How Years Of Unspeakable Abuse Drove Me To Homelessness

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upset woman

I was a naïve 16-year-old girl from a two-street light town who was studying to become a concert pianist when my boss’ husband sexually assaulted me on the job while my boss was in the hospital. 

My parent's insistence that I return to the job with the perpetrator — despite knowing what happened to me — made me question my ability to make mature decisions.

I began to doubt myself profoundly. I also became paranoid that the perpetrator was going to kill me when he overheard me telling my best friend about what had happened. I was deeply traumatized because this man was also a trusted friend of our family.

A few months later, I went on a date with a guy who lived in the adjoining neighborhood. He was new in town, but my next-door neighbor was dating his younger brother, so it seemed safe.

I was horrified and confused when he picked up two other guys from our school en route to the date.

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I began to break out into a sweat and my heart began to pound. “What is going on?” I asked myself. “This is not what was supposed to happen — why are they here?” 

My date then proceeded to drive out into the country on a desolate, dirt road. I was told to get in the back seat. All three of them sexually assaulted me.

It seemed like an eternity before they were finished. I kept quiet, but inside I was screaming in rage and fear.

I would learn much later in my life that my abuser planned the whole thing. 

My abuser had previously committed statutory rape on a 13-year-old girl (with an accomplice) when he was in his early 20s. I blamed myself for not screaming and fighting, but who would have heard me? And anyway, he made sure that if I did scream, no one would hear me but the three men who assaulted me.

When he dropped me off in my driveway after the heinous assault, I walked away carrying the shame that all three of them should have been carrying. I was deeply ashamed to go to school.

I told absolutely nobody: not my parents, a trusted girlfriend, a school counselor, not a soul. 

I did not understand that dropping out of all school functions, isolating myself from friends and family, and barely being able to attend classes was a result of my assault. I was carrying a world of shame around with me

I thought that because a gun or knife was not held to me that I was weak and could have prevented the gang sexual assault on me. The truth was that had I fought, the guy who planned the whole incident may have become violent and I could have been injured or even killed while the other two guys looked on in fear.

By the time I was 20 years old, I had already been married and divorced. 

I never received treatment for the abuse that happened to me in high school and thought that I just had ‘bad luck’ in relationships. 

I jumped into a second marriage and thought he was ‘the one’, but after 2 ½ years, he betrayed me and was having an affair. 

Because I had lost so much self-confidence, I walked away with nothing from that marriage even though I had contributed heavily financially to it. 

This was a turning point in my life. 

I was experiencing a plethora of PTSD symptoms due to the sexual assault and how they left my mental and emotional state of mind. But, because I was such a strong, proud young woman, I thought seeking help was a sign of weakness. 

Plus, the mental state that PTSD createalso told me I didn't need help and I continued to blame myself for what had happened to me. The shame grew in me like a cancer. Turns out, the result of untreated sexual assault is choosing unhealthy people to be in relationships with.

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Because I had no one to help me see that I needed extensive psychotherapy for my sexual trauma, I continued my downward spiral. 

I met Donovan when I was 28 years old and our relationship moved very quickly. 

I was ‘staying over’ at his place one night when the handsome, normal man I thought I had fallen in love with turned into a raging monster.  It began with him slapping me across the face. He then dragged me into the living room, threw me down on the carpet, and punched me in the face.

I felt his hands lock around my neck and he began to squeeze.  As I was starting to see stars, he finally let go. I walked out and broke up with him, but a couple of weeks later he phoned, begging for my forgiveness saying he would never do it again. Because of my untreated abuse trauma from high school which led to my very low self-esteem, I chose to believe him. 

I ended up marrying him and moving far away from my hometown and loved ones (who, of course, still didn't know about my abuse.) 

Far away from friends and family, the abuse accelerated and included severe emotional and verbal abuse as well as physical abuse.

Through the mentoring of a co-worker, I got the courage to devise a safe escape plan. Then, the day came when I called him at work and told him when he got home that night I would not be there — that I was leaving him. I divorced him.

After taking a six-month break from dating, I got into yet another three-year relationship with a man who betrayed me. After that breakup, I vowed to myself to get my life on track. I still had yet to receive any mental health treatment.

I was doing better when I met a tall, dark, and handsome guy. 

He hid his crack addiction extremely well and I spiraled downward with him — he was on drugs and I drank a lot to keep up. 

After I finally got the courage to leave him, I became homeless: a new rock bottom for me. 

I showered on the beach during the day and tried to sleep in my car in hotel parking lots during the night,  and I became terrified that I would get raped or killed. 

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I called my parents asking them for help, but never told them about all the abuse I had suffered in my teenage years and marriage.

With their financial help, I looked into the mirror and was able to see I was broken into many pieces. 

That was the moment that I vowed to myself that I would not let allow myself to go any lower in life and would seek help. 

When I sought help, I was given multiple diagnoses — too many to be mentioned here — and told I was only capable of pouring coffee somewhere. 

I had to gather all the strength and courage within me to not let a medical professional's words define me.  I inherently knew that ‘giving back’ would be my first step toward my own wellness, so I volunteered at a domestic abuse women’s agency as a crisis support group facilitator. 

The training was rigorous. I not only aced it but I was hired.  I was so good at my job, they invited me to participate in staff meetings, even though I was a volunteer. I fought through debilitating social anxiety to attend the meetings and began to show myself who I truly was: a woman with a light inside her that could not be extinguished. 

Today, I have written my memoir and am a certified professional life coach and health coach. 

I continue my healing journey and delight in getting to know the woman I always was. She was buried underneath abuse and trauma and I uncover new aspects of her every day.

Remember: Your body is yours, so if anything has happened that you know, deep inside, is inappropriate or a violation, tell someone immediately. 

Do your best to choose someone that you feel is worthy of your trust. Then, from there, you can take the next steps — whether they be to contact the authorities or not — keep going, don’t stop there. 

Get help through a hotline, a therapist qualified to deal with sexual assault, or a support group geared toward sexual assault

If you don’t have outward signs of the incident, that does not mean that you are not injured inside.  Doing all these steps, for as long as you need to, will allow you to heal and move forward versus letting the wounding fester and put you in a downward spiral. Healing allows you to move upward to a new way of being.

Sexual abuse of adults is common. RAINN also reports that every 73 seconds, an American is a victim of sexual violence. As with children, females are far more likely to be abused and assaulted, and 90% of victims who are adults are women. This is especially prevalent among women who also happen to be college students, which makes their risk three times greater.

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Arielle Spring is a life and health coach. In her book When Birds Sing: My Journey from Trauma to Triumph she shares how her idyllic life spiraled out of control for over 20 years due to experiencing many traumas.