I used to think that what happened was no big deal, I'd even use it as a way to make my boyfriends feel like they 'rescued' me, make them feel like big strong men. I'd convince myself that it wasn't really any big deal, because that's what everyone said, and I'd push it back into its little box in the back of my head. Then came a time when I realized it was a big deal, and I started to think that this event was what changed everything. That if I hadn't had that day, then my life would be perfect. Now I realize there are reasons why I let this happen to me. It's not my fault, and I really couldn't stop it, but there are reasons why I just let it go.We lived in a privately funded project for single moms. My mom was raising three of us and I was the youngest. My mother and sister suffered from depression and severe undiagnosed hypothyroidism, a combination which caused crazy mood swings, uncontrollable depression. And in my mother's case it caused a nervous breakdown when I was five, and in my sister's case a suicide attempt when I was about seven or eight years old. I don't remember my mom's breakdown, really. But I remember my sister's suicide attempt, and I remember reading her note to me and knowing what it meant. My brother was an ass to me, as many older brothers are, and I thought I hated him. But I also knew that if anyone else tried stuff with me, he'd try to protect me.

Then we got kicked out of the neighborhood for not following one of the owners' new idiotic rules. So we moved in with my mother's sister until we could find a place. I loved my aunt; we'd spent every major holiday with her and the cousins since I could remember. We saw them every Sunday at church, and the cousins had been friends forever. My sister and oldest cousin were the same age, and then my brother and the Boy were the same age. I liked to hang out with the boys because they were the closest to me in age, and there was some definite hero worship there.

One day during that summer after third grade, my mom and aunt and sister and older cousin were gone. I don't know where or for how long. My brother and the Boy and I were playing around the house, and we ended up in the one bedroom that was set aside for my four person family. There was a daybed and a trundle bed. I don't remember what led up to it, and after more than a decade of repressing the memory, that still somehow pisses me off. I remember that the Boy cousin was lying down, clothed, under the blankets, and my brother was standing at the bedroom door. I remember the way the feeling of the room seemed to be building toward some big climax and that my brother wasn't really sure what was happening.  We were both a little frightened of the Boy. And then, he unzipped his pants and told me that I could leave the room, but only after I put my mouth on his erect penis. He called it his happy boy. I tried to leave, still laughing awkwardly thinking it was some sort of joke. But my brother blocked the door. I had to get back on the bed, and put my head under the blanket and put my mouth on him. I remember the color, the taste, the weight of the blanket on my head. I ran out of the room, and to the bathroom to wash out my mouth. We were all laughing and joking, but there was this new tenseness between the three of us.

Nearly two years later, I tried to tell. I told a couple friends and one of them went with me to tell the school counselor. I tried to just tell her, and leave, like a quick confession, but she stopped me. I was there for probably about an hour, telling her what happened. She tried to tell me it was just my teenage cousin and brother experimenting and playing games. When I got home, I learned she had called my mother. If that wasn't embarrassing enough, my mother had called her sister to verify the story with the Boy. She told me that my brother and cousin denied it, and they'd said they were just playing a game. I felt like she didn't believe me. Now who was I supposed to trust?

I spend the next eight years using sex to get and keep men. I thought I was only worth what I was willing to do. This warred with my moral beliefs that held sex as a sacred thing to be shared only in a marriage. I wanted to save myself for marriage. But during my senior year and the summer that followed, each man (for I only dated older men) received a little more of my body than the one before. I married at twenty and cheated on him for the first time around our second anniversary. It wasn't sex, but I felt so guilty and dirty, and started to pull away from my husband. I was already drinking heavily and frequently, but my alcohol intake increased, until one night a friend convinced me to go back to his place and we had sex. I remember a total of 10 minutes during those four hours. I remember trying to stop it, and being talked into it. I remember my husband frantically calling my cell phone to make sure I was safe. And I remember driving home, still drunk and feeling horrible, at four a.m. I sank into an affair with that man, convinced by his attention that he loved me or at least wanted me. His attention made me feel so good, and I didn't even recognize how manipulating he was. How he twisted things to make it seem like I was the temptress, how I asked for this affair. I had one night stands, and told this man about them. They turned him on, and we ended up bringing porn into our sexual encounters. I tried to end it three times, and during one of those he slept with someone else. He told me about it, but lied and said they didn't end up having sex. I caught an STD from her through him and lied to my husband to get him to take medicine for it with me.

After only six months I'd gone from having only one sexual partner ever, to having had seven and several online affairs and a pornography addiction. I finally sought help from a minister. After nearly a year of counseling, I was able to tell him about what my cousin and brother had done to me. It was the most freeing thing in the world. He showed me how this had skewed my ideas of sex and affection, and he helped me to understand this was not my fault. After more than a decade of not dealing with this event, it suddenly consumed my days. I knew that I’d have to talk about it, and I panicked considering the prospect of opening that little box and showing the contents. But it took only weeks to go from having my new nightmares and panic attacks to being able to talk to people about what happened. Months later, I can share my story. It's not easy, but my mouth doesn't freeze and my heart doesn't try to choke me when I tell. I confessed everything to my husband, and we have built in only a year, a marriage that continues to please and surprise me. We are closer than ever, more open and honest, talking about starting a family. But the most important thing for us was my new-found relationship with God. Jesus is the only thing that brought me through my drug and alcohol abuse, my sex addiction, my wrecked self-esteem and my ruined marriage. I feel so free and loved and cherished. And now, I want nothing more than to help others who are hurting.

I understand now, why my cousin did those things to me, and I hope that he has received or will receive help. I have learned that my mother never didn’t believe me. I told my sister recently about my conversation with my mother all those years ago, and she pointed out that my mother would never believe my cousin, a sexually active teenager with a drug addiction and discipline problems, over her previously untroubled daughter. I understand why my childhood and teenage years played out as they did. And I know that these things that happened are a reason why I can help people. I have been there, I have been somewhere like where you or they are, and I have made it through.

Whatever happened to you, no matter what you did or didn't do, it is not your fault. Whether or not you fought back, whether or not you 'asked for it', it is not your fault. And if you were a child, especially, there is no excuse for taking advantage of someone who doesn't have the knowledge, strength, or ability to fight back. A part of your childhood was ripped and stolen from you. You were the victim. But you don't have to be anymore. You have survived. You are a survivor. Whatever you have done to survive this far has succeeded in getting you this far. But you can find something new to help you survive, something that gives you hope and freedom and the confidence to trust, and to be loved and cherished and love fully and openly in return. Your future is brighter than you may ever have dreamed possible, and you are worth it.