What Happened When I Told the Truth?

What Happened When I Told the Truth?

what happened when i told the truth

My name is Lee Reinecke, and when I was in graduate school to become a school psychologist, I was advised to have some counseling sessions at the university. If I was to develop empathy for others who needed the assistance of a mental health professional, I should know what it felt like to sit in the chair across the desk. I had been married for three years and was having no luck conceiving a baby, thus, thought I would discuss my frustration and sadness with the therapist.

After our initial ten minutes, the counselor speculated, “You don’t seem like the type who lets a man get you pregnant.”

A flash of indignation rose and I tearfully disclosed that a friend’s stepfather had rammed his finger into my vagina twice in the swimming pool one afternoon when I was six, that my brother (four years older than I) had molested me between the ages of seven and ten, culminating in sodomy before I learned to stay the hell away from him. I disclosed that when I was twelve I’d had a crush on one of my brother’s classmates and we soon sneaked away just long enough for him to steal my virginity in the backseat of his brother’s car.

The rage and sadness I felt made me sweat, cry, and curse. The counselor was right; I probably wasn’t the type to allow a man to impregnate me. My feelings of vulnerability and being damaged, my hypervigilance kept my eyes scanning for an ‘out,’ kept every muscle tensed.

That first of at least eight therapists was a great listener and her face was free of judgment and disgust. She applauded the six-year-old who stayed away from her friend’s house until the stepdad had left for his second-shift job. She didn’t shame the little sister who was duped with bribes of candy, soda, shooting a b-b gun, or driving her dad’s Studebaker. When I shouldered the blame for the clandestine meetings when I was in seventh grade, said I should have known better, she pulled a picture of herself out of an album and said a girl that age isn’t at fault when a sixteen-year-old commits statutory rape. She believed every word, reflected my anguish, and called me courageous, a survivor.

I was twenty-five, trembling, and feeling as if my foundation had crumbled. I had carried a couple of those secrets for nearly twenty years, presenting to the world a high-achieving, every-hair-in-place, confident persona. That sudden exposure, feeling adrift made me question whether silence hadn’t been the wiser choice.

But she encouraged me to come back the next week, that things would get easier, that I didn’t need to be constantly on the lookout for danger, that I could be strong without rigid defenses. I kept my appointments for months. I became pregnant and learned a great deal about child sexual assault.

Although reluctant to upset her, I told my sister, two years older than I, about the incest. Since our brother had often hit us both with his fists and shot us in the back of the legs with his b-b gun, I wondered if he had also exploited her. She was sympathetic and supportive of me but said that he had not molested her. One of our uncles had exploited her on one occasion in our home, so she could identify with my rage and fear about the safety of our own children.

When I first told my husband about the incest, our firstborn was two years old. I’d been to a Saturday morning lecture by a nationally renowned psychologist who spoke about the family home being a shelter from the perils of the world. I’d put our son down for a nap and we’d gone to bed for some afternoon delight. My husband touched me in a way that reminded me of something my brother had done, and I disintegrated to tears, pouring out the story. My husband covered my torso with the sheet and held me close. He comforted me and didn’t ask questions but expressed contempt for the harm my brother had done.

In my opinion, the most critical factor when telling the truth about childhood sexual abuse is that the person you tell is a ‘safe’ individual for you. My brother was our mother’s favorite, her only son, and if I had told her, she may not have believed me, or may even have defended him. Although I felt like I was my dad’s favorite, he was a hunter and had a volatile temper. I was afraid to tell him even about the neighbor man’s abrupt, abusive act. When my parents learned about my exploits with the sixteen-year-old, they were livid with me, said I had ‘asked for it’ and called me a ‘whore.’ They grounded me for six months, saying that if I didn’t ‘walk the chalk,’ they’d send me to reform school.

I encourage anyone who is contemplating disclosing childhood sexual assault to research support groups, counselors, and services in your area. Think about talking with a close friend, a relative, or a coworker whom you trust to get their opinion about the format that might be the ‘best fit’ for you.

Even though the prospect of talking openly about sexual assault can be daunting, carrying the secret takes a toll on your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. There is help, healing, and an empowered life beyond the silence, and you deserve that fullness of life. God bless you on your journey to recovery!

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About Lee Reinecke

Lee Reinecke began her career as a children’s protective social worker, then practiced as a licensed school psychologist for thirty-four years. Following the birth of her oldest son, she participated in the first National Child Assault Prevention Project training in Columbus, Ohio. She founded the Child Assault Prevention Project in her home county, where she recruited a board of trustees and trained women to lead workshops for preschool and grade school children. In addition to evaluating children with special needs, Lee facilitated parenting and social skills classes in public schools. Since retiring, she volunteers as a spiritual mentor for middle school students at her church, with first-graders one day a week, and sews mittens and hats for the homeless. Read more at https://www.leereinecke.com/

5 Responses to What Happened When I Told the Truth?

  1. Katie says:

    Abuse is something that stays with you through out your life. It is sometimes buried deep within you and the fear, the hurt and emotional toll never seems to leave. The simplest things can awaken the hurt and emotions that you try so hard to bury. Out of no where they come back to haunt you. There’s so much more to say, and yet the pain sometimes envelopes you and prevents you from wanting to face the reality of your childhood. There’s so much I would like to share but sometimes it’s hard to voice the feelings within.

    • Lee Reinecke says:

      Katie, You’re right about abuse lingering in our minds, if not also in our bodies and souls. A certain touch, smell, or food can trigger us back to that powerless place where we were too young or powerless to protect ourselves. We sometimes waste energy trying to bury traumatic experiences, or are haunted by feelings of being damaged, guilty, or ashamed. Molly Baskette, in her 03/04/21 UCC devotional, wrote that “Many of us feel a lot of guilt and shame about the wrong things…our natural desires for food or intimacy or companionship…of our need for help even when doing hard things…In the meantime, if we could just feel proper shame for the proper things–the good we have failed to do and the harm we have done, our pride and pettiness, selfishness and temper–we might be able to let shame do its best work, and free us to do better.”

      I wonder if either of the following might decrease the fear and hurt you’re experiencing. What if you imagined your abuser(s) sitting in an empty chair beside you and you talk to them aloud about what they did to you, how it made you feel then, and how it makes you feel now. Or, what if you wrote your abuser(s) a letter sharing that same information (whether or not you ever plan to give it to them)? In either case, you could re-write the outcome by telling them how you would have liked to protect yourself, and what they could have done differently that would have honored your innocence. You could stress that their behavior was wrong and that the abuse was not your fault, that your body and your emotions should have been respected. These efforts may release some toxins from your body and give you a sense of empowerment. Counseling with someone with expertise in the realm of sexual abuse would probably also provide some relief.

  2. Mrs. C says:

    I am dealing with a lot of anger due to incidents in my own childhood. Having things to happen to you as a child is bad enough but then being told: you are a liar, something is wrong with you mentally, its your fault. ETC… It does mess with you.

    • Lee Reinecke says:

      Abusers and, oftentimes, relatives or friends tend to doubt the accounts of child sexual assault. The specifics of the abuse are hard to hear; the thought of a teenager or adult molesting a child make most well-adjusted people feel sick. The misconception that child molesters are greasy-haired monsters in trench coats lead many to believe that child sexual assault only happens to a small fraction of children who put themselves in harm’s way. But research shows that one in four girls and one in seven boys in the US will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. It happens across ethnic, racial, socio-economic, geographical, and religious groups.

      You know the truth of your abuse and your anger is justifiable. I hope you have a friend, coworker, relative, counselor, or religious support person who can help you process your feelings and come out knowing you did the best you could, and with renewed strength.

  3. Dave Kronlund says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.
    I am inspired by your openness and commitment to self.

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