by Cayelin K Castell
I have been thinking about sharing this story for a long time now in support of others who have been through similar and even more challenging experiences. It is scary for me to do this and it feels important to honor those who have had the courage to step up and risk so much to bring what has been in the shadow for them – into the light.
This is an October 2018 post inspired by the September, 2018 events that played out so dramatically I found myself deeply and powerfully affected in ways I had not imagined I would be.
It is Personal – Not Political
This is NOT about a political ideology. I do my best to stay out of the “this is right and this is wrong” political polarization I see happening, especially as it has escalated in recent times. Sharing my story is not meant to further fuel the polarization as that is not helpful.
What I am sharing is what I’ve experienced and how troubling it is we live in a world that continues to minimize the challenges of sexual abuse victims. In addition to the main story I am about to share – I have experienced sexual assault and harassment in other arenas listed in my timeline below.
Those in positions of power have had free reign to terrorize and abuse both men and women in many of the places where we should feel safe and protected including home, family, work place, government and religious institutions. Something that seems so striking to me is the denial of the abusers and the lasting impact these experiences have caused so many, including those in personal relationship with the victims. I was married to a victim (explained further on) and the effects were traumatic for him and ultimately his loved ones, children, family, friends and of course Me Too.
For me the question is – how to do we heal and forgive while also creating a climate of accountability for all involved? How do we do this without turning it into a political circus so genuine healing can occur? I don’t have answers and it seems the answers have been illusive. Yet, the courage of the women and men who have come forward to share their Me Too story is already having an impact in raising awareness around how prevalent this has been and continues to be. Often simply being heard, believed and supported affects a potent and under estimated empowering start to the healing process.
My Me Too Story
When I was 13 years old (in 1969) my father molested me. I didn’t even know what the word molested really meant when it happened. It was many years before I fully understood that was what had happened to me. The impact on my life has been far-reaching and long-lasting. I was so ashamed and terrified by the events that took place I never spoke about them with anyone including my younger sister (a little over a year younger than me) who was also molested at the same time.
Neither of us had the ability to speak about what happened to us even though we were both in the room when it happened. I was 40 years old (1996) when I finally gathered the courage to ask my father for a boundary so I could feel safe around him. I was fortunate to have support from women who had been through a similar experience. Without their encouragement I wouldn’t have been able to ask my father to stop kissing me on the mouth when we said hello or good-bye. I made it clear I wasn’t accusing him of anything but due to an event that had occurred 27 years earlier I simply needed to limit our interaction to hugs.
Finding the courage to ask him for that boundary was scary and I had a feeling it could and most likely would have harsh consequences because that was how my father had always treated me. I was mostly prepared for the possibility and of course it did happen.
My father’s response was to go into a rage – deny it happened – blame and shame me for bringing it up – and call me a liar. He was certain I had to be lying because he had no recollection of the event. Never mind that he was drunk when it took place.
I was Punished for Speaking Up
He angrily set out to punish me as severely as he possibly could. Luckily, I did not experience death threats like Christine Blasey Ford for her testimony about Brett Cavanagh. I was, however, disowned and disinherited. My father made it clear he wanted nothing to do with me or anyone who would remind him of me – meaning my children, his grandchildren – ever again.
16 years later my father died (Age 81) and true to his word he never spoke to me or my children again. I was fortunate to have a counselor (8 years after he disowned me in 2004) who upon hearing my story shared with me that my father was clearly an extremely narcissistic personality disorder and the greatest gift he could’ve possibly given me and my children was to disown us. She assured me that there was nothing I could’ve ever said or done that would’ve changed the way he was.
Narcissists, especially extreme narcissists, can never admit to having ever done anything wrong. They are really good at blaming and shaming others – as well as rewriting in their minds whatever happened – truly believing their version of events. This is what we saw play out in September 2018 with total denial and a vengeful, angry “I will get back at you for putting me through this” response.
History shows that women (and often men too) who come forward are usually re-victimized, disbelieved, and punished in some way creating the reality that it is not safe to come forward. Hence, much of the trauma around what has happened to so many stays in the shadows.
It’s time for men and women to support one another in changing the culture so that sexual predators can no longer hide in the shadows using intimidation and fear to get away with their crimes.
My Timeline on this Issue
Some of these events below are describing how men have made assumptions about me and acted on those assumptions. Others may be my assumptions about what I thought they were thinking. I keep remembering more so this list is still in progress.
Age 13 My Father Molested Me as described above.
Teenage years I also experienced (well into my 40’s) catcalls and whistles from men working construction or driving by. I was conflicted because in a way I liked the attention (as it was the opposite of what I expected – believing I wasn’t attractive). However, the reality for me was my predominant feeling when this happen is I felt unsafe and uncomfortable at the same time.
Age 16 Dated a boy who grabbed me inappropriately without apology, so I ended our relationship.
Also, that summer I was on a Greyhound bus – my sister and I were expected by our parents to travel home by bus, by ourselves. On the bus I found myself unexpectedly sitting next to a young man who tried to put his hands down my pants. I tried to scoot away. When that didn’t deter him I demanded he stop and he did. I was terrified.
A boy I met while camping with my parents that summer showed up at my home wanting to have sex with me before he turned 18 the next month because I would then be jail bait to him. I was shocked and said no.
Age 19 to 21 I was sexually assaulted in college by 3 different male students. In one case I was too afraid to say no.
I was also assaulted by a co-worker during this time. He backed me into a dark room and pushed himself up against me. When I got visibly upset he back away. I was deeply shaken and terrified the rest of the time I was at that job.
Age 23 On a return flight from Hawaii with my first husband sitting next to me, a man sitting on the other side of me loudly exclaims to his wife that he had never seen someone so skinny with such big “tits” as me. She tried to get him to be quiet but he loudly went on and on. Everyone around us heard him. I felt humiliated and embarrassed.
Age 32 A home repair person “came onto” me when my first husband was not there.
That year I was also hired for a job as a leasing agent. Later the owner of the company made several remarks when I was alone in his office with him about how he wished he wasn’t married with children because I was so beautiful. I pretended I didn’t hear him and ignored his comments. After that I avoided being alone with him as I never again felt safe when he was around.
Age 40 I was disowned and disinherited by my father when I asked him for a boundary.
Age 45 I was at a conference when a man (who I admit I was attracted to) began suggesting we could have a fling. We were both married so I said no and felt deeply disturbed by the incident. Some years later we did connect briefly.
Age 46 I was stunned when I found out my second husband had been sexual abused as a child, 12 years into our marriage. It was his “dirty little secret” because he was so ashamed it happened to him and he had never planned on telling me. It came out because he was proving his point during an argument we were having.
Later that year, on a trip to Peru I was unexpectedly and passionately kissed by our guide. I was mortified it happened and equally mortified that I felt an attraction to this person. I didn’t know it then but it was one of many catalytic awakenings that help set me free when my second husband asked for a divorce 3 years later because he didn’t want to continue counseling and processing his own sexual abuse.
At age 50 I happily married my BHE (Best Husband Ever). I had done a lot of counseling and personal work to come to terms with these prior events and I feel my current relationship with him reflects my success.
Age 62. (Note: in September 2018 at the time I wrote this article I was in a (new to me) circle of women. They were shocked to find out I was 62 as they all thought I was 42. I love that!) Most importantly, I am happier than I have ever been having reached a place of compassionate forgiveness for my self and others around these and other events that have happened to me.
I find myself reflecting on the challenge both women and men face around these issues. I experienced the devastating effect it can have on men first hand with my second husband. Based on what I learned about this issue since that revelation – I am certain my father experienced sexual abuse as well. He had it so well buried and repressed (having re-written his story so thoroughly) he was certain it had never happened to him but he had all the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms my second husband displayed.
This is a deeply complicated and painful topic for many and it deserves to be approached with great compassion as we learn how to shine a light on this long hidden shadow so it can be transformed through greater awareness. It will take time and willingness to create a different culture around something that has been repressed and denied for centuries. This link has more on Forgiveness and Forgiveness practices – scroll down the page to find it.
Willingness to speak up and stick together is creating change.
The Me Too movement will hopefully continue to inspire every one of us to speak up knowing we have the support of others who are ready to say NO MORE to the kind of sexual misbehavior that has such a far-reaching traumatic effect on its victims. It is time to support each other in having the courage to speak up. Sitting quietly by allows it to continue. A tsunami of change is already on its way.
Find out more about this movement and how you can participate. https://metoomvmt.org
In 2019 I was sent this link so have updated this article to include this important guide on women’s safety that came out recently focused on social media harassment and other online venues. It was written by women for women and empowers women to protect themselves with a few tips for each situation and how to take action to protect yourself.
Below is a link to an article about recent events that inspired me to write my story. I was in tears watching Christine Blasey Ford testify as it brought up so much for me. Brett Kavanaugh’s reaction reminded me so much of my father’s angry reaction bringing up so many feelings of not being believed, shamed and punished. I felt myself reliving it as I watched, knowing I am not alone and that many had the same experience helped me to write this and I am grateful.
Yes I feel deeply affected by this as do so many who have been through similar (or worse) experiences. Regardless of how this all plays out – I am grateful for the opportunity to dive deeper into how sexual assault affects us all. Even if you have never been sexually assaulted it has likely affected someone you love – partners, family, friends, co-workers.
I know from personal experience it creates a lasting affect on all relationships – until and even after choosing to deal with it.