My Survivor Story
About three weeks ago on Instagram, I shared something that not only healed me but also changed my world.
On October 16th, I shared a post and seriously thought about deleting it. I was scared that people didn’t believe me. This fear runs deep, because my parents didn’t. Growing up and into adulthood, I learned that being silent was the best way. But this silence ate me up. I was smiling on the outside, but inside I felt trapped, scared, and alone.
After sharing that post, I couldn’t stop writing. I wanted to share the truth. Post 2 was the hardest, because I felt like I was in court again. After posting it, I felt nauseous and anxious. And again retracted to the thought of deleting it. A reader messaged me and said… you can’t delete your posts because our stories are on it too now. You’re deleting our truths as well. Her comment completely changed my perspective.
I want to share my story here as well, because I want you to know that you’re not alone. To all survivors out there, my heart is forever with you.
Part 1 – October 16, 2018
I wanted to post this photo for weeks now, but kept on pushing it back. I think my fear was that if I post it, it would be real. And the reality is that I don’t remember this little girl. I don’t remember when the photos were taken (it’s me on the top row and my brother on the bottom). I don’t remember much of my childhood. My earliest clear memory was probably when I was 8. I do have blurry memories of when I was 5 or so. And they’re not really memories, they’re more like burn marks seared in my brain. I remember my cousin laying on top of me and saying ‘don’t tell grandma’. I remember the floor tiles feeling cold and I remember just staring straight ahead. This was not the last time this happened.
Part 2 – October 17, 2018
The abuse didn’t stop at 5. I thought I escaped it when I left Vietnam. When we got to America, we didn’t have much. For my parents to cover some of the bills, they rented out one of the bedrooms to another cousin. And the sexual abuse started again when he moved in. I was 12. He told me… if you tell your parents about this, they won’t love you anymore. I believed him and I didn’t say a single word. But inside, I felt like dying. And I did. I tried to kill myself by shallowing pills at 14. Another cousin intervened and stopped me before I could finish the bottle. The first cousin moved out and this cousin who intervened moved in taking over his room.
I thought the nightmare was over. The second cousin ended up abusing me from 14 to 15. At 15 years old, I knew I couldn’t live this way. I told my parents and the first cousin was right… in a way, my fear came true. They didn’t believe me. I called my friend’s mother, who happened to be a teacher and she took me away. I ended up being placed in foster care (my foster sisters and foster mother in the photos above). We went to trial, and in the end, the first cousin got 6 years in prison and the second one got community service. The irony is that the one who got the prison sentence was a correction officer.
They combined got 6 years and I’m still struggling with my pain. I’ve been through talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, physical therapy, was diagnosed with PTSD and depression, my pelvic area has been damaged from the trauma and I struggle with managing my PTSD and depression to this day. His prison was bars and cement walls, my prison is the echo chambers of my own mind reliving the events. But by sharing my story, I’m closer to feeling free than ever before.
Part 3 – October 18, 2018
There’s a reason why I’m sharing all of this [part 1/3 and part 2/3] now. In about two weeks, I’m going to see my parents and relatives. The last time I saw most of them was in court 20 years ago. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I don’t have a relationship with my parents to this day. What hurt me the most was that in court, they sat on his side, they were his character witnesses, and they defended him. The last conversation I had with my mother was over the phone and I asked… if you saw it, why didn’t you stop him? She hung up on me. The scars from my cousins are deep, but to be honest with you, the scars from my parents not believing me and not being there for me run deeper. I grew up fearing my parents. But deep down, I always thought they’d be there for me. When they weren’t, my world fell apart. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
My brother is getting married in less than 3 weeks (he and I are in the photo above) on November 3rd and they’re coming. My brother and I are very close. I’m helping him with the wedding, I wrote my speeches months ago, and I’m officiating the wedding. But now that it’s less than a month away, the depression, anxiety, and PTSD are hitting me like a semi truck. The memories, the shame, the fear, are flooding back. For so many years, I thought I was safe because I’d never have to see them again. But now in order to be in the same room as them, I have to set myself free. And I want to be free so badly! So this is it… this is my truth, my release, my story. And unlike last time when I was alone in court, this time I have my brother, Colin, and women from all over the world standing right next to me.
After November 3, 2018
I wish I had a traditional happy ending to share, but to be honest with you, this is probably the best ending I could ask for. When the ceremony started, I got up there with my officiant script and waited for the procession. My mother and my brother were the first to come down. That was the first time I saw her in about 20 years. She looked at me for maybe two seconds and immediately looked down at the ground as she walked up to her seat. My father and my youngest brother (I have two brothers) were next. My father didn’t make eye contact with me at all as he made his way to his seat. I stood up there smiling, because it was a happy wedding day, and secondly because I was honestly happy to see my parents again. The little girl in me wanted to run to them.
After the ceremony and during the breaks, my parents stayed with my relatives. During my best man (or ma’am) speech, they sat with their backs toward me and we didn’t make eye contact either. They along with my relatives left early.
Growing up, I feared my parents and relatives. And maybe as a child and in the courtroom, everything and everyone looked so tall and big. When I was standing up there officiating, a huge reality hit me. They didn’t look as tall or monumental as I remembered. Both physically and figuratively. I don’t know if it was that I literally grew taller over the years or that I was standing on shoulders of so many women who endured the same pain. Whatever it was, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel invisible. I wasn’t hiding anymore, and moreover, I felt I had purpose.
A friend of mine asked me one time… if I had a life re-do, would I change anything. And my honest answer was and still to this day, no. I would never wish it on anyone but I would never take it out of my journey, because it made me who I am today. Every time I read a sexual abuse story, I get so angry. And I’m learning to channel my anger into ambition. I met with a Police Commissioner to learn about crime and safety earlier this month, I’m meeting with community leaders in LA to discuss survivor support in December and will be in DC to speak with Congress members about policy in January.
I thought I needed my parents to tell me that they love me for my healing to start, but in reality, my healing journey started when other people shared their stories. I never ever imagined in my wildest dream that those posts started a wave of stories and sharing. I’ve received countless messages that start with, I have never told anyone this before. Even though we are strangers connected by pixels on a screen, please know that I stand with you, please know that your story matters.
Thank you for being on this journey with me. Truly, thank you. Words cannot describe how thankful I am for your love and support.