We Can’t Change Our Past
My name is Boriana Todorova. I live in Bulgaria, and I am a survivor of child sexual abuse.
Perhaps I should start with the fact that my father was an abusive alcoholic. He was the reason that my mother was in hospital several times to recover from severe beatings when I was still a baby.
Eventually one day in his drunken delirium he grabbed a knife and went to my baby bed saying now he is going to kill me – the baby he believed it wasn’t his. Then my mother ran away with me and finally decided to leave him and get a divorce.
My mother moved to another town with me. A few years later my father died of liver cancer, which followed naturally after many years of alcoholism.
The new town is where my sad story began. I was safe when I was still in kindergarten. But later when I was six years old I went to school, which was two minutes away from our block. So when I finished school about noon every day I was supposed to walk home alone. I had a key to our apartment on a necklace. And then home I was alone till my mother comes back from work. Every day.
This is when the abuse took place.
We had this wonderful neighbors family in the apartment next door. The parents were my mother’s colleagues. They had two teenage kids, a boy and a girl. They were supposed to check on me in the afternoon if I needed something, help with my homework or else.
The boy, I believe by then he was 15-16 years old. He usually invited me to their apartment or stayed in ours to make his deviant fantasies come true.
By then I didn’t realize what was going on. And somehow I even agreed to all these “doctor-patient games.” I don’t remember much of the abuse or many details. I have been trying so hard to forget about it all. I blocked the memories so deep in my mind that sometimes I wonder if it ever happened. But then a scene of it surfaces and I realize that nobody would make this up. Nobody would lie that this horrible things happened to him. Nobody wants to be a victim. And I was.
I learned a lot about child molestation recently and I know there should have been a grooming process when the molester wins your trust. But the truth is that I believed and trusted this guy because I’ve been told not to trust strangers, not to speak to strangers, not to take candies from strangers. So I never expected that the boogeyman is the guy next door. Perhaps I thought these things happen to everyone. And still it felt disgusting. The very few details I remember are him fondling me, touching me, making me touch him, trying to make me perform oral sex on him, trying to penetrate me-vaginally and anally. Sounds so gross when I write it now. But this is the truth and I finally have to face it. By then I didn’t have the words to describe his actions because children just don’t have the language and the knowledge about sex. I didn’t know this is inappropriate. I didn’t know this is a crime. I didn’t know that children are not meant to experience this. I didn’t know that this was called child abuse, rape, molestation. I didn’t understand what’s going on but I clearly remember my confused feelings afterwards.
The shame, the feeling that I am dirty and the feeling that this was my fault. The feeling that I hate my body because it was the “tool” that my abuser used to make me suffer. The feeling that if I didn’t say “no,” then I must have wanted it or even liked it. May be this was exactly what he wanted me to feel and believe. I remember him saying that this was our secret and I should never tell anyone.
And so this went on for some time, probably for 3 years. After this my grandmother moved to live with us so he never had a chance to get me alone in the apartment after school again. And this was over.
The sexual abuse was over. But my broken life and the consequences of the abuse just started. I remember clearly all the nights I was crying in my bed, in the dark, when everyone was asleep. And the bathroom was my “safe place.” I preferred to go there and cry because there nobody could hear me. I wanted so badly to be a good daughter and not to disappoint my mother. I knew she suffered enough from my abusive father. A “good” family friend told me about my father and his abuse to my mom.
After this I just couldn’t tell her. I didn’t want to break her heart. I believed she would blame me and she would hate me, because while I was growing up, I started realizing what happened to me and that it wasn’t right. And I believed it was completely my fault and I was so ashamed of it. Sometimes I didn’t know why I was crying. I just felt sad every time I went to bed at night. The very same bed where I was involved in sexual activities with my abuser.
I grew up so angry. I grew up hating the world and always feeling that no one understands me. I grew up so lonely keeping my secret, trying to forget it and acting as normal as I could. I desperately wanted to be like the other kids. I wanted to be normal. I tried to forget and pretend the abuse never happened.
When I was about 15, I started going out with the other girls. And this means wearing heels and make-up and going to bars and discos where we all were the center of attention. I loved that feeling. Men were watching me when I walk, when I dance, when I laugh, when I flirt. Then if someone wanted to buy us drinks, we accept it and just give them fake telephone numbers. The play, the feeling that I was in control and because of my looks and behavior I can influence them was great. Made me feel so powerful.
One night I went to a disco and two older guys approached me, then they brought me out of the disco, then in a taxi, then to another disco. I realized I was in trouble but how was I supposed to escape? In the disco the guys left me waiting at one table while they went to the bar to get some drinks. But they kept an eye on me. I thought I have no chance to escape and I knew what was going to happen after. Then another guy approached me and told me “These two, I know them. They are going to bring you somewhere after the disco and rape you. I will rescue you. Follow me. Trust me.” And so I did. I followed him to his car, sure that this was my savior. When his car passed by and missed my home, following the road to the woods I realized this guy wasn’t my savior at all. He was the other two guy’s leader and they brought me to him as a “prize.” Crying and screaming didn’t help. He hit me hard on the head and drove to the woods where he told me to undress. He said if I didn’t do it he would leave me alone in the woods. And this sounded more scary at the time. Still crying I undressed. He told me to perform oral sex on him, then to move on top of him. I was a virgin. I told him that. He said I am a bitch and he knows it and so I have to obey and do whatever he wants and stop to pretend I am an innocent virgin girl who never had sex before. Probably because I wasn’t performing well, his excitement went down and he was so angry. He hit me few more times and drove back to the disco where he said I am going to be punished for not satisfying him by being raped by all his other friends. Then getting out of the car in front of the disco I saw a taxi standing by and I took the chance. I went to the taxi and then home.
The rest of the night I spent crying in my room. Again I didn’t tell anyone. For the same reasons I guess like when I was a child. The days after I didn’t want to go to school any more. I was ashamed. I was afraid he will find me and do even worse to me. I hid in cafes drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, while I was supposed to be at school. When I was home I spent all the time in my room, writing sad poetry, listening to music, or just crying for hours and feeling sad.
One night I decided I couldn’t take it any more. It felt so hard to be me. I went to the cabinet where my mother kept her medicines. There was a big box of medicines for different aches. And I didn’t want my mother to understand what I have done (she would understand if I ended up dead which was my intention but at the time I didn’t think about this), so I took several of each kind. At the end I was in my room with about 40 pills in my hand. I also stole the brandy bottle from the fridge. And I decided this was it. I drank as much as I could. And I took all the pills. I even didn’t write a suicidal note because I still didn’t want to reveal what happened. My secrets were going to die with me. So I went to bed and waited to die.
At 7 a.m. my mother woke me up for school. I was alive. Nothing happened except I was feeling a little bit dizzy all day. I was so disappointed that I was such a “nothing” I even couldn’t end my life. I was condemned to suffer and I had to live my life. This sounded like a horrible “diagnose.” Death was the easy way to escape I thought. And I didn’t achieve it.
After the suicide attempt, which nobody is ever aware of, my path went down even more. All this sadness, loneliness, fear, shame – I hated it but I didn’t know how to handle it. I already knew what rape is and knew this is exactly what happened to me, twice. But I was still blaming myself. If I screamed or told someone, my abuser would be in jail. If I wasn’t such a mess as a teenager I would be in my bed instead of being the provocative girl, alone in a disco to be abducted and raped.
Time went by and I kept being lonely, sad and angry with every authority. I hated school and the teachers, and everyone who tried to tell me what to do in general. They kicked me out of school the very same year, months after the rape. Because I just didn’t go to school at one point. And I couldn’t tell anyone why. I graduated another school. But again I was my mother’s disappointment.
For the next years after the rape I went into one night stands, drinking, going out all the time and pretending that I am happy with this life. The truth was that I was a broken person with no light in my life. After discos I went home with random guys but every time waking up with the next guy, I felt sad and I felt guilty. Sometimes even while having sex I was crying. And at the time I couldn’t explain it. Looking for love, looking for attention, looking for understanding…. the only thing I dreamed of was that this guy tonight will call me back and we could have a relationship. And then I would be happy and all the sad times will be over. It never happened really. A girl, so easy to go home with, is never considered as a future girlfriend or wife.
I moved away from the town, started working in a summer resort as a waitress and there I kept this going on. All I cared about was to go out after work and get a good-looking guy and go home with him, dreaming this was finally the prince I was waiting for so long. It never happened to be the case. Men on vacation are after just one thing. And I used it to get what I wanted, or at least a part of it for the night at least I was going to be safe, loved, paid attention to, and most important –not alone in my apartment. And in the morning everything was the same again – work in the day, loneliness in the evening, then disco to find company again.
But did I ever like having sex? The answer is “no.” I did it though because in my mind this was the only way to can have control over a man, and this was the only way to make a man to give me some love, tenderness and attention. This is what I believed for so long.
Still I kept doing it but I never knew why if I feel so disappointed every time when the night was over. Obviously sex in exchange of love wasn’t a successful strategy. I was still the same sad and lonely little girl when I was alone. But at the time I thought – it was worth – I wasn’t alone in the nights.
In the meantime through the years I had a few relationships. But it seemed that this was always the case: I was too obsessed with the relationship so my partner couldn’t “breathe,” because I was too afraid not to lose the only person who really loves me. And then after some time together I was losing my feelings. It seemed to me – I will never be able to really love someone forever. One of my boyfriends proposed to me once and my only thought was “My whole life with this guy! How I am supposed to trust that he will love me all life and to trust myself that I would love him forever too?”. So then I broke up with him.
Trust and the lack of trust is one if the biggest issues that sexual abuse victims experience (I am aware of that now, but by then I didn’t have an explanation). Then I thought was I ever going really to be able to love and trust someone?
Every single bad memory was buried deep within and by just not thinking about it, it felt like it never happened. Denial. This was my only way to deal with everything what happened. In psychology the definition for this defense mechanism is “the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. It is considered one of the most primitive of the defense mechanisms because it is characteristic of early childhood development. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit.” This is exactly what I did for years.
And besides all the “effects” of the abuse I should mention also the low self-esteem I always had. It is more than normal to hate the body that was the “tool” for your torture and brought you not just physical but emotional and psychological trauma. But of course when you are “there” you don’t realize it. You just don’t like yourself. I never did. I always thought I am not pretty enough or I am not slim enough, or tall enough. And it is more than natural to hate the person you believe is guilty of what happened-yourself. In any way. You hate yourself sometimes and even without knowing why you just don`t believe you deserve to be happy or to achieve your dreams and goals. And this is why you always fail in everything. Your image about yourself is so poor so sometimes you don’t want to look in the mirror. In the real mirror and in this one that “shows” you your personality within. At least this is what I did. I always thought I am actually not good enough in anything. Not just “outside”, it was like nothing ever was good enough in me. My internal world – this was in fact the only thing that it wasn’t good enough. This was the broken part.
Once I decided to do some charity fundraising and to help an orphanage. So this is what I did for a few months I collected donations for an orphanage in my town and brought everything to the children there. Just like that, I thought for no reason, I thought I do this just because I am good person who wants to help others. Then the last years I did and still do animal rescue. In my country there are many hopeless stray animals that need desperately to be rescued. It’s a matter of life or death. And I rescue as much as I can, just feeling happy when the next animal is safe. And I thought I do it for no reason. My philosophy professor once talked about “good and evil” and said that everything we do is for a reason. I asked why we cannot do good just because this is the right thing to do. He said there is no way and all of our actions are because of something. Sometimes we just don’t realize because of what. Then I thought is it possible helping rescuing the most vulnerable – children and animals – I am trying to do the same that no one did for me? Am I not trying to help them because no one helped me? Do I find a relief knowing one more soul is rescued while my soul is still trapped and I am still the vulnerable little girl who wants to be rescued? Probably the answer is “yes.” We do what we do for a reason.
Last year I even started studying Psychology, which was my biggest achievement in life. And I decided I want to specialize in Criminal psychology and Criminal profiling. I thought this was the only way to use what happened to me to achieve something good. I thought if I study criminals and understand what drives them to commit crimes I will be able to help preventing more crimes to happen and to keep more children safe. I will be able one day to help catching the criminals, only if I look deep into the darkness in their minds. And all this is still my goal and I am sure I am going to achieve it one day when I graduate.
But let’s face it. I cannot be a good psychologist if I don’t deal with my own issues first. How am I supposed to help others if I cannot help myself? This is what I was trying to escape to face the facts, to face the reasons for everything.
On the other hand I thought that I am a Psychology student now and in my research I study sadistic rapists and killers, I look at crime scene photos and read and study about horrible crimes and about all the horrific details. And this doesn’t make me scared, just makes me be more motivated to get into the criminal’s minds and understanding them to be able one day to stop them. So if I can read, write and study about really barbaric crimes, I must be a strong person and I cannot possible be a victim and I am so over everything that happened. I am not a victim any more. And who wants to be? I am this “psychologist-to be,” who of course is so strong so has no personal issues.
The truth is I have been a victim all my life. And I cannot change the past but I can change the way I am looking at it. I have to face what happened and how this influenced my life. And then heal myself. My abusers took a part of me. They stole my chances for happiness. But I am the only one who is able to change this. By facing it. If you pretend a wound doesn’t exist you don’t make it disappear.
Whoever you ask that knows me for the past ten years would tell you I am the happiest and strongest person. I am the one who always makes others laugh or makes them feel comfortable to share. I am the positive, always smiling person. And there is absolutely no way that I have been abused ever. Because abused people are not supposed to look and behave like me, but this is a mask I always felt I am wearing to convince people, and to convince myself that I am perfectly normal and there is nothing wrong with my life and me. At the end of the day though when I am alone I deal with the loneliness, with the shame, with the remorse, with the guilt, with the anger, with every single sad emotion you can imagine. For no reason I could cry, or want to stay in bed or feel disappointed, betrayed and lonely. For no reason I can be angry to others when I am alone. This is when I am really myself. I am without the mask of the perfect person; I am the suffering victim of child abuse. This is who I am. And I accept it now. I understand it now. And I feel relieved. I face who I am and I am not trying to forget the past any more. I want to remember as painful as it is and I know this is the only way to fight with it. When I stop trying to hope that I can change what happened, when I accept it.
The truth is I am still so not over it. And I realized it when I found out about Will’s story. I watched his statements and I saw him cry remembering the details of his own sexual abuse when he was a child. He cried on the video. And I cried with him. It was painful to see what he is been through and then I thought –“Hey. I have been through the same emotions and feelings all my life.” So I cried with him, for what happened to him, for what happened to me, for what happened to all others victims of child sexual abuse. And this was the moment when all my feelings, all my memories surfaced like a storm. I wasn’t in denial any more. I faced it. And it was scary. It was difficult and still is while I am writing about it.
Will Lynch is the inspiration, the influence that somehow made me brave enough to face the truth. By watching him I realized I am not alone. Listening to his story and how it affected his life I realized that all I have done and all the wrong paths my life went to, are the consequences of the child molestation that happened to me. Never before, I never thought that drinking, suicide attempt, broken relationships, depression, one-night stands and the disappointment is for this reason. I always wondered what was wrong with me and why I did so many mistakes in my life. I know now. I don’t mean to say that I am not responsible for my actions. I am. But the reason I did all these wrong decisions was one-the abuser who took my innocence when I was six years old.
Recently I learned a lot about child abuse and how it influences people’s life and I found an article about long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse:
1. Poor body image because the body was the instrument used during the sexual abuse
2. Feelings of shame, guilt, isolation, depression and low self-esteem
3. Sexual confusion or promiscuity as a result of not dealing with the emotions and feelings surrounding the abuse
4. Confusing rape or sexual abuse fantasies
5. Eating disorders, obesity and anorexia
6. Drug abuse and alcoholism
7. Poor decision-making in relationships
8. Difficulty with intimacy
9. Self-destructive or even suicidal behavior
And guess what? I checked seven out of nine. I experienced it all. And the reason was that I was sexually abused. This affected my life in every single way and thanks to Will Lynch for sharing his story, I found the courage to admit I am a victim and to decide that I don’t want to be a victim of my past any more. And it is in my power to change that. Like he did. I learned so much from him even just after watching a few interviews and his documentary movie project. And I learned a lot about myself too. From him I learned that I have to fight the darkness and I have to face it. There is no other way. Silence is not an option any more. And even though I cannot bring my molester to justice because it’s been too long time after he abused me, more than 20 years now at least I have my voice now, and I refuse to keep silent. I am brave and I face it.
Now I am trying to explain the reasons why those monsters do what they do. From psychological point of view they say there are different types of child molesters. But there are several characteristics that they all have in common. For child abusers (and also for rapists) the most important things are domination, manipulation and control. Lack of self-esteem or unproven masculinity, it doesn’t matter-they still want to control the most vulnerable ones. And this is exactly the type of children mostly endangered. Children who don’t get enough love and attention, children with a single parent, children from abusive or poor families, children with low self esteem or children vulnerable in some other way. Sometimes even children from good and loving families suffer such abuse. And the most important thing is that the Boogeyman is the man in the bushes only in about 10 % of the cases. In the other 90 % of child molestation children know their molester. And he is exactly the person they trust the most-their parent, their teacher, their coach, their priest, their family member or just the guy next door .For molesters the most important thing is once to win the child’s trust or scare the child so much to make sure the child will never tell. And exactly this is what the molester wants the child to feel-shame, self-blame, confusion, fear. This is how the abuser manipulates the child to remain silent so he remains safe and free to keep doing what he wants with his innocent victim. It is all about domination, manipulation and control. And the molestation sometimes keeps going on for years. And sometimes the molester can be never brought to justice. And this happens in most cases, just because children remain silent. And when children grow up they still remain silent. And so they never deal with this.
The reason I am sharing my story is because I found out there are many others, now grown up, molested children out there who never reveal their story and keep living their life in denial forever. I hope I will inspire more people to admit and accept what happened and to realize that this changed their life path and it most important-this is not their fault. Then, only then the feeling of guilt, the feeling of pain, the feeling of being hopeless, the feeling that you cannot trust anyone, the feeling that you cannot love or you don’t deserve to be loved, the feeling that you are not worth living, the feeling that you cannot be the person who you want to be, the feeling that you are alone even when you are surrounded of hundred people, the feeling that nobody understands you, the feeling that you don’t deserve to be happy because you’ve been a bad child and disappointment, the feeling that you’ll never be able to have a successful relationship or be a good parent, the feeling of fear, the feeling that you’re a half person because part of you has been stolen, the feeling that everything happened because of you and it was in your power to prevent it or stop it, the feeling that you did so many mistakes in your life so it is too late to go back to the right direction and achieve something….only when you face these feelings and emotions you can deal with all this.
I hope I am going this way. I accepted what happened, I know I cannot change it and I know it is not my fault.
I hope RISE will bring awareness to the world and to others who bring the same burden on their shoulders. I hope more people who read this will be brave enough to face the truth and start their fight like I started mine. I hope more monsters will be brought to justice because less children and grown-ups will stop the silence, will speak out and will tell.
I hope RISE will succeed to abolish the Statute of Limitation Laws for childhood sexual abuse. And not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Because if there was no time limitation in cases of child abuse, like it is in the cases of murder, I would now be able to pursue action against the person who molested me when I was a child. And so would be able to do many other victims. And only then we could have a sign of hope that more abusers will be brought to justice. The amount of time and life struggle is so large that most of the victims never speak, or speak many years later, when it is too late, just because of the laws.
I hope RISE will help many cycles of abuse to be stopped by bringing awareness to children and parents. The facts are that the most abusers have been victims themselves and suffering from child abuse, they become violent abusers themselves. But it`s also important to know that even though most abusers have been abused in their childhood, not every abused child becomes an abuser. And hopefully less abused children will go through this path. Hopefully less abused children will become criminals themselves.
You don’t need to sacrifice your life and future because one monster hurt you. You don’t have to suffer silent all your life. You have to admit and accept that you were a victim. When you face it, you’ll be able to fight it.
Thanks to William Lynch and his inspiring courage and braveness, I am not a person with a mask anymore, I am not in denial any more. Instead, I am one of these victims who are ready to face the darkness within and fight it to get my life back.
We cannot change our past but we can change our future.