"People were messy. They were defined not only by what they'd done, but by what they would have done, under different circumstances, molded as much by their regrets as their actions, choices they stood by and those they wished they could undo. Of course, there was no going back - time only moved forward - but people could change. For worse. And for better."
No one called it molestation. I was 8 years old and he was the step brother of my then best friend. I had a crush on him, and I’m not so sure that was a secret. He was 13 at the time and I was rounding the corner to my 9th birthday. It started out as an innocent game of spin the bottle (he told me I was a way better kisser than all of the 13 year old girls at his school), and it turned into truth or dare and then hide and seek in the dark. He touched me all over my body. Rubbed his hands over my nipples and down my torso. He wiped up my vagina (interestingly enough, I hate the way that feels today, and I never have and never will let anyone wipe their fingers the way he did it). I felt like I had moved past this, but my hands shake as I write this. While playing hide and seek, I remember him being erect. I didn’t really know that then, and I never really thought much of it growing up, but now as a mother, I am disgusted that this 13 year old boy was erect by a child. As we played the game, he stuck glow in the dark stars from the wall onto his chest, so as I felt along the wall looking for him and my best friend, I would touch his body on accident. I remember him moving his penis around so that I kept accidentally touching it. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to touch it, but he kept manipulating situations all night so that I did.
When it was time for bed, I slipped into my fiend's jammies because they were more mature and prettier than mine. She wore silk like night gowns with beautiful matching robes. I still wore fleece character nightgowns. I remember his eyes on me all night. I remember knowing he was watching my every move. That wasn’t totally out of the norm- I was a child pageant queen, so I was used to being paraded around and judged. Looking back, being a pageant kid was probably the riskiest and most detrimental decision made for my youth and mental state.
The molestation happened the night Princess Diana died. I remember the news channels updating the story. I remember how angry my best friend's parents were. My underwear was found at the bottom of the stairs. They knew instantly something had happened. We were in big trouble.
My parents were called. My dad wanted to kill him. No one killed anyone. The 13 year old's father said “this isn’t the first time this has happened!” We left and the only question that was asked was by my granny. She sat on my bed and asked “did he put his fingers inside of you?” No, I replied. Then I was told to get into the bath, insinuating that I was dirty. It was never brought up again.
When I was 13 years old, my boyfriend and I were talking on the phone. He was my first “real” kiss. It was terrible and scary and I didn’t really like it. But I did it because all the other girls were kissing and gushing about their first kisses. I remember wanting that. He kissed me at the movies, during the credits as if it were a last ditch effort to stick his tongue down my throat. We dated for awhile and I wanted to spend more time with him, so I was going to see if I could babysit his brother. I remember us hatching a plan and while on the phone he asked me if I was horny. I really didn’t know. I told him that. I asked him what that felt like. He explained it. Maybe, I said. I wasn’t. But I felt like I should say maybe. He then told me he was jerking off while we were on the phone. Really? Can I hear it? I didn’t hear anything. I heard a click and I instantly knew my parents had been listening. We had this phone that you could click on without anyone hearing but it made a noise when you clicked off. SHIT. I quickly ended the call and made my way upstairs. I was met by my angry dad. “Let me smoke a cigarette first to calm down.” I made my way to my room and sat at the end of my bed. Just, waiting. I knew it was coming. My mother came barreling into the room and started smacking me then started punching me. I laid down and covered my face and my whole upper body was getting hit. I was terrified. This was the first time I got hit like this. It wasn’t the last. My parents were not going to raise a slut.
No one called it rape. I was somewhat dating this hippie guy when I was 19. He was 31. He was so smart, and I loved to smoke weed and sit on the porch and talk about aliens with him. We slept together 2-3 times, but I didn’t like it, and soon realized we weren’t supposed to do that. He said he was ok with that, and he respected my boundaries and we remained friends. One night at a party with coworkers at his house, I got way too drunk. I needed to sleep it off for a few hours before I could make my way home. I slipped into his room and felt like I could nap there for a few because he always partied until mid morning, so I knew I was safe to sleep until around 6am or so.
I don’t know how long I passed out, but I awoke to him having sex TO me. I started screaming “NO NO NO NO GET OFF NOOOO.” He had pulled my pants down, so I jumped up and put them on. I left his room and made me way down the stairs, tears streaming down my face. It hurt so badly to walk. His roommate saw me first and took me up to his room. I crawled into his bed and sobbed for what felt like an eternity. My vagina was so swollen I had to keep my legs apart. It hurt to walk for days after that- I stayed swollen for days, as well. I found out later from coworkers that the guy who raped me pissed his pants after he passed on drunk on the couch downstairs. I ended up getting an infection and my friends at the time replied “that's disgusting”. No one called it rape.
I was 21 when my 50-something year old boss tried to pay me to “treat me like a real woman”. We were talking and he slipped his hand onto my leg and told me how beautiful I was and how I deserved better than my then boyfriend. He went on to say he wanted me to sit on a stool, and he wanted to admire me, and fill my cup, and then said “I will pay you $20 a minute to treat you like a real woman.” At this point, I broke. I trusted this person. I was in a vulnerable place at the time (my dad and I weren’t speaking) and I was a broke college kid in art school. My boss knew all of this. He knew. I jumped up screaming “NO NO NO.” He replied “Oh you misunderstood me.” “NO I DIDN’T!!!” I screamed. I RAN out of there. I ran to my car, jumped in, drove home, and immediately jumped into the shower and sobbed for hours.
After that, I reevaluated where I stood in society. I was filling myself with drugs and booze. I assumed it was my fault and I did something wrong. I assumed I asked for it or created this reality. When I was 24, I met my now husband, we quit drinking, got pregnant, got married and when I was 27- life was so wonderful. I was following the Paleo diet, healing my relationships with both of my parents, things were looking up. I felt true happiness. I felt like I was relaxing for the first time in my life. I couldn’t be happier. 6 weeks after my wedding I woke up and I couldn’t move my body.
At the age of 27, I was diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases. Lyme bands have showed up on testing when I was 28. Then my body took it a step further and my immune system became completely disregulated. I started having anaphylactic reactions to foods I was not allergic to. WHAT THE FUCK. WHY. I was finally doing so well! I could only eat hamburgers and rice for months. Now I can eat around 15 foods. I miss food dearly. Living with invisible illness is so challenging. I look healthy, most days I am doing ok, but there is turmoil festering beneath that can knock me on my ass if I’m not careful. Not only is my own immune system trying to kick my ass, but my sweet toddler boy has the same issues. My gut equals his gut. Epigenetics are a thing, passing down trapped emotional baggage is a thing. This makes motherhood all the more challenging.
I began hitting it, the diagnoses, with everything I knew how. Conventional at first, but I started losing my hair, so I ditched that. Then diet. Herbs and supplements. Then I started doing Emotional Release Therapy. That is when I started to piece together the amount of trauma my little body has been holding on to for so many years. Last year when the “Me Too” posts were rampant in my news feed, I broke a little more on the inside and yet felt like I could stand up on that brokenness and stand tall. It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t always violent rape stores. Sexual abuse happens to all ages, all demographics, all walks of life in any and every scenario possible. Now, a year later, I am remembering in detail the night I was molested. All of this sexual abuse has changed me, my brain chemistry, how I feel about my body, how I view men and the way they look at me, and even my sex life with my husband. It has changed the way I mother my child. There are days I literally cannot be touched. I battle depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. After the “Me Too” movement last year, I sobbed again. I’m almost 30 and everything still feels so raw. I remember that tiny 8 year old little girl. I remember how ashamed I felt afterward. I remember knowing how disappointed my parents were. I remember the shame when I was 13. When I was 19. And again when I was 21. I remember thinking I was doing something wrong. I changed everything about myself after that happened when I was 21. But I was still the same little hurt girl on the inside. And I finally, decades later realized, it wasn’t “me”. It was something that happened to me… but not BECAUSE of me. Finally, I have discovered it wasn’t my fault.
Layer by layer, I am peeling back the hurt, guilt, and shame I’ve held onto. I am finally talking about it, forgiving myself, and letting it go. This has been the hardest road I’ve ever been on, but I am so damn glad I’m finally here. I have learned to respect my body, give it grace, honor it, forgive it, and be healed by it.
My husband has been educating himself on how to be in healthy relationship with a partner who has a past of sexual abuse. He allows me space to feel everything I have to feel, be angry about what I need to be angry about and cry when I need to cry. We both teach our 4 1/2 boy all about consent, boundaries, and that all people need their own personal space.
I get lost in my art, which was the best things that could have happened to me. I offer Empowerment Stories for women to open up and share their story and be empowered by it instead of ashamed. My clients tell me how therapuetic it is to talk about their trauma and by giving them the platform to share their story, other women have the opportunity to not only see someone who mirrors their body, but maybe their past, too.
For the first time in my life, I am finally free. I am still very messy, but I can say I am free. I have forgiven my parents. I have forgiven all of the people involved in these specific situations. I’m on the road to recovery, and I see my future, I see the health and the happiness. I can feel the warm glow. I finally feel connected to Source and God is speaking to me in a way I can finally hear. I am listening. And I am healing.
Autumn Chittum-Vestal is 30 years old and finally more herself than ever before. Wife to an amazing man, Dave, and mother to a feral wild 4 1/2 year old boy child who loves nature, art, and music. Autumn spends her days at home with son, Lyle, and two dogs, an Aussie mix named Clover and a mastiff mix named Rosie. Lyle is home schooled and their days revolve around literature, taking care of the environment, and nature. Autumn recently started a small co-op where the focus is getting children out in nature and connecting back to the Earth and spirit.
An artist and storyteller, photography is her medium. You can follow along with Autumn's Empowerment Stories on IG: @greystorylinephotography and Facebook: Grey Storyline Photography.
For more information on emotional release therapy, Autumn highly suggests reaching out to Heidi Straub.