It Happened …
Ages 3-18. I was a sad child. I was never hugged or touched unless it was for bad. I remember desperately wishing a teacher would realize I was silently screaming for help through my eyes. How could you look at me and not know?
It Was ….
My step father. He was the only father I ever knew so I consider him my dad, not a step father.
My sister and I were left alone with my dad frequently, including overnight. “No one will believe you” resonates with me and I believe he said that to me. I think because I was so young when the abuse began, it was easier for him to get away with the abuse. I remember vividly the night I realized what my dad was doing. The feelings of shock and betrayal shook me to my very core, and at that moment, my memory ends. My little brain mercifully shut down to protect me so I could continue to function as a human being. There are huge pieces of time that are missing from my childhood. While I remember the emotional and physical abuse, that would be my last memory of sexual abuse until I turned 12, although I’m certain it continued. My memories from age 12 and forward are more clear. The physical abuse ended, the emotional abuse continued, and the sexual abuse continued, but in a different way.
It Made Me Feel...
It made me feel like I was nothing. I have always been “less than”. I feel the need to apologize just for being alive. I took on the role as “fixer” as a child. It was my job to keep everyone calm and quiet, to make sure I was as invisible as possible in order to stay out of my dad’s way. My teen years were spent trying to numb the pain, determined to self-destruct. My adult life was filled with violent and/or toxic relationships. After so many years of counseling, I continue to struggle with my weight, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and PTSD. I often feel people can tell just by looking at me, like I’m wearing a scarlet letter.
I never told. My abuse started as a toddler, so it had always been my life – what I was. My mom witnessed the physical and emotional abuse, and I assumed she knew about the sexual abuse as well.
I was 43 years old before and had been living with a man for five years before I told him about my childhood, and only after my dad died. He was shocked but was unbelievably supportive. That gave me the courage to talk to my mom. At first, I felt such relief to hear her say she didn’t know. We had been best friends for years, but she became angry, blaming me that she could no longer grieve her husband or tend to his grave without guilt. She removed me as executor of her will, and as beneficiary. I was instantly shut out and felt I had to grieve the loss of my mother as well as my father. After nearly 6 years, we are now able to attend holiday dinners and events together, although I don’t think we can ever be close again, and often pretend not to notice how uncomfortable we are around each other.
Counseling. I’ve been going to counseling for about 4 years or so. Sometimes I see an end, sometimes I think it will never end.
I was a counselor at a camp for abused children this summer. I told my story at church. I told my friends. I shower my fb page with messages about abuse. I’m helping with this project.
I think the key is talking about it. Stop it from being a dirty little secret so people can let go of their shame and guilt. Talk to kids about it. ASK. If someone had asked me as a little girl, I may have told. Don’t force them to hug and kiss relatives or visitors. Let them be in control of their body and educate them that even teachers, police officers, and other people in authority do not have a right to touch their private places. That if they’re being touched inappropriately, it is not their fault, and it’s okay to tell. Shout out the message. Create ads and commercials telling kids they are not alone and this is how to get help. People don’t know what emotional or sexual abuse looks like because it leaves no visible, physical scars. It’s not easy to recognize, is usually someone you love and trust, and they absolutely do not look like monsters. You could use the average looking person, some in authoritative roles, functioning in jobs with the lowest and highest salary, appearing to have normal lives, but in reality, they are a predator. This is what childhood emotional and sexual abuse looks like. It looks normal.
I want people to talk about it. Understand that this abuse affects us in multiple ways for the rest of our lives. The earlier you can start counseling, admit to yourself what happened and start the healing process, the less likely it will destroy you.
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