Facing My Past is When I Became Free

A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to go back to the area where many of my childhood nightmares were formed. It is also a place that holds many cherished memories.  At one time I struggled with that fact, however, Monday proved to me that somehow I was blessed with a balance of experiences to allow me a foundation to step out on for my healing journey.

The reason that opportunity came about was due to the fact I had to drive my two sons into Chicago so they could take a bus back to Memphis after a few short days home in Mauston for a benefit Kyle performed at.  I was already in a fragile mood as I hate seeing my children leave - I so wished we could have had some more time together, but the whirlwind of the few days they were here wouldn't allow for that.

Last Friday was when they arrived and I picked them up. On that drive, we stopped by the cemetery where my father is buried - All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, IL. We didn't have a lot of time as Kyle needed to be in Mauston that evening for a practice session with the band, Bangers and Mash, that were backing him up at the performance. We had long enough just to clean off my Dad's headstone and the boys buried some items in the ground along the edge of that stone, little things that served as a symbol they were there and he will always be with them.

My boys getting ready to return back to their home in Memphis.
Justin is on the left and Kyle is on the right. 
Time slipped away from us on that return trip to Chicago,  traffic and construction made sure of that. But, on the way home I took the scenic route and surface streets, winding through Evanston, Illinois, a place that will always be the hometown in my heart. It was that community that provided me with the seeds of hope balancing out some of the evil that once touched the little girl that I was

I love the city -every time I am in one of the larger metro areas I feel myself coming alive. The hustle and bustle is exhilarating - witnessing all the diversity contained within the neighborhoods fills me with promise. Around every corner is a new experience, history mixed with innovation. There's no doubt, I am a city girl.

My childhood home in Evanston. 
This city girl tested herself on Monday. With me taking the boys into Chicago was my friend, Julie.  She had never been to Evanston before so it was her first time seeing those mansions on along the lakefront. My excitement being back home in Evanston had to be obvious to her. I wondered if she was picking up on my slight bit of anxiety. That anxiety stemmed from the unknown - how I would react to seeing ..actually being...right in front of the apartment building I loved but at the same time, dreaded. It has been decades since I've driven past it, and this was the first time I've been back since telling my story in a public forum. Would there be triggers? Would that PTSD kick in? Would I have flashbacks to being 8 and 9 years old and that neighbor sexually assaulting me? How would I feel when I would see the door area to the storage room where I kept my bike, and where it was the first time he grabbed at me.  That Vietnam veteran who had only been home from the war for a few short years, a man my father respected - the neighbor who had those precious dogs I adored; Kelly the German Shepherd and Duke the Great Dane.

Our porch was on the top floor. 
I wondered how I would feel seeing that back porch area, a porch we shared with two neighbors. One of which was Carol, a single woman who treated me like a little sister.  She took me on Saturdays to swim laps with her at the YWCA which always ended with a trip to Arby's near Howard Street. Many evenings we'd walk my family's dog, Pirate, down to Lake Michigan and watch the waves come into shore. I loved those times, the smell of the lake, the sand, the air and all the birds scanning the beach for a treasure to eat. So many sights and sounds. The Chicago skyline was off to the south in the distance. The lake had no end, reminding me that there was so much more in the world to see and experience. Even back then there was a gypsy soul in the small child I was.

I needed those days with Carol even though then I didn't realize why nor how important they would be for my future healing. Those days came after the very first time I was ever molested at the age of 5 and when we lived in a different apartment building in Evanston. I didn't know then that I had been previously molested. All I knew was when the 16-year-old neighbor boy cornered me in the foyer of the building and made me touch what I only knew to be his "private parts" and he forcibly touched me, I felt a heaviness to my spirit that wasn't there before - I was different in a way I didn't understand and that I needed to follow his instructions in being "a good little girl" and not tell anyone. That first attacker would one day end up being my junior high bus driver seven years later, and when I lived in a different city, ten miles away from Evanston. That story is one I will tell in another posting.
I was about 4 or 5, right before the very first time
I was ever molested. 

Those days with Carol offered me a balance of hope to the evil that touched my life at 5 years old and at the hands of that other neighbor, Mike. He lived with another man. I cannot remember his name, all I can remember was that he was a school teacher who rode his bicycle to work as much as possible. When he would take Duke out, he didn't need to pedal that bike, Duke would do all the work. I remember my parents questioning why one time Mike and his friend painted the walls to their apartment black. "The landlord will have something to say about that, " commented my father.  You could see the black walls from that back porch through their kitchen window, a window we had to walk by to get to our back door. I can remember thinking the black walls matched my emotions everytime that neighbor was brought up in conversation.  They also matched the dark closed closet in my mind where I held on to the memories, the truths - the horrors, of what he did to me - how he groped at me every chance he got...downstairs in the storage room or after knocking on my backdoor, fully knowing I was alone in the apartment. It got to the point where every time he was at that backdoor I would crawl down the long hallway in our apartment and hide in the walk-in closet until I was sure he was gone.

As an adult who turned into an advocate,  looking back at some of those memories, I once realized something that sent shivers down my spine. I wasn't the only kid in that apartment building to know his evil. The memories painted a picture of pure evil - the boy downstairs from us was the same age as me - just 8 years old. He always wanted to play a game that made me uncomfortable. He wanted all his friends to pose naked so he could pretend to take their photos, just like the man upstairs did. That man would have been my neighbor. I shudder to think about the abuse that boy downstairs suffered.  I will probably never know to what extent...I pray that he has found healing.

The time frame this was all happening, the mid-70s, I suffered yet other assaults from another adult male. Someone married into our family. It all happened away from that apartment building in Evanston but the attacks were more traumatic. They started out slowly like most do - child molesters groom their victims, waiting for the right time to attack.

It was the last one from him that caused me the most trauma. I was 9 years old and was spending the night at their home, sleeping on the couch. He had been out that night and returned in the middle of the night and during a thunderstorm. I awoke to the odor of wet leather from his boots and jacket by the couch and then also the alcohol on his breath. He was groping at me and I felt pain, intense pain, it was then I looked out the window concentrating on the storm outside- how much time passed, I do not know.  The next thing I can remember was his hand over my mouth, and him telling me if I told anyone he would murder my entire family and that I needed to be a "good little girl." He then took his leave and I laid there on the couch, in pain, emotional and physical. I had no words to define what had just happened. I was a little girl.

A week later I was back at his home with my parents. We were there for supper. I sat emotionless and made not one sound. I was trying as hard as I could to keep that secret and my family alive. All I wanted to do was vomit.

Yes, these were extremely traumatic experiences that could have broken me for the rest of my life had it not been for the balance of hope that also entered my world. In addition to the fond memories of my time spent with Carol, there was the peace I felt at St. Nicholas Church. A church that we attended and was just one block up from my home at 900 Washington Ave.

The back alley doorway shortcut is now bricked up. 
I loved everything about that church. On the days when I was alone, I would often walk up that hill and enter the church to sit in a pew by myself. Sometimes I would take a shortcut through our back alley. At the end of the alley was a doorway by some garages that led to some stairs up a small incline on that hill.  It was a route my mother forbade me from taking. She said bad things could happen to me in that dark and secluded doorway. What she didn't know was bad things were already happening to me at home.

St. Nicholas Catholic Church,
Evanston IL.
I felt protected within the beautiful walls of St. Nicholas Church. I  would get lost in staring at the stained glass windows relaying the life of Jesus. The statue of the Virgin Mary offered a lost little girl nurturing I so badly needed and longed for, even though I truly didn't understand why.

 I would sit in that pew and try to imagine what it was like for my grandparents when they were married all those years before at St.   Nicholas. Grandpa (August Woywod) had made a life in America, far from his home in Prussia and once settled in Evanston he sent for the love of his life, my Grandma (Bertha Keuchel) to marry him in what would be their new home, their new country.

 St. Nicholas Church was my sanctuary. The doors were always open back then, and whenever I needed some peace and safety.

My trip on Monday brought back those memories. I knew they would make it to the forefront of my mind, I wanted them to. I needed to see if I had made it to a point in my healing where I felt the balance of good and evil or would the evil trigger a PTSD response within me? I am happy to report that this trip I was able to realize all the good outweighed the bad.

I needed to know that before I dive back into my project I started a couple of years ago - When I Became Free. It is something I need to do, this I know. I feel destined to do and complete it.  It has been on the backburner for a couple of reasons.  Soon after originally starting it is when my editor at the paper I worked at was diagnosed with cancer. All my focus and time went to the paper and then also to help my son, Kyle - who was busy building a music career. My project was side-tracked due to not enough time, energy, nor money. Since resigning from the paper last month, I now have more time. I am building up my energy...and, hopefully, the financial part will also fall into place. It is now or never to complete this project - and now I know I am ready.

The goal of this project is to locate abuse survivors who have moved beyond the dark moments from their past and want to use their life experience to create better tomorrows for others. In doing so they share their stories, owning their life experiences and help guide others to do the same.
At the end of the project, I hope to have completed a book and video detailing this remarkable journey.

In just a couple of weeks, I am kicking off the rebirth of the #WhenIBecameFree project with a local speaking engagement in Mauston, Wisconsin. I hemmed and hawed about charging a ticket price, but reality set-in. I need to fund this project and the time I put into it. The $20 fee will help purchase some gas to travel beyond my county and those who attend will receive a copy of the project's outcome, an e-book, once it is completed and published.

I've never been good about charging for my services and all the things I do, however this year I am working on me and realizing my own worth and as well as my limitations. If all of this is meant to be, all the puzzle pieces will fall together. I believe they already have.

If you would like to help me see this project through, you can donate via PayPal. I so want others who have experienced abuse, whether it is child sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence or sexual assault as an adult, to know there is hope - I want them to realize the balance so they can step out on to that foundation of their healing journey.

Having experienced all those forms of abuse my life could have turned out differently, and I know now that it was those seeds of hope and comfort that helped me along the way to be able to share all that I do and offer guidance to those on their healing journey.

Yes, I truly believe in that old saying, Everything Happens for a Reason - even the evil that touches our lives -somewhere along the way that evil can be learned from and those lessons can turn into seeds of hope for others.


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