**Trigger Warning** This post contains graphic recounting of sexual assault.
“two types of survivors: the ones who did not die, and the ones who live. There will be those who will always remember and be the victim, and ones who just won’t. You have to go on, you have to learn, and you have to heal. Resentment and holding on to the past is so toxic.”
― Elizabeth Smart
“Over 140 times” he confessed. Over 140 different instances that my only older, biological brother admitted to sexually assaulting me.
He came clean while he was locked up in a boys center for troubled an imprisoned youth near Austin, TX in 2005. This is the story of the night he finally got caught. The night that changed it all for me.
I have, in years past, told this story in bullet points and pieces, until all the pieces came together, and the bullet points filled in.
That took some time.
First, I told the “nice lady” with curly black hair at child protective service office. She gave me two dolls (a boy doll and girl doll,) mounted her video camera, pushed the record button and while looking into a beeping red light, in a cold, incandescently lit room, she asked me to “show her” what happened “that night.”
Then, by court order, I began sharing only bare minimum to a therapist. One hour every two weeks. Which quickly became the worst 2 hours of each month. In this dimly lit room, of a musty chapel, I sat across from a strange smiling man in a plastic chair. No video camera this time, but somehow it felt worse.
I’ve come a long way from that doll recorded room and musty monthly chapel and have learned to tell this story on my own volition.
*beginning, middle and end*
Important precursor #1
Research articles and data, real life stories, books and therapy over the last (almost 20 years) has taught me an important truth attached to the majority of people who have experienced clinically “extreme trauma.”
It is this: The brain often takes the film reel of the event (like a roll of memory) and chops it up into random stills, half dialogues, and fragmented imageries.
It takes A LOT of time, patience, and honesty to piece it all together sequentially and tell the FULL truth about something like this.
In my experience, these “fragments” aren’t just bits of glass, sand, or film strips on the floor needing to be picked up and easily pieced together as the verb would possibly infer.
Why? I think it is because the person who experienced the trauma lived it, so it is actually more like rolling around in a pile of thorns.
The process of pulling them out is one of is pain, practice, patience, perseverance and professional help.
To really heal, they “have” to be taken out.
*Usually one by one.*
I have met so many people who I can see still have a lot of thorns in them.
I hurt for those people.
If only we could better understand the thorns in our sides, our shoes, our bodies and be brave enough to start the pain process of taking them out one by one. We would all be more relieved. I think to myself often.
I’m SO glad I can now say where thorns were for this part of my life, scars now remain.
This hindsight is a part of how I learned I was a survivor. Not a victim.
I have wrestled with the concept of anonymity with my story for YEARS. Mostly in order to protect my family or origin, and someone else’s family from passing condemnation.
I have even published a condensed account, *keeping anonymity* and NOT revealing the attacker. That article went viral years ago (and even though I kept it an anonymous) it really bothered some family members who knew who I was referring to.
I let that all keep me quiet for some time.
but honestly, it makes ALL the difference that it was my only older biological brother.
It wasn’t a random guy, or some distant family member that didn’t live in the home I lived in.
**That is in no way invalidating anyone else’s pain where their attacker was a stranger, boyfriend, uncle, coach etc.
I have heard and read thousands of stories by now and am NOT competing with anyone’s trauma.
I just feel it is necessary to show the LEVEL of daily connection and exposure I had to my attacker to fully articulate the amount of “rewiring and fuckedupness” my brain and heart went through after being raped, what lead me to foster care, future assaults, and my unhealthy coping habits that in YEARS followed.
This story is one of my most “formative” and “impactful” life stories. It is in fact “my story.” I feel I ought to be able to tell the truth about it. As fully and respectfully as I can.
Details matter. I know this because it was in meeting people like Bre Lasley and Elisabeth Smart, that I learned I was not alone in the complex healing patterns, and thought processes we are capable of having after something “theatrically” dark happens. I gain a piece of my healing the days I hear others details and take homes. Not to trauma bond. Not to see “who’s was worse” and not to make it our identity.
But I choose to share details because ANYONE who has experienced these details “will” feel less alone in a BIG way. THAT is worth it. It is when we feel alone in our pain where many tragic things can happen. I know this firsthand. I don’t want this loneliness for others. If this helps even a few realize how normal they are, and how worth it life still is? Then PERFECT. It will help give purpose to my past. It will help “me” selfishly feel like it was more worth it as well. It will feel like light has been brought to balance the darkness.
So before I lay this point to rest.
I can say that for better or for worse, people change.
This was my brother at the time.
Heavily addicted to porn, wildly neglected, alone far too often with a computer behind closed doors, abused, ostracized from his social group, probably chemically imbalanced, with dark lost eyes, and a shell of the hero qualities I knew years prior.
It was a string of ingredients that created a cocktail of sexual deviance and secrets, that I happened to fall victim to.
“The Night That Changed It All”
It was the night before my first day of high school.
Do you remember where you were the night before your freshman year?
Did you do what I did?
Did you have ALL of your supplies packed and perfectly put in your bulging backpack?
Did you have your perfume on your dresser next to your hair brush and outfits laid out like I did?
Is this the year I wear make up?
How much make up should I put on?
Did you lay there, in bed, unable to sleep, thinking about how you might get lost with all the NEWNESS of the building and how you might forget your new class schedule?
I used to have just a few periods, a few teachers… now I have 8! 8 different locations to find!
More thoughts surfaced like:
I hope a coach teaches math this year! Thats the only way I’ll pass!
Will I have classes with my friends?
Who will my friends be this year?
Who will “I” be this year?
I had some options. I was an early bloomer physically speaking.
By 8th grade I was known as the curvaceous, d cupped, nice girl with the nice ass.
Will I finally officially date so and so? The most charming, attractive, athletic, charismatic guy in my grade?
Too many things to think about. Too many excited and nervous feelings to fall asleep with my usual wind down ritual alone!
Eventually I did fall asleep.
With those kinds of thoughts swirling around in my mind.
As I did every night since I was 8, I wore one of my dads XL t-shirts to bed and panties. Nothing else. My bedroom door was wide open and I used to sleep, face down, on my stomach.
I remember waking up slowly…and then all at once.
Someone, (I wasn’t sure who yet) had snuck into my room and was gently and carefully getting on top of me.
Almost surgically, I felt my panties being pulled down, left down a little, then right down a little until they were to my knees.
Next I felt my shirt lifted up folding on top of itself, exposing my backside.
I woke up in part to the cold exposure of air on my skin, and then more fully when the warm body of a teenaged boy pressed itself against me.
That night I felt what I can only describe as the strongest, thickest darkness I had ever felt in my life… and it was now surrounding me and closing in. The pain, the person, the position, the act, the waking up to it happening and so many confusing new feelings collided in my mind in those few moments…and, I froze.
I’ve learned since, that this phenomenon of humans freezing is not one I alone shared. We are taught in times of extreme shock our bodies will instinctively respond without conscious prompt in attempt to survive. This nature has widely been known in western culture as “fight or flight” What has been discovered in the last decade or so that there is a third and fourth natural response to extreme conditions of shock and confrontation. *freeze and fawn* The third response was mine.
I initially FROZE that night while in my bed, in my room, in my home.
This person wasn’t being mean or rough at the time he began pressing himself against me, which was very confusing. However ALL of my alarms were ringing that he was doing something very wrong and I wanted him to stop!
I could feel his body on mine, parts I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel, nakedness exposed to mine.
“I know that sound, I know that energy, I know that smell, I know that breath…” It really did take me that long to realize who this was…and it just. didn’t. make. sense.
Frozen again. Unable to comprehend what I was experiencing.
I truly know what It means to feel “stunned” and speechless.
My brain kicked into some kind of “overdrive” while I laid almost motionless. (the occasional wince, or jolt of pain overcoming me- causing him to pause)
Another factor in my immobility at the time of the event was that I was terrified because: If he was capable of doing this thinking I’m asleep, would he go crazy and do worse if I were awake? Would he get violent? Would he kill me?
Also, I knew my siblings were all still asleep upstairs close by. My parents (all the way) downstairs.
I have 4 little sisters, and I immediately wanted to protect them in case his proclivities extended beyond me. Let him finish here, so he doesn’t move on to the next one.
A frozen body and frenzied mind can reason fascinating things.
The fear was so paralyzing and the imagined outcome if I “did” struggle had too many horrible possible consequences. I couldn’t summon up the courage right away.
The following minutes felt like hours, and also, while in and out of true consciousness, they felt like seconds.
*time does REALLY strange things when our body’s chemicals are surging*
While I was being raped… the shock, confusion, hurt, pain, helplessness and fear began to transform into feelings of: survival, bravery, betrayal, and honestly?
“What is he doing to me?” Became “Please just stop, please don’t.” which became “Why is he doing this!?! Why!” Which turned into “He should not be doing this! This is wrong!!!”
And finally: “I have GOT to get out of here!”
My mind had caught up enough, and I was finally ready to make a move.
He finished, almost at the same time I moved. I decided to adjust my body as if to pretend to stir in a dream.
This caused him to quickly and crookedly pull my panties back up, and run out of the room.
Only a few seconds went by, and just as I thought it was over…he tiptoed back in. He bent down beside my bed where my head was still turned toward the wall, and meeting my wide eyed gaze said:
“You had a bad dream. Go back to sleep.”
Then he laid down beside the bed…on the floor next to me, and closed his eyes.
I was shocked!
Did he NOT see my eyes open halfway through his lewd act, wide open, scared, and staring at the wall? Does he think I could’ve slept through that!?! Or worse, just act as if it never happened?!? Does he think I’ll just “let it go” and forget by morning?
I will never forget the dark shadows on that bay blue wall in my room that night. I’ll never forget the sound of his heavy breathing, the rise and fall, the temperature, the pain, the pressure.
I don’t need to take anyone through more of the “play by play” of that night, but when he was laying there on the floor (to what I can only assume was to “monitor” me…) a secondary response began to burn inside of me like white. hot. fire.
Pain channeled into anger.
From my core was forming pure, indignant, rage.
Now the fight.
These following minutes were much less complex and much more repetitive. Like inner cheerleaders helping me summon the courage to do something.
“I have to get out” “I have to get out” “I have to get out” kept playing like a skipped record.
“Go fast!” “Go hard!” “Go fast!” “Go hard!”
“Don’t look back!” “Don’t look back” “Don’t look back!”
I summoned all the courage I had, fueled by injustice, and peeking out of the corner of my eye to locate where he was laying on the ground… I counted to three. I had to count to three, three times in a row. On the final: “one…..two……..THREE!” I LEAPED out of the bed!
I purposefully planted both of my size 9 feet right on his torso, (hoping it would incapacitate him enough so I would have a head start if he chased after me) and it worked!
I heard the breath get knocked out of him and I knew the only direction I could go was forward, as fast as I possibly could.
I FLEW down the stairs, not thinking anymore, and not looking back.
By the time I reached my parents room every pent up and frozen emotion thawed instantly and flooded out of me.
The information I gave though was like post it notes thrown on an investigative wall trying to solve a crime.
I shared enough pieces with them that they got the “gist.”
Although I still can’t remember all the details of each minute in their room, (like the minutes I’ve gathered about the attack…)
The things I do remember, are tattooed on my mind.
I remember the look on my parents face as I blurted out what had been done to me. I remember how my dad only needed to hear it one time before he ran out of the room.
I remember my mother in shock at what I had said, taking me into her bathroom, silently, but instinctually nurturing me the best she knew how. She had me go the bathroom in front of her, and then helped me wash off in the shower as I sobbed. She let me lay down on her side of the bed.
She didn’t say much. but she stayed there.
I don’t know when I stopped crying or fell asleep that night. I don’t even know if I really “fully slept.” I was such a weird state of conscious and unconsciousness that time just kind of happened and I just kind of existed. This disconnect would become a pattern my brain can do now if extreme stimuli or emotional flooding happens.
That morning though, I snapped into a more “normal” state of consciousness when I heard the police officers ending their conversation with my parents outside the door. My brother was already loaded in the back of the patrol car. So I stepped out into the living room.
The tall police officer came straight to me, and with bloodshot, kind, eyes he said: “You’re safe now.”
I didn’t think safe was a word I’d be able to feel ever again- but I appreciated the gesture.
My mom and dad said it would be best for me to carry on with my life that day and go to school.
I think it was their way of handling their day of emotions, paperwork, and meetings with police officers, CPS workers, etc.
Outsourcing me to a “safe place” in their minds, would buy them a few hours to try and handle what had just happened under their roof.
If you know high school though… its one of the least safe places on earth for a person like me.
A gladiator pit of hormonal adolescents being babysat in their years of self discovery and experimentation.
However, suddenly all the things that I was wracking my mind over the night before regarding high school and all its newness had evaporated.
I had “fallen asleep” with my hair wet from the shower, so I threw it in a bun.
To avoid going upstairs, I grabbed sweats from my moms closet and a hoodie from the laundry room.
Make up? Why bother?
This would be my “look” that year at school…I was “ready.”
*Note pixelated cover photo for this article. That’s me in the Cookie Monster hoodie.*
Walking the halls that day was an experience that if I think longer than a few seconds about it, I can instantly be transported back there.
I felt empty inside. Hollowed out. Changed.
I didn’t want anyone to notice me, look at me, talk to me.
Of course that wouldn’t be the case though. In fact the opposite happened. The whole school was buzzing.
As fate would have it, one of the police officers that showed up to my house that morning, happened to have twins in my grade.
Apparently he told them something wild went down at my house the night before, and to be extra nice to me that day because I would need it.
Instead of floating through the halls, trying to be invisible, detached from reality, I was met with twin faces looking with big loving eyes saying: “Hey Aubrey, we heard what happened to you, we’re so sorry.” I smiled the most insincere smile and just said: “Thanks.”
I don’t know how I got to and from my classes, what was said, who was there. Time felt irrelevant.
The pain was like a 3rd degree burn.
Before you feel it, it’s almost cool and numb.
I would spend the next 10 years of my life breaking down what happened, and the following 5 emotionally reconciling.
It will ALWAYS be the night that changed everything, but it no longer imprisons me.
This singular event impacted my trajectory and approach to many things.
I have had years of therapy, I have tried almost all the coping tactics.
I have masked, I have lied, I have taken back sexual power and been promiscuous, I have tried substances to numb, I have hurt myself, I have planned ending my life and begun carrying it out to no avail, and I have come back to my survival senses, white knuckled and just cried in private…I have done it all.
The failures of my life can often be traced back to my inability to heal this night.
I do know a few ingredients to survival and healing though.
The main one being love.
In my life, all stories come back to love.
Also, like most stories. Layers. Lots and lots of “and(ing)”
Either way, spoiler alert.
I made it to the other side and am here today to let anyone know, at whatever level of trauma they’ve have had… fight or flight is NOT the only response. I might have frozen first… but I sure as hell fought for my freedom that night in that bedroom.
And I won.
Ultimately. I have won. In the place where sorrow was so big, I have filled it with compassion. In the place where confusion too dense, I have used information and education on the topic to clear a path. In the place where I froze dumbfounded, I now have an experience of success which helps connect my brain and body response quicker. In desperate loneliness and silence, I now have the bravery to share about the dark insides so others don’t have to feel as alone as I did.
In my years recanting this particular story in safe spaces, I have found others who in some form or fashion, have metaphorically “seen the dark shadows on the bay blue walls.”
Some tell me their real life horror stories. The things that still haunt them.
This has caused the messages I attach to keep evolving…piece by piece as my life continues to form into the most true and beautiful version I could imagine for it.
In the case of rape and unwanted sexual acts, the messages I’ve tested and proved over time are multifaceted. So much has been learned from years of pulling out the thorns of this particular experience.
I now know that value can be found in the void. Because I have sat in a LOT of voids.
There is potential at every impasse of despair and longing to rise above the pit you’ve been placed in, and gain a purer perspective that few have to life, and its overwhelming beauty.
I believe in the magic of stepping, one foot after the other-towards the love, pulling out one excruciating thorn at a time. It’s almost a science, *but it’s complicated because the variables are always in motion.*
There are there are formulas and principles that work and bring about a new being if the person in pain is willing to do a few things (regardless of how long it takes,) or how good they initially are at implementing these practices.
*It is called practice for a reason.*
I think we are all just infinitely experimenting, practicing, fumbling…
“Fumble TOWARD the light” (I say).
I try to hunt it down, be a seeker, a learner, a lover of what “is.”
A lover of the weather in its entirety, not just the sunshine.
I believe in letting curiosity fuel the quest…I think this is how I can live a life that can actually, (on Tuesdays and Fridays) has joy in it. 😉
Despite the pains that still has come in my life. Different pains. Different gradients of dark.
I’m a believer in stepping. One sentence at a time. One little movement of kindness. One small leap of courage.
All of these quick “messages” culminate together to an outcome far away from the “scene of the crime.”
Do I still have thorns?
Of course I do!!!
I am a human being living in the wilderness of life! I step into unknowns and choose to risk loving fellow wild things on my two wobbly legs, susceptible to falling!
However, the practice of “loving what is” alongside my “daily drip” of a thousand other “isms,” habits, lessons, outlets, inputs, and sources of light keep me walking. (Sometimes I might even jog for a second ;))
I’m admittedly channeled some of my addictive tendencies to the pursuit of the warm liquid gold life has to offer.
I will be an adventurer in pursuit, and I will have many thorns to pull out along the way.
I will learn.
I will survive.
I will die trying.
This isn’t the only event in my life that created great impact or changed my trajectory dramatically.
This was just truly…”The night that changed it all.”
Thanks for sticking it out for this longer one sweet thing.
This is me trying to make it short. 🤓