Mindy Lathen

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My purpose of sharing my childhood sexual abuse experience is to spread awareness about the effects of trauma and inspire others to seek help to heal from their past. Now that I’m at a point of clarity and understanding about the abuse I went through, I want to break the silence and encourage other survivors. I want the world to be a little better for those  who have suffered by making this something we can talk about.From the outside, my childhood probably looked pretty normal.

My parents were (and are) married, I excelled in school and soccer, and I had good friends. There were some very big secrets though, secrets I did everything I could to hide. There were scary, traumatic things going on that I didn’t understand, but didn’t feel safe enough with anyone to ask for help.

My uncle started sexually abusing me when I was about 4 years old. (At least that’s my first memory I have of it– he might have started before this.) He would target me at family gatherings and find ways to isolate me from everyone else. He would touch me and do things to me that scared me and made me feel like I was going to die. This continued for about seven years, until I was 11.

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It was too much for a girl that young to understand. I didn’t know what sex was, let alone sexual abuse. One of the most painful parts for me, then and now, is that I loved my uncle. As an adult, I can see how he “groomed” me. (I hate that word. It sounds disgusting… well actually it is disgusting.) As a predator, he gained my trust and guaranteed my silence. He played with me and talked to me and made me feel special and loved. My own dad didn’t do those things with me, so my uncle filled a gap in my life in a way that felt good. It was SO confusing that someone I loved and trusted could also do things to me that felt so scary and wrong.

As I got older, the things he did to me seemed to get increasingly more extreme. By the time I was about 11 years old, I started to understand a little more about sex and I connected the dots more about what he was doing to me. I tried to fight back a few times, but it didn’t stop him. I told my older sister about the last incident and she told my mom.

Having my abuse “come out” was almost as traumatic as experiencing the sexual abuse in the first place. (During the abuse I was also protected in a way, because I dissociated, which means I disconnected from myself and reality to not feel so scared and hurt.) My mom confronted me about the abuse and I told her what happened. She then took me to a counselor where I had to tell again. Every time I told someone about it, I felt re-traumatized and it made me feel intense shame about what I had been through. I wanted so badly to just be a normal girl. Having to go to a counselor made me feel like something was deeply wrong with me and that if anyone knew about it, they would not want to be my friend. I felt so confused and alone. I don’t even remember anyone explaining to me why what he did was wrong.

I felt lost and alone in my pain during this time (and for years to come). My family never talked about the abuse. We all dealt with it on our own and I don’t even remember my parents ever talking to me about it after the first time I told my mom. Counseling helped a little, but mostly it just made me feel broken and like I had more shameful secrets to hide.

The most traumatic memory I have from this time period is when my mom took me to the Children’s Justice Center, where I was supposed to tell yet another scary stranger about all the terrible things I had been through. Going there felt like the pinnacle of shame for me. I felt like I was in trouble. I felt so much pressure to “do it right” and also so much confusion and pain. I didn’t want to think about those scary and bad things anymore. I actually felt sad for my uncle, because no one made sure I understood things. I thought he had just made a little mistake and now my mom wanted him to go to prison for it. In all my confusion, I just didn’t want him to get in trouble. Well, the annoying interrogation lady (who, bless her heart, was only trying to help me) got me to talk about only one or two incidents. Because I didn’t tell her more, the judge didn’t press very severe charges on my uncle and he didn’t receive the consequences he deserved. (Looking back now, this infuriates me. I even tried pressing charges again two years ago, but because of some stupid laws, he can’t be punished “again.”)

The effects of trauma (especially repeated childhood trauma) can be extremely severe. I was able to hide a lot of these because I turned my pain and anger inward and became an extreme perfectionist. As a very sensitive, tender person, my trauma and lack of emotional support was especially damaging. My home and family never felt like a safe place where I could talk about feelings or receive the kind of help I needed. I grew up thinking I should just forgive my uncle and move on. Because no one helped me the way I needed, I felt broken, ugly, inferior, unworthy, and like an outcast. I thought I had “moved forward” and forgiven my uncle, but I didn’t know that the trauma had affected me to the core. In the two years since I started healing, I have uncovered layer after layer of damage done by the trauma.

For years, I plugged along, thinking I had left the past behind. I went to therapy off and on because of the anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and low-level depression I could never get rid of. I didn’t even know it was related to my sexual abuse and emotional neglect. It got a little better from time to time, but then I would be triggered (in ways I wasn’t even aware of at the time) and go back into the hole of feeling terrible. I thought that this was just what life was. I thought maybe everyone felt as bad as I did.

I had no idea that life could be peaceful and fun and not so stressful. I had no idea I could feel loved even when I didn’t achieve something, that I didn’t always have to feel like I was barely surviving. Because of the false beliefs I developed over the years of my childhood, I was stuck in feelings and thought patterns of hopelessness.

Miraculously, two years ago (almost exactly) I realized that I needed to find a therapist who actually specialized in trauma. It took about nine months to find a trauma therapist I clicked with and a LOT of work after that, but I have come out on the other side of my deep healing phase feeling like a different person. I feel free from the layers of shame I carried for so long. I respect and honor myself for what I have been through. I love myself and I like who I am. I am figuring out who I am without all the things I used to do just because I was a perfectionist. I am proud of myself for choosing the path of healing.

I hope to write a lot more about my journey– what I have been through and what I’m still going through to heal. I have found writing to be extremely helpful in my recovery, especially being able to express myself, when for so many years, I wasn’t able to.

If you are someone who has also gone through sexual abuse or trauma of any kind, I hope you will seek support and get the help you need. (I am here for you, too!) I have lots of resources that have helped me and I’m also pretty good (Daniel says incredibly good) at just listening and validating. Going through trauma is terrible, but living with the effects are just about as bad or even worse. I hope you know that you are worth any and all help you receive, and that life is so much better on the other side of recovery.

If you have a loved one who has gone through anything like this, I hope you will talk to them and be there for them in the ways they want and need. (It’s usually best to ask them to know how to help, since everyone is different.) Healing happens in community. I am extremely grateful for Daniel, my sisters, close friends, my therapist, and my sexual abuse recovery coaches, who have helped me so, so much.

My trauma has affected every part of my life, especially marriage and motherhood. As I heal, I am finding ways to let the lessons from my past help me. Because I am a survivor, I feel like my level of appreciation and joy in my family are even higher than they would have been if I hadn’t experienced the lowest lows that I did. My goal is to continue establishing a home where we grow together and enjoy healthy relationships. I am grateful for the strength I find in myself as I grow and develop as a mother.

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Mindy Lathen

Salt Lake City, UT

Age 25

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Jennifer Anderson

I was single for 34 years of my life. My days were filled working as a Nurse Practitioner, running marathons, competing in triathlons and riding my bike. These activities were safe for me, they fit nicely into my comfort zone. Others things weren’t so safe and comfortable for me – relationships and vulnerability. Many days I wondered if I was good enough to be a wife and a mother. I looked at all my flaws, my hangups, my depression and saw a very inadequate person. Fear filled my heart that I would totally mess up any child that might come my way. How could anyone want a mom or wife like me who would be happy one day and in a dark place the next day?

Antidepressants will do funny things to a person. My moods stabilized and I was able to tuck away the negative feelings about myself and start to see through the fog to the real me, a person of goodness, kindness and worth. I started taking medication in December and by January I met the man that became my husband. At last I had courage to take a leap of faith.

While my husband and I dated we talked of having kids. He had 4 beautiful children from a previous marriage but was willing and eager to have more. However, neither of us were spring chickens anymore. Our biological clocks were ticking loudly. We tried for months to have a child but were unsuccessful so we sought medical help to see if we could find an answer to our struggle. After many tests, pokings and proddings we were told that having a baby was not likely to be in our future. What? How could this be? This was not how it was supposed to go. What had I done? The thing I had been so afraid of had become the thing I wanted the most. I felt as though I had wasted all those younger years and now I was being punished. Suddenly I wanted to be a mom more than anything but was given no hope. Well, almost no hope – the doctor said we had a 1% chance of conceiving.

With such a small possibility of pregnancy we decided to start fertility treatments. Blood draws, consultations and counseling dragged on for what felt like eternity. Finally we had everything arranged to start with my next cycle, but a funny thing happened – my cycle never started. We waited day after day wondering what the problem was. Finally we decided to take a pregnancy test and the result was positive! How could this be? How could this happen when we were given such little hope? It was a miracle! What a relief! We were beyond belief. Not that we were complaining. We just beat the odds by a long shot!

Nine months later Isabelle arrived. A perfect little baby girl so full of life and potential. Once the newness of her arrival started to wear off, feelings of inadequacy began creeping in. I thought, how can a person so imperfect as I am raise this perfect little spirit? Those negative feelings and thoughts poked their head back into my life. I plead, “Please don’t let me mess her up, please help me be a good mom to her – one that nurtures, loves and doesn’t ruin that sweet innocence.”

Somehow, over time, I learned how to be a mother. Perhaps remembering how my mom raised me and through the few babysitting jobs I had as a teenager. Isabelle survived my fumblings, insecurities and even seemed to be turning out ok. Wow, maybe I am cut out to be a mother!

Over the next 5 years I settled into this new role. Then I started not feeling well. Something wasn’t right inside me. My stomach started expanding and my energy started shrinking. The veins in my legs became more prominent. My appetite changed. At first I thought my symptoms were from exercising. I had been training for and completed the Ultimate Challenge bike race, a 110 mile ride with 10,000 feet of elevation gain, who wouldn’t be tired after that? But shouldn’t my abs be flattening, not expanding? I went to my doctor. They drew some blood, ran some tests and on a Friday afternoon told me I had Ovarian Cancer – stage III-C.

Cancer runs in my family. My Grandmom died from Ovarian Cancer, so did my Aunt, just nine months before my diagnosis. My world just turned upside down. I wasn’t supposed to get cancer, at least not at such a young age. My Grandmom and Aunt were in their 60’s, so I had years to go before I needed to worry about any chance of getting cancer. My thoughts turned to my daughter. The thought of not being able to raise her felt worse than my diagnosis! My mind reviewed the past five years. Suddenly I didn’t care what kind of a mom I was, I just wanted more than anything to keep being a mom to Isabelle. I prayed, “Please God, just let me stay on earth so I can keep being her mom. Don’t take me away yet. I know I’ve made mistakes, come up short, judged too quickly, and a million other things but I have so much more to learn, to give and to become.”

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Two weeks after my diagnosis I underwent surgery to remove all the cancer that was growing throughout my abdomen. The surgeon said he removed all my insides, set them on a table, sifted through them until all visible cancer cells were found and then stuffed everything back in. That’s exactly what it felt like! The surgery literally took everything out of me. I went from climbing mountains easily on by bike to struggling to stand up, let alone take a step. After 2 weeks I was able to return home much stronger than right after surgery. Now I could walk up a short flight of stairs – as long as I could lay down and rest at the top! Next came chemotherapy – 18 weeks of treatment that extended to 24 weeks due to low blood counts. I lost my hair. Isabelle wasn’t so excited to have a bald mom and dad! I invited her to shave her head too but she wrinkled her nose and told me no, 5 year olds need long hair. I wasn’t the best mom through the surgery and chemo. Instead of the normal run around together outside, we would lay together on the recliner and watch TV. She became my help and support along with my husband who stepped in and took over both his roll and mine so I could heal.

Six months after my diagnosis I completed my treatments. Sometimes it takes the threat of dying to make us want to live fully, dare greatly and love passionately. I’m not sure if I was given a 1% chance of beating cancer, but I beat the odds again. Now I have a scar down my belly (goodbye bikini days), a new head of hair and a new perspective on life. I lost days of being a mom because of fear and unruly thoughts that danced in my head. I focused on thoughts that brought me down, limited me, and diminished my true nature. I now realize that each day is a gift, too short to be wasted looking at the negative, regretting the past or worrying about the future. Today is to be lived in the present, through each breath that passes through the body, each sunrise that brightens the sky, and each smile or tear that flows from Isabelle. Yes, that is living and that is what I want Isabelle to remember about herself and her mother.

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Jennifer Anderson

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Age 47