I have taken my own advice. For the last few months I have known that I have needed to tell my parents that I was sexually assaulted in the military. Just a few days ago I posted the lyrics to the song “Brave” right here on this blog. Yet I have not been able to take my own advice and have some courage when it comes to my own family.
Today my parents came over for Christmas dinner. I know – great timing – Merry Christmas! You kind of have to know my family to understand my reluctance. My Daddy – who has always been the light of my life, my rock, my support – served honorably in the United States Marine Corp. My Mom was very ill when I was a child. It certainly wasn’t her fault but she suffered from seizures with memory loss on account of an undiagnosed and untreated hypoglycemia. She was “kicked out” of her home at 14 and was on her own for years. My Mom is also deeply religious – but at times she exhibits bitterness. She never wanted me in the military. It was Daddy that signed the papers.
My military service is a great source of pride for my Daddy. He took me to my first National Guard drill and he was there for a long time talking to the NCO’s and to the 1SG. The company 1SG was awesome and he used to call my Dad “Gunny.” When my parents came to see me on active duty at Ft. Campbell they got to meet our hospital’s Sergeant Major. He shook my Dad’s hand and told him what a great asset I was to the facility and to the US Army and how proud he should be. My father’s shirt nearly split his chest puffed up so much! Years later when I was a Training NCO I arranged for him to stop by at an Annual Training to see the radios. (He was an RTO) The BN Commander – who was an amazing officer – made sure that my Dad felt welcome. So welcome, in fact, that my Dad made an unannounced stop two evenings later and sat talking to the Battalion Commander and his staff while they contacted me. I was out to dinner with a fellow female NCO. (OH SHIT! My Daddy is talking to the BN CO again!!)
My Daddy was so proud…so proud of me. I didn’t want him to know that anything bad had ever happened. I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want my Mom to blame my Dad for what happened. She is good at blaming him for things.
Since I was the oldest and my Mom was ill – it often seemed it was Daddy and I against the whole world. I have a younger brother…but he was too young to be of much help. So Dad relied on me a lot and I was up to the task. We used to go out on “dates” and we always got into trouble. He took me to see Star Wars, we ate sushi and Japanese food together, he let me taste Saki for the first time. He got my ears pierced, without Mom’s permission, when I was nine. He picked me up hung over from my first underage drinking event. He didn’t punish me – except that he made me breakfast…runny eggs, nasty toast, and sausage gravy with slimy bacon. Made me eat every single bite and boy did I throw up!! Taught me a good lesson…hangovers hurt! He found me my dream car and pulled me out of school so I could go buy it. It would take me days to write about all of the wonderful memories and what a really great Dad he is!
Not that my Mom isn’t wonderful. I love her and she is a very special woman. However, even though I feel very close to her the relationship just isn’t the same. She knows it and will sometimes mention that I was always my father’s daughter.
Working in the kitchen I was listening to my MP3 player and, of course, the song Brave played. “Now is the time…now is the time…now is the time” just kept running through my head. I went to pick up my daughter and every song on the radio that played in the car was about having courage. Some of them I have posted on this blog, “Courageous” – “The Motions” by Matthew West – “Overcomer” by Mandisa. If I was looking for a sign that was it. Still – I tried to avoid it. “Okay,” I said, “I will finally tell them…but they had best be early because I can’t do it with my brother’s family here.” Sure enough – they showed up over an hour early!
It went like I thought it would go. I did it fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid, and with very little emotion. Except for positive emotions. I talked about how God calls us to our own missions – and even when bad things happen God can make them good things. Then I simply said, “Have you heard about MST on the news – women being sexually assaulted in the military? Well – I am one of them – I was sexually assaulted in the military.” Then I went back to the positive things. The good things that I am trying to do. I didn’t tell them about the blog. I think that there are too many details for them to handle. I showed them the front page of the Cedar Rapids Gazette from last year and I said – see…that is me!
Daddy is devastated – but I talked about working with our local Congressman on legislation that has been passed and new legislation that is going forward. I talked about the work that I do at the VA and that perked him up. He knows a small group of my patients and they tell him how much they like me and that I take good care of them. Mom was mom…exactly as I expected. Quiet in many ways, obviously sad, but with this look of “I knew it!” Later she even said – “I knew this would happen – I told you it would.” I grabbed each one of them privately though out the afternoon and I told Mom – “don’t blame Daddy – blame the person who committed the assault – or better yet…just let it go. Let it be..I have work to do.” I told Daddy that I was sorry – and not to let Mom blame him. He admitted he was worried about that. I told them both that if I had known then what I know now…I would have still joined the Army. I loved it! I miss it!
There will be more conversations with Mom as time goes along – to help her understand. I am bone of bone and flesh of the flesh of my Dad – what is born in the bone will come out in the flesh. I am truly my father’s daughter. She doesn’t understand this passion for the uniform, love of service, love of country. She doesn’t “get it” that being a member of the military and a Veteran are some of the most important parts of who I am and who I will become. I will need to help her along.
So – I did it…I told my parents the awful secret I have kept from them for many years. I feel “unchained” – like I can speak out and I no longer have to worry about my parents finding out on the 10 PM news. I also no longer have to worry about my Dad finding out at a VSO meeting…which was always a risk…because there are a handful of people at the State level that know that I am a Survivor.
As a final validation to the day – a Facebook friend posted that today was the anniversary of her assault. For the first time I was able to feel comfortable about responding publicly to her…I simply told her what I know to be true. “I understand what you are going through. The anniversary dates are the hardest – but it is the day you became a Survivor – and you are a beautiful, strong and confident woman!”
I am no longer in hiding. I will continue this blog as Joan – but now I can fight in person as myself. I can continue my battle for MST Survivor Benefits at my local VA and feel okay saying, “How do I know…because I am a Survivor!” They can’t beat that. It is impossible to look a Survivor in the face and discount what they have to say. Now I can be a better voice – a stronger voice.
I’m not saying this to encourage others to run out and tell – that is a Survivors own choice of time. Listen to your heart and you will know when to break your silence. It took a lot of years to get here for me. For me – I feel like it will be a special New Year and that 2014 will bring some exciting changes. I know they will be hard choices – because now that I have broken the silence – those that I choose to tell may always see me as that “raped girl.” What I am saying is that the time was right for me – and I am glad it is over.