It wasn’t really about the birds and the bees…

He was an awesome big brother for so many reasons (besides rockin’ big frames just like his kid sister).

“Catherine, we need to talk. You know, sometimes, when you see the cats in the yard, and it looks like they’re wrestling on top of each other? Well, they’re not really wrestling. They’re…”

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod…He is NOT talking to me about this! I can’t believe this is happening. This is so embarrassing. Don’t look at him. Just look down. Pretend this isn’t happening. Think about something else. ANYTHING else. 

When my older brother Eric sat me down to have the “birds and the bees” talk at the age of 12, I was mortified. Actually, there has to be a stronger word for my emotion. I wanted to disappear. An avid Star Trek fan, I never so badly wanted teleportation to be an option as I did at that moment. Somebody freakin’ beam me up! My face was hot, my body was numb, my heart pitter-pattering wildly in my prepubescent chest. And I remember being angry. What gave him the right?! Besides, I already knew all about the  technicality of sex. I had an older best friend who’d already filled me in on every graphic detail, although I think she said you could get pregnant from kissing. So glad she wasn’t right about that.

There are only a few things I remember from that encounter, besides feeling completely embarrassed. I remember the drops of dried milk (or some other food substance) that were caked between the ridges on the side of our dining room table. As I sat there, head down, trying to mentally escape the awkward conversation I was being subjected to, I began scraping the white film off with my thumbnail. I can still remember running my thumb down that ridge, letting the gunk that had accumulated over the years build up under my nail, scraping it out, and starting over again. I remember being grateful that nobody had ever thought to clean there, as it gave me something to focus on.

I also remember the end of the conversation, after he’d said vague things about waiting until marriage, finding someone you love, God’s plan, etc. He was sitting on my left side, across the corner of the table. He gently touched my left forearm and said, “Catherine, you need to look at me and listen. If anyone ever touches you in a bad way, you have to tell someone. Tell mom, tell dad, tell me, tell somebody. It’s not okay. You have to tell someone, ok?  Has anyone ever done this?”

“No,” I stammered. At this point, I don’t think I’d ever even kissed a boy, so my innocence was fairly in tact. I did consider telling him about the boy who showed me his penis in daycare before I was even in kindergarten. No, I didn’t think that counted. “No,” I said again, “Nothing like that has happened.”

Looking back now, I realize the enormity of that moment. My mother has no recollection of ever having asked Eric to carry out this task. I mean, how many 12-year-old girls want to get the sex talk from their older brother? No, he chose to do this on his own. It had to have been just as awkward for him, if not more, than it was for me. But he loved me enough to try and protect me. He didn’t want the same things that had happened to him to happen to me. He was 12 when he was molested, the same age I was when we had that talk. I’m so glad he was brave enough to speak those words to me. I only wish he’d been able to speak them to himself.

If you haven’t yet had “the talk” with the children you love, don’t wait. I’ve already talked with my three-year-old daughter about “good touch” and “bad touch.” No, this won’t  prevent her from ever being victimized, but I hope it plants a seed in her mind that if she is, it isn’t her fault. Yes, it’s an awkward conversation to have, but they’ll appreciate it later, whether you know it or not.

…………

Read more about Eric’s Story

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Don’t Underestimate Your Emotional Backstory

Olympic Judo hopeful Kayla Harrison is an incredible athlete. Her strength and skill have propelled her to the top of her sport, and earned her a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in London. But according to this NPR segment, she’s sometimes frustrated at the motives behind the bright spotlight:

“Do I wish that everyone would just talk about how, you know, awesome I am — and how I could be America’s first gold medalist? Yes, I wish that,” she says. “But America wants that comeback kid story. They want the person who overcame obstacles to reach their goals. And I fit that bill pretty well.”

I’ll let you read the article to find out the obstacles Kayla is speaking of. If she’d rather have more attention focused on her atheleticism than her emotional backstory, I fully support her. After all, I can somewhat understand how she feels. You want people to recognize your succeses, and see them as purely that, success. Not success despite obstacles, just success.

Kayla’s perspective really has me thinking about my own emotional backstory. It’s a doozy, afterall. While I haven’t exactly hidden my dark experiences (and have been openly sharing them), I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be known for anything else. Am I ok with that?

I’ve been amazed at the stories others have privately shared with me while I’ve been on this journey to unpacking Eric’s story. They share stories of abuse, addiction, dysfunction, mental illness, and many other difficult situations. The one thing that has surprised me the most? How quick people are to say, ‘Well, it’s nothing like what you’ve been through.” They underestimate their own emotional backstories. I truly believe that we’re all dealt a relatively similar amount of trauma throughout our lives, whether it be a deep, narrow wound or a constant scratching of the surface that leaves you in constant discomfort. Which is worse, losing a loved one in a sudden, tragic accident, or spending a lifetime in a loveless, abusive marriage? Both probably bring the same amount of pain, they’re just distributed differently.

Don’t underestimate your pain. Don’t think for a second that what you’ve been through doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. It’s helped make you who you are, for better or worse. Hopefully, you can channel that into something positive, as Kayla has. Just knowing what your story is, and telling it to others walking down the same path can be a tremendous testimony. And if you haven’t found a way to do that yet, you will.

When the Cameras Leave: My Thoughts on the Sandusky Trial

The press will move on. Your true friends never will.

Right now, all eyes are on Penn State. Nearly every media outlet is eager to cover the monstrosity that is Jerry Sandusky. The stories are horrific. The cover up, inexcusable. Am I surprised? No. Sad? Yes.

There was a time when my family was in the national spotlight (Oprah canceled on my mom, and I’ve never quite forgiven her for that), and while I’m glad the exposure helped shed light on a deep and systemic sex abuse cover up in the Catholic church, the spotlight only shines so long. Soon, another tragedy takes the stage, and the coverage shifts to someone else’s pain. This is to be expected. It’s called “news” for a reason.

But what happens to the victims and their families when the cameras leave? Their lives will go on, but will forever be changed. Somewhere along the way, they’ll get sideways glances in public. They’ll be called out for what happened to them rather than for who they are. Some friends and family might distance themselves, for fear of being associated with something so controversial. It’s ridiculous, but it happens.

The cameras may be gone from our  lives now, but the pain is still here, still real. It’s now when your true friends, your new friends, will step forward. You’ll form strong bonds with others who’ve stood in your shoes, or care enough to try your shoes on for size. I’m finding that out now. The flood of emails, Facebook messages and blog comments let me know that people still care. People are still good. Thank you. Thank you for still caring, even when it’s no longer “news.”

To the victims and families of the Sandusky tragedy: please know there are people out there who will still care once you’re no longer front page news. Your life still matters. Your pain still matters. People still care. I do, and I always will.