My memories are valid even if they “taint” yours.

Hypothetical: We are at the park. You are out having a nice run. I am taking photographs. A man comes up to me and starts cursing at me for photographing a bird for no particular reason. I get very upset over what has happened and come and find you. You just had a great run. You are feeling super. You discount my encounter because you don’t want it to ruin your nice time. I’m not trying to ruin your nice time I am just relaying what happened to me at the same time at the park.

We get home. You don’t want to talk about what happened to me or if I am still upset and in fact ignore that I am upset. You even say you don’t want me to ruin your moment of happiness by tainting it with my moment of sadness. You refuse to accept that I was upset. You continue to talk about your run and how it was the greatest run of your life and how you’ll never forget your great run at the park.

Our memories are our own. But they do involve other people and other situations that can be going on simultaneously. If you pretend that my memory does not exist because it ruins your memory then you are conditional. My memory exists as part of me. And to be unconditional that memory needs to be validated and heard. It does not take away from your good memory. It very simply validates that my memory at the same time you had your memory we were not experiencing the same feelings.

This is put in simplistic term for those who have no idea how invalidating it can be to disregard someone’s trauma. This fake experience was not a trauma. But still deserved to be heard. In place of that put trauma. Do you know how painful it is to have someone tell you they don’t want their memories somehow corrupted with the truth of what was simultaneously going on with you that included sheer horror?

Keep your memories. But mine exist too. Loving me means accepting that.

Getting out of my head

When my head is spinning and swimming and all over the place with anxiety and what ifs and stressors, I pick up my camera. This morning I needed to put a damper on all the thoughts and refocus and rebalance and regroup and get rid of the negative. Out of all of the things in my yard it was the cucumber plant that got me. I focused on how the sunshine hit the leaves. The shadows it left. The textures and the feel and the smell of the plant. I got so immersed in the plant that nothing else existed. When I left the plant the things that were super big in my mind went down a notch. Success!

You are not a “hero” because you love someone with a disease

My family always called my husband a hero because he just kept on loving me. The abuse aspect was never discussed as to him being a hero for loving me through which I’d more give him a gold star for THAT because even though I am easy to love (!!!!), It is not easy living with someone who has a trauma history even if you are as super fabulous as I am 😊. But they never cared about the trauma part he was the hero for taking care of their daughter with a disability and staying married in spite of it all!!!

My husband was put up so high on a pedastal for loving with me, taking care of me, being married to me, supporting me, JUST BECAUSE OF MY DISEASE. I can understand putting him on a pedastal because he is a straight up awesome individual! Or because he loves animals, rescues people, rescues animals, loves his daughter, is admirable due to his values and his core and his spirit and his heart!!!! I adore him for who he is as a person. I adore him for how he loves me unconditionally. But he is NO hero because he has chosen to stay with me and love me after the diagnosis of a muscle disease. He is no hero because he lifts my scooter into the car, or carries me when I need to be carried (fortunately he is a beast of a man strong as an ox), or takes me to appointments, or does all of the things that I cannot like grocery shop ( even though he says he is thrilled I can no longer grocery shop because I was awful at it which is so so true!). He is quite very simply a good husband. And I am a good wife. And we have a good marriage. Disability is just a side note.

My family felt that his ability to love me with a muscle disease gave him an award for husband of the year and their hero and they never stopped telling me so or him.

My husband is a wonderful man. I am blessed beyond measure to have him in my life. He is my partner. He is my best friend. He is the love of my life. He is MY hero because I look up to him and admire him for thousands of reasons. Not because he chose to stay with me because I have a muscle disease. I’ve always said, ” He could have a perfectly healthy wife that is a total bitch! I think he’d rather have me!”

If my husband became ill would I become a hero for loving him still? If he were in an accident would I be lifted to a pedestal because I stood by his side? He is revered because he chose to keep loving his wife after a diagnosis? How absurd! My husband will always be my own personal hero. He did infact save my life! He saved me from a boyfriend that was sadistic. He gets to be my hero. But no one else’s hero just for…well it always seemed they were assuming I was just a burden that they were happy he took care of. You are not a hero because you stay, support, love, empathize. It just makes you a good person. I am also no burden. He has NEVER made me feel guilty for these things that I DID NOT CHOOSE.

What my parents neglected to ever say was to HIM, ” You are so lucky to have married such a wonderful wife!,” or, “SHE is my hero for overcoming and facing all of these obstacles and I am so glad you two are together!” He was never the lucky one. I was always the lucky one because someone dared to love me in ways they could not. Let me repeat that. Someone dared to love me in ways they could not.

A hero implies that I or they needed someone to save me. That someone was my savior and he was to be put on this grand pedestal for doing so. He does not get to be pat on the back for doing what a decent human being should be doing. I do appreciate everything he does for me but that is between a husband and a wife. I don’t need to be saved because I have a muscle disease. I need help that’s for darn sure. This world is NON-ACCESSIBLE. I need someone to open doors for me, help me with my scooter, drive me to appointments, pick up my prescriptions but I do NOT need a hero.

I am my own. I have made it through Lyme disease, a bone disease, a muscle disease, abuse, and more abuse, and more abuse, and I am still fighting. I am still persevering. I am still keeping my head up and trying to lift others. I have self worth, finally. I have chosen to save myself. My faith is always steadfast as well.

As for having a physical disability and PTSD I love to be loved for who I am. But I will not rate anyone a hero for choosing to stay in my life because one aspect of it is disabled. What I lack in physical ability I more than compensate for in my ability to wholeheartedly give myself and my heart to whoever needs me. I can be present. I can listen. I can empathize. I can love. I can be kind. I can have compassion. I will have your back and fight for you with all that I have. Ask my friends! They will tell you that I will most likely hurt myself just to be there for them. Does that make me a hero? Nope. It makes me a friend. See?

If you know someone in a wheelchair, or who has an invisible illness, mental illness, or all of the above, don’t praise others for their ability to still be there. It minimizes our worth and that is the last thing we need. Our loved ones are not “heros” for still being there any more than I would want someone to call me a hero for taking care of my husband after knee surgery WHILE I HAD A MUSCLE DISEASE. Oh right no one did that. I guess guys are just heros for staying with women who are disabled(insert sarcastic tone).

I’m not a hero for doing the right thing, for choosing to go out and take photographs on days I am in pain. A random stranger thinks they are saying something uplifting when they comment on my choice to go out to the park in my scooter and take photos, “GOOD FOR YOU!” Yeah I don’t need your encouragement thanks! I was just out trying to be normal and not singled out for being in a wheelchair actually out doing something. Are you praising me for me or for you? People in wheelchairs don’t ned any unnecessary comments about ” Oh I wish I had a wheelchair right now it’s so hot….I bet you run over lots of toes…don’t get a speeding ticket…you’re my hero for being out here…” My husband is not a hero for putting my scooter in the car. We are just two people trying to be good people in this world who happen to love each other fiercely.

Take hero out of the sentence when you are talking about someone with a disability. Just do that. And we’ll be good.

Meet Marigold

I have listened to Marigold do her nightly screaming rounds for months and infact she screams quite frequently outside my bedroom window. She often startles me by jumping OUT OF THE BLUE onto my deck outside my window, looks at me, then runs off. Today was my first actual introduction to her though. I was out photographing the owls Johnson and Chrysanthemum. Johnson was scared away and missing for days after july 4th and he finally came back only for us to discover that his eye was not looking well again. He is underweight and has been struggling. I’ve been photographing him for months now and he was just perking up. Then he was gone. A few days ago I photographed him and his eye was not looking well so I, being how I am, barely slept worrying that he would not be ok. But it was a wasted time of worry! We found him tonight out attempting to hunt with both his mother and father and sister with him. He was fed twice which took away all of my worries. Knowing his parents are by his side and still feeding him just makes my soul say ahhhhhh okkkkkk. While out witnessing all of these beautiful moments my husband pointed out the fox! I’d been trying to get a photo of her for FOREVER! Finally there she was. I thought she would run away but I drove my scooter up slowly and just close enough to use my zoom lens to try and get a shot. As soon as I did she did a big stretch and flopped down on the ground and rolled over. I immediately loved her!!! Isn’t it funny how an animal that was startling me daily and getting a bit on my nerves won my heart over in two moments. Just shows that you cannot judge someone from a few meetings and chance encounters. Sometimes it takes a little longer to see their heart!

My story: trigger warning as abuse subject matter is talked about in detail

I was diagnosed with a muscle disease 12 years ago and with in that same month was sexually assaulted. It was a month that would change my life in ways I was not prepared for. But who really prepares for the aftermath of sexual assault and/or a muscle disease. I wish the two weren’t in the same sentence. It makes it seem more unbearable. One would have been just hard enough to face and learn to cope with but the two together did not set well. The muscle disease left me feeling vulnerable and helpless which is the LAST thing that a sexual assault survivor ever wants to feel. So, reality check, muscle disease causes daily triggers to the feelings I hated most about being attacked and this muscle disease is not going away!

Those two things made me face a reality that I did not even know existed. I was unaware of it. Well, I was aware of what had happened to me, but unaware of the consequences.

I was sexually abused as a child for many years. I have flashbacks of what he did to me. I have nightmares of what everyone else did NOT do to protect me and help me heal.

Shame is not an emotion that I feel. I cannot feel ashamed of what others chose to do to me. That is on them. Fortunately, that is not a burden I carry because I know that everything that happened to me was not my fault.

Tonight I was having dinner with my husband at a restaurant when I realize a pen had burst in my purse and was on my leg and hand. I tried to wipe it off and it wasn’t coming off. I had a PTSD flashback right then and there. I remembered what I did not want to remember. I tried to refocus but I was gone. I don’t like things to be on me that I cannot get off. I don’t like smells to get on me. I don’t like pens to get on me. I don’t like anything that cannot be immediately removed. It is because abuse could not be removed. The feelings could not be removed. The pen reminded me of scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing and not being able to remove what was done to me as a child. I have many triggers of smells, touches, am easily startled, and none of it I can help. None of it is my fault.

This is why I can so freely tell my story. I have written two books of poetry on amazon kindle and if you have unlimited they are free. They are simply written. I don’t feel big words and confusing dialogue are important to express the depth of our emotions. I wrote the books as part of my healing process. Sometimes I can write what is in my soul only in poetry form. The words of trauma are still hard to speak. The two books are called: The Secrets of Lilly Lake and My Body Speaks. Writing them helped me through a difficult time and transformation in my life. They were the first step in discovering my authentic self. It has taken a few years now to shed the lies, shell, judgment, and expectations others have put on me in regards to THE SECRET being the abuse I endured. They didn’t endure it. No one did but me. I endured the abuse. But everyone else had their own opinions, their own agendas, their own coverups, their own secrets, and none of that involved healing me.

I feel like I’m being too cryptic because I know how hard it is for others to read the words of abuse in full description. My life has been a tornado though and it can not be easily written in a perfect timeline. I’ve been blown from here to there and back here again, often lost inbetween. But I will tell my story the best way I can.

I have often wondered why the assault 12 years ago was so life changing. I have been through hypnosis, somatic therapy, trauma therapy, and TONS more therapies, but it was on my own that I realized the truth of this. It was the first time I experienced shock. It was the first time I recognized that I had completely left my body in what I would later find out was PTSD experience. This trauma reminded me of all the traumas I had experienced before. It pulled them out of the layers of secrecy to the forefront of my mind and I had to finally face the truth of my life.

I answered an ad in the paper to assist with wild life rehab. It was something I had always wanted to do. When I met her I loved her way of life. She wanted me to bring my daughter to help with the wild life rehab as well. So my two year old and I fed little baby birds and syringe fed squirrels. We were introduced to her sister who had a farm FULL of animals. I thought it was a dream come true. Her sister had a neighbor who had 100 acres that we could ride horses on. For 8 years this was my life. I was also a volunteer chaplain for nursing homes and hospice and my daughter would come with me to visit some of the patients. She loved making these individuals feel like they mattered again. She brightened their day. Our life was perfect.

On the outer rim of these experiences was always my family that never faced the abuse I went through in childhood and were a constant reminder of what was. They would often burst my happy bubble with, “ I saw Rick at the store yesterday,” knowing Rick was just a reminder of the abuse. We couldn’t talk about the abuse but we could talk about everyone intertwined in the abuse at their will. “ I went over to the ski club today to try and find your old ski,” boom slap in the face reminder that they will be throwing this old life in my face forever. Trigger, reminder trigger, reminder, but I did not realize at the time how triggering it was. I would go back to my wild life rehab and everything was safe there. So the girl in the ad became my best friend and we spent most of our time with her or her sister planting vegetables, riding horses, feeding injured animals. There were red flag along the way but at that time, again, I didn’t know what red flags were because I had not faced my past. Red flags that most people would have run from but I was numb to red flag. For example, her husband confided in me that he didn’t feel he loved her anymore. Another example, her sister’s husband beat her up over a political conversation gone bad. Another example, I trusted her with my daughter alone (which I only did once) and she returned her to me with alcohol on her breath. I was numb from my past so these things I chalked up to…nothing. I was so used to overlooking everything. “ Put on make up. Change your clothes. Do something with your hair,” were constants from my family and I was so used to being berated and not being good enough that I saw these other family dynamics and was not alarmed. My self worth was zero. My value was zero. Every good thing from my family was laced with their own guilt and their own need to change me. I was never ever good enough for them. So when these things happened with my friend I let them go and continued going to her house.

We had recently taken in a dog from Honduras. This part is relevant. A friend of mine was dying and asked if we would take her dog. We did. This dog loved my daughter so intensely that it caused discord with our other dog. A discord that we could not remedy and eventually ended in a fight to the death between the dogs. It was the night of the dog fight that I went to my friend’s house to get supplies to patch up our dog. She was a nurse and I needed her help with stitches and such. I basically lived at her house so driving there and using my key was common. I searched her house and could not find her. I never found her that night. I never did find out where she was. I was frantically searching and sobbing needing my friend to help me with the dogs that were in bad shape. It was late at night. My husband was called out to work but could not leave our daughter alone so he was waiting on me to get back with my friend to help the dogs. He was waiting at home. I was frantically searching. I finally entered her garage where her husband lived, another red flag I overlooked. I noticed the gun leaning against the door the moment I entered the garage and even asked about it. These were kind and gentle people. They never shot guns. He said he was shooting at armadillos. That was his reason. But they saved animals. They would never kill animals. So I just looked at the gun there while crying asking him where she was because I needed her at which point he stood in front of the door with the gun and closed and locked it. I slowly sat down in a chair. I remember watching my hands. I remember looking for a phone. I saw the charger but the phone wasn’t on it. I remember the slowness of everything going around me and the silence as his voice drowned out in the background. I knew something terrible was about to happen but I was frozen there. I would come back to the present moment and here him talking about killing himself or maybe if he could just have sex with me that he wouldn’t kill himself, and then everything would go silent again and slow. I’m going to skip forward past what he did to me because even 12 years later I cannot speak all of the words. I ran though. I unlocked the door and I ran. I got into my car and I looked into the rear view mirror thinking he was coming for me and I don’t remember how I got home. I felt dead. I pulled into the driveway. I was gone along time. My husband rushed out the door because he had been waiting on me and was angry that I had taken so long, not knowing what happened. The next day we put my friend’s dog from Honduras to sleep. There were no other options. I was in shock. I did not speak of what happened to me for a week at least. I did not sleep for days. Life went on. I heard the voices of, “ God your floor has so much dog hair on it,” from my brother and thought in my head why are you here? Why are you commenting on my house? “ You need some sun. You need to get tan! You are so pale,” he said and I thought, why does he care? Why is nothing in my life or me ever good enough for this family. Why do they come here just to say negative things and put me down? I had just been through this trauma but no one knew about it. But they DID know about my childhood trauma and they treated me this way? My shock continued. My dog was dead. My other dog was injured. My child…somehow I had to tell her that our life had changed. There would be no more farm or wildlife rehab. There would be no more horse back riding and picking blackberries off the vine in our friend’s yard. It was all over. I finally told my husband who called my friend and had her come over. We sat her down and told her everything. She would leave him. Nothing else needed to be done. She would leave him and life would go on as it had previously. I did not tell my husband or her about the death threats, about the gun, about the details. I could only say that he sexually assaulted me and held me against my will.

We decided that her leaving him was enough and I had waited too long to call the police so that was out. The next day she called and I could hear him in the background sobbing. He admitted to her what he had done and begged for forgiveness. She was calling me asking me to just forgive him because she was staying with him. She said we could just keep being friends and meet at her sister’s house and ride horse like nothing ever happened. But it did. But I agreed because I didn’t want to take this life away from my child. We met out at her sister’s house and her sister sat me down and told me that had I not dressed the way I did that it never would have happened. She also told me that it had happened to her and her daughter and I needed to just let it go. We never went back there or to my friend’s house. She lives 2 miles from me through the prairie. I couldn’t drive that road for over 10 years. A number of months ago I heard that he had left her. He was no longer there. I drove back through the prairie to visit some old farm friends. They told me I was welcome to visit their animals any time. Some of them told me they knew about what had happened and they had known all along that he was a predator. Why they did not tell me this… I drive back there and past her house once a week to visit some goat and horses and donkeys. It is the only distance I can drive with this muscle disease. One day I drove into her driveway and past that garage. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. It was harder than I thought.

Before our friendship ended I was taking care of her sister’s neighbor’s animals while he was out of town. The man with the 100 acres. I went to feed his animals and he had set off flea bombs in the house with all of his animals inside and left to go out of town. I went in to try and save them. I exposed myself to toxins which got in my eyes and on my skin. I threw up repeatedly but I got all of the animals out. I tried to save them. I bathed them. I took them to get them activated charcoal. I never thought of myself. I needed to bathe and activated charcoal too! It took a week but all of his animals died.

A few months after all of these traumas I was sent to the mayo clinic and after a few follow up visits, finally had a muscle biopsy. I was called by the doctor and told I had central core myopathy which has no treatment and no cure. I did not listen to her and contacted every specialist in Japan, Canada, US, England, NIH. And over the next 10 years have been a part of every case study that exists. Through my own persistence we have found that I have a rare form of the disease with out the typical genetic mutation but other mutations that could point to 2 diseases or the original disease with a new cause. But I found out I had a disease. I had lost my best friend. I had been traumatized and I was definitely not ok.

I ran into him in a grocery store. It had been so focused on by my friend, his wife, that I did not fight back. That was her main and only focus was why did I not just fight him off. It did not matter that I had declining health because even though I had yet to be diagnosed with the muscle disease I HAD to be stronger than he was since he had post polio which only affected one leg. Another red flag I had ignored when he pulled his pants down in front of my daughter and me to show us his atrophied leg years prior. I saw him in the store and could only think about confronting him and how that would “fix” everything. I did. I started yelling at him in the middle of the store that he is a sex offender and should be in prison and I cannot believe he got away with doing what he did to me. I had him back up against the wall and was in his face and said everything I had wanted to say. He said it was my obligation as a chaplain to forgive him. Those were his only words. There was a lot of cussing on my part after that. He then ran away. Ran out the door and to his car on that leg he said he could barely walk on. I stood there with my grocery cart shaking all over and sat down on the floor. The manager of the store came over to check on me. I asked if he could put all my food back because I needed to leave. He did.

I built up this idea of confronting my abuser and how that would undo and fix what had been done. It did NOTHING. It changed NOTHING. What he did to me was still there. I did not fix anything. I did not feel justice. I did not feel strong. He was still free to be out harming other girls and confronting him did not take away an ounce of the trauma that he inflicted. It quickly wiped away my unfounded need to confront his wife and her sister and everyone who allowed this man to stay in their lives knowing what he did. Confronting them would not change them. They already made their choice. I could only process what happened, go to therapy, try to cope.

It was not until 8 years later that I was diagnosed with PTSD. After what he had done to me, all of the childhood trauma came into focus. I started to see, as an adult, the reality of what had happened to me as a child. I started having nightmares and sleep walking. I showed all signs of PTSD but I did not know what PTSD WAS! I had been groomed all of my childhood to not speak. I was silenced. I could barely speak of what happened in the garage. I could barely speak of anything or show any real emotion because it was a way of life. I was “sweet Bethany.” I was told that by so many for so long. I could not be anything else. If I showed anger, or emotion, or passion, or rage, or tears, or truth, it was, “ well that’s not the Bethany I know, where is sweet Bethany!” I stuffed down my entire life until it began to eat away at the pieces that were left of me (the title of the book I am writing Pieces of Me).

It wasn’t until my dog passed away 3 years ago that I felt the full loss of my childhood and most of the rest of me. I felt the loss of everything. I made an appointment a few days later with a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD. She has helped me to understand myself. She has helped me to speak and feel and know that this is ok. To know that all of this is normal for what I have been through. Oh, David Bloomquist is his name. The man who locked me in the garage. He was a university of florida professor. Surrounded by young girls. I cannot think about that. I can only hope that I was…well the 3rd and the last. Statistics say there are 12 though with sex offenders. I hope that isn’t true for the sake of other girls. And to think that is only one part of my story…

On the surface, my childhood looked so perfect! It is shocking really how perfect it seemed. We were a part of a ski team, my twin brother and me. We were part of a musical theater group. We were a part of the church. We lived on a lake with a boat. My mom was a stay at home mom and my dad was a play with his kids when he got home dad. It just looked so perfect. My mother’s mother lived across the lake from us and she was an integral part of our daily life. My mom brought in every stray animal so our house was filled with so many dogs and cats to love and I had 5 acres of woods. It was my dream childhood. Filled with nature and water and animals. The things I still love now. I felt loved. I had every toy or article of clothing that I wanted. I actually didn’t want for anything. I didn’t have strict parents and we’d often sit around in wet bathings suits wrapped in towels watching movies on our living room floor with popcorn not a care in the world. We had our house cleaning and lawn chores like every kid of that era that we got our allowance for and spent it at the dime store in the small town we lived in. I mean really. It was perfect. The abuse did not fit into the perfect. It did not fit in to the town. It did not fit into any facet of anyone’s lives, but apparently mine. The abuse was on a weekly basis starting when I was 11 to the best of my recollection. It could have started earlier but I don’t remember. He was the main member of the ski team on our lake. He groomed me from day one to be his victim. I trusted him. My family trusted him.

I can watch myself now as an adult in flashbacks from that time. I can watch myself as a child as if it were on a movie screen in horror! I want to yell at my childhood self HE’S COMING WATCH OUT! But I can’t. The flashbacks are just little nightmares of watching helpless me being traumatized over and over and over again by him. He was so slow and methodical about my grooming that it took me a very long time to understand that what he was doing was wrong. As I got older I realized more and more. One day I actually left his house and felt the exact way I felt as I was leaving the garage from being held. It was the same shock. I did not know it was shock then but I know it now. I had this realization that I was being abused. That everything he told me was “ok” and “normal” was not normal at all. He had power over me. Fear instilled in me that I had not even been aware of. He had pushed my face down so many times and held me unable to escape so many times that I had become numb to it and gave up all fight. It was just something that was going to happen weekly. Little parts of my own intuitions were destroyed by his words so I was left with no intuition at all. I was robbed of everything. I see the flashbacks now of him touching me and showing me pornography and remembering the feel of his body against mine and it sickens me. I was returned home weekly with no one knowing what he was doing to me. And I could not speak a word. It took me years to finally get up the nerve to speak. And it was only a whisper. It was all I could do. A tiny little whisper of words of “ Billy Banks is a very bad man.” My parents called the police and they called in the social services people who sent out older men who I could not speak the words in detail of what had happened to me. I didn’t even know all the details myself! I didn’t know which parts were bad, illegal, and I had blocked out so much (still am) that I was not prepared to speak. No one helped me speak. I had no advocate. I had no guardian adlitem. I had a man sitting at my kitchen table with my mother staring at me wanting me to tell them about the penis that was rubbed all over my body and at that age I was so horrified, embarrassed, mortified by even thinking about what happened I could not speak it. I was only able to say that he had done bad things to me. That was not enough. And just like that they closed the book. Poof gone. My brother promptly cried and begged to go back and be able to ski on the ski team regardless of what had happened to me and my parents, who said they did not want to disrupt his life or make him stop doing what he loved, let him go back to the man who had been sexually abusing me for years. My simple words were not enough. They should have been. But they weren’t. So late one night I paddled out to the ski jump with a friend I trusted with some of the details and we painted on the ski jump “ Billy Banks is a child molester. Protect your children.” That was the voice I had. I had written it. He was a child molester! There it was for the lake, the parents, my parents, the child molester, everyone on that team and lake to see. Everyone saw. The ski club members were out with their roll brushes rolling over those words as soon as they saw them. I watched them silence me. I watched my words disappear and nothing changed. No one’s lives changed. Every day, every weekend I got to watch as my brother skied with all of them. Billy would smile and wave as he drove by in his boat as would the other ski club members and I sat on the end of my dock all alone.

So I tried to kill myself. And when that didn’t work I tried to kill myself again. And when that didn’t work I tried to kill myself again. But I just would not die. My mother took me on some sort of mother daughter bonding weekend at the beach in hopes we could have this great time before I went off to a mental hospital. I could no longer pretend. I remember thinking that whole time how truly pathetic this charade all was. On weekend trips home from the mental hospital I would just sit on the dock watching the child molester wave at me and my brother out there with him. I quit school, got my GED, and got a job as a professional water skier at Seaworld and slept in my car. I HAD to get away from these people. When I got a little bit older I told them more of the truth. And I tried to tell my brother but he said he didn’t want those images in his head. He didn’t want to know. All of these same people from the ski club were part of the musical group and the church. I could never get away from any of them. The job at Seaworld my only refuge. Sleeping in a hot car during the summer in Florida was really a great trade off from watching an entire community go on like nothing had happened. I was finally 18 and decided to get an attorney to take this man to court. It was past criminal and now onto civil as far as I knew and I saved up money and spoke to this attorney. He asked me to call some of the ski club members and ask them if they would speak for me in court. That is when I found out they knew. I never had to say a word. They knew. They knew what he was doing to me and did nothing to stop him. They said they thought I “wanted it” and I was a “slut” and so they did nothing. The news of this was life altering. All of these people knew. They made me feel guilty for not giving more details but none were ever given because HE ADMITTED TO IT. My mother said that that could not be true because he would never have admitted to what he did. But he did. Which is why other ski club members abused me too. I forgot to mention that. I was shared amongst some of the men. So really my choice to sleep in a hot car and work at seaworld I felt was a good choice. I tried to come home some weekends to my mom’s house. She and my dad had divorced at that point so it was only her living there. The memories though…I moved in as quickly as I could with a boyfriend. Then I decided to start living in their secret. In their lies. I started going back home and pretending. I wanted this family. I wanted parents and a brother and to do that I had to fit into their lies. So I did.

I dated men that were far more abusive than what I experienced as a child. I knew nothing different and was easily manipulated and dominated. I was date raped multiple times due to my own (not blaming myself here) vulnerability and shell I was living in as a victim. I never spoke. I never screamed. I never fought. Two men living in this town right now raped me. I thought and overthought why and how those things happened. It was my psychiatrist that helped me to understand that I was groomed and victimized for so long and there are simply so many bad men in this world that I was an easy target.

One of the rapes was because I went on a mud bogging trip with three guys one of which I had a huge crush on and was a police officer. It was very obvious and they all knew I had a crush on him. His friend still took me in the back room of their apartment and raped me. As soon as he picked me up and threw me over his shoulder and threw me on the bed I lay stone still and silent. The one I had a crush on even came into the doorway and watched. I prayed that he would stop him but when he didn’t I slipped back into memorizing the pattern in the sheetless bed that I was being raped on. The trauma just kept going on and on and on. The other date rape was a date rape. He asked me out on a date at the gym. He asked me back to his house to get ready. He raped me in the shower. I never said a word. I remember all of the words he said to me though, “ It will be over in a minute.” I will never forget that. No I should have never even been there. But I HAD NO INTUITION. Everything in me that would naturally protect me from these scenarios was dead and wiped out as a child and never put back in with love or understanding or teaching or nurturing.

I had been trapped in this waterskiing world for so many years and even with summer jobs I had getting away from the abuser, everyone knew. I would go to Indiana or Canada for a job and they said they knew about me being abused back on our lake. Gossip. Gossip led to more rapes. Men in other states in the waterskiing community knew that I would not speak. And I didn’t.

When I finally left the job at Seaworld (where coincidently one of the rapists was also working and often slapped me on the butt in front of other coworkers and told me to “tighten it up” which led OFCOURSE to the obligatory eating disorder) I finally thought I was away. But going back into the world I was just this sheep who should not have been there alone. So many men had taken bits and pieces of me. I had a wealthy friend at the time who was not connected to ANY of it. I was living in this really crap apartment and finding it very hard to get by. Although my father, after the abuse, had little to do in my life, did put money in my bank account every month to help me out. He remarried and was focuses on his wife and her kids, something, one of the only things my brother and I agreed on was that we did not matter to him at all. I had contracted rocky mountain spotted fever from a tick and we think (the doctors now) it was the beginning of the muscle disease I have now. My health was not good. I was very weak. I was tired all the time. I had constant dizziness. I met an old man at the gym who said that he had kids my age, 19, ride horses at his house every weekend. It was the one thing I could do that didn’t make me feel terrible. I would meet a ton of girls and guys and we would ride out in lake butler with this guy who had tons of money. He had a friend that was also an older man. We are talking 70’s probably so older when I was 19. He offered to pay for me to go to the mayo clinic which my parents were thrilled about. No red flags there. Old man paying for 19 year old to go to mayo clinic. They found at the time that the fever I had had damaged my inner ear causing the dizziness. At the time the did not think to look for a muscle disease. I was not prepared for the price of the Mayo Clinic and the payment the old man wanted for that trip which he tried to push on me but in that brief moment I fought. So many bad men. Everywhere. Around every corner.

So I was sick. I was trying to work and even with my dad giving me extra money I could not pay my bills one month. My good friend would take me to lunch. He would always say that at least he would make sure I got a good meal in me. It was during my anorexic years so one meal tided me over just fine. I confided in him about the abuse. About the men. And also about how vulnerable I felt being sick and not being able to pay my bills. He offered to pay all of my bills if I had sex with him. Jeff Ference. One of our own Gainesville’s best. My best pal who took care of me and listened to me had just offered to pay all my bills! What I nice guy right? I mean all I had to do was let him have sex with me. I’d been raped so many times and abused how bad could that be. We even agreed I didn’t have to take all my clothes off and did not even have to move. When he laid the money on the table and got dressed I realized the grave mistake I had made. I thought that it would make me feel in control. No. it made me feel like the prostitute that at that moment I was. Getting paid for sex even if it was by a “friend” who said I had always been “virginal” to him and he wanted to have sex with someone he though of as a virgin. Um I was no virgin. That was gone long ago in a big pile over very scary blood that no one told me about when I was just a young girl! I got therapy after that. And more therapy. And more therapy. Then more therapy.

I THOUGHT my husband had saved me from the last abuse I would ever endure which was a man I was engaged to that was particularly sadistic. My husband saved me from him and I had 10 years of just the most perfect life with the most perfect daughter and I had finally been saved. Until David in the garage.

I’ve never felt shame in the things that were done to me as an adult I am not afraid to talk about them now as an adult. I felt great shame as a child and teenager. Shame kept me silent. Others kept me silent.

After my muscle disease diagnosis my mom was a huge part of my life helping pick my daughter up from school and bringing us meals. We spent a ton of time together. She would continue planting and upkeep of the gardens I had started before my disease and help to keep my house clean. She had remarried a few times and sold the lake house to my brother for few measly dimes really. He wanted to keep the house in the family. I wanted my daughter to be able to experience the water like I did. I loved the lake. I loved the water. It was my solace and my peace. I brought her to the lake. She celebrated her 16th birthday there that my brother hosted for us. I WAS IN DENIAL. OF EVERYTHING. When he sold the house a year ago for over $400,000 I wondered at what price did that house and living there really cost me. I was sad that he sold it because, still, in my mind, there would one day be peace and I could go back and feel free. The abusers would be gone and their supporters, my family would be back together and I would swim in the lake once more.

I went out to the lake and asked the new owner if I could say goodbye. I walked down in the water and saw that same ski team skiing by. I loved that water because it was my safe place. Nothing happened in that water. I could go underneath it and live in the silence there. I didn’t need the lake anymore and I definitely did not need to see the people on it. It was past time to say goodbye and so I did.

I wrote a blog 3 years ago. It started after I had written a letter to my father telling him about everything that had happened to me. I cc’d the letter to my mother and brother. I received a series of hate mail back. My brother called my husband to ask if the things I said were really true. My husband said yes. My brother said he didn’t want to remember things that way. I thought…good thing he didn’t get abused, must be easy to remember just what we want to. My mother’s husband sent me a number of emails disowning me from the family. And just like that they were gone. They wanted the secrets kept. There were many secrets in the family. My secret older brother who came back into our lives which made me think he was no longer a secret! He visited us all the time! But when I told my cousin how happy I was that he had visited my cousin had no idea I had an older brother. It was news to me that this was to be kept a secret as I was proud to have an older brother. My aunt then called and flipped out saying that she could tell my daughter I was in a mental institution. Apparently they really wanted their secrets kept. That I had no idea were a secret. That child molester cousin apparently he was to be kept a secret. We didn’t want to taint the family name. As if we were royalty! I started my blog as a way to talk about my feelings and process what I had gone through…a lifetime of abuse only to be disowned by my ENTIRE family for finally speaking the truth. Something I will NEVER understand nor do I care to waste any more time trying to.

The interesting thing about my blog is it got 100,000 views and I received 4,000 comments from survivors of sexual abuse. I learned that my story was not unique. It was COMMON. Common to be raped. Common to be silenced. Common for families to deny it. Common for families to disown you for speaking the truth. AND all of my symptoms of PTSD…common. I had more support from strangers than I had EVER received from my family. It was a shocking eye opener. I closed that blog when it reached 100,000 views because I wanted to help and connect and reach others and I achieved that goal.

My new blog I started 6 months later. I will continue to tell my story. I wanted it to be about my growth though. I’ve made it past my family and everything they did and did not do. I have moments that it breaks my heart, moments of hate, but mostly moments of acceptance. I have more things to think about, more important things, than people who do not care to love me. I have a daughter and husband and good friends who do love me. I am moving forward.

My story that I have written so far are things that have happened to me. And the side affects of those things being ongoing nightmares and PTSD. If you did not know my story before you will hopefully understand now why I do not want cologne, or fabric softener, or aftershave on me. You will understand why I do not want to be pat on the shoulder or come up to from behind and why that startles me. But that is only what happened to me. That is not the whole of who I am.

I have loved animals my entire life. I am deeply connected to the earth, to animals and to kindness in people. Suffering affects me profoundly. I want to save every hurt animal as much as I rejoice every healthy animal. I am as excited to see a feather on the ground now as a child would be. I am a mother. I am a wife. I have been a chaplain. I am non-judgmental. I love unconditionally. I have learned boundaries and have continued to find my voice. I want to help others and be an advocate for children. I want to help other victims of abuse feel heard and understood. There are many parts of me and the wounded parts are only a small piece.

I chose to start photographing nature as a way to be mindful. I wanted to balance good with all the bad I have had. If you look at my social media you will see I post every one of my favorite photos I take every single day. For 2 years now I have gone out and taken photos. I started slowly and worked my way up to hours each day. My photography has saved my life. If you see me taking a photograph know that I am lost in that moment. That moment is seeping into every cell of my being. It is filling up all of the losses and voids and traumas with joy. Those moments are healing to me. It is not JUST photographs. It is me choosing to go out and find the good and embrace it with all of my being. I can look back at my social media and see that every day I chose good. I chose to live. I could have stayed in bed and given up with this muscle disease and bone disease and seizures and lyme disease and every other bad hand that I was dealt but I have NOT. I made a choice to live. I made a choice to win against the evil! My husband and I go out every single day and we live in each precious moment.

It has taken me 47 years to face the truth of what had been done to me and accept it and move forward to try to find good. I do not always succeed in overcoming the PTSD. I have down days, despondent days, triggering days that are very hard to live through, BUT I have beautiful days that way outweigh the bad. It is balanced now.

We all try to find ways to cope. Nothing has helped me cope and rediscover joy than photography. Finding my way back into nature and connecting to all of the beauty around me. So when you see my photographs, know that each one is removing a little bit of the suffering. Each photo was a moment that was healing and peaceful and devoid of all bad.

This is only part of my story. I will not reread it for spelling errors as I want to continue to move forward. As I move forward I will keep sharing the truth of how it feels to have PTSD. I will also focus in this new blog the joy that has been restored into my life. Thank you for reading and being a part of my life’s journey.

Bethanykaysphotography on instagram

Thought I would share my instagram so that anyone having a bad day could go and find something positive. I started it about a year ago when I wanted to have something to positive to do every evening. I download all of my photos and I post them there. You will have thousand of photos to look at that are uplifting. It is how I end my day every day.

I was out in the rain last night with this fella. Little blue heron. He was shaking off all of the rain. I was trying to protect my scooter and my camera from the rain while taking his photo. It was a challenge but so rewarding!