No More Little Nice Girl: Finding My Fight After Childhood Sexual Abuse

Dedicated to the students and instructors of the IMPACT Women’s Basics Course Fall 2017

It took 44 years and 50 seconds to lift my father off of me.

He was the nice parent.  The one who made French toast for breakfast and did the laundry and helped with my homework.  He was the one that wasn’t jealous of me.  He didn’t watch TV incessantly or make fun of people or get in fights with the neighbors.

And yet, it was his weight on me in the middle of the night that drove terror and immobility deep into my cells.  It was his hands and whispers – everywhere and nowhere, all at once – that trained my body, in the face of any threat, to shut down.  To play dead in order to live.

As a result, I was left with just two tools in my emergency response kit: freezing, and femininity.  I was a petite “girly-girl” who survived by playing dead in the darkness and being good and helpless in the light.  During the day, if something came up that I couldn’t handle, I just asked someone else to do it – and they did.  Whether it was making a clock in 8th grade Shop class (thanks Scott & Larry) or jump-starting a car, I asked for help and help appeared.

Freezing and femininity had kept me alive – which is why taking a self-defense class had never been a consideration.  The very idea of fighting back or taking action in the face of fear was unthinkable.  To be responsible and present terrified me.  It would get me killed.  I wasn’t even sure I had any fight – or flight – in me.  I often joked that in the wake of a Zombie Apocalypse, I would be one of the first dead, which worked just fine for me. “You don’t understand,” I’d say. “I’d rather be dead.”  In scary situations, dead was what I did best.

However, my life’s mantra is “to live is to grow.” In leading Parillume, I am committed to shining in my heroic journey, which includes continually pioneering my own happy ending.  When IMPACT Personal Safety of Colorado – part of an international organization dedicated to ending the cycle of violence by teaching empowerment skills, including self-defense – joined Parillume’s Transformation Tribe℠, I knew my days of playing dead were numbered.  It was only a matter of time before I too would be in their acclaimed Women’s Basics course, led by founder Amelia Dorn.

And so I found myself, on a Wednesday night in October, half-way through the six-week course, in an exercise that would change everything.  In many respects, it was a re-enactment of the very horror I had experienced as a young child.

I was instructed to lie down on a bright blue mat and close my eyes so that a masked perpetrator named “Ted” – in reality, a kind, generous male instructor covered in massive padding and denim overalls – could wake me from sleep to assault me.

I lowered myself to the mat, turned on my side and shut my eyes.  My heart beat wildly and I could feel disassociation tempting me from the edges of my consciousness.

Gently, compassionately, Amelia guided me as Ted hovered above me, my classmates poised at the edge of the mat, ready to shout their chorus of “Nooooos!” with me, when – IF – I fought back.  He grabbed my arms and turned me on my back.  As he did, I placed the soles of both feet on the mat and scooted my right foot an inch higher than my left.

And then it happened.  He was on top of me, his entire body weight pressing me further into the mat.

I had been taught that one small shift of my hip would throw him off my body.  I had seen Amelia and my classmates do this, one after the other, but could I?  Little Lisa?  Would it actually work?  Was I strong enough?  Brave enough?  What if it didn’t?

I could barely breathe.  The weight of my father, my uncle, my ex-husband, my mother – all the abuse I had endured throughout my life: sexual, emotional, mental, religious – all awakened in this moment that seemed to last for an eternity.

Staring through the blackness of his thick, protective mask, I did what I had never done before. “NOOOOOO!!!” I yelled as I used the strength of my leg to lift my right hip.

Ted slid to the mat.

What happened next was sheer adrenaline, something I had never accessed before: I was fighting back, for my body, with my body.  My knee thrust twice into his groin and, with Amelia’s grounded guidance, I poked him in the eyes and then turned and slammed my heel into his face: once, twice, three times, my fellow classmates screaming along with my defiant rage.  I was lost to myself, and was anything but perfect or good or sharp in my movements.  I was all reaction.  It was messy and incessant and fast.  And I just didn’t stop.

The whistle blew.  Ted, my perpetrator, lay on his back, defeated.

Still guided by my instructor, I stood and looked around to assess if it was safe to leave.  As I did, my whole body began to quake and hot tears streamed down my face.  After checking in with a student instructor, I left the room and found a dark corner to stand in, the adrenaline purged in waves of choking tears.  I was in shock.  I did it.  I actually did it.  The muscle memory of a lifetime had been replaced with something else…  Power? Choice?

I drove home that night, crying almost the entire way, and as I did, a barrage of anger at my father flew from my mouth.  It had been 23 years since “the rage stage” of my recovery work and yet here I was shouting at him, swearing at him, acknowledging the sickness of a man who would do that to his little girl.  I sounded different.  I felt different.

As I began to process what had happened over the following days and weeks, I realized the balance of power had shifted – in my favor.  I saw the weakness of a father who chose to overpower a child in the middle of the night, and the strength of a child to hold the weight of her father for all those years.

The tears and rage signaled the end of an ice age for me, the end of being held captive in a frozen state of submission, needing others to help me, to give me permission to be in my power.  I had reclaimed my voice and my choice – not just in my mind or mouth or circumstances, but in my body.

It may have taken 44 years and 50 seconds, but I finally lifted the weight of my father off of me. And in doing so, I found the freedom to fight, and maybe even to fly.

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If you or someone you love are ready to begin or continue the Hero’s Journey for Overcomers of Sexual Violation™, just fill out the brief form below and Lisa will contact you to answer your questions and guide you in the right direction – whatever that direction may be.

8 thoughts on “No More Little Nice Girl: Finding My Fight After Childhood Sexual Abuse

  1. Beautiful share of yet another healing layer of the artichoke that is the human experience, Lisa. Thank you for your continued bravery, courage, and the compassion and love you carry in the heart of your artichoke. Keep going, sister!! We are all here to cheer you on, walk side by side with you, and take the action required to shift the conversation around sexual violation… for eternity.

  2. Oh this made me cry….I remember the day I stood up to my parent’s bullying which started the feeling freedom for the first time in my life. Thank you for this….

    1. Thank you, Melissa. How courageous to stand up to your parent’s bullying. It’s amazing what shows up in our lives when we get access to our voice and our choice in life!

  3. Your writing painted such an incredible journey Lisa, one that I knew but not to its depths. I felt your fear, your despair, your anger and triumph. You have climbed mountains to get here. What a gift to others with the creation of Parillume, and its banner of courage waving on the peak! You continue to inspire me as you always have these 20 years of friendship/sisterhood.

  4. I am so proud of you, Lisa! I have done so much counseling but still feel like I haven’t been able to make peace with my past and my prepertator. I still feel like he took something from me that I will never ever get back. I’m so happy to hear you found a way to get some of your power back. That amazes me, makes me so happy for you, and gives me hope that someday I’ll find that peace. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Thank you so much, Jen. I am so sorry for the pain you have endured, and I definitely want to share with you the fierce hope that we CAN get our lives back and find peace. It’s the reason Parillume was created! My experience at IMPACT gave me access to the physical fight in me – something I didn’t know I had. The Free to Shine! program at Parillume is for those who would like one-to-one facilitation (coaching) with me to get the reward of all the recovery work they’ve done (counseling, etc.) and to reclaim the treasure of who they really are – including all those things the perpetrator ruthlessly stole, their voice and choice and the ability to be BIG on the inside and play BIG on the the outside. Please check it out if that sounds like a good next step on your heroic journey. I’m also available for a free consultation call any time. As I say at the end of my TEDx talk, I share from my heart to yours right now: You are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not to blame. And you are not broken. You can begin or continue your Hero’s Journey and you can shine again without shame… With Love, Lisa & the Parillume community

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