Here is the next installment of a series of the Top 11 things I have learned while healing from CSEC. (Yes, eschewing 10 for 11 is an overt Spinal Tap reference. “These go to 11” is the exact volume at which I intend to live my life.) These reflections seek to answer that question of how I survived, and also to provide some insight on common themes that still run through the dynamics of CSEC. My experiences as a survivor and as a social scientist can never be disconnected. This is who I am.
#10 Laugh…a lot.
“If my life weren’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.” – Carrie Fisher
This is my favorite quote of all time, and it is particularly salient since Carrie Fisher recently passed (pictured right with her dog, Gary). But this is simply the truth. My life has been so immensely tragic due to not only child sex trafficking, but also from growing up poor in Appalachia; being sexually abused by multiple members of both sides of my biological family; losing my mother to cancer six months before I graduated from college (graduating from college was her lifelong dream for me); and needing to build a life for myself in Boston from scratch. Surviving my 46 years on this planet (almost 47) has been no joke.
And yet, humor has endlessly saved the day as I fled that turmoil. Take for instance, the last time I stayed with my maternal grandfather on his farm in Appalachia. I was in the living room reading the New York Times while my step-uncle was sitting outside the door in a cheap lawn chair – shotgun in hand – waiting to blow away a groundhog who had been chewing up the grass. My brain bypassed the obvious Caddyshack reference (“In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, ‘Au revoir, gopher.’”) to thinking How in the world did I get here?! This was just one of many family settings where I did not fit in. I must have looked ridiculous lounging over a snobby newspaper while this man waited in the hot sun to decimate a varmint. (His ulterior motive may have also been to skin the critter for supper, but we’ll never know. No shots were ever fired.)
This scene definitely landed at the top of most absurd family moments; however, multiple tragedies were also embedded in this instance. Numerous people in that house had sexually abused either me, my mother, or others (who shall remain nameless due to privacy and security purposes) and everyone had been emotionally abusive toward me and my mother. I had been sexually abused in that basement, and endlessly humiliated at countless holiday dinners and parties. And, yet, I had returned as the dutiful granddaughter because I wanted a relationship with my biological family. My mother had died a few years before and I did my best to cling to her memory.
Yet, I knew I could never return after that weekend. Soon after that visit I confronted my grandfather about sexually abusing me and my mother. I had started healing from the sexual abuse and exploitation and I could not stay silent any longer. He vehemently denied my assertion and threatened to cut me out of his will if I did not retract my words. I did not care about his money and I would not back down. I knew in every fiber of my being that he had harmed us. I never spoke to him again, and learned years after his death that someone else had gotten my share. I also later learned he told family members that I had falsely accused him of abuse because I had asked for money for college for decades (I had not).
I am grateful that the “groundhog vs. The Times” episode is my final memory of going to that farm and seeing so many of my family members. That scene’s farcicality puts the perfect, hilarious bow on what could have been a heart-breaking final moment. Instead, I will always remember how both the groundhog and I got away that day with our lives intact.
(Stay tuned through January for the remainder of the countdown to #1.)
Also in this series: