About the time Heather began acquiring language, around age two, her father started making her perform oral sex on him. He’d grab her from behind and take her into the bedroom. Her response to this trauma was to retreat. “As a child, I would often crawl into the closet under the stairs, as far as I could get. If I was invisible and nobody could see me, then I was safe,” Heather recalls.
She didn’t retrieve this memory until she was in her late 30s. Washing the dishes one day, looking out the window, she knew something was wrong. “Every time I would read a story about child abuse in the paper I’d come unglued and start sobbing.” About this time, she went to see a movie with a visiting friend, a PhD therapist. In the movie, Barbara Streisand murders a client. Something in the movie triggered the memory.
“After the memory broke through, my friend got me out of the theater as fast as he could and into the dark corner of a downtown Portland restaurant,” said Heather. “Fortunately, I was with somebody who cared about me. Who didn’t tell me I was crazy. Who said, yes, if this is what you remember.”
She started a 20-year process of therapy. It included conventional therapy, somatic therapy, shamanic journeying, and autobiographical writing. For 18 months or so, she’d write what she could until she reached a point when she couldn’t remember anything. “I hit a wall. Then I became afraid to go to bed. I’d think, ‘Something else must have happened to me as a young child.’ I’d wake up in the morning in the grip of fear, adrenaline pumping, gritting my teeth.”
In addition to sexual abuse, Heather also endured childhood polio and being ostracized as a result. She considers the question, “How was I able to be so resilient?” She believes the answer, in addition to therapy, was due to the help that came from people who showed up in unexpected ways to help her along the way. She also credits her faith in a vast protective goodness in the universe, a belief that was reinforced several years ago by a near-death experience.
Heather is now 67 and has three grown sons. She dotes on her two grandsons. Heather’s journey to resilience has been a long one. Although the scars from childhood will always be with her, she was fortunate to have caring people in her life and the resources for therapy. She had a rewarding career, becoming a professional in early childhood education. “I started by creating safe places for small children to be who they are really are. I probably did this because of my own experience, but not consciously,” she says. “To this day, if I have a choice, I’d rather be with children age five or younger than anyone else on the planet because they are the most real people in the world.”