard time focusing and was very impulsive.  I often described her to David as "being all over the place" and that pretty much summed it up.
       One night she was upset because Maia got to spend the night at a cousin's house and she had to come home.  She screamed and cried the whole way back to our house and then once we got home, she ran away.  I tried to chase after her, but she was too far gone for me to catch up to her so I ran home to grab the car. It was dark outside and I was worried about how upset she was.  A neighbor had seen her crying on the side of the road and tried to pick her up, but she wouldn't get in the car with them.  I pulled up next to her and she took off running again, no amount of coaxing was going to convince her to stop.  At this point, I was sobbing as well, yelling out my window to her, begging her to stop running and get in the car with me.  I finally caught up to her in a parking lot down the street and around the corner from our house.  She didn't want to get in the car, but I finally convinced her to do so and we went on a little drive and just cried together.  I was scared and angry and sad all at the same time, but as I looked over at her and watched her sob and sob, the anger dissipated and I knew that she didn't even know how to process all the things that were going on in that little mind of hers.  My heart broke for her all over again and I wanted so badly to be able to take the pain away from her.  
      In an effort to try and help her work through her emotions and difficulties, I gave her a notebook for her to use as her journal.  She was really great at this and wrote in it almost every day.  Every so often I would glance through it to see what was on her mind.  Sometimes she would draw pictures, depicting the struggles she was having at school, or with certain boys in her class. Other times she would write about things we did that day, and then some entries showed the extreme shame and self-blame she was still feeling.  One day I came across this entry:

I can't tell you of the anguish you feel as a mother to see your child filled with so much self hate for things that she had no control over.  I wanted to be able to take the burden from her.  We tried to reaffirm our love to her daily.  We told her she was brave.  She was strong.  She was beautiful.  We told her that nothing that had happened to her could change who she was inside.  She was a daughter of God and she was special.  I knew she heard what we were saying, but didn't know if she believed it for herself for a while.  
      One night she was in the shower and wanted to talk about the abuse.  I sat outside the shower door as she talked to me.  Then she started crying and said she felt like she was weird and different because of what had happened to her.  She said, "I just want to be a perfect girl Mom, not a weird or different one." Again, I wished I could take it all away, but I couldn't.  At night I would cry for her, pray for her, beg and plead with our Father in Heaven to take this pain away from her.  To heal her and help her feel whole again.  I wanted immediate relief for her, but it just doesn't work that way.  Healing is a process and although kids are resilient, it still takes time.  All we could do was work through each situation as it came and take it one day at a time.  The theme to my journaling became "ups and downs." That was literally how every entry started.  Oftentimes I felt like we took one step forward and two steps back, a constant roller coaster of emotion, anxiety and discouragement, and then peace, hope and glimpses of healing. My biggest concern at this specific time was helping Elsie get over the self-blame and guilt.  I didn't want her to have to live with that! As I saw her struggle with blaming HERSELF, it was hard for me to not blame MYSELF.  I knew better than to take the full burden on my shoulders, but it was really hard to not feel accountable for it. I was her mother, her protector, yet I felt like I had failed at my job and seeing her struggle only amplified my feelings of failure. She had some worry dolls a friend had given her (If you don't know anything about worry dolls, they are pretty sweet and I love the concept behind them) so she had the idea that every night she was going to tell the worry doll, "It's not my fault, it's not my fault." I was proud of her for coming up with this on her own and thought it was a great idea! It really seemed to help and it was good to see her working hard at taking away the shame and self-blame, which made me realize that I needed to work at it myself.  I wanted her to be kind to herself and wished she could see that she was NOT to blame even in the tiniest amount, yet here I was doing the exact opposite with myself.  I recalled what our therapist had told David and I--That we were good parents and had done nothing wrong as parents to cause this to happen, so we didn't need to change anything about ourselves, we just needed to continue being Elsie's parents.  I knew that if I could replace my negative self talk with gentleness and positivity, it would help me heal completely and help Elsie on her journey as well, so I recommitted myself to doing just that.  
In the world today, I think we could all benefit from being a little bit more gentle with ourselves and with others.  We all have our battles, many of them fought behind a protective mask, so that no one can truly see what we are struggling with for whatever reason...fear, embarrassment, shame, guilt...  Through this experience, I have learned to have a little bit more compassion towards others, have  more understanding,  and show more empathy and kindness.