I had the rare privilege to grow up on a dairy farm. Being raised on a dairy farm influenced every aspect of my life. It gave me the bedrock of hard work, dedication and determination. We worked together as a family to care for these animals that we loved. It was a luxury for me because it meant that not only were my parents close by, but my grandparents were always on the farm too. I loved working with the animals, especially the calves. I would help my mom and my grandma with calf chores when I was young. Honestly, I don’t know how helpful I was!
There was one time in the deep, dark part of winter when I was feeding calves with my Grandma. It was cold, snowy & windy and the calves had to be fed their bottles. Grandma was trying to hurry as quick as she could because it was so cold, and there I was probably 5 or 6 years old putzing along. I had a flashlight that I was in charge of using to help my Grandma find everything in the snow. Well, I wasn’t much help as I remember. I wanted to give each calf a ‘candle light dinner’ with the flashlight. How cool would that be? In my little mind this was the best idea ever!
Grandma was not impressed. But, the calves got fed that night and every other morning and night following. Dairy farming is a 24-hour a day/ 365 days a year job.
One of the other things I was trusted to help with was cleaning out the stalls in our cow barn. Cows make big messes & we had to keep things as clean as we could. So, that meant we had to muck out the individual cow stalls every day and put down new bedding. This was my least favorite job. Boy, I hated that. If I remember correctly, I probably ran off to find a random kitten half way through and left my Grandma to finish the stalls.
One thing I learned cleaning stalls was that you really do have to keep up with it daily. Cows produce a lot of ‘stuff’ and things can get deep really quickly if you don’t stay ahead of it. We had a pen where we would keep cows who were getting ready to give birth and that pen always looked nice & soft with fresh, clean straw. Imagine my surprise when I was older and my Dad told me that my job was to pitch out the maternity pen. I went to start pitching it out and realized very quickly that I was in for a long, awful time. We let the ‘stuff’ pile up too long. We kept on laying new straw on top and it sure looked nice, but we never cleaned up the previous mess. Just kept on adding to the pile. I wanted to quit.
Transition to around 35 years later and me being at the police station for one of my many visits with the detectives. Detective 1 called me in to look at some new evidence and I was telling him how I was in therapy and it was going well, but now I’m having to deal with other unresolved issues from the past.
He knew I grew up on a farm and he had a farm background himself and said, “Going to therapy is like cleaning out a barn. You start pitching the top stuff and then you realize you have a whole lot of smelly ‘stuff’ to deal with that may or may not be related to why you are in therapy. You end up knee-deep in your own ‘stuff’”.
Truer words have never been spoken.
(I bet you never thought you would read about mental health related to cleaning out cattle barns. Welcome to my world.)
After the detective mentioned that, my therapy sessions started making a lot more sense. This was about 6-months after the assault and I was getting in knee deep in all areas of my life.
I started therapy about three weeks after my assault. I didn’t know where to start, so I started looking for places that took my insurance. Made an appointment and prayed I got someone good. During my intake session with my therapist she asked all sorts of questions. The main one being, “is there an event that led you here?”
I took a deep breath and in a very matter of fact way told her about my rape. I remember I had no emotion when talking about it. This happened and I want to deal with it.
“How long do you think this will take?” I asked
“Well, everyone is different and some people recover from trauma quickly and others it takes longer,” she replied.
“How long then?” I asked
“It can be anywhere between a few months to several years or beyond,” She stated.
Right then and there I decided that I was going to be healed and moving on with my merry, little life in 3-4 months. I’m an overachiever, so I can do this quickly. I have a life to live.
Too bad therapy and dealing with your mental health isn’t like a check list. I mean, it can be if you just want to show up at therapy and put on a front to check the boxes. If you really, really want help and to deal with your demons you have to be honest. Honest with your therapist and honest with yourself. That is when you get knee-deep in the ‘stuff’.
I realized after a few sessions that I was going to be in therapy for a long time.
So, we started working through things related to my assault. After about 6-months, other things started popping up in my sessions that had to be dealt with. It just wasn’t things from the assault. I was turning 40 that year and watching other friends celebrate their birthdays, planning weddings and having kids was hard. What was I doing for my 40th birthday? Trying to find my rapist and reassure myself that I was of value.
I worked a long, hard time on finding by self-worth again. I felt damaged. Alone. What man would ever want to even think of dating me, much less marrying me since I was damaged goods? Maybe I shouldn’t have been so focused on my career and instead been focused on getting married and having a family. I’ve never been focused on my personal life and now it has caught up with me. My career brought me to DC and if I hadn’t been so ambitious then I would never be in this spot. I could be the best darn soccer-mom out there if I wanted and I missed the boat because of my career. Dammit. Game over.
We’re about waist deep now and we keep on cleaning things out. It got real deep. It wasn’t pretty. It was hard. I cried. A LOT.
I would never be the same as I once was. I was forever changed and I didn’t like it. I would have to carry this with me forever. My life was ruined.
Now, I know what your response to this might be, “You are fabulous! So many people love you!”
At this point in my trauma journey none of that mattered. I was spiraling down and nobody could really help me except myself. All I heard was that awful sound that the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons makes. Inaudible noise.
That sucks, plain and simple.
There is no magic pill or app to download on your phone to cure this. This is all you and YOU have to do the work. You can’t cheat off of a friend’s test to get by. It is all you.
So, we continued cleaning out the barn. Over time we got really deep and did some good work cleaning out the ‘stuff’. It has taken years to get to the point that I am at now, but I am glad that I put the work into myself.
I now know that I am of value. That I have a life worth living. That this assault does not define me, but is a part of my story. That I am loved.
For those of you in the world struggling with trauma, PTSD, depression, and anxiety I hope that you can find the strength in yourself to put in the hard work. You are worth it.
Where am I at now with cleaning out the barn? Well, I have a big barn and we’ve taken lots of loads out of there. The barn looks pretty darn good, but it’s not done yet. It’s hard keeping up with all the ‘stuff’. So, right now I’m just going to enjoy the progress that I’ve made and get back to cleaning out rest of the barn in due time. I know that I’m worth it.
Prayers to you as you get cleaning,