March 26, 2013

Support Group of One

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but never felt like I could. Today, though, I figured if not now then when. When will I find the courage to just say how much it’s not awesome to go it alone when dealing with something. These days there is a group (whether online or in person) for pretty much anything you’re experiencing. Helpful, supportive, insightful people who are at different stages of whatever it is you’re dealing with and can relate.

I’ve got easy access to other parents of gifted kids, only children, science-loving girls, girls who like robotics. I’m part of groups dealing with elder care issues. I’m connected with other women who are in inter-racial marriages. You name it, you can find other people who share your experience. Except for one.

I’m the mom of a sexual assault survivor. There are groups for the survivors. Many survivors write about their recovery and challenges. I have only met one other woman who is the mother of a sexual assault survivor. Then again, I’ve known her for my entire life. Ginny (not her real name) has a daughter who was sexually assaulted. The stepdad did it. Totally different from my situation. Ginny’s family and my family were close friends. I was in college when I heard about what happened to Ginny’s daughter. People talked about it but they didn’t talk about it, if you know what I mean.

I never had a reason to talk with Ginny about what happened to her daughter. It’s not like you just bring it up in casual conversation. Besides, Ginny is about 10 years older than me. I’m like a little sister to her. It’s only within the past several years that we’ve created this sisterly bond. Still, it wasn’t a topic I ever thought to bring up.

About 9 months ago I had dinner with her. We were talking about her daughter (who is married and has kids herself) and some of the challenges she’s been through. Ginny knows I know the story. Ginny knows I know it’s not something she talks about. But as we sat at dinner, I asked her if my Grandma had ever mentioned to her that she and I had something in common about our daughters. If anyone were to tell Ginny what happened to my daughter, it would be my Grandma. But she didn’t. So I did.

I’ll tell you now that it wasn’t easy to tell Ginny, but that telling Ginny was a pivotal moment in my recovery. For the first time I could openly talk about my feelings with someone who could relate on a common level. For the past 15 or so years, Ginny had no one. For the past 5 years, neither did I.

I know there are other moms out there. These are children, they have parents. Given the statistics, I should know several moms like me. I’ve been to conferences with 500+ women who have daughters. Again, statistically, I should be able to find at least one other mom whose child is a sexual assault survivor. Stuff like this does happen to people like me. I can’t be the only one. If I am that’s both awesome and sucky at the same time.

It was in talking to Ginny, telling her about what happened, I realized her silence reshaped her life. She’s a brilliant and successful woman. She’s a professor at a major university. She was head of HR for a Fortune 500 company. She had her own local TV show about politics. She’s been appointed to several governmental commissions. She’s definitely “someone like me”. Yet, she’s carried her story like an albatross around her neck weighing her down.

But I know I’m not the only one. That Ginny isn’t the only other mom like me. I know Elizabeth Smart has a mom. And Jaycee Dugard. And many others. Both Jaycee and Elizabeth have written books about their experiences. Their moms haven’t.

In talking to Ginny, I hear her reluctance to talk. It’s different for her. Her daughter is older. Her daughter has to tell her story on her terms. But what about Ginny’s story? Jaycee’s mom? Elizabeth’s mom? We have a story. We have a need for support. Don’t we? We’re not invisible, right?

Sexual assault isn’t easy to talk about. I know that neither is cancer or autism or ADD or cerebral palsy. But there are countless support groups and people to connect with if your child has any of a long list of special needs or unique qualities. But there’s no group for people like me.

We have our own story, apart from our daughter’s. Our story is important. It doesn’t have a month or a color or a ribbon. And even if I did stand up in a room full of moms and said I am the mom of a sexual assault survivor, chances are the room would go silent after a collective gasp. No one would step forward and say they are too. It’s too risky. It’s too stigmatizing. It’s too connected to our daughter, we don’t want to “out” them. They need to recover and move on.

But what about us? Don’t we deserve to recover and move on too? 

Image Credit: HealingDream at FreeDigitalPhotos

Sara

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