The Shack

So many of my friends have read the book the Shack and rave about it. I have seriously thought about it several times, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. And the reason is very personal. I wonder sometimes, when is the right time to blog about something like this. Never, many might say.

My parents, especially, but they have their own reasons for that. Part of the reason I quietly carried my burden alone was to protect them from the pain and the reality of it. But this is my life and this is my story and we all have different ways of dealing with things and I have finally realized that it is ok to be my own person…and the stifling black veil of silence hasn’t really worked out so well for me.

The story line is about a little girl that is abducted and murdered in a ‘shack’, I guess. I am not sure how detailed they get, and I don’t know that I will ever find out. Because though, obviously, I wasn’t murdered, I have my own memories of a shack. And though I didn’t physically die there…in many other ways I did. It has taken me years to realize that I’m just not dead yet…and it’s time to start living.

I have made so much progress in overcoming that event in my life. In fact…it surprises me that I have this strong of a reaction still to even reading about an event that 1, is fictional, and 2, is not exactly the same as what I experienced. It shows me that I still haven’t made complete peace with it all just yet. But I am well on my way.

The shack that I remember was in Arizona. I was 13 or 14. My parents thought it would be a neat experience for me to head out west to visit some long lost relatives for a few weeks on my own. It was such a neat feeling…I was so independent, going to see a whole new world really.

For a nature nut like me, it was pure heaven visually. These relatives lived in the middle of nowhere on a horse ranch…on some flat, dusty plains right near some massive foothills. It was like living in a John Wayne Western. It was an interesting and beautiful visit in so many ways.

One of my favorite memories was when we loaded the 3 wheelers (yes, before they were outlawed or something) and we headed to somewhere – again, in the middle of nowhere. There were mesas and plateaus and all kinds of majestic visions. We rode all day long and saw some breathtaking views. I felt like I was in the U2 Joshua Tree album cover. There was even a natural hot spring to relax in after riding all day. It was a perfectly beautiful day.

It was several nights after that awesome day that changed my life forever. We headed up to the mountains for the night. We – meaning – me, my aunt who was only about 3 years older than me, her fiancé and his brother. I had no idea what to expect, hadn’t thought things through…just going with the flow. We met up with some mountain people (yes…they actually called themselves that) who played some awesome folk music and it was a really cool experience.

My aunt’s fiancé worked for a fire department on this mountain keeping brush fires under control. This also happened to be the same mountain that my future college (The Ohio State University) was in a huge environmental dispute over because they were trying to put a huge star gazing telescope on it. OSU won apparently – I really had no desire to follow the story after what was about to happen there.

It was on this very mountain that there was a certain shack. They called this shack a cabin, but I honestly don’t remember it that way. How it all happened is still a bit of mystery to me, but my aunt and her fiance went in one direction to one cabin and me and this boy went in another direction to a different secluded cabin.

He was older than me, and handsome and I was young and naïve and had no clue about anything, but I was trying to be cool and act like this was just a common occurrence for me. I really didn’t know what else I was supposed to do. I was thinking…cool! Maybe we’re going to watch movies or play checkers or something. I was really that naïve.

But he wouldn’t have noticed anyway. He was drunk out of his mind. I hadn’t really noticed until then. We get into this cabin/shack and it is pitch dark. He is not interested in trying to find the lights. He is only interested in one thing…consuming his kill for the night.

He literally became a raging animal…unstoppable. I tried to fight back, but I literally could not see in front of me. It was totally dark. And in that darkness I was ravaged like prey. I no longer was a girl. I became an invisible, faceless, thing to be conquered, used up and discarded.

I was beaten, restrained and forced to have repeated sexual intercourse, he forced himself into my mouth and when he had satisfied himself enough in all those ways, he moved on to something even more disturbing. He used some kind of utensils and proceeded to…what felt like at the time…stab me internally and destroy me from the inside out. He wasn’t trying to kill me…he was just messing me up…and somehow getting off on it. To this day I am not honestly sure what that was all about. All I know is that it was terribly perverted and evil.

At daybreak while he was still unconscious I limped out of this shack. I found my aunt and we headed back down the mountain to her ranch paradise. I was in shock. I had no words. I had no idea what to say. How could I explain what had happened when I couldn’t even comprehend it myself. When I finally did say that he hurt me and that I was having trouble walking, she only said – “Don’t make a scene and embarrass me in front of my fiancé”.

So I didn’t tell anyone of this event for about 15 or more years. Even when I did, I down played it and minimized it. And I didn’t tell the right people and it was used against me and I was victimized all over again. And it remained a destructive force in my life until I could finally somehow 1) honestly realize that I didn’t cause that or deserve it and 2) realize that I actually do have self worth and 3) figure out a way to forgive this demon of a human.

Honestly…it probably took having my own children for me to really do that. Because for the first time in my life I saw myself as a child…a helpless, innocent girl of a child that did nothing to provoke that kind of event. I thought how I would feel if anything like that would ever happen to one of my girls and I had to become my own advocate in my head.
I had to learn to see myself as clean, pure and full of potential…like my own children…instead of the dirty, discarded, worthless piece of meat that I had become overnight in that event and remained to be thereafter for all those years.

That was a big step. The next big hurdle was forgiveness. Being a mom also helped me get to that place. I had to recognize that holding a grudge or not forgiving this person was not really doing me any good. In fact, by doing so, I continued to feed into that victim/prey role, and live underneath the wrath of his power. He had long since moved on. He probably doesn’t even remember me or that night. But it was me that made that night live on and on…just because I couldn’t forgive.

I had to realize that this was no longer “my” problem. I had to let it go, give it up and surrender this event up. I gave it up to God. I stopped being angry…I stopped blaming myself or God, or wondering where He had been that night. I had to stop wondering why? I just had to accept it and then realize that this is no longer my burden to bear. It was time to make it a part of my past, something that happened, but not something that defined me.

I also had to realize that forgiveness doesn’t mean you condone the act. It doesn’t make what was done “ok”. It is not a pardon, so to speak towards that person. It is really a releasing of the burden with the acceptance that you cannot change history. You can not undo what has been done. You have a choice to live in bitterness for the rest of your days enslaved by unforgiveness, or you can release it…and accept that it happened, and then figure out how to make something beautiful from something so ugly. The only real way to do that is to share it and hope that you just might help someone else along the way.

Not until I finally understood that forgiveness was more for the person forgiving than for the person that needs the forgiveness…I was finally able to let it go for the first time ever. When I realized that my lack of forgiveness was making me a crippled person, robbing me of all kinds of potential, and essentially a less effective mom… I knew I had no choice but to forgive. Not for him…for me…and for my girls.

Because the fact is that I DIDN’T die in that shack, though I lived a good 15-20 years or more of my life acting like or thinking that I did. A big part of me did die. My innocence, my security, my self worth…all stripped away.

But that is not where my story ends. As mentioned, I haven’t read the book, but I am curious to know if the two points that I had to come to on my own terms are mentioned in that book. Acceptance, and forgiveness – of self and others.
To live an effective life of any kind it is key to realize those two points – in nearly every situation – big or small. It has been a revelation for me. And as much as that horrific night changed my life for the worse and robbed me of so many years…is some ways – NOW – I can say that it changed my life in a positive way.

Because I don’t just get to read about concepts like this and think…one day I might try to figure out how to apply that good knowledge…I have had to live it. And since I could apply it to something that big…I can apply it to the tiniest of situations…where I feel like a failure of some kind or perhaps I need to forgive someone – and sometimes that someone is ME.

It’s funny. I talked to someone tonight that said that I am a pessimist and kind of a negative person. That bums me out, because I honestly feel like I have overcome SOO much. And this is only one little event in my very wretched beautiful life. Yes…there are more ugly stories to tell at some other point. But I like to stretch these hard to hear topics out over time. One…it wears ME out. Two…I don’t want to be downer. I need to post some light hearted stuff after something like this just for my own benefit.

But for some reason…I just felt like it was time to share that.

The point is this…You don’t have to experience such horrific events to “get” the message.

1. You are valuable. You are worthy. You are someone’s daughter or son.
2. You are going to make an impact in this world…will it be positive or negative?
3. No one can rob your potential to make a positive impact in this world but you
4. It’s never too late to change. You’re not dead yet. Start living now.
5. Forgiveness is about getting yourself out of the way, letting go and moving beyond an obstacle or handicap that you have created by not forgiving.
6. Forgiveness does not condone a terrible event. It is about acceptance of what you cannot change.
7. Realize that you have to work at applying these concepts every day and you will fail consistently.
8. Give yourself a break.

We all have obstacles to overcome. We all have our own versions of our ‘shack’. Despite that actual little shack on that mountain…My REAL shack wasn’t a physical shack or place at all. It was a spiritual and emotional prison that I put myself in for all those years. It’s good to be free.

I return to my shack sometimes. I get hung up in myself…in pride, self pity…you name it. I am currently struggling in forgiving a few people in my life right now…even knowing all that I know. I am still in the process of really forgiving my ex husband for all that he did and continues to do. I am making progress, but this is one of the bigger situations in life that require honesty, and probably just some time. Some people are amazed I have been able to function as well as I sometimes do. That probably has to do with all the lessons learned from my shack.

But I’m still just a work in progress. I go back to that prison sometimes…but now I am just visiting…and I always have my ‘get out of jail free’ card with me at all times.

I’ve found it very helpful and important to surround myself with constructive, like minded people that can accept me as who I am and to be real about this stuff. People who can give me a little sympathy now and then when I need it, but also give me a loving nudge or a push to help get me the heck out of my shack! Because though it is still a bit of a battleground, I know where I really live.

You know…I think I’m going to read that book someday.

A Little White Secret

Q: When does a little secret actually become a lie? A: When you start modifying your life because of it.

This is a hard subject to tackle. It’s hard to hear about it. It’s awkward to talk about. But it’s important. I am beyond the open pain and agony of reliving it. I am no longer in the victim role. But it has taken years…over 20 years in fact. And I feel like talking about it because I know I am not alone. The fact is that if you are a woman reading this post, 1 out of every 4 of you has experienced it.

The four letter word that took me almost 20 years to say out loud is…rape. It is such a very, very ugly word. Even now, I feel like using a pot holder or a pair of tongs to dangle it out away from my line of vision. I am going to talk about this tonight because for some reason it is on my heart. Maybe because I made the mistake of watching grown up TV for once in a long time a few nights ago and I caught an episode of a show called The Secret Lives of Women and it hit home pretty hard. The episode was all about this. And I am very thankful to say that as I watched, I didn’t have flash backs and didn’t feel sorry for myself. I realized that I really am no longer a victim held captive or defined by this event.

The show was informative, helpful, and shed a lot of light into some of the poorer decisions I have made in my life. It made sense of some of the self destructive times in my life where I think I was literally trying to slowly kill myself or at least wishing to die…because I felt dead inside anyway.

At least a good 10 years if not more of my life was spent in this dark, destructive phase. I felt disengaged in my own life…unconnected…and like I was just watching my own life happen in some out of body-like experience. I didn’t feel like I was living it. I felt completely out of control of my circumstances, fate, path, and future. I felt very much like a pin ball…just being bounced around to where ever I got tossed or spanked around to (This may have been elevated for me because of growing up with a mentally unstable mother).

I don’t feel the need to get into the details of my experience. That is not the point here. But I can say it was brutal, devastating – like all other horrible rapes happening even now as you read this (about 2 a minute). And I will say I was between 13 and 15 somewhere between my freshman and sophomore year of HS. I think this is important. As a mom, an aunt, a friend of my friends girls…I want to be very aware because most do happen between 13 and 30. However, I think being overly afraid of anything or living in constant fear is not a good thing either. This is not a scare tactic – or a call for panic. It’s just me blogging out my guts.

So, I lived alone with my little secret. Soon, I found my secret needed to be fed. It needed some attention and some sympathy. But I couldn’t find the words or time or way to tell anyone about it, so my secret became angry…and my secret starting feeding off of me. It had already consumed any innocence that had remained at that age the very moment that it happened, so it started eating what was left of me…my self esteem, self worth, my dreams, my hopes, and my relationships.

My secret wanted me all to itself. My secret lied to me. It told me that it was all my fault and that I deserved what had happened. And since I was no longer the virgin that I had still wanted to be my secret helped me seek out people who would treat me like I felt I deserved to be treated, which led to more incidents and abuse, which made my secret get even bigger. Soon my secret was bigger than me. It almost claimed me.

But I am still here. And I am blogging this because I don’t have any more secrets. My secret was revealed during the court hearing at my first divorce. My husband wrote in a long, detailed affidavit, all about my secret that I had decided to tell him about…an affidavit that my own father read. This is how my dad found out about my secret. Right there in the county office. I had finally trusted someone enough to tell someone about my secret and it was used against me. It was used as an excuse to abandon me. It was thrown under the all encompassing “irreconcilable differences”.

But I know it wasn’t the rape itself. It was all the anger, depression, separation, sexual inhibitions, confusion, physical and emotional distance that the rape had caused because it was left unaddressed. I had let it become a full blown infection in my life because I never treated it.

Then I made another critical mistake. Just as I was trying to recover from my “big reveal” and from the heartache of my current divorce, I entered into another relationship. I thought it was safe because I had known this person for 20 plus years. I thought maybe this was the person I was supposed to have been with all the time, because he was the one person that I had made a real connection with in HS during those terrible years. I allowed myself to be rescued. I believed that this person had always loved me and sought after me all these years. I welcomed the attention I craved but didn’t feel.

And instead of taking the time and years needed to just find me, address my secret and treat it with the attention it deserved, I rushed into another marriage. My secret pulled the blindfold over my eyes and took me hostage again for another 5 years. If you have read some previous blogs or the about me page you know that I am now single again. I am a common statistic in so many ways. But I refuse to be a quiet one now, so help me God.

I am not letting either of my exes off the hook so easily to say that I am the sole cause for either divorce – especially in the second case. I admit, however, that I brought in unaddressed issues into both marriages. I also believe fully that things could have been worked through and I could have still remained married. It just would have taken the right person to do that with. But here is the key…I had to be ready to admit it, WANT to move beyond it and be ready to move from the victim to the victor role. The affidavit was the trigger that brought my secret into the light. My second divorce was the catalyst that has caused that massive shift in my thinking.

The wake-up call for me was actually during the 2nd separation. I was finally ready to put on my gloves and box my secret to the ground. The problem is that I was married to a man that never really loved me in the first place. He loved himself and idea of rescuing his high school dream girl. While I was trying to put my gloves on, he had already moved on to rescue a new damsel. Yea…he brought in some unresolved issues too.

Oh…it is an ugly, ugly story folks. I can see myself losing my entire reader base right here. But if I can raise some awareness to anyone else or say some of the ugly things out loud that so many women still keep hidden…then it is worth it to me. I’m putting the smack down on the secret and I am doing it for the best reason…for me and my girls. Not for a man.

Here goes my old and faithful mantra – don’t isolate yourself – but be careful. Don’t keep your secret all to yourself only to let it eat you to pieces, bit by bit, year by year until there is nothing left but a hollow, shriveled, bitter shell of a woman. I know some of those. It is heartbreaking and devastating to them and their entire families.

Playing the martyr and victim is really not as admirable as you think it is. If you could see an accurate reflection of yourself in the mirror you would see selfishness, pride, fear, anger, depression and a whole lot of lies and confusion. However, you would also see a very valuable, worthy, wonderful person that so many people love beyond anything you could ever possibly imagine. You would see someone capable of such vulnerable strength and unbelievable accomplishments. But you don’t see those things because you don’t love yourself…you don’t even like yourself. And the truth is you will be a prisoner held captive by those lies until you are ready to face that real, ugly, and beautiful truth. And the worst part is that until you do you cannot fully love anyone else either…not even your own children.

But there is hope. I am proof of that. I have started addressing my secret head on for some time now. I am also proof that an infection as bad as I had let mine become will probably show symptoms of its existence for the rest of my life in some fashion or another. I definitely have the scars to prove it. But the most important first thing is this…in order to break out of prison, you have to first realize you are held captive (paraphrasing a famous quote here that I can’t seem to find). No one else can do that for you. Breaking out of a prison of any kind requires a lot of risk, effort and usually pain. For me the risk of breaking out finally outweighed the reality of just sitting there in my cell, watching life pass by, and knowing I would eventually die in my little tiny cell, probably all alone.

I can’t end it here on this downer. I’m not going to pretend like my life is all roses and beauty now. I’m not even saying that I am in some great place of achievement and accomplishment in life according to the world’s standards. But in my own heart and mind, I am free. I am not defined by an event or a label. And this thinking has spilled over into other areas of my life. In the end, freedom is more valuable than any material possession.

But here is a warning. I did actually make attempts to address my problem in my first marriage and even a bit here and there before. I went to some counseling to try to sort some things out. And the scary thing is that I THOUGHT I had made progress and overcame it because I took the time to talk about it. That IS helpful. But for me anyway – part of the reason I even went to a counselor was to just seek out some kind of attention or sympathy. I needed to hear how pitiful the whole thing was. In some ways the counseling fed into my very comfortable victim role. These sessions usually lasted about 4-5 visits and then voila – I got my sympathy fix and I would go a few more years until it caught up with me again and I needed more sympathy. I never stuck around long enough to let them dive deeper to get to that healing place.

Simply saying you were raped out loud doesn’t fix it. It’s about as effective as putting a band aid on a broken bone.  You have a little something to show for it, but it can cause more damage than good (such as your dad reading the news in an affidavit).  You have to want to stop being a victim. I cannot express how life changing that revelation has been to me. You have to want to start living your life and not be afraid to be real – even if that is sometimes painful.

You have to recognize what happened, but then be willing to cast it off of who you are because you no longer should be defined by it. You are no longer a victim of rape…you are not even a “survivor” of rape. You are a capable, awesome, strong woman who happened to be raped at some point in your past. If you were an ex-convict…would you want to always think of yourself as that? Hi, I’m Matilda…I am an ex-convict. NO! Yea for you – you got out of prison, you are free…but you are still defining yourself by your past chains. WHY? I am not saying to deny it, or hide or pretend it didn’t happen. Claim the victory and then move on to embrace who you are now to become! Can I get an Amen, sisters? Wow…that was quite the grandstanding monologue.

I can’t explain it, but friends I have known for years say they can see some kind of difference in me. I have better relationships with my friends and some family than I have ever had before (not perfect…but real and authentic and healthy). I have some control over my future – or at least I feel like I am making conscious and better decisions in life that will affect my future, rather than just letting my life take me where it happens to go and blaming everyone or anything else if I end up in a place I don’t like. I feel like my eyes are open. I may not always like what I see, but at least I can handle situations better than when my eyes were shut. And I’ll end with this…I no longer want sympathy for what happened. I want to bring attention to the situation and to the hope of recovery – not bring attention to me or the details of what happened.

There is so much more that could be said, but this is already twice as long as my normal ranting. I hope if anyone is out there struggling with this or knows someone – that it helps to know and hear you’re not alone and that there is more than a handicapped life of captivity and sympathy for you and your little white secret.