Statistics prove that 1 in 4 women will be sexually abused in their lifetime. Gather your girlfriend circle around that means someone in the circle has been sexually abused. Abuse carries shame and doubt and it can temporarily derail someone’s life, the abused walks around believing that they are one of very few taken advantage of when in reality the statistics are saddening. This really hits home to SHERO Maria Olsen who experienced 42 years of trauma before gaining her voice. Here’s what Maria wants women around the world to know:
Me: Take me back to when you were a child what was life like growing up Maria?
Maria: I have not confronted my childhood abuser. He is still alive and in contact with my family, this person sexually molested me from the age of 7-9. It stopped at the age of 9 because I became more aware of my body and appropriate touch. My parents divorced in the 1960s, my father was an alcoholic and completely broken after my mother left him, I was 6 years old, she left him because he physically abused her. I recall jumping on my father’s back to try and get him off my mother when he was hitting her. My mother was an immigrant from the Philippines and my father threatened to have her deported. My father some how got custody of my brother and I, it was probably on grounds that my mother wasn’t stable because she kidnapped us due to fear of losing us when she was deported. She was a high power Executive worker at a Fortune 100 company and I was a latch key kid growing up, I feel like I basically raised myself. I didn’t have much guidance from either parent.
Me: So here you are on your own while your parents are busy. You have this friend of the family in your house and at the age of only seven years old you experience abuse is that correct?
Maria: Yes that’s when the inappropriate touching began. I didn’t know at that time what was happening, it physically felt good but yet I knew it was a secret because it would stop if anyone else was around. When I got older and learned about appropriate sexual response I was horrified because I was complacent in what happened and I didn’t tell anyone. I felt dirty, used, and aberrant. I didn’t have anyone in my life to go to about this problem so I hid it from everyone.
Me: So what happened next and how did this affect you growing up as the years went on?
Maria: Well I entered adolescents and used my body as a means to gain power because I felt so powerless. I used my body for sex to get things that I wanted, which I’m not proud of. I was 14 when this happened. I didn’t have anyone to confide in. My boyfriend was kind it was nothing like the rape I experienced at Beach Week when I was 17. At Beach Week all the seniors go down to the Maryland/Delaware shore and I went as a junior because my parents didn’t know what it was. I remember getting really drunk and the Captain of the Football team raped me. I woke up in his beach house when he was done, I had passed out, I don’t have any recollection of exactly what happened, but when I came to I found myself in bed with him naked. I got dressed and ran to my beach house. I knew I had been raped and I felt guilty because I was drunk. I didn’t tell anyone about this for 20 years because I felt it was partly my fault for being drunk plus he was Captain of the team and nobody would believe me. But then on my 40th birthday a student whom I’ve known since High School came up to me at my own party and whispered to me, “I was there when he did you, I watched.” I still to this day don’t know why he told me that.
Me: So during the age of 17-40 what was life like? Did you start using substances to numb your pain? Did you ever experience an addiction to substances? What was your sex life like?
Maria: I was a black out drinker starting at the age of 14, but only on the weekends. I excelled at school and went to a top 10-law school after I graduated High School. I had great professional success. I graduated Magna Cum Laude, got a political appointment in the Clinton Justice Department at the age of 29. At this point I was still a black out drinker on the weekends. I met a man in law school and we got married in 1990, we were together 3 years before we got married. But prior to meeting him I was so full of self-hatred that I used my body as a weapon, I used men so I could feel some sense of power and control.
By holding onto the secrets, due to not wanting to hurt other people with the information, it had a way of popping up, the toxicity of it and coloring my relationships because my sexual trauma could be triggered by something very benign and remind me of the abuse from the past. For example there were certain ways that my husband couldn’t touch me sexually, it was too triggering. I never addressed what happened to me in a healthy way until I was 49 years old.
Me: So you married in 1990, your husband was an alcoholic as well, and how was the marriage?
Maria: We were together for 25 years, we had 2 children, we were married 5 years before having our first child and once I had our first child I became sexually anorexic, I didn’t want sex at all. I wanted to be the Mom I felt I missed out on. I quit my high power legal job to be a stay at home Mom which is what I wanted when I was younger. I volunteered in a bunch of things and I put everything I had into being a great Mom. The problem is I starved my husband of sex and we started to grow apart as the children came along, we always wanted 2 kids, but when it came to sex I would just try to fulfill my wifely duty. I would literally check the box, done, when we were finished. I also had a religious background that stated sex was to procreate and that’s it. As the kids became teenagers there was a lot of tension in the house.
I was an over protective parent when my kids became adolescents, I needed to know where they were at all times because I wanted to protect them which was harmful to our relationship. I also couldn’t sleep without all the doors locked and checked in my house and my drinking escalated. I had put all my eggs in the motherhood basket and as the kids were getting older and leaving home I experienced an identity crisis. I became a 2 bottle wine drinker daily; I would begin drinking at 11am. This amongst other things caused my husband and I to separate at the age of 49, which later ended in divorce.
Me: So here you are age 49, thinking my life is a bit of a mess and I have some internal issues that I need to sort out. What did you do to turn your life around and where are you at today?
Maria: My husband found more and more bottles of alcohol and he said, “If you don’t get help I’m kicking you out of the house.” So I started to go to AA and I went to a rehab for people who have experienced sexual trauma and at the rehab they did, EMDR Therapy, brought me back to the age of 7 and I could remember the fibers in the rug where the abuse all started. I remembered looking at the rug because I didn’t want to look at my abuser. I started piecing my past together. The rehab was a total of 45 days.
I learned why I never had sex without being drunk. This was very sobering to realize. My rehab tribe of women helped me heal.
Through therapy I learned when someone’s boundaries are sexually compromised at such a young age often the trauma will cause sexual anorexia or sexual promiscuity. I became promiscuous with a subconscious desire to have control over a man instead of letting him have control over me. So I was able after the trauma rehab to forgive myself and heal by speaking out to other trusted women because holding the secrets and shame inside was making me sick.
I have more fear about men than the average female. The Kavanaugh hearing triggered me. I grew up in the same neighborhood as Dr. Ford and I know members of the family. I have since told my kids and close friends what happened.
I spoke out this year for the National March To End Rape Culture, and was surrounded by young women after delivering my speech. It’s amazing how much healing my story brings to others. This confirmed my courage as they brought up their admiration for my strength. Speaking out helps release the shackles from other women supplying them with a voice.
I am a member of AA and a large majority there have suffered sexual trauma. I am 6 years sober now and I mentor women in sexual trauma situations and alcohol addiction.
Today I am 55, sober and finally living a life true to my values. I like Maria and practice self compassion. I surround myself around people that bring out the best in me. I am intentional with how I spend my time this includes daily mediation and filling out my daily gratitude journal. I work on my inner self-daily and release from what others think of me. I am no longer a people pleaser because what people think of me is none of my business and out of my control. I reach out my hand to help as many women as possible, and I’ve written a book 50 After 50—Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, which outlines 50 new things I’ve tried after turning 50 and what I’ve learned from them. My children are grown and on their own. I have chosen to make my pain my platform and become a light in this world. So for anyone reading this I would like to encourage you that if you’ve been raped or abused in any way, getting help is an act of courage. Secrets keep us sick, so find a way to allow a trusted person to bare witness to your shame so you can release it. You have a special calling on your life so it’s time to step out, believe in yourself, give yourself permission to heal, and receive all the greatness that the world has to offer when you become your authentic beautiful self.
If you are reading this and you feel shame, stuck, anger, hopeless, fearful, or confused there is hope. Reach out and find your tribe and get professional help from someone you can trust. The SHERO stories are designed to bring you healing and unlock the shame that women have been carrying for years. If you wish to join our tribe you can find us on Facebook by clicking here.
The #SHEROproject will include stories of SHEROS from around the world throughout the next 11 months. In an effort to support our thriving SHEROS, there is a panel that will be selecting the most inspirational story for the 2019 SHERO of the year award, which will be announced on 12/1/2019. The SHERO of the year award winner will receive a 4-day/3-night retreat at 1440 Multiversity. An opportunity to explore their potential in an environment like no other; get away for rejuvenating downtime and immersion learning on their state-of-the-art campus in the redwoods of Scotts Valley, CA and experience the perfect blend of learning, vacation, and space for reflection.
1440 Multiversity is a place to experience time differently—exploring what matters, while surrounding yourself with fresh air, delicious food, many ways to unwind, and opportunities to connect with yourself and others. SHERO, during your stay, you can look forward to daily 1440 specialty classes such as yoga, meditation, qi gong and Pilates. Or enjoy hiking in the 75 acres of redwood forest surrounding the campus and finish off your day with a soak in their signature infinity tub.
The creation of 1440 Multiversity stemmed from a desire to establish a beautiful and nurturing physical location where people of all walks of life could come together in community—to explore, learn, reflect, connect, and reenergize. (www.1440.org)