My story is not an inspiring tale. It’s not one that fills a person’s heart with encouragement, nor their eyes with tender tears. It is a cautionary tale. A warning. A wake-up call. A nightmare.
My story is a testimony of the lasting effect of child abuse. It is an account of the devastating impact of rejection, manipulation, and sexual exploitation; impact that continues throughout the life of an individual. It is a sad chronicle. But it is the only story I have to tell. It is the only one I was given. It is the one I have lived.
I was born not knowing, but wanting to know. A sensitive child with antennas that were always extended, I perceived things that many never do. I didn’t always understand what I perceived. But I felt things that weren’t expressed, heard what wasn’t being said, comprehended the invisible, discovered and uncovered the hidden. By the time I was 4, I knew the world to be a very uncertain, terrifying place. By the age of 5, I realized my parents were even more terrifying than the world. And more horrible.
They fought often and sometimes violently. They left frequently when angry, without explanation, without any reassuring words that they would soon return. They were rarely gone more than a day, at least not usually at the same time. But my father once disappeared for several months. So as their absence progressed, as minutes stretched into hours, I would fear they would…and would not…return.
The violence wasn’t just between them. They shared.
I remember many angry, hateful words hurled at me. Words that cut me down and sliced me apart. I remember their demands, the performance requirements, my inevitable failures, their merciless responses. I remember never being good enough. Never being the little girl they wanted me to be. I also remember the slaps. The hair pulling. The fists. The welts and red marks. The belt buckles. I remember them, but the words almost seemed to hurt more than the hitting and knocking down and dragging around. The words cut deeper.
The sexual abuse cut the deepest. To the core. To the bone. To the heart. The sexual abuse stabbed me through and through, then cut me to pieces, ground those pieces into the earth until I was nothing but dust and then it blew me apart, scattering my dust to the wind.
My father was my abuser. My protector was my abuser. My idol was my abuser.
He taught me lessons. That I was an object, not a person. An object to be used. An object who had no rights and who wasn’t allowed to need. An object who was supposed to make him feel good, to do what he said, even when it was reprehensible. Who was not allowed to say or even think the word no. An object to be taken from, then discarded as worthless. An object to be hated. Not a person. Never a person. A thing. A worthless thing.
I blamed myself. I thought there was something so horribly wrong inside me, I somehow caused him to be sick. To do sick things. I took responsibility for his actions. I kept the secret. I was a good object.
His behavior escalated. He took more. Demanded more and more. Did worse and worse things to me. Made me do unbearable things. What satisfied before no longer titillated sufficiently. No longer thrilled. So he changed the game. Upped the ante. And took more. This continued until I was 14 years old.
In the aftermath, after I left my childhood home, I sought healing in various ways for many years. If this were an inspirational story, I would now begin to tell you about my journey to victory and healing. I would tell you how I was able to put the pieces back together again. But that is not my story. That was not my journey.
I attempted to find and walk that path. The healing path. I did the work, went to groups, to individual therapists, to seminars and classes. I asked for prayer, read the Bible, read books others wrote about their journey, read books written by experts, prayed for myself. I went to therapy at least once a week for many, many years. I took the medications the doctors told me would help in various combinations and in massive doses, all to no avail. I faithfully wrote in my journal, recording feelings and impressions. Wrote poems to express the pain. Tried to talk to a few friends about my story because my counselor said it would help. But I couldn’t express what I felt and it fell flat. I even forgave my parents. But healing eluded me. I journeyed far on that path, but I never arrived at the golden destination. Instead, I wandered in the darkness, lost in the trees.
I had two lives: The broken and the pretend.
The broken life was my inside life. It contained all the destruction. The aftereffects of the abuse. The broken soul. The decimated being. The fragmented psyche. The wounded heart. The broken person in her broken life was the one who was sometimes able to be real enough to recognize her unbearable pain and to seek help. But it was hard. The pain was big and strong and tall and wide and deep and you could drown in it. You could die in it. My memories were shattered and I watched myself as if watching clips from an old movie. Clips that were torn into pieces with parts missing, scratched and dim. They had to be dim and in pieces. That was the only way I could look at them. And even then, they broke my broken heart.
The pretend life was the one where I wore a mask. Where I put a smile on my face, acted as if I, too, was a “normal” person who was dealing with ordinary problems. Certainly my pretend person had never been abused. She was competent, professional, poised, capable, kind, and reasonably well-adjusted. The pretend person had to work very hard to keep the broken person hidden away in the deep dark places. She had to work even harder to keep from feeling the pain of the real me, the broken me. She had to fight to keep it all contained and covered. She had a good mask. A mask that worked for a very long time.
The bulk of my life is now over. Most of my time on earth has already been spent. I have never overcome. My story is not ending well.
I still feel I am not a “real” person. Not a true human being. I still believe I am an object, mostly. One who must perform and be at least twice as good as everyone else to be allowed to hang around, be employed, exist in the same organization, be accepted. I must contribute more. Do more. Otherwise, because I am so despicable, I will be thrown away. Otherwise, I will be judged and found useless and without value. Otherwise, who I am is so terrible, I must be thrown far, flung out, left in disgrace. Otherwise, I should be ashamed and hide.
There are things I still struggle with that others would find laughable, mystifying, and disgusting. I struggle to shower. Showers are places where nightmares come true. Where daddy does the most soul-crushing, humiliating things to you. The feel of wet porcelain is nearly unbearable. The confinement is insufferable. This is but one example. Another? Getting a wet spot on my skin sends me cringing and gagging. It took me a very long time to understand. To realize it reminded me of the feel of a pool of his sperm on my skin. I have no words for how greatly I hated and dreaded that pool of wet. Yes, there are things I struggle with that others would never understand.
I have placed myself in a protective bubble. This bubble has become my prison. I am disconnected from everyone. From my family. From the few friends I still have. Surface friends. The only connection I have been able to sustain is with my dogs. So my world is nearly empty and lonely and I spend my days in isolation, even when I’m with a crowd. This troubles me because there was a time I was yet able to connect. I don’t understand what happened. When it changed. How I lost the ability. I only know it is long gone and nothing I do revives this capacity, no matter how much I long for meaningful connections.
There is much more. Much more to my story. But enough. Enough now.
I tell it at this moment because the blank page listens. People don’t want to hear, but the screen doesn’t reject my words. It takes them and holds them as if they are significant. Though I know I don’t matter at all, perhaps my story does. I tell it because I want everyone to understand how completely annihilating sexual abuse is for a child. Physical abuse is destructive and terrifying. It abolishes. It breaks. Emotional abuse undermines and lays to waste. Neglect demoralizes and frightens. But sexual abuse, particularly when perpetrated by a parent who is supposed to protect and nourish, is, in my estimation, worse than all of the other abuse combined. All of this together creates a perfect storm. There is no way to survive abuse that comes in every form, from every direction. It will change the child, just as it has changed me. Forever. Even the wiring in the brain will be altered. What was is replaced with something that is only a small part of what had been before. What might have been will never be. The child who was is no more.
I tell my story, my pathetic, uninspiring story that has no happy ending, because I don’t want anyone else to have to live it. I don’t want another young girl to grow up alone in a nightmare and then to spend the rest of her life trying to recover. Unsuccessfully. I present my testimony to you now because I want you to take a stand. I want you to do something. I want us, together, to do what we can to stop child sexual abuse. To do whatever it takes to end it. So the next little tenderhearted, sensitive 4 year old won’t ever know what it’s like to have a penis placed in her mouth or her vagina. So she won’t turn 5 with sadness and terror in her eyes, unable to trust, knowing the world is a frightening and terrible place. Knowing her parents are the biggest terrors of all. I want that little 5 year old to learn about sex when she’s mature enough to understand and to find it wonderful. To discover it with a loving partner. For it to be a beautiful expression of appropriate love.
This is why I tell my story. I want to be the last in this line. I want to watch all the other little girls grow up in a different world, a safe world, a loving world. I want them to be able to fly free. And far. And high. Unfettered and whole. And to be the beautiful and wondrous creatures they were meant to be.