A Victim of Abuse “Writes-In”

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A couple days ago, I wrote a review of a book called Hush. (See Book Review | Hush)

I received this anonymous “stream of consciousness” email asking me to post her thoughts on the book and on the abuse situation in general. I have done just a tiny bit of editing but the emailer really wished that the note be presented in this raw form. I apologize for its length, but I encourage you to read it carefully and think about its message.

Just to give you a bit of background on who I am. I did not grow up in the Chasidic world but in the orthodox yeshiva world. I went to the community yeshiva for elementary school and then to Bais Yaakov high school and seminary in Israel (and a good one that’s hard to get into.) My brother was and is part of the Yeshiva world as well as the rest of my siblings. My family is a core part of the community and is well respected and liked by everyone. We were not a family with “issues” my family is wonderful and “normal” – or so it seems.

I’m not sure we to begin. I just finished reading the book Hush. I can’t stop crying the tears will not stop coming. Of course the book was moving and well written but most importantly, I think I am crying because I was Devory. I was the little girl who was molested by her brother.

I think I am crying most right now because I am grateful. I am so overwhelmingly grateful for every minute I am alive longer than Devory. I gave myself a chance at life and I didn’t even know it. I hate what she did to herself. I hate that she killed herself but I understand her. I now think to myself “why didn’t I kill myself?” I understand why people feel like they may want to; I may have felt like it at times too. I understand how that guy who (may have) killed himself after he got married last year felt and I understand how Devory felt. I think all us victims feel it and understand it. I am crying now because I am grateful for my life as it is right now. I have SO much to be thankful for. Look how fortunate I am. Look at my life and look what it turned into. I am so accomplished. I am a great mommy, wife, and friend. Daughter, daughter in law, granddaughter, sister and so on…. I have a wonderful job and amazing friends. I live in a great community and everyone honestly loves me. People respect me a lot. I have amazing children thank God but most importantly I have an incredible marriage. And for this I have to thank my husband. Honey, I hope you are reading this and if you are – yes believe it or not it is me I actually wrote this and shared my feeling with others, Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I really do have the most unbelievable husband ever! He has always been there for me, and please god always will be. He stood beside me and encouraged me through the most difficult time of my life. (Admitting that it happened is actually even harder then being abused.) He gave me the courage I needed to heal. And trust me you need so much courage – it is so hard to face the truth. And he waited – he waited patiently for me to understand and make peace with my self in order to be a better wife and mother.

My husband is a lot like Gittel’s. Gittel’s husband is the hero of the story for me. He didn’t know what he was getting himself into. He didn’t know that she had a story and that she was scared and that a relationship would be difficult for her. He didn’t know that she had a traumatic past. He didn’t know it would be harder for her then it is for any other girl. And yet he stood by her, he supported her and gave her strength. My husband did too. I didn’t even know it would be so hard for me. But then when I got married and I was in a relationship and I had to share my life with someone and I was expected to have kids only then did I begin to realize that I was scared. That I didn’t want anyone to touch me. That I didn’t want to share my feelings with anyone. That I didn’t trust anyone. I didn’t realize that I became so good at living a fake feeling life and pretending that everything was rosy and great that I forgot how to actually feel real life. Only then did I realize that I kept a deep dark secret for over 10 years and that I shut out everyone and everything from my life. That I was living a fake life. On the outside everyone said wow look at her she is so pretty and so special and so popular and always so happy, “what a great girl” I want her for my son or nephew or cousin… but they didn’t know. They didn’t know that out of all my friends I did not have one single real friend that nobody actually knew a single thing about me. That although I have lots of siblings I didn’t feel like I had anyone. I felt like I lived in my own world. If anyone ever got too personal I just lied or made up stories. Reading this you probably think I am crazy but no one ever thought I was crazy, everyone thought I was normal and even special! And you know what, I am not crazy I knew I had to lie and hide this to protect my family – my parents and my other siblings (they don’t deserve this label) and I was and am willing to keep it all a secret and hurt myself so no one will ever think badly about my family. And you know what? I kind of still have to.

Like Gittel who only dealt with this after she got married so did I. It wasn’t such an issue for her until she was in a relationship. She too must have made a fake world for herself. Only when she was married and tried to get pregnant did she realize she couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t live the lie, pretend nothing had happened. And her husband was there for her when he found out he didn’t leave her but he encouraged her and he told her that she is a really and truly what an Aishes chayil is. And so did mine. He helped me through so much. He helped me admit that it happened and seek a therapists help and encouraged and stood by me through every single step of the way.

This is why I am still crying – we all unfortunately know that this is out there. And there has been so much support and understanding from all of you to help this issue get out there – and thank you for that. But many of you think “thank GD it didn’t happen to me” or worse, “of course this didn’t happen to me”. And I wont marry someone who is “damaged goods” (and bloggers out there, this is you’re line, I read it myself many times on blogs) or I wont let my kids near someone who is damaged. But in our “secret” orthodox world you have no idea who or when you will meet or befriend someone who is a victim like me. Who knows? If my in-laws knew this about me they may not have let us get married. But they didn’t know and you know what they don’t either know something else, they don’t know their own son was abused too. And I have to say they are really truly amazing parents. They just have no idea – just like my parents. And you have no idea either. It could be any of us. Don’t judge. Don’t be harsh. Don’t say we need to do something about this, get rid of the bad guys and then just turn your backs on us victims and isolate us. We are a part of you and we need you to accept us. I beg you please be there for that person help them through it don’t think of them as a crazy person like Devory or the others who have done like she did. Realize that it wasn’t our fault we didn’t do anything wrong it happened to us and we already suffered so much, please be there for us now. Don’t just say those schools or shuls they need to fire those Rabbis they need to do “something”…. Be that person who does something. Please don’t think of us as damaged goods anymore please accept us and love us and realize we already suffered enough. Don’t say I wont let my kids marry someone like that…

We are doing so much to get rid of the people who are abusing others; but we need to do more to accept those of us who have been their victims. Don’t avoid us, don’t treat us different, just be our friend. Let your children be our friend, let your children marry us. Please. Those of us who have been abused and who are still here today did not end it all. We survived it and we know we will be okay. Our lives are so much more precious. We know that it didn’t have to be this way. I didn’t have to survive. I didn’t have to have the great life that I have now. But I do. And I am so thankful for my amazing children, family and husband. And most of all, for my life. I will forever make every minute count. I will count each blessing that I have and realize that I may not of had it had a chosen a different path. I will cry harder then you when my babies are born and when I send my kids off to school. I will cry so hard when I walk them down the aisle and when they have their children. They will be tears of joy because I will remember that I was given a second chance. And I want you all to know that whether you have been abused or know someone who has been abused, please take the time to make this second chance at life meaningful don’t turn your backs on it and don’t ignore it. And please don’t think that we are crazy or to stuck in our “victimhood”, but just like I am finding my life to be a second chance, you can too. Make my choice matter. Help me and help every victim who made this choice have a meaningful life. Our moments on this earth are so precious – we really chose to be here and I know that we can never forget it. This is something that will always be a part of our past and who we are. We cant replace our lives with new ones we can only make ours better.

Don’t treat us as damaged goods anymore. Accept us. Let it be ok for us to say something. Don’t look at us with pity. Realize we are special. We are just like you. And even more. We chose to live.

Of course we need to stop abuse and all this openness and acceptance by you is amazing. It wasn’t like this when I was going through it 15 years ago. I don’t think I even realized what abuse was. This awareness will help people feel more comfortable reporting abuse and it will also help victims be stronger so that they wont also have to live with the fact that not only were they abused but they also have a secret that is eating at their hearts and making them disappear day by day further away from real life. This is so important. I don’t mean to put this down at all. But we also need to be accepting so that we can tell everyone who is thinking about choosing to end their life that they should choose to live and that if they live it will be okay. We will not judge them but we will make it comfortable for them to be here. We will love them and accept them.

I know I rambled a lot and this is pretty crappy writing but I wanted to share my thoughts before I gave it a second thought. And if I read it back I might delete much of it because it is really hard for me to share my feelings. So thanks for sticking with me and reading my random thoughts.

I think to sum it all up my point is that those of us who have chosen to live and overcome our abuse are just like you. We don’t want to read that you won’t let your child marry one of us, we don’t want to read that the victim probably caused it to themselves, we don’t want to feel like second class citizens because of something that someone else did to us. First of all, it’s all wrong. And second of all when we do read or hear that, it makes us feel like maybe it wasn’t worth living through that hell just to suffer again from your fear of us. Give us a chance and know that if you do your life will be blessed. It will be so much more special and meaningful because of it. I promise you – mine is!

Thank you for taking your precious time and reading this…. It means a lot to me

  • Lizabennett

    First, kol hakaovod lach for speaking up in this forum. You enhance the conversation and the debate. Thank you.
    Second, I am doing what I can: I teach my children the proper English (and Hebrew for the time spent in Israel) words for all their body parts, and I USE those words, consistently. I witnessed abuse when I was little, and PART of the problem that led to not telling my parents was a stunted vocabulary.
    Another part was not having comfort in discussing issues that were uncomfortable, “untzanua”.
    Starting when they are little, we tell our kids lots about reproductive issues, including sex. It is important for this to be matter of fact, an everyday part of life, just like we talk about the skeleton, and the lungs, and what they do, and other animals’ biology, we talk about reproduction.
    The last part was not having a constant dialogue with my parents about everything.
    This I am not always great with when it comes to the male offspring, but my husband is amazing.

    Now, for the mussar part.
    What are you (the author, and all yeshivish and chassidish people who decry abuse) doing to prevent this?
    Do you use the proper language? Do you seize every opportunity to talk about sex and love – about boundaries and abuse or are you embarrassed, because, well, too many people are around, because your younger kids are around. Do you put it off until later? How much later do you get to it? What are we telling our kids when we find it difficult to talk about their concerns? That maybe they should be bashful about telling you?
    I cannot tell you all that I have seen and heard about people who want to protect their kids. It makes me cry.
    I want to protect my kids too, but not in some fake way, where everybody is a child and “innocent” until the day they get married, when they turn into ?
    You want your velt to accept you with open arms. You like being a full member of your velt.
    I want to know, what are you doing to protest what your velt is doing to ensure that your kids don’t have the words to tell before it is too late? Why accept this way of raising aidel maidels (and yingels) if it is part of the problem?
    (By the way, as far as I can see, the embarrassment never ends. I have been to parent meetings about keeping our children safe, where the rabbeim, and psychologists were clearly not comfortable speaking openly. Everybody in the room had been sexually active at least fourteen years and nine months. What is up with that?)
    I have not proofread, or thought too carefully, for if I do, I will be ashamed to post and hurt your feelings, but you yourself might say this isn’t about your feelings, it is about prevention and acceptance.
    Again, Kol Hakavod

    • Thank you for commenting. I am sure it is difficult for you to be part of the conversation.

      Rabbi need to be more comfortable discussing these issues. It is a matte of life and death.

  • Elliot Pasik, Esq.

    Thank you, Survivor/Advocate for sharing your thoughts, and Rabbi Fink. When my friends and I read accounts like this, we feel validated that we’re doing the right thing. Kol tuv.

    Elliot Pasik, Esq.
    President, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, Inc.

    • Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate it.

  • A Fellow Jew

    Thank you so much for writing what you did. And thank you for having the courage to share it with others, but mostly, for having the courage to survive.

  • rachel

    Thank you for writing and sharing your story with us, and what you have learned from it.

    You speak about not judging others. So I will tell you a little about my story, and hope you will not judge me.

    I, too, was abused. But not sexually abused. It was at the hands of a parent, not a sibling.

    But my life does not have the happy result that yours does. I am over 40 and have never been married. I am “damaged goods” and don’t need anyone else to point it out or talk about it on blogs or in articles, I know it. I have a lot of the baggage that comes along with having been abused. The abuse took it’s toll on me before I was able to get married to an unsuspecting young man. At this point in my life many people know or suspect that “something is not right, there is a reason this girl has never been married…” They are right, there is a reason.

    And here is where your point about judgment comes in. We are ALL damaged goods to one extent or another. Suffering is part of being human. It is rare for a human being to not have suffered at all in their lifetime. And just as people are different in their physical sensitivities, people are different in their emotional sensitivities. Some people are more hurt, or “damaged” by the abuse than others. Some people are even more affected or “damaged” by difficulties that are NOT abuse than others are to abuse (trauma, for example). And the “damage” that we all carry manifests itself in different ways. In some people it manifests in their need to look impeccable and perfectly stylish at all times. In others it manifests in their inability to focus on their clothing, how they are dressed, or how they appear in public. And the examples go on and on. The point is – while you ask others not to judge those who were sexually abused, and not look at those who were sexually abused as “damaged goods” – I ask you to look at everyone as “damaged goods”, and realize that everyone has “pekelach” and burdens that they carry which affect their lives in various ways.

    So, the next time you see someone who is stands out in some way, or is not put together, or does not conform in some way or another to social norms, when your mind starts to judge “what is wrong with her/him” – stop – and remember how you asked us not to judge you or others who have been sexually abused. Please remember to extend the same reserving of judgment towards them. And when you hear your friends judging or talking down about someone, remind your friends that they never know what that person who they are looking down at, judging, or calling “damaged” went through. That perhaps just having stayed alive and living through every day was more of an act of gavrus than they ever could have imagined. And maybe even by befriending that person you could learn a thing or two about being strong, and coping with “the damage.”

    No one wants to be “damaged goods”. But the fact is that most of us are. Some of us have it written on our foreheads clearer than others. And some of us are able to fool the world for longer. As a popular and successful frum woman, your opinions matter to people. So remind people, as much as possible, not to judge others. Anyone. Because for all anyone knows, everyone and anyone they see could have been living through the same gehenom you did. Even if it seems like “they made their own bed” by “being too picky” in shidduchim, or even if they are wealthy and seem to have no problems, or even if it seems like they care too much about something you think is trivial, or don’t care enough about something that you think is important – give them the benefit of the doubt that they are coping as best as they can with the struggles that life is handing them, and which you likely know nothing about.

    Thank you again for writing and sharing your story with us, and what you have learned from it so far. It is clear that you will use your pain from what you went through, and your sensitivity to these issues towards helping others.

    • HaKohen

      You have made some critically important points, and I applaud you for that. I had a similar chiddush as you, only I believe in a less harsh way. What you refer to as “damaged goods”, I refer to as “baggage”. We all have “baggage” to one degree on another, every single one of us. However, we are not, Heaven forbid, “damaged goods”. It is a subtle difference, but I believe an important one.

      As far as your story not having a “happy result”, please know that the jury is still out on that one. I pray you are able to recognize this. You are a Tzelem Elokim and not “damaged goods”.

      • I agree with HaKohen. As you yourself say, no one is past the point where their life cannot be meaningful and wonderful. Most do not know where their challenges will come from, you do. That is further than most get in their battles…

        Good luck to you. And thanks for your thoughts.

    • HaKohen

      By the way, I have a teenage daughter that was sexually molested so I do have what to say. she is, thank G-d, doing remarkably well. It is not a taboo topic between us, and she is determined to help others that have similarly been abused. She is perceptive way beyond her years, and I have given her permission to tell any of her friends if she perceives the time is right. She knows some of her friends couldn’t handle it and they don’t know. A few do, including one that was in an even worst situation.
      This is no doubt something that Rachel and the guest poster did not have the benefit of, this validation that they are still worthy of friends and a life full of nachas. From a halachic standpoint, my daughter is unable to marry a Kohen. As for others, anyone that would reject her for having suffered through something beyond her control and not recognizing her amazing resilience is not good enough for her anyway. Good Shabbos!

      • Well said…

      • rachel

        Thank you E. Fink.

        Thank you HaKohen for your thoughtful responses. I accept your differentiation of “baggage” from “damaged goods”. I was using the language of the author of the post above. I suppose we all have “baggage” and then some of us have “ubber baggage”.

        And yes, those of us who could not share the abuse with an authority figure, for whatever reason, while we were abused as children or teenagers, are left with even more baggage as a result. Your daughter is very fortunate to have an excellent parent like you – it is very likely to make all the difference in her having an ability to cope in her adult life.

        Although I know in my mind certain facts – like those you mentioned about still being worthy of friends and a good life, but our early internal programming often takes control of the steering, and it is very difficult to overcome this. It’s a struggle, and for some of us more than others.

        And I suppose “the jury is still out” as you say, but in reality, half my life is over and a good life is not very probable at this point. I’m still open to the idea at times, but hope is hard to come by now. Mostly I just take it one day at a time, trying to get through each day and trying not to think about my life as a whole.

        Thank you again for your kind words.

  • DC

    Just to clarify: It seems from what was written that the victim was abuse by her brother.Since she mentions that her parents do not know what happened to her I am left wondering what happened to her brother. Is she not worried that he will potentially abuse another family member whether spouse, child, niece or someone else? Does he live in close proximity with children? Should he?

    Those of us who have bee abused have the burden not only of healing ourselves but making sure that our abusers do not find more victims.

    • Maybe she is worried. But maybe she is also worried about the reaction of the community. I think this what she was saying in her note, that she is forced into silence for fear of the unfair reaction to her and her other family (excluding the brother).

      On a side note, I don’t think it is fair to expect a sister to be able to do that to her brother or family. It is different when the abuser is a rabbi, friend or even an uncle.

      • DC

        Moral obligations do not always impose themselves fairly.

  • Izzy

    Very moving – thank you for sharing your story.

  • After reading Hush, I think my story need not be told, for it is already written.
    (I had been attempting to write my memories on my blog, testing the waters with a minimal readership…and I had been disappointed with the reactions. I might abandon the project now…we’ll see.)
    There are so many of us out there, so many like this woman, suffering in silence in order to protect those we love.
    I understand why she will not speak out, I understand why she cannot.
    There is no room for judgement here, only love and support for those who have seen hell and lived to bring a bit of heaven into painfully mended lives.
    And she’s right, the true heroes are the ones who deal with the adult children curled up in fear in their bedrooms with gentle, safe and steady hands.

    • Wow.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Were you a Devory, Gittel or a little bit of both?

  • To the writer of this article, and all other survivors out there:

    Firstly, kudos to all of you for speaking up! It hasn’t been easy for me, nor any of my group. However, the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

    I wanted to let you know of a resource that you may not have heard of. All Us Sheffelech (www.allussheffelech.proboards.com) is a support site exclusively for frum/raised frum survivors of sexual abuse. We want to hear from you!

    Additionally, we are working on a chizuk shabbaton in the New York area. Again, this is EXCLUSIVELY for frum/raised frum female survivors. For more information, please email me at littlesheffele@gmail.com

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