In this episode:
Cindy is a mother, a wife, a friend, a writer, and a daughter. Cindy was “just your average kid”. She has wonderful memories of her childhood, including Sunday night dinners with her family, playing barbies and kickball in the cul-de-sac, doing chores, and participating in sports.
Although typical in many ways, Cindy’s childhood was scarred by sexual abuse at the hands of her father. He began abusing Cindy when she was just five years old. Manipulative and controlling, Cindy’s father prevented her from talking about the abuse by threatening to harm her mom and sister. Cindy kept quiet. Initially.
With time, Cindy started to find her voice. “No more, ” she said. Her father’s response? Physical and emotional abuse. Although she tried rebelling, this young girl was unable to make the abuse stop. At age nine, Cindy had an epiphany. Her dad was a bully. As with all bullies, her choices were to do what this bully said, fight back physically or verbally, or do nothing. Desperate, Cindy tried everything. Controlling her the only way he knew how, her father hit back harder. Eventually Cindy became numb. She longer feared her father. Although she wanted to say something, Cindy was terrified that her mom and sister would be harmed.
When Cindy was ten years old, she found the courage to fight back against the physical abuse. Standing up to the physical abuse, the sexual abuse stopped as well. Likely, a contributing factor was that Cindy was going through puberty. Her father was only attracted to prepubescent children.
Shortly thereafter, their family moved overseas. A new beginning. Her father seemed to be a different person. Cindy was changed; she was stronger and realized she could begin to rewrite her life.
Abuse taught Cindy about hiding, shame, fear, secrecy, and sex. It wasn’t until later in life that Cindy began to appreciate the adverse impact the sexual, verbal and physical abuse exacted.
Sexual abuse harmed her self-esteem, silenced her voice, and made her cautious. It impacted how she raised her four children. She was protective and careful about who interacted with her children. She had open dialogue with her children regarding their bodies and sexuality. She made sure they had a voice. The sexual abuse impacted her intimacy with her husband. She suffered flashbacks and had to remind herself that her love for her husband did not need to be influenced by her past.
Cindy wanted her children to know their grandfather and to establish their feelings for him. She allowed her father to visit when her children were young. However, he was closely monitored and restricted to the dining room and restroom. It was not until her children were young adults that Cindy shared her story of abuse. They felt betrayed by their grandfather. Yet knowing Cindy’s truth deepened their connection with her. Rising above and flourishing in her life gave her children a sense of empowerment and strength.
Wanting to live her healthiest life, Cindy sought therapy at the age of 19 and began the most crucial part of her healing. It was incredibly painful, hard work, and a long process. Most helpful were trauma therapists.
Cindy repeatedly confronted her father about the abuse. He adamantly denied it. Frustrated, Cindy at times wondered whether the abuse actually occurred. At the end of his life, he finally admitted to abusing Cindy. As he spoke, she wrote. Wanting to ensure that she was hearing his admission accurately. She was fascinated. Yet disgusted. She was hearing a true pedophile speak his truth. She interviewed her father in a series of videos that provide admission of guilt and some insight.
A few years ago, Cindy shared her story of abuse with a group of women. Their responses, from shock, to compassion, to anger, and to disbelief, compelled Cindy to write her memoir, Under the Orange Blossoms.
She wanted to break the cycle of silence and knew other victims would benefit from hearing her story. As a young girl, Cindy had no-one to talk to and felt alone. Secretly she would read books on sexual assault, hoping to learn how to recover. However, she would feel re-traumatized and lose hope. Cindy hopes to bring awareness to sexual abuse and create dialogue. Sexual abuse can occur in any family and affects every family member.
During the process of writing her memoir, Cindy was re-traumatized as she recounted the details. No matter how painful it was to recall and relive those memories, she pushed forward thinking “I am doing this for me and someone else, and hopefully this makes a difference.” She does not want sexual abuse to be a taboo subject.
Family, her husband, her children, and friends were Cindy’s strength as she continued the healing process. Inspiration came in many forms: surrounding herself with people who feel like sunshine, finding her tribe, mantras, nature, exercise, and reading stories of others who have been through adversity. Cindy meditates daily and gives thanks, focusing on the beauty present in her life.
“Forgiveness is key to living your higher self.”
Cindy is most proud of finding her voice. The voice that was trapped inside of that little girl. After being programmed to be silent and master secrecy, it was counterintuitive for Cindy to start talking. Brutally shy and not wanting to be seen, her mantra as a young girl was, “Be the wallpaper.” Cindy is proud that little girl is finding her voice.
“Everybody has history, some kind of trauma. That is part of being human. If you hold onto this trauma, it can bind you and lead to anger, shame, and loss of control.”
We try to shake it off by ignoring it. There’s no secret formula to releasing pain and anger, but letting go is freeing. When Cindy found the words to rewrite her script, it changed her outcome. It took a long time, but it was the beginning of her healing process.
RAAIN; an anti-sexual violence organization
Thank you for listening!
May our stories help forge your path forward. I hope you’ll stay tuned for our next episode and in the meantime, learn more about my story on my blog.