About Miranda

I am a survivor of child sexual abuse who lost my family, but not myself.

After two decades of struggles with my family of origin over their actions and attitudes about my recovery from sexual abuse, it became clear that I had to choose between their acceptance and my emotional health. I chose myself.

Today, I rely on my experiences as a survivor, as well as my background as a social worker, to enthusiastically support and build community with my fellow survivors. My focus is on what I call “The Second Wound,” a less discussed aspect of recovery that we cannot control: that of hurtful family members’ responses to our need to address the abuse. Sadly, common family reactions frequently mirror aspects of the abuse itself; such as shaming, denial, and the suppression of our voices. I do my best to counteract these behaviors by writing and speaking about how survivors can best take care of our own needs and live in our truth.

You can follow me on Facebook (and request to join our secret support page: The Second Wound Conversation), follow me on Twitter @SecondWound, and read my blog HERE.

My Story

Home never really felt safe for me. My big, blended family consisted of six kids from three different marriages. It was never boring. Our home pulsed with creativity (my father was an accomplished artist), chaos, humor, intellectual discussion and a frightening lack of boundaries. I felt loved by my parents and enjoyed my older half-siblings’ playful adoration. But sexuality felt to me like an ever present threat; nudity was common, sexual acts were discussed casually, and my father’s paintings and photographs of provocative nudes lined the walls. I was painfully aware that my family did not practice the normal boundaries which made my friends’ homes feel safer, and I yearned to be a normal kid who didn’t know so much.

There was another ever present threat as well: my father’s violent behavior. Diagnosed as Bipolar but not regularly medicated, my father was prone to unpredictable rages. His eyes turned into a stranger’s and he looked at me like I was his enemy. His verbal lashings beat me down as he told me I was a monster, that every word out of my mouth was a manipulation and that my behavior was unconscionable. It could go on for days. My mother tried to talk my father out of these episodes, but she never really stood up for me. And afterwards, my family often told me that I brought on his anger. “It takes two to tango” was the phrase they used.

Then came the worst thing of all. I was about seven years old when my older brother began sexually abusing me. I tried to resist him, but his attempts were relentless and when my family saw signs of what he was doing they laughed it off, scolding him but not seeming to take his actions seriously. Eventually he got me to submit. He violated me in every way possible before I reached the fifth grade.

I remember the things he made me do. I remember the games he made up for his amusement and how he got me to “play,” though I hated it all. I still don’t know where he learned sexual acts or why a young boy would ever imagine the things he did, let alone act on them. He was only two years older than me but we both knew he had the power, backed up by the family dynamics and our parents’ attitudes.  

I felt trapped and I had no concept of what to do, who to turn to, how to verbalize the secret that made me feel so ashamed and powerless. My third and fourth grade teachers became concerned and called my parents in for meetings, but no one identified the cause of my anxiety and frequent absences. Eventually, the abuse ended somehow. It may be that I finally succeeded in stopping him, but I don’t remember.

I never forgot what he had done to me.

My Healing Journey

As I got older, I compartmentalized my memories of the sexual abuse. I stuck them in a box and stowed the box away. My brother and I still had our problems. In fact, he continued his bullying behavior in other ways. But he could also be very charismatic and it was so much easier to treat him as a friend and ally. At times I still stood up to him, even though his common reaction was to shout, throw things and call me an f’ing bitch, among other names.

While I pushed my memories  of the abuse away, I carried the symptoms: I was anxious and insecure, prone to mild depression and insomnia. While in college, I sought counseling but never got very far with the therapists I found.

It wasn’t until my early twenties that I finally told someone about the abuse. I was newly married and had had built up a trusting relationship with my therapist of two years. She had already helped me examine unhealthy patterns in my family, and she encouraged me to find and use my voice, even if my family didn’t like it.

I told her what my brother had done to me. Even though I was now a graduate student in social work, I had never been able to acknowledge to myself that I had been sexually abused. Once I did I was supported by my therapist, my kind and loving husband, and a group of close friends who walked beside me in my pain and grief.

I was so eager to heal from the past that I eagerly embraced the work of therapy and the emergence of my truth. That first year, I sank into a depression, developed crippling social anxiety and suffered flashbacks of the abuse. But then, as I began to shed my pain, I gradually re-emerged as a new, more confident and authentically happy person. I felt whole for the first time in my life.

The second half of my story is about my family’s reaction.

My family had always espoused liberal views and expressed compassion for victims of rape and abuse. In fact, my mother was a practicing therapist and presents herself as an empathetic person. So I was confident that when I came forward to reveal the sexual abuse, my family members would embrace me with empathy and sorrow for my pain. Everything would change, I thought, and I would finally be understood as deserving of my family’s compassion and respect.

That is not what happened.

While my brother admitted to the abuse and issued me a basic apology, I never received the understanding I craved. Over the last twenty years, my family’s behavior has run the gamut from avoiding the facts to blaming me for not “letting it go” and ostracizing me. My mother chose to invite my brother to her big milestone birthday celebrations – while I was not even told about them. The first time I confronted her, she told me she knew I wouldn’t attend if my brother was there. So she chose her child the abuser over her other child, the victim.

Before I went no contact with him twenty years ago, my brother told me that I treat my family like s*#t, that I choose to live in an unhappy reality, that I should get my money back for therapy, and that I should stay away from him until I change back to the way I used to be.

My mother told me that she doesn’t know what I mean about wanting my brother to take responsibility for the abuse. My mother shows little interest in the possibility that my brother was ever exposed to abuse himself, or that he should be monitored in the presence of minors. In fact, my brother is celebrated and applauded – not just in my family of origin but in the entertainment world as well. The success he’s achieved have given him added power to win people over in our extended family and beyond. It seems that my mother could not be prouder of him.

As survivors, we have the choice to pursue a healing path, to bravely examine the truth and (in some cases) our families. We can overcome much of trauma’s destructive effects with courage and strength – even better with the love and support of others. But we cannot control how our family members treat us. That was a long, painful lesson for me to learn.

These experiences with my family, my “second wound,” have inspired me to write, speak and support other survivors who know the pain of rejection, denial and ostracism. I run several social media accounts under the name The Second Wound: Coping with Family While Healing from Sexual Abuse. Communicating with other survivors online, I have learned how tragically common my experiences are, and the enormous value of community as we navigate this second part of our healing journey.

“Hang in there. I know it’s not okay right now. But with the help of some very special people, you will make it better. I promise.”

To My Younger Self

Dear Little Miranda,

You don’t deserve to feel ashamed. You have done nothing wrong. You are not tainted, dirty, or fundamentally different from the kids around you. Bad things happened to you, and it’s okay to admit that to yourself.

You have always known something was not right. Your home and family, as much as you love and cling to them, do not keep you safe. Your home environment feels different than your friends’ because you are not protected; by your mother who lacks the proper instincts, by appropriate emotional and physical boundaries, from the dismissal of your thoughts and feelings, from the rages of your father and the trauma of sexual abuse by your brother. None of this is your fault.

You have never stopped trying, Little Miranda: to stand up for yourself, to point out injustice, to ask for protection and to find a way to say how you feel without terrible repercussions. I wish I could tell you that your attempts will work, that your goals will one day be accomplished. They won’t, at least not with this family.

But your stubborn quest for fair treatment will pay off. You will find the unconditional love you deserve – and it will be better than you ever imagined. Your strength will pay off as you devote yourself to digging up the truth in all its ugliness and bring it into the light – where its power will slowly diminish. Your desire to be healthy and happy will pay off as you discover that the abuse and neglect you lived through will not always haunt you. It will be replaced by a self-confidence that you have never yet felt, and a knowledge that you are valuable, worthy, and deserving of love and protection. You will pass all of this hard-won wisdom onto your children, and they will help to heal you with their very presence in your life.

Hang in there, Miranda. I know it’s not okay right now. But with the help of some very special people, you will make it better. I promise.