No. 10 – The Who-What-Where Effects of Abuse
Entrance to Westminster Abbey London, England 10.2018
This morning I boarded a train to London after a stunning exploration of Dublin, Ireland and Edinburgh, Scotland. London is my final stop where I will reunite with friends who are also wrapping up a long trip before heading back to the states. The weather this morning is grey, damp, and gave me permission to feel the warmth of my heavy coat. This is my favorite time of year and I, oddly, love grey days. This weather added with a window seat on a train while the English countryside winks at me, makes for a safe and happy place to write.
This is going to be one of the most difficult pieces I have written. I underestimated the impact of rewriting much of my story. I made assumptions that due to the amount of therapy I have had, I will be able to breeze through this, and on paper give people a message that will help them begin a process of their own exploration, maybe even start to heal. While the story is stirring much in other people and giving others words to their silenced pain, it also has me reliving the details of what has been the most difficult to overcome.
Ahead are the words of a quick, yet pivotal chapter that marked many years of my therapy. In a short time, there was a combination of lethal trauma, that requires pause, and patience to understand and embrace. Bear with me.
I have looked back at calendars and photos many times to assess the exact moments the abuse took place. I have been curious to when it started, and what else was going on at that time and how the overlapping could have created more tangling of messages I began to believe about myself.
Looking back at the Sexual Abuse:
The sexual abuse from the previously mentioned abuser began around January of 1990. I was 13 years old and in the eighth grade. Puberty was in high gear and much of my history with my dad proved to validate my theory of being unwanted. We had a difficult time connecting, and around this time, I can now look back and see my desperation for wanting to belong to my dad that much more. My sexual abuser was telling me how much I meant to him and even then I knew I would trade his affection any day for a connection to my dad.
Shortly after the abuse started, I believe my intensity and hunger for my dad increased. I wanted his attention. I wanted validation. I desperately wanted to be rescued. I wanted my real dad to take me back from the man posing as my rescuer. It was torment to sort through the confusion of raging hormones combined with the after effects of being molested. Every attempt of talking back, or pushing/pulling toward my dad was a deep need to be seen. I have often said “When I needed my dad the most, he needed me to have no needs.”
I felt a constant ridicule by my family. There was no way for them to know about the molestation going on, but that secret mapped every encounter of every day of my teen years. It dominated my brain and soul, and so I responded the way that made me be able to function. I was loud. I was aggressive. I was angry. I was 13.
One evening my anger escalated. I was being antagonized by my mother, and opened my mouth to let the name calling flow: “Bitch.” My mom, not surprised by my response, calmly called for my dad. My mom always had my dad do her dirty work. She would rile me up, make hurtful remarks, and when I implode, she simply calls for my dad. Calling for my dad meant that in a few short minutes, I would have new leathery, red, welp marks across my legs, from my dad’s cheaply made belt.
When my dad instructed me to go to my room, I refused. I refused to participate. I refused to obey. I refused, in that moment, to be his pawn, that I had been for years. Of all his kids, I was his whipping post. When I said no, my dad moved towards me with speed. The speed increased and I moved, briskly to the hall, to find him right behind me. We are suddenly running, through our home. I have enraged my dad, and knew what this meant, so I ran. I ran as fast as I could to the empty upstairs bedroom, where my teenage sister cared for her young daughter. I was trapped with nowhere to go.
In this moment, I believe God was looking down, angry, frustrated and in awe of how the human race can miss these moments with such reckless abandonment. To my dad, he had a rebellious son. To me, I had too many needs and should be punished for being different. There is no guidebook for how 13 year olds should reveal the angst living inside of them. The very things we can not say out loud, we assume our parents can at least attempt to find.
The moment was heated. I had been in many familiar moments with my dad, just like this. In that minute, I felt his wrath. I danced with his fury. Until…my dad tossed me face down on my sisters bed. He mounted my body, by forcing his knees in my back. Once he was positioned, he held my face still and threw his fists under my jaws, then to the side of my eyes, and the center of my face. I screamed for help. Only the beginning of the scream had volume, as the hardening of his hands, silenced my voice with each stroke. I could hear his blows more than I felt them. I could hear his rage, as my face and heart went numb for survival. My dad yelled with his aggression “I am the only help you need!” I believe he meant it. I believe he felt justified to my body, and my well being. I believe he joined forces with all the lies in me that were already suggesting, that me being loved, was out of the question.
Beyond all of the moments I have had with my dad, nothing hurts more than knowing my presence had potential to bring him in to such rage, that he physically craved (and chose) to harm my body. The bruises could never unveil the actual heartache that lied deep beneath the rejection. That night, something severed in me, where the hope of ever belonging to or connecting with my dad dissolved.
The desire was gone. The innocent ideals of a young boy longing to be close, seen and nurtured by his father, were diminished by the assault of his aggression and the message with his words. In the few minutes he spent on top of me, he managed to rearrange any vulnerability or longing I had for him to rescue, or reassure me again. The line crossed was permanent, and my little boy heart grew into the shape of the most appropriate wall.
Over the next several weeks, I moved from home to home, while my parents were investigated. One of the families I lived with in particular, had a lasting impact on me during that time. They were safe, and aware. They understood what had been done, and somehow the gravity of what this means for a young boy. They were loud and disruptive to the lies I was believing. I remember the mom always telling me what a beautiful smile I had. They were calm, gracious and patient. I was not able to eat solid foods for most of my stay due to nerves, and anxiety. They cordially helped me feel light by joking about the possibility of me eating a full meal each day. They gently walked me through every possible avenue of healing that could happen for my body and my mind. Their home gave me a reflection of what relationships could look like.
Six weeks later, Child Protective Services placed me back in my parents home. They felt it was best for me to be with my family. My dad apologized for what he had done over a phone call before I was returned home.
The foster families actions for my own justice, provided enough of a lifeline for me to hang on when I needed to address this years later. Let’s not forget the growing minds and souls of a young teenager. Lets not complicate our own awareness for those who have not been so fortunate, and assume “Surely, they know what was done was wrong?” This is furthest from the truth.
That evening my dad affirmed every lie that I had been building, and not fully justified. Through the course of the newly arrived sexual abuse, and my dad’s previous abuse, I was completely busted up, and looking for confirmation that it was wrong, and shouldn’t happen, or the contrary: based on the way I am feeling from it, that I was meant to be abused.
This identity has played out in every part of my life. There is nothing organic about abuse, and no child will ever have the tools to navigate abuse in a way that helps them immediately overcome. Their precious souls and hearts are then divided by a need to constantly be alert, and find validation for the gaps and holes they feel, define them.
It took me many years to speak openly about the details of this Thursday evening with my dad. It took that long, because on some level, I believed his abusing me was ok because it helped my dad express himself. I believed the message it sent finally validated a persona that I was becoming, as someone who helped others by letting them abuse him. In the most grievous way, it was how I knew we were connected. It was affirmation that he did, see me.
Decades later, when the therapist asked me the details, my chest tightened, and my fists became clinched. He asked me to repeat the details, and since the moment I sat in my social workers office many years earlier, I had never uttered the specifics, yet they were fresh on my mind.
I was not sure what could come of this digging of old memories. I had protected that evening by building a life that showed how successful I was, and funny even. Would revisiting this memory require me to be done or will it further validate that identity I had spent years running from (You are unlovable)?
My mind is tense with memories. I close my eyes. I inhale with what I hope is a breath I have never known, and sit. I listen, as I am instructed to allow God to show me where He was when this happened. My awareness of God was still much of His tie and alignment with my parents. I viewed God as the creator of much of the chaos that was crushing me. To invite God in to this piece of my history seemed risky. The vulnerability hung like literal tons of emotional angst, floating on the surface of my chest, anticipating where to let it go.
I inhaled, and trusted. I noticed the moisture in my eyes gather quickly, and the rage I felt became sorrow. The grief steadied my heart, as the most appropriate emotion for that moment. I inhaled more to find a new piece of my story. Inviting God in was not as necessary as actually seeing God was there all along.
In the next moment, there was a beautiful peace that cut the tension, and gave the vulnerability rest. The simple words “I hate what he did to you. I grieve seeing my creation hurt.”
I can’t give the psychological definition of what took place in that moment, but I can tell you this: That moment carved a new lifeline for me to understand that the God I believed harms others in order to control them was a myth and part of a sicker plan to harm and control. The God that spoke to me has continually showed up as the most gracious, kind, loving, safe and powerful being to mend my pain. I’ve accepted that God grieves over my pain. God, the creator of the world cares that harm was done, and wants to give me the tools to overcome it.
That session was one of the only times I have discussed these details. There were many more stories etched in the weeks around there that had lasting impact on my undoing trauma later. I still think of how unnecessary so much of the years of angst I carried were. I believed so many lies that abuse invited me to.
I believed God orchestrated the abuse to make me more dependent on Him.
I believed I deserved the abuse because I was unlovable.
I believed my abusers found relief in being able to abuse me.
I believed these things, and allowed them to shape a lens on how I viewed life, love, and intimacy. Until I was told someone was grieving over it.
Abuse and assault must be addressed at it’s core foundation, so that it can then no longer house these lies. I think those of us who have been abused, downplay it’s impact because we are afraid of ever being that close to the situation again, so we think “being strong” is the way to overcome.
Today, I am drained from this story. Rewriting the details, makes my heart heavy. It forces my mind to think quick, and sharply. Then, I relax and remind myself that this has all been addressed. It has been engaged and the conclusion was that someone grieves over harm done to me, including me.
These stories we have shape so much of our lives without us knowing it. We believe by not saying these things out loud it will minimize the actual harm. We believe that saying it out loud will somehow expose weakness in us, that it has impacted us in ways that we can not manage.
So, what do we do with the stories? Do we bury them as far as we can and let the decision to deny shape our next steps?
Do we run as far away from this God that we believe abandoned us, or in some way allowed this to happen as part of His will?
Or, do we say them outloud to someone, trusting that they can carry our pain with us, and be that gentle reminder that says “I am sorry.”
If you are carrying unnecessary harm that has been done to you, please know and trust that you are cared for in ways that you may not know. There is a beautiful world of survivors who have fought to carve a path for you to be able to say outloud, what was done in secret. May you begin to trust that this was written specifically for you, and that each word is shared so that you can feel safer in your pain.
For me, further redemption comes from being able to express this story, knowing someone can grab these words, and tuck them in to their pain, while finding words that break up their lies, makes my reliving it, worth it.
Don’t minimize the power of what has been done to you. Do not believe your pain is insignificant. Do not leave that younger version of yourself left to manage all the wreckage that has come from the harm.
Oh, what pain. Oh, what love. Oh, to know: It was never meant to happen. Someone grieves over my unnecessary harm.
Set yourself free… Share your story…
Be well. I am fighting for each of you.
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