Monday, October 7, 2013

Elizabeth Smart is My Hero

To endure month after month of depraved brutality is unimaginable.  To live your life, and be happy is, in this humble woman's opinion, a real miracle.  I know it must have taken a lot of hard work for her to get where she is today, but she did it.

She continues to live a life full of grace and happiness.  She chooses to share her stories publicly despite the numerous amounts of people that want to victim blame, or worse say things that make me wonder if they don't belong on a sex offenders' list...if they aren't already on one.

She is my hero, because 10 years ago, we went through the worst experience of our lives thus far on nearly the same timeline.  The abuse I suffered began when I was 14.  The spiritual abuse and grooming I suffered started when I was 11.

For six years I was molested by my gymnastics coach.  Even when I returned home from college on breaks.  I believed him when he said it was my fault.  That God loved him and he knew he was one of the "Chosen Ones"...."these things were always the girl's fault." It was our secret and he would tell everyone that I "liked it."  He told me that I was condemned to Hell because I was not chosen.  He never threatened my life, but he took my way of life. He stole something that I cherished, and that I believed in, and convinced me that I was Eternally Damned. He threatened to get me pregnant, and if that happened, I'd have to live with him and my parents would be too ashamed of me to ever speak to me again.  He did not listen when I cried no, so I stopped trying. He even went so far as to buy property above my parents' house and rented a house down the street from me.  He didn't have to kidnap me.  He owned me and he owned my soul.  He told me that if people knew the ugly truth about me and my condemned soul, nobody, including my parents could ever love me.

And I believed him.

I had trusted him with my life throughout my gymnastics career.  He kept me from breaking my neck more than once.  He stayed by my side when I had ACL reconstruction.  He was a huge part of my childhood, and had coached me off and on since I was in elementary school.  Why would he lie to me about this, now?  While my household was not as religious as the Smart's, I was every bit as naive.  I thought premarital sex was an abomination, and this was probably some of the grand religiosity I tried to take on myself as a way to relate to my abuser.  I didn't really understand sexual abuse or rape.

A few years later, into my junior year of high school, I remember watching an episode of Oprah about sexual abuse in little league baseball and thinking, 'oh, shit.'  Instead of telling anyone, I got into an argument with my coach during practice, and I quit.  The next day, he drove to my school with a note for me.  My mother was devastated because I had dreamed about doing gymnastics on the college level for years.  I was hurting my mother...she was disappointed in me...and she didn't even know the "bad things"...So what my coach had said, was true. 

So I returned to the gym.  I had a year and half or less left and I was determined to make it.  I really still wanted to do gymnastics, I wanted to be a college gymnast, and mostly, there is no way I could let anyone know that this was happening to me, an independent, straight A student.  I also knew, that if I wasn't there to take the abuse, the next little girl would be.

I still can't explain that dichotomy.  I knew he would be the one in trouble, but it was my fault.  I'd let it go on too long, I didn't say anything before, I had cut myself off from my parents in many ways, so he was the only parental figure I had to turn to, and I truly feared to my core the disappointment my parents would feel. By this time my coach was the only one who knew my darkest secrets, and was the only one that my damned soul could confide in.  The shame I would bring upon my parents-that still seemed like it was my burden on them.  I'd also see the "next generation" of team kids and I could not bear to think of them as having this cross to bear.  So if I could keep my coach occupied, it was just what I had to do, and I did believe him that I was damned.

When college breaks were not frequent enough, my coach turned to the next victim.  She, being braver than I, pressed charges.  I stepped forward to being victim number 2 by accident because my coach called me and told me, "I told the truth." I mistakenly concluded that he had actually told his lawyer the truth, so I called his lawyer who was a friend of my father's and told him that I did not want to be part of the investigation, oops... My coach, under polygraph, admitted to abusing even more girls, but thanks to Tennessee's 2 year statute of limitations there could be no charges.

Needless to say, my coach got some things very right.  My parents were hugely disappointed, but not in me.  They felt they had failed to protect their child.  I ached for "making" them feel that way.  I, not having a child, cannot even imagine how hard it was to feel that they had "let this happen" to their daughter.

Elizabeth Smart was rescued at some point during the court process I was going through.  It was a period of absolute hell for me because I had worked so hard to build a life hiding the awful secret and now I had to relive it in an open courtroom and the local newspapers. During that time, I believe that her bishop did as much for me as he did for her.  We were still God's children.  He still loved us, and that your virtue is not something that can be stolen.

We are not "damaged goods."  We are amazing.  We have seen and experienced some of the worst that humanity has to offer, but we came out happy.  Elizabeth's mom put it much more eloquently, but she and I were blessed with amazing families who encouraged us to not let our abusers get the last word. The first time I remember laughing in months was when my Father said, "You know, Mary Katherine, if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you'll be all right." It was so perfectly insensitive yet perfectly put things in perspective at the same time.  Thanks to my family, Jeff (my college coach) & Art, Nicole, Pam and Tina, I became the young woman that would easily and happily become BJ's wife.

My Daddy was right.  I am happily married.  I'm functional, contribute to society, and if I had not written this blog, you hopefully would have never known.  But just as more people coping with infertility need to speak up, so do people who surpass abuse.  I don't really like the word survivor, because, to be honest I go for eons of time without even thinking about it, and that was before I started nursing school.  I don't need that title because I am first and foremost a happily married young woman looking forward to creating a family with my beloved, BJ.

As my Daddy said, I'll be all right.

I know, deep in my heart, that one day my battle with infertility will also be the same, not that it hasn't brought up some demons of self-doubt, but if this is the worst life throws at me...

Peace, Love and Happiness,

Mary Katherine Roberts

~Helen Keller