Some experiences in my life have been put away in a chest and locked in order to keep the memories from coming back. They’ve been locked for a long time because I knew that if I opened this door even just a little bit, that ghosts from the past would come back running. And just as I predicted, the ghosts did come back, as vivid and as alive as they had been before. My ghosts of the past are full of insecurity, shame, and pain. These ghosts were ready to tear down the resilience that I’ve built over the past ten years.
When I was 13 I was raped by my former stepfather repeatedly. My mom was working weekends for a weekend caregiving job. I wasn’t left alone in the house, in fact we lived in a house in California where there were patients living in the other rooms because they were deemed mentally unstable and couldn’t function in society independently. It took me a year of silence to finally get the courage to tell my mom everything that was happening, because I was failing miserably in school and I couldn’t hide it anymore. Why did I hide the sexual abuse for so long? I was disgusting and fat, we were poor, and my mom was the only one I had in my life. The image I had of myself was worthless. The closest family I had was in Chicago and I couldn’t really tell them because I was convinced that they were too distant. Most of the time when a sexual abuse happens to a minor, it is perpetrated by someone that the victim knows, not a stranger. I finally mustered up the courage to break my silence when my fourth grade teacher told the whole class “If you’re having a problem, you can always tell me.” My mom was a former social worker and I knew that if I told my teacher that I would get taken away from home, so I decided to tell my mom first before anyone else. When I told my mom everything, we didn’t go to the authorities but asked for advice at our church named Iglesia ni Cristo, located in Long Beach, CA. The higher ups of the church told us not to go to the authorities, and from there they wanted to begin the process of forgiveness. As a 13 year old I was expected to forgive a man that violated me without giving me time to process anything that was happening. Did they know that what they really meant was to repress all the torment and shame I had felt, and that they were protecting the abuser rather than the child who really needed help? Within two days my mom and I packed up our belongings and were picked up by my grandmother, and then we flew out to Chicago.
My rapist might have been left behind in California, but the torment didn’t only happen physically- everything about an individual that gets violated is torn down over and over again, day in and day out. I continuously questioned what had happened to me because my abuser told everyone that I was lying. He said that I only told this lie because I wanted to go back to Chicago. First of all, my dad’s family was the one who brought me to the United States so I could have easily flown back to Chicago. My father still had legal status as my guardian. Second of all, sexual abuse is a big thing to lie about. Why would I have lied? As hard as me and my mom’s life were in California I didn’t want to break her heart. I was so broken, but all I could think about was her legal status in the United States and that she was going to get deported if I told my truth. After all the torment he put me through, I was the one he shamed and left behind with the sin that was done against me. I was the one who carried around a burden. Sexual abuse is one of the most prominent crimes in the world and yet people rarely ever talk about it. The victims are often questioned why they didn’t fight, or why they didn’t tell anyone sooner, but when it’s someone you know abuses you and they’re supposed to matter to you, you’re left in a limbo. I knew that it was all wrong, and I wasn’t only violated physically but also my mental stability was also at a stake.
Digging up one truth reveals other truths. I couldn’t say what happened to me out loud, so I decided to write my mom an e-mail. I couldn’t tell her about what her husband had been doing to me without telling her about what happened to me when I was seven. I was sexually abused for the first time when I was seven years old in the Philippines by an elderly in my Dad’s side of the family. I never told someone older than me until that moment in 2005, because had to tell my mom everything. Silence is not golden. It’s poisonous and it’s a form of oppression that chains someone down to rock bottom, to shame. When everyone found out it was like a silent poison that tried to choke me back to being lost and confused. It was as if silence could take all of the memories away and make everything okay. Silence only makes the devil stronger, and silence is what an abuser would have wanted.
I was pretty good at pretending that everything was okay for years, and I didn’t want anyone to see me as vulnerable. I was the girl who laughed a lot, who focused on school and sports, even though I wasn’t always the best. When I joined my high school Cross Country team I would be so tired at night that I had no energy to be angry or sad. I had an outlet for my frustrations, had good mentors and friends around me, and school was going okay. I knew that I needed to be strong and try to forget the past and whatever I left behind. But forgetting isn’t always the best way to deal with a problem- in fact, the past always finds a way to come back one way or another.
During my sophomore year of college I came down with a depression that had a dark cloud hanging over me. It was so dark that I didn’t want to live anymore. I was exhausted from pretending everything was okay. I attended classes in the morning, worked as a server’s assistant in the afternoon until midnight, and came back to my dorm room to conquer homework with whatever energy I had left. I often fell asleep by 2am only to wake up at 6am to repeat the same routine. I stopped talking to a lot of my friends because I felt like nobody could understand the pain that I was going through- and that everything was unfair. I questioned life, and I still remember my first panic attack- it literally felt like my chest was caving in and I started crying because I thought I was going to die. I knew deep inside me that I wanted to fight, and prayed for a better tomorrow, but all I felt was pain.
The depression during my sophomore year of college was my whole entire life leading up until that moment. I wasn’t getting along with my mom because she had her whole set of problems too, and I never felt good enough for her. The flashbacks of being 13 and raped by my “stepfather” came back stronger than ever because trying to forget something shameful doesn’t work that way. I questioned myself Yes, it happened when I was 13. Yes, I’m now 22 and that still haunts me to this day. I’ve gotten better, with a decade of fighting the memories but my sister and dad aren’t handling it too well. They wanted to open up the case, to have justice served and to put him to jail but I didn’t even know if I was ready for that. Opening up the case meant having to go back to the furthest memories I have buried and to bring them back to the present life I’ve created. I asked my mom about what happened to him and she texted me back “if you need closure, maybe you can do a Google search.” While it seemed ridiculous and infuriating when she texted me that, I ended up doing it anyways. I found out that my former stepfather died June 29, 2015. He was dead at 80 years old. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so. But I can now live in peace knowing he’s not going to come after me. I questioned God for a long time because of what happened to me, and I was wondering where he was during all those times that I felt like nothing. But he was there all along- feeling all of my pain and telling me that if I just kept going, and that if I woke up in the morning the next day, that I would be on my way to have a better tomorrow. That someday it would all make sense, but I had to hang on and survive because other people needed me.
Looking back, my darkest moments can be deemed as my best moments because they were the moments I begged for God to take away the pain, and the memories. I told him that I surrendered my entire life to him and that he can have it all. I was ready to lay it all down because I had nothing left to lose. I used to hate religion because of what happened with Iglesia ni Cristo, but I learned that religion is not God. The religious persecuted Jesus, after all. The demon has been real these past few weeks and tried to bring me back to where I used to be. Depressed, anxious, and confused. I remembered not being able to breathe, and being in a dark place. I remember being uncomfortable… but I also knew that I got out of it before. And that’s how I fought- I prayed to God and told him that I knew peace would come to my heart, eventually. And it passed. I now live a life I couldn’t even imagine before. I chose God, and that while the past and future are important, I have to take care of myself in the present moment as well.
To any out there who’s going through a time in their life: please know that you are loved, and that you matter. You wouldn’t have been born if there was no purpose for you in life. Just hang on tight and remember that the sun will always rise, and there will always be a brand new day. The past does not define you, and you have the choice to fight for the person you’ve wanted to become. Writing about this particular area of my life isn’t easy, but I do it for the purpose of breaking the silence.
I choose to live my truth, and live a transparent life. I am a work in progress, and every day is a challenge. I wanted to lighten up this story because of the darkness pervading throughout…But this written story is the truth and I can’t change that.
The voice in this writing is mine, given by God, and I will not let the noise of shame drown out the truth in my story.