The Free From Shame Project

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Desiree Frazier

Desiree Frazier

Susie Bedsow Horgan

Kathleen Donhardt

What I want the world to know about this experience…

I’m now 47. These experiences have given me the most wonderful opportunity to learn to speak and live my truth. It has led me to many things like self love and doing work that I totally love and am nourished with. I believe in Soul Agreements and we are here to learn. While we don’t always get the choice of the ‘how’ we learn those lessons our soul has asked for, we can’t change what was, but it is possible to find the gifts out of our darkness and be grateful.

My Story…

The Shame was bigger than myself. I was sexually abused by one of my brothers between the age of 6-7. A secret I kept for many years. As I grew older, I have felt deeply ashamed that I liked his attention, but not the ‘rudies’ game he liked to play. I was always afraid that someone would find out and he would get into trouble and that mum would hit him like she hit dad. The older I got the louder the pain was to keep the secret; but the shame I felt to dare tell anyone was bigger. So, instead, I just got bigger physically.

Being ‘the fat girl’ was a daily burden to live with until recent years. The shame of this has affected me most of my life. I felt like others were ashamed of me as much as I felt it. Boys weren’t interested in me until age 13 when I was convinced to trade my virginity for a cigarette. More sexual abuse and I agreed to it just for the attention. This brought me even more shame by the time my peers were talking about me and telling me what liar I was, thanks to my best friend for telling my secret. It was exactly as I’d imagined it would be if I told anyone what my brother had done. This sexual abuse that I believed I consented to and therefore believed I deserved, continued for 4 years. I always kept it a secret and agreed to it just so I could feel like a ‘normal’ girl getting attention from a boy. This continued until I fell pregnant at age 17, which added another layer of shame. I was made to promise not to tell my mum or his until he left town because he didn’t want his future plans messed up. So, of course, I kept quiet. I was good at keeping secrets. Over and over I was just reinforcing the depths of the shame of who I was. It was tough living with the pain but I now had a daughter to take care of, so I pushed my pain down with the secrets. By the time I was 28, I wanted freedom from pain, freedom from shame, I wanted to die. I got help and started my very long road of healing and learning to love me, but still didn’t heal the sexual abuse for another 10yrs.

My voice was silenced, I was forbidden to ever speak of my truth, I was told it was all lies. My brother had ended his life, it wouldn’t be ‘fair’ to speak ill of the dead. I hoped my pain would die with him but it didn’t, it just got louder. I didn’t want the labels, I didn’t want more shame, and I didn’t want more rejection. But the only way I could really love me was to find my voice and use it. The four hardest words I’ve ever expressed were ‘I’ve been sexually abused’. No one wanted to hear it, they still don’t and that’s what hurts as much as the abuse itself. It’s like being raped again and again, just so everyone else can feel comfortable. I am letting go of the shame that’s not mine and I am free. I have found my voice, I am using it, and I will keep using it to speak my truth and allow others to do the same.
Kathleen Donhardt

Where to start? So many abuses. Beaten up by the neighbor kid a lot-he laid in wait! My brother terrorized me in the home. No safety. In the early 1970s: my brother would enter my room while I slept, look under the blankets/try to touch me. No one stopped it, no one taught me how to stop it. ​M​y parents had no clue how to stop it as my parents were traumatized by the Holocaust and ​dad had been bullied ​by the Bund.

Even later: I married young, I was a virgin. It was the mid- 1970s. My husband was in the Navy, and turned out to be a weekend alcoholic. Jekyll and Hyde, except neither were nice. We socialized with another couple. ​They tried to get me drunk. I resisted. My husband got so drunk he passed out in their living room. I stayed awake and made sure he didn't aspirate his vomit. The other guy raped me, showed me his arsenal of weapons and told me not to tell. His wife was cold to me. He told her that I threw myself at him. Then he beat her. Within days she and I were able to tell the truth to each other, and I helped her escape. She returned. When I told my husband he said, "Too bad I passed out. We could've swapped partners." I pointed out that I wasn't a possession to be traded. My husband regularly raped me, using his sex- with-prostitutes experiences to inform him how men/women should act in a loving, sexual relationship. I was 18. I gave him information on what I needed and what was not ok. He was unyielding. I left and never returned.

Way later in the 90s, I bought a small fixer upper. My first home. My sanctuary. I had lost about 40 pounds, ​and had gotten close enough to my ideal weight. I started having casual sex with a co-worker. I hated and feared him, yet it was the first time I enjoyed sex. How?! There was something alluring about him. I told him I did not drink, that I didn't handle alcohol well, and I was never going to be interested in anal sex (all in response to his behaviors). I thought that should suffice. The first time he came to my home was 2 weeks after I bought the house, and a year or so into the "relationship". He drugged me, tried to sodomize me. I couldn't stand, although I tried. I was face-down on the floor. He kept picking me up by the waist to get me onto all fours to attempt to penetrate me, but I would go limp and end up flat on the floor. I said 'no'. A lot. Tried to fight. He brought a gun out! Somehow he managed to brace me by shoving my head up against the wall, and my side up against the bed, while holding me up, and sodomized me while I protested. After, I laid on the floor shaking and bleeding. I'm pretty sure I was in shock. He took out the gun, but somehow I talked him into getting me into bed and laying with me to help me warm up, before he left. I was terrified, in pain, confused, disoriented. I spent the next day cleaning up blood from the carpet and sitting in the shower.

It took 5 years to speak of the incident at all. I called Rape Crisis Hotline because I was having a panic attack. They were useless: "What do you want ME to do?" I had years of counseling. I had lots of nightmares. I was never near ideal weight again. Had few boyfriends after that- all abusive/users. Lots of severe depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia. I lost all sense of time. I can't tell how much time is passing. Later went through a phase where I didn't know if it was day or night. Rarely know the date, the day, the month, and sometimes the year without looking at my watch.

​I don't live near Mom (by design) but she still shames me, even publicly, for my weight and food choices. I have learned not to respond to any of my needs when I am near her. It's not safe to be hungry, ​​eat​, drink until she deems it time. Eating anything she deems "fattening" (carbs and fat) will get looks of disgust/anger, comments ("you don't need that)m even knocking food out of my hand. Under all of her 60 years of cold, shaming hostility, I sense some part of her cares, if only because I am 'living proof' that she didn't do a good job as a mother, and "if only I would lose the weight" she would be redeemed.

She knows nothing of the sexual issues except the ones with my uncle...but there just isn't room for all of it. Still, she displays no warmth, no softening, no compassion.​ This is amazingly painful.​

For 1.5 years after being drugged, sodomized, and threatened with being shot, every night I prayed the same thing: God, please take me in my sleep so I can be released from this pain. If you can't see fit to do that, please give me the strength to make it through the day.

I got involved with a new guy and was able to switch up my prayer to live a good, long life in order to serve others. It was the ultimate revenge... to live a good life! Oh, by the way, the new guy... (wait for it) turned out to be a convicted child molester!! Oy!

Three things I'd like to impart: 1) For me, there really was no such thing as 'casual' sex. 2) NO MEANS NO. 3) A husband CAN rape his wife. 2 and 3 are punishable by law now.

My story started after a day at a conference with two work associates. We were in a strange city and we decided to go out for a drink afterwards. I remember ordering my drink, and the next thing I knew, I was naked, woken up by the phone ringing, and in a strange hotel room with no one there. I was disoriented and answered the phone. The guy at the front desk said this is your wake up call and hung up. I got dressed and couldn't find anything in the room to tell me where I was. When I stepped outside I realized that I was in the hotel complex where my work associates and I were staying. I walked to my hotel room and my work associates proceeded to ask me if I had had a good time and they were glad that I was back. They said that I went willingly with some guy and they thought that "I liked to have a good time." Needless to say I was thoroughly embarrassed and went and scrubbed myself raw in the shower. Later in the day when I realized that I could have been killed and no one would have been the wiser, I was mortified. I was a single parent of two young children and I thought what a whore I was to go off with someone and take the chance of getting killed and leaving them motherless. Thus began my secret loathing of myself. I eventually remarried and I sometimes had problems with sex, especially if I felt like I was being squished. I'd panic and would run into the bathroom and stay for a long time. After 30 years, I went to counseling for another reason and through the conversation, this incident came up. When my counselor asked me if I realized that I was raped, I said no, they said that I went willingly. She explained that date rape drugs make it so that you can't remember anything and you do go willingly. The reason why I couldn't remember having more than one drink was because the first drink was drugged. It's weird but my first thought was thankfulness that I had not willingly jeopardized my kids. The following feelings were horror and shock and shame. I went through EMDR therapy and for the most part have put it behind me. Every once in awhile, I deal with feelings of being unsafe. I have not told my husband and don't know if I ever will because I am afraid it will change everything.

What do I want the world to know - that if you see someone going off willingly with someone they don't know, stop them. They may be drugged and not even aware of what they are doing. It's better that they are mad at you then raped.

Waking up at 7am in an Acute Level I Psychiatric Facility at age 22 was a rude awakening, but I still felt more safe than I had in a while. Dealing with what I thought was an overweight issue, I soon discovered in private therapy that this wasn't the case. I even thought I was being sent to "fat camp" because I could not understand why my alcohol, drug, and sex abuse was such an issue.

At the first session, I met with the group and did my Timeline presentation. I presented and highlighted what I thought were pretty relevant as to why I was who I was. Damaged. Insecure. Crazy even.

I talked out about how my uncle (my aunt's husband) would grope me under the bathing suit. How he would touch me and do things to me that a 7 year old wouldn't understand. I went through 5 years of "fun play" with the plan... never knowing. Until one day, my sister asked me about it because of course, I wasn't the only one. Boy did I feel special then. And she told me; "Amanda, that's called sexual abuse. I went through it and your sister and all of your cousins went through it as well. We have to speak up!". So we did. We spoke up. They confronted the bastard. He admitted to everything. My parents wanted to kill him but they were more concerned for us, what that would do to our names being labeled as "that girl who was abused". So not much was done other than confrontation and my aunt got to stay in her marriage as if nothing happened. So he is still very close.

Years went by. I thought I was over it. But I could never experience true intimacy. I had a couple of boyfriends and could not do more than a kiss a day. When I started hanging out with a much older guy (he 21, me 15) I lost my virginity to him inside a parked car. I screamed and yelled. I kicked him. I cried. It hurt! He grabbed me and I hadn't eaten anything more than a few strawberries in the past couple of days so I was weak. He went ahead anyways. That day in rehab, the therapist told me I should label that as "rape". I did not understand. I had been told that I had "asked for it".

Two unwanted pregnancies and two abortions by 20 were the direct result of me not being able to manage myself and my sexuality. I had intercourse with over 20 different men and don't even know how it happened. I don't remember. Most of them happened while I was too drunk to stand or remember.

I confronted this reality during my first 35 days of sobriety. It was harsh. I "labeled" most of the shameful experiences as the direct result of me being damaged and unworthy. More than 8.5 years of sobriety later, several counselors, a divorce, and several courses on the matter, I am able to talk about this with much more compassion to myself and forgiveness to the men involved. However, the ripple effect is still in place.

In one sentence: Sexual abuse is something that can destroy even the most powerful and strong.

I did not realize how much shame I have carried around my entire life until recently. I just turned 50 years old and was in grave danger of losing myself and everything that I have worked for. I own a wardrobe and personal training business and have made an enormous difference in people’s lives. I developed and directed, voluntarily, 13 fundraisers for Project Self Sufficiency through Boulder County Housing. I have told my recovery story to groups at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver as I thought that I was last. I was a competitive tennis player from the age of 7 years to 18 years old. I was a cheerleader, lover of life, optimist, until diagnosed with severe depression in my twenties. Me? Not me!

I finally realize that my way of coping with sexual, verbal, physical and financial abuse is by performing,assisting others, and ignoring my quest for self love.

Text Book Case: My father is a sexual, verbal, physical, and financial abuser. My mother is obsessed with being too thin and too rich.

I left a sexually and verbally abusive relationship 3 years ago only to find myself in a physically and financially abusive relationship within a year of leaving the other.

I live alone now. My two boys are grown. I find myself self loathing, shameful, guilt ridden by my choices in men, feeling like a failure as a mother, as a woman.

I listen to Brene Brown, meditate, research, exercise, have a dog and continue to look for ways to survive this shame, guilt, and self loathing. I hope that your group on Facebook can be a catalyst for a new healing.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.
Liz Wigod

Have you ever thought, Why here, Why now, Why them, Why this, How much more? And never got an answer?

Speaking can be hard and being heard even harder. Especially when we are made to believe how we are violated is our fault, is something we have attracted into out lives.

If someone was to tell you a 3 year old attracted sexual abuse into her life what would you say and think? I would say rubbish!! I would say that little girl had something done to her that was wrong, a violation of mind, body, heart and soul. I would want to love her, to heal her and protect her.. This is how we should also be as adults too, we are all still children within.

I remember looking up into the night sky when I was 7 silently singing''Star light, star bright the first star I see tonight, I wish I may I wish I might be taken somewhere far and safe from this life'. By this time I knew what had happened to me wasn't normal, but I was to scared to say anything. So I was silenced as another voice in my head took the front seat. This voice was not my own but I voice led by fear, worthlessness, loneliness, hopelessness and confusion. The people I had in my life amplified this voice.

Abused abuse, they use to say.. Sometimes somewhat true because its all they know. I understood this before I understood the violation that started when I was a little 3 year old girl. The fragmented pieces are still in my mind 35 years later. The hardest part is knowing my youngest memories are in fear of my mothers and my life due to a man I already loved so unconditionally. Who was suppose to be my protector, mentor, father. Abandonment came early and I never new what it was like to be protected.

By the time I was 13, I had changed schools 8 times, had experienced physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse. I had experienced bullying, had witnessed domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and lived with people who openly used while experiencing the consequences of their moods and abusive and addictive behaviors.

My step father left my mother heartbroken, bitter and betrayed. While I was watching my mother in her vulnerability I had to share my experience as a 3 year old, which was a part of me ready to implode within as the teenager inside was trapped in her becoming.

So I voiced my experience and was met with anger and denial and sent away to the man I called father. A man who's voice scared me so much it would paralyses me. Yet he was the only person to affirm my experience. He defended the truth that was because he knew it happened. It had happened to others years prior to me being born, by the same person.. And they too had said nothing. If they had said something, it wouldn't have happened to me!

I remember my anger, I remember the feeling of injustice and I remember calling my mother and asking her to forgive me and that she would never hear me speak of it again. I did this because the only people I had in my life at this time that I felt any sense of protection with, where my friends back home.

I was allowed to return and shortly after I ran away believing I could take better care of myself. I became homeless, seeking a family to belong to and doing what I could to numb the thunder of pain screaming within. I wanted to die.

Then I received a call from someone who represented family to me, somewhere I could be safe and loved. So I traveled two grueling days to meet with her. I was taken back to her home with her friends and they started to get ready while getting stoned on cannabis, amphetamines and alcohol. They were escort workers and I wasn't there as family but to take care of her son. TBC ...

Sharing your experience won't please everyone because it is confronting. Voicing your experience may not make everything around you better, but please believe me when I say, speaking your truth will free your mind, body, heart and soul from the shackles you can choose to have pulling you down for your entire life. Choose Freedom, Choose You - Winty

My real dad didn't want me. He left me when I was still very young, but my step-dad did. He wanted me…..wanted me naked, tied up, with a gag in my mouth. It didn't start out like that of course. He loved me, raising me the best he knew how, even adopted me when I was eight. He was my hero. I wanted to be like him when I grew up. I even wanted to be like the girls in his favorite magazines that I used to take from his workshop and read. I wanted to make an amazing man like him happy some day, so I learned all I could from the women of Pain and Punishment, Strict, and Bondage. I never thought my hero would ask me to be one of those beautiful, sexy girls for him. Never thought I'd laugh with nervousness while my stomach turned in knots. What if my mom found out, what if I liked it, what if I disappointed him, what if he forced me, what if it went further, what if it was my fault he wanted me, what if he stopped wanting me, what if I made him angry, what if he asked my sisters to do the same things? I knew the answer to that one….I'd kill him.

I would always protect my sisters, everyone and anyone really. But I was never good at protecting myself, never good at admitting anything hurt me. By the time it had escalated to this point, I was a scared 16 year-old. Old enough to know better, old enough to be stronger, old enough to be pursued. He wasn't the first person to place unwanted requests, heavy on my shoulders. My cousin years before had done the same, though not with words. No words were ever spoken. Only his touch inside me. I never spoke either. Of course it was my fault for not screaming and pushing him away, and that cursed nervous laugh of mine. Oh how I hated the smile that moved across my lips when I felt insecure! It betrayed my true heart, allowing them to move closer when I wanted to run away. So I ran away inside. I was gone for a long time. You might be surprised to know that the shame I felt was not over what had been done to me, no anyone could absolve me of that. My shame was that I didn't stop it, so desperate for love, so willing to earn it, I didn't stop it, didn't tell anyone, didn't hate them. I still don't, but finally I am angry, finally I want to say no, stop, go away, I don't want this, you can't do this to me, I matter!

What made it hardest all these years was my unwillingness to admit that I had the right to hurt. I wish someone had told me not to compare my story to others, not to be tempted to believe that my suffering wasn't as valid as others'. It is, it was, it continues. Today I am mindfully healing because I have acknowledged my pain with compassion, for the little girl, and for the woman.

My father had died when I was a baby. My mother was heavily addicted to benzodiazepines such that she often overdosed by accident. This one evening when I was 7 yo, I found my mother in her pyjamas lying unconscious by her bed. I rushed out my hotel door (we had an apartment in a hotel) to find hotel staff. I didn't want to get the ambulance because I hated hearing my mother plead not to have her stomach pumped. (It’s painful, I have since heard). And my instincts said to get my mother onto her bed and she would sleep it off. If she stayed on the floor she would wake in the middle of the night and get up and fall.

In the staff area there was an Asian cook and a Spanish maid. They came rushing to help. In the bedroom the maid grabbed my mother under her armpits and started trying to heave her up. The man took her ankles. There wasn't much room for 4 of us and I went to the other side of the bed. As the maid grappled with the weight of my mother, she inadvertently started pulling up my mother's pyjama top. At which moment I got hit by a disgustingly gross force. It enveloped me from head to toe but especially concentrated in my crotch area. I looked over at the man and he was staring wide-eyed as the pyjama top started to slide up, as if it was a peep show. He did nothing else from then on but hold my mother's ankles and stare wide-eyed at my mother's breasts, completely turned on. I felt so vulnerable, powerless, and inadequate as it was, that I thought if I went over and pulled the pyjama top down that that would have given him all my remaining power. In many ways abandoned left right and centre except for the maid, I stood strong, putting all my hope into her, and she eventually heaved my mother onto the bed.

I'd often notice men stare at my mother's breasts as we walked down the street, and I felt very protective of her yet powerless to protect her.

When my breasts started developing, I would painfully push my knuckles into them to stop them. And after a couple of months of trying, they would stop and return to flatness. Each time they started up again, I would painfully push my knuckles into them and they would try and then retract again. My mother had died of an overdose. At 14 years old I had a little bit of breast and a guest in my guardian's house came up from behind me and put his arms around me and holding me close to him he cupped my breasts. He whispered in my ear if he could squeeze them. I was breathless and unable to move. My guardian's daughter (22yo) walked into the room and I looked at her beseechingly but she either didn't see us or chose to ignore him. So I stood there paralysed excepts to be able to move my head from left to right in a 'no'. And he let go. I continued to hold my knuckles into my breasts throughout my physical development. Needless to say my breasts never fully developed and I grieve the loss of a part of feminine beauty.

I want the world to realise that God made breasts to feed the young and not to feed men's sexual needs. I want young women to realise that it's the powers that be and the media that has made breasts into a sexual object, but in nature they are no more a sexual object than the big toe. Keeping women's breasts sexualised keeps women denigrated as objects made for them.
Amanda Marler