Childhood Sexual Abuse

A friend asked me to share her story with you. What happened to her was the inspiration for my novel, Burglar in the Room.

I’ll call my friend Marie. She says abuse cannot be ignored because it can ruin a child’s chance at having a decent life. While Marie was being victimized by her father, her mother said she did not know what was going on. Marie’s sister has her own method for dealing with the abuse in their childhood: she says nothing happened and  that Marie is making it up. Their father has died without ever acknowledging the abuse or explaining why. All Marie can say for sure is that there was something wrong with him and what he did hurt her, a lot.

Marie’s abuse started when she was a baby and the abuse continued until she was 12; that was when her family moved to a different neighborhood. Perhaps she had become too old for his tastes. During the time of the abuse, Marie’s brain did her a big favor, it forgot everything. At the times in her childhood that she wasn’t being abused, she had no idea that she had been. Her memories for the first 12 years of her life are limited to school and the homes of friends. Any memories of life at home, where the abuse took place, have been edited out of her memory by her brain, probably to protect her.

So why doesn’t Marie pretend it didn’t happen, like her sister? Unfortunately, because it did and it has affected her health, relationships with others, and how she feels about herself. I met her after enough memory had leaked through from childhood to convince her sexual abuse had happened to her. She soon realized she needed help. She spent years seeing a therapist and discovered that most of her anger was directed at her mother, probably because she had expected her to keep her safe. Some survivors like Marie get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) just like soldiers on the battlefield and have anxiety, depression, anger and flashbacks.  She also spent time with a massage therapist who specialized in deep massage that she hoped would release the negative deep-seated memories from her body. The list of problems created by Marie’s abuse is a long one.

From Marie’s story I’ve learned that if you are being abused, you must tell someone you trust. If it doesn’t stop, tell someone else. Dealing with what has happened to you will take years but getting through it is not impossible. You will emerge as a more compassionate and self-aware person, as Marie has. If you think someone else is being abused, tell someone and don’t stop telling until the abuse has stopped. You might be blamed for family turmoil but that is sometimes what must happen in order to save a life.

Why Dogs?

schoonerIn all my middle-grade novels a dog is always a sidekick to the main character. These fictional dogs are all based on Schooner, a yellow Lab we had for 13 years. As a puppy he was like a hurricane sweeping through our home. He ate nine pairs of my shoes and chewed up the woodwork on all of the door frames. He dove onto the kitchen counters and ate whatever he could find; one time that was 12 servings of spicy turkey casserole. When he was three, he calmed down and qualified as a therapy dog.

Schooner was certified by Therapy Dogs, Inc. to visit hospitals, schools, and nursing homes for the purpose of creating happiness and cheer.  At one middle school he listened to kids read and the media specialist said they improved their reading skills.  When Schooner visited an adult day care, he wagged his tail wildly and wiggled his 75-pound body with glee as he greeted each person. One woman cried as she told me how he reminded her of the dog she used to have. He made each person he met feel special. As a therapy dog, Schooner was subject to strict rules, and Therapy Dogs, Inc. carried insurance, in case the dog did any damage while on duty.

Schooner’s wild enthusiasm made him popular as a therapy dog but would have disqualified him from training as a guide dog.  He made people happy because he was so happy to meet them. However, his greatest skill was wearing costumes. In the various fashion shows he participated in, he wore sun glasses, cowboy hats, bunny ears, and a superman cape. Our greatest moment was a Halloween costume parade in a nursing home where we wore matching clown costumes.

When he was not working he loved to swim and chase balls. He traveled with us on our boats, and on one trip spent seven months with us as we traveled from Florida to Maine and back. He crossed the United States in a car, with us, at least seven times. In his later years his hips got bad and he acquired large fatty tumors but he worked up until two weeks before his death and never stopped smiling and wagging.

Even though Schooner has passed away, a part of him still lives in the dogs you meet in my books.