I was three when it started. I have a vague memory of being in a yard and being asked to play behind a bush. I don't recall the details, but I remember the wrongness, a chasm created from a sense of ripping inside. I don't know if that was the first time, but it's the first time I remember the feeling in my body.

Fast forward to the living room. The sun was shining unfettered morning light from a cloudless day. Pouring in through the blinds in the elegantly decorated front room; I can still see the blue flowers on the sofa under the window and the crystal in the china cabinet glimmering through the glass. I was playing with Barbie's and he came in. Looking back, I don't know if my body tensed up or if I have inserted that rigidity into the memory. He came to play with me, and as always, maneuvred the scene into one of undressing the dolls. I knew what he wanted: to undress me. I felt my skin crawling and discomfort from the tension bubbling in my center. I silently and desperately pleaded, "Oh please just let me play with my dolls... please do not come near me, please do not ask me, please leave me." The silent pleading turned to a scream, but I said nothing aloud. I felt little parts of my soul dying every time these situations occurred.

In later years, it wasn't just me. I don't have proof, but somehow I know. I had three friends, we played on our street almost every day. There was one girl, a year older than the rest of us, and she was the most powerful. She was beautiful and charismatic and from a wealthy family; a girl you knew, even at 4 years old, would always be 'an admired one'. I remember thinking if it was happening to her, and she seemed OK, then maybe I should be OK with it as well. It is only in reading this that I realize that we (and our experiences) are different. I spent my youth and adolescent years protecting each of them by staying silent without realizing none of this is the same for any of us. To the other girls, it was just an older boy in the neighborhood who wanted to flirt and play (albeit, perhaps the things being done and the type of 'play' was inappropriate for the age) but for me, it was my brother. And when we moved, it stopped with them, but I would not find such a release.

I began to carry shame with me from my time as a toddler. I subconsciously began to slouch, weakening my abdominal muscles and carrying extra weight on my shoulders, almost as if trying to protect myself physically from the emotional pain. Fear became embedded in my fascia. As with any trauma, the way it presents is generally multifaceted. I have a naturally athletic shape, tall with a swimmers body, although I spent my youth dancing. My body vacillated from weak to strong depending on how my nervous system learned to protect itself. Broad shoulders to carry the weight of this secret, weak core housing a broken child inside. Long muscular legs - trained to walk on eggshells; to this day, it's hard for my heels to hit the floor. Mentally, I became fractured. Highly intellectual and charismatic by nature, I could have been a Senator or spokesperson except that I was LOUD. It was as if the required silence in one area of my life, caused an equal overflowing of noise in another. I lost any ability to regulate my tone and lacked restraint and self awareness around how much I spoke.

In school, I talked to everyone, the teacher could not control me. I was a pleasant child, but I refused to acknowledge authority when it came to telling me not to speak. They changed my seat, and I would make new friends. I was an excellent student, probably my saving grace, as otherwise I would have been seen as a total problem. Looking back, I imagine they saw me as too smart for the class and overly-excited by nature; they didn't understand that any rebellion of natural and fair authority points to a deeper cause. This was the 90's though, they did the best they could - they operated with what they knew. I was always in the top 5% of the class, although as the years passed, boredom set in as I was unchallenged - both mentally and behaviourally. I made it impossible to be controlled, and my rebelliousness increased after middle school.

My mother got breast cancer when I was 11. We had been very close when I was a child, but as the years went on, we seemed to lose any foundation of trust that we had. The situations with my brother had mostly stopped by the time I was seven or eight. He was a few years older than me and had gotten old enough for girls his age to start interacting sexually and so his focus moved on from me for a time, there was tremendous damage done though. Many things occurred my relationship with my mom, but surely the increasing screams inside of me widened the chasm, and her diagnosis brought with it an even greater lack of focus on my growing trauma. Somewhere, I expected her to wonder why I was so mean and aggressive. As I became louder and more forceful, she became weaker and more frail. She turned to victimhood - a broken marriage, now cancer survivor, with many children, struggling to pay the bills - she began to form an identity to shield herself that would layer cloaks of protection and levels of complexity over the next 25 years. The woman who existed under the maze has been hidden for a long time, making her appearance infrequently and only to be seen through a reflection in a foggy window.

I began to hate her. Hate her for not being stronger. Hate her for being so naive. Projecting assaults of selfishness onto her when she wouldn't come to my games or awards ceremonies. I would intellectually annihilate her, only to feel vitriolic disgust for her when she would cower away when I was finished. Looking back, I would be ashamed of my behavior if it weren't for what these painful moments taught me. Without any flaws in my own behavior, it would be quite easy to sit on a moral throne and cast stones; remembering the wounded creature I was in those days allows me to have compassion for others now, for I have been no better, perhaps even worse. Without proper alchemy, from pain, pain flows.

In any case, the split within my body and spirit started to become more intense. On the one side, I was a cheerleader, working part time at a book store, one of the top members of my class, incredibly social, charismatic, and capable. On the other, I was drawn to the lower members of society, often making friends with the kids from troubled backgrounds, secretly grabbing attention from potentially dangerous sources, and growing increasingly rebellious by the year.

I did not know how to value myself, which was evident in the friends I chose to open up to most, or the men who ultimately ended up getting my attention. It was not as if I had a good model for this, my parents had a dysfunctional marriage until my father died. My dad, while a smart and loving guy, drank himself to death. My mother is a nice woman and yet there is certainly some psychological conditions that could be used to characterize her, although I've given up any attempt to clinically label her. To this day I am often left wondering if she is manipulative or obtuse (I choose neither, and instead attempt acceptance and compassion). I joke that in the game of life, my mother is the final boss. If I can learn to love her, accept her, and respect her, then I will have beaten the game. Finding compassion and patience for her in the single most difficult part of my emotional and spiritual journey.

I have other siblings, but I was the youngest and we were not close growing up. It would be years before this history was shared with them. I was often left wondering how I could have such a big family, and yet feel so alone. Of course, once I began to learn tools to support myself, I was able to look into my thoughts from the outside and assess them for truth: When I remove myself from the rumination, I find a consistent safety with my oldest brother, and it shakes me out of the spiral of deceit. I am not alone. With him, there is rarely talk of my history, and there need not be. My safety in his relationship is steadfast, it is not at all predicated upon my trauma. He was almost 30 when he found out, and there was a time where our lack of mention of my history felt like we were ignoring a reality... but that was not it; I understood many years ago that the reality was incredibly painful and uncomfortable for him, and there is no good to be had in reliving the past for either of us. And in his unique way of coping, he was able to do something beautiful - he gives me the gift of treating me as if I am pristine and undamaged. He knows the story, and he sees me as anything but a victim. He reminds me that I am his sister: his awesome, funny, happy, charismatic, smart, and resilient sister. That is all, and that is everything.

In any case, prior to the entrance of supporters and my lengthy healing journey, I suppose I looked to men and friends that I felt were on the level that I saw myself - broken and dysfunctional, like my family. Poor role models aside, I was a fiercely hard worker. I found quite a bit of pride in how effective I was in the professional world, even at the young age of 15. By the time I was 17, I was working two jobs and going to school full time plus extracurriculars. I communicated I 'must' work, as we were certainly not a high income family but the reality was that work got me out of my life and my family, a place I could live separate from the drama of my home life and something I could own that was mine. Somewhere I was in control and the master of my fate. I can see looking back that this is where my relationship with radical personal responsibility began.

To be continued.