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Breaking free: Recent Detroit Lakes graduate works through trauma of sexual abuse – Detroit Lakes Tribune | #childabuse | #children | #kids

At 17, Ava Guaman-Person, broke the circle of generational trauma. Both she and her mother, Renna, were sexually abused as children and teenagers.

The Detroit Lakes residents traveled in the same circular patterns in an attempt to avoid facing their trauma. The result was rage, misplaced shame, rebellious behaviors and risky choices.

“It really is a cycle,” Ava said. “And, I needed to stand up and not let it destroy me. I needed to make a change.”

From her decision to seek help from a therapist, her mother Renna found courage to stay the course of recovery.

Renna looked at her oldest child and said, “You are my strength.”

Mother’s trauma began at 6, daughter’s at 4

Renna was introduced to pornography by a member of her extended family when she was six. The purpose, she believes, was to warp her understanding of appropriate behaviors and touch. She was 14 when she was raped. When she was 16, another predator molested her.

“I found out he had done the same thing to my mom,” Renna said.

Her daughter’s trauma began when she was 4 years old. Ava was also molested by a family friend. She woke up with no underwear on. The male explained that they were playing a game called doctor.

“I was so confused,” Ava said. “I think back on that now, and, my God, I was four. How could I understand?”

When Ava was six, she and her mother moved into her grandmother’s house in Fargo. It had become a refuge for family members who had fallen on hard times. To the best of Ava’s recollection, there were about 10 people living in a small house. It was there that an extended family member began to sexually abuse her.

“I was shooshed a lot,” she recalled. “I wish I had the bravery to speak about it before it happened again, but I didn’t.”

From alcohol to rebellion, methods of acting out remained consistent

When memories of what happened rose, Renna decided to drown them in alcohol.

“I realized I could drink to suppress them,” she said. “But later – much later – I realized all those problems were there waiting for me when I sobered up.”

Renna stepped onto the path of recovery through inpatient treatment.

Watching her mom struggle with substances was a blessing for Ava. It showed her a glimpse of the road she may travel down if she grabbed for the same crutch to mask her pain. So, Ava walked down a different road. She became anxious, provocative, distant and the kind of teenager who would poke a sleeping bear without warning.

Renna saw herself in Ava, but she thought her daughter’s behaviors were residue from her baby seeing her struggle with alcohol.

“I had no idea what had occurred,” she said.

While Renna picked up the pieces to provide a more stable life for her loved ones, Ava was still in the eye of the storm.

“All I wanted, all I wished for, was that I could tell my mom,” Ava said.

She knew her mother would believe her. The person who abused her started doing the same thing to another remember of the family and was caught.

“My mom asked if anything happened to me because I spent time with him,” Ava said. “Inside I was screaming, but it was too intense and I just shook my head.”

Paralyzed with a sledgehammer of truth on her tongue, all Ava longed for was to be held in her mother’s arms; to release all the pain, sadness and confused emotions about those moments that twisted her mind.

“But, I always felt like a wall was separating us,” Ava said.

Ava’s path to salvation began as daily life altered with the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted, at the time, school was only being taught online and there were more hours to spend in her head.

The weight of the secret was suffocating her from within. She wanted to breathe with peace in her heart. She wanted to know what it felt like to shake free of the shadows that followed her and to live in the light of truth.

“I had tried therapy before, but it wasn’t the right therapist for me,” Ava said. “And, at the time I was 13 and my mom was in the room with me.”

As a young woman, Ava decided she wanted to give therapy another try.

“It was gradual, but eventually enough was enough,” she said. “I didn’t want to suffer anymore. I didn’t want to live in anxiety. I didn’t want to struggle with trust and intimacy issues. I was done.”

She heard therapy sessions were being offered online, and the idea appealed to her.

“I liked being able to have a session in my room – my safe space,” Ava said. “I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to talk about it in an office.”

Opening up to her therapist helped reshape who she saw in the mirror. The voice in her mind belittling and condemning her — suggesting it was her fault because she didn’t fight tooth and nail –- was silenced with the truth.

“There was no reason for me to be ashamed,” she said, adding when she heard those words come out of her mouth, “It all came tumbling down.”

Still, telling her mom what happened was terrifying. Ava feared what her mother’s reaction might be -– to the abuser and to her sobriety. Ava’s therapist offered to share her story, on her behalf, instead.

When the day came, Ava told her mom that her therapist needed to talk with her. As her mom went into her room, Ava left the house, grabbed her bike and headed to a friend’s house.

“My whole body was shaking,” she said. “My heart was beating out of my chest and I was sweating profusely.”

In a few hours, Ava received a text from her mom.

“It said, ‘we need to talk,’” Ava recalled. “That made me not want to go home even more, but I did.”

When Ava arrived home she found the moment she had longed for – with open arms her mother pulled her in and hugged her.

“She told me that she loved me and just held me,” Ava said. “She didn’t push me to speak, she just allowed me to open up on my own time.”

After going to therapy, Ava Guaman-Person, 17, was able to share her secret — that she had been sexually abused by a member of their extended family. Her mother, Renna Person-Fabel, experienced a similar trauma. With her secret in the light, the Detroit Lakes resident is looking towards her future for the first time.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Helping others break the silence barrier

Free from the shackles she placed on herself, Ava saw an opportunity with her high school graduation capstone project.

The Detroit Lakes High School graduating class of 2022 were put to the task of doing research and creating an action plan to encourage change about a topic that they felt was important.

“I decided to focus my project on sexual abuse of children,” she said. “The most surprising fact I learned was that 93 percent of victims know their abusers. It’s heartbreaking.”

Ava didn’t know what to expect when she shared her project with classmates and the community. What she found were interested parents wanting her insight to protect their children, as well as classmates and adults who knew the pain of childhood sexual abuse on a personal level. Those conversations empowered Ava. She saw she could be an advocate who is not afraid to broach difficult conversations.

“It’s more important to bring light to the subject than to sweep it under the rug,” she said.

As Ava stands tall in the light of truth, she is continuing her therapy. And, for the first time, she is dreaming about her future.

“I never thought about college before,” she said. “Now, maybe I’ll become a history teacher or a park ranger. I feel more confident and alive than I have ever felt. Life is finally worth living; worth waking for. I got over the mountain I didn’t think I could climb.”

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