Faded memories…

In a previous post, I mentioned how few memories I have from when I was a child. As I pondered the meaning of family over the past week, my attention once again turned to these memories as a way to weigh my feelings against reality. The more I thought over things, the more I realized there was only one truly happy memory of my bio father before the age of six.

I know he worked days, so his time with us was mostly limited to nights, but I don’t even remember him in the time between work and bedtime except on three occasions. One I remember because I was embarrassed that everyone was laughing at something three year old me said. The other, I could only see his legs and shoes because I was a baby and sitting in the floor – not a memory of him in all reality. Take away those, and the only memory I actually have of him that is a good one is when I was standing beside him in his favorite recliner watching football when I was four.

The simple truth is, to me, there were only six years of my life in which I actually remember him being there. As I have written previously, in those memories he was mostly tearing my mother down, overbearing, extremely distant, or punishing me harshly. This means for me, I never really felt like he was my father. I felt a sense of duty because he told me that’s what family is, but in truth, he wasn’t my father just because he put a roof over my head and met the bare necessities for clothing and feeding me.

When talking to my brother last week, it hit home when I told him our “father” hasn’t been a part of my life for 28 years. Suddenly, I realized I am 40, and six years does not qualify someone as a parent, especially when a large portion of that time was punctuated by emotional abuse and neglect, endangerment, and physical abuse. He was a tiny blip in my timeline, one I think is hardly worth continued concern.

I don’t say these things to be harsh, hurtful, or vengeful. I do say these things, however, to be honest, open, and real about where I am in my life. It’s time for me to let go of the things that have held me back, to honor the ones who have supported and loved me by moving forward with my life, and to no longer feel like I should keep secrets and protect people out of some misplaced loyalty to a family that never actually existed.

Remnants

The past week has been challenging to say the least. I lost my dad on Oct 25, and a cascade of unrelated events followed. The details are unnecessary, but to say I am tired and worn would be an understatement.

After receiving a message shaming me for the pain my bio father and his wife are going through, I wrote a long letter. In it I let out the hurts and heartbreak they dealt to me over time, and for the first time, publicly told my side of the story.

One of the things I mentioned in the letter was how I used to hide in my closet because it was the only place in the world where I knew I couldn’t be “in trouble.” As I started my day today, I remembered that, even after I left his home, I still found the need for that safe space. Even though my room at my mom’s was a safe space, I still needed a sanctuary, somewhere I knew I couldn’t be found. So, in the only corner of the closet that wasn’t exposed with the folding doors were open, behind the long dresses I hung up to shield me from prying eyes, I made a little nest where I could hide.

Until this morning, I had completely forgotten about my hiding place. Now, however, I remember going there several times. I’m not even sure I needed to when I did, but it the only space in my tiny world I was certain I could control. It was dark and silent, in it I could find peace and release the anxiety that would build up.

What I also didn’t realize was that over time, I have continued to keep my little closet space, but I’ve expanded it a bit. My home is now my safe space, my sanctuary. It is the place I go to hide – it’s the only place where I have complete control. When people come to it unannounced, I feel that same sense of anxiety that I had when I would hold my breath, hoping no one would find me in my closet when I was hiding from the world.

Who Is Responsible?

As a child, I learned to take responsibility for a lot of things.  Sometimes, these were the things that most youth learn in order to become responsible adults.  Yet, there are other things that I learned to take on that are clearly not my own – or at least it is becoming more clear that they do not belong to me.

I remember thinking that it was my responsibility to protect my mother from the wrath of my father.  He said ugly things, lots of ugly things, about her, and I did my best to hide them from her.  Not only this, but after I was molested by my grandfather, I remained silent because I wanted to protect her.  I knew that if my father found out that her father molested me, he would find a way to blame her – even though it was his fault for leaving me with that man instead of with my mom.

As a teen, I took on a new responsibility, that of the secret keeper.  I kept the secrets of my grandfather locked away inside because I was afraid that if I told, I would bring someone else pain.  My greatest fear was that someone else (especially my mother) had been molested by him, and sharing my pain would bring back ugly memories.  I knew what it felt like to remember, to loathe, to feel shame, so I did anything I could to shield others from the past.

What is even worse is that I even learned to protect my abusers from their own shame. For many, many years, I protected them out of respect for what is most people call “family.”  I felt it was my duty not to sully the family names by bringing out the ugly secrets that lay within.  I believed that bringing their offenses to light would destroy the world that family members considered safe.  I even felt, and still to this day somewhat feel, that to point out their shame would somehow be unfair because, they are “family” after all…

In my blindness, I enabled my family to pretend that nothing was wrong.  I was, and am still, fairly certain that my father would not believe that anyone in his “loving, Christian family” would be capable of causing such harm.  I believed that my mother’s family would turn a blind eye to the ugly truth, because they have a history (in my opinion) of sweeping things under the rug.  “Talking” is something they never truly do.

Where does this leave me?  I have not the slightest clue.  Sometimes, I want to call them all together and lay it all out.  I want to tell them about the dark and ugly secrets of which they are not aware.  Yet, my mind keeps coming back to the question, “What good would it do?”  I fear that my voice would not be heard – that their collective propensities for blaming someone else would end up making me look like the bad one and once more minimize my experiences.

I guess deep down, what I really want is for someone else to shoulder the responsibility for this entire mess for a while.  Yet all my life, all I have received from others are excuses.  Excuses as to why it is not their fault and why they should not be expected to bear the burden as well.

So, I keep shouldering the responsibilities, even if they are not my own.

Disappear…

One of the songs that is on my “Survivor Songs” playlist is Disappear by Jars of Clay.  For many years, I really did not understand this song and found it quite unnerving.  The thought of someone wanting to be so close truly terrified me.  Not to mention the fact that I truly could understand what others seemed to find so intriguing about me.

Then one day, it all hit me…there are two sides of me…the one that is on display, and the one that I hide.  Although I am very good at hiding, when others come close, they realize there is something more.  It is the fact that there are hidden things, mysteries, that draws them near and makes them want to know more.

What terrifies me about all of this?  The fact that the secrets that are so enticing are also dark and dangerous.  There is no beauty or magic hidden behind the mask, just mists that conceal snarling, venomous shadows…

Broken Silence…

My silence has been broken…my secret is undone.  Funny how scary that thought once was to me, but now it is actually comforting….

Recently, through a casual conversation, a family member learned of a family who is in contact with my grandfather.  There is a child, and terrified for their safety, my family member shared my story – asking that the family never, ever leave this child alone with him.

For so many years I have agonized over my silence.  My fear has always been that so many children are in danger because I have not told.  Yet, I never spoke out because the first time I ever told was over 10 years after it occurred.  I was afraid to press charges because I believed I would go through all the motions, only to end up with no results.  I did not want to accuse him publicly and then be called a liar because I didn’t tell when I was young.  With all the controversy over “repressed memories,” I felt it was better to make peace on my own than to seek a justice that would always be elusive.

I wish I could go back and fix it, but I can’t.  All I can hope is that, if my secret can be shared and the silence is broken, that one more child will be safe.

Vengeance vs Justice

One of the reasons I began my healing journey was because I was consumed with anger against one of my abusers.  Every day, I woke up with the thought of seeing his name in the paper under the obituaries.  I could not reconcile myself with the thought that, while my life had come to a crashing halt, he was carrying on like nothing had ever happened.  He was happy (I guessed), successful, and had everything he needed – yet I could not function on a level that was anywhere near normal.

It took a long time for me to cope with my need for vengeance.  My counselor helped me understand that there were only two ways to keep it from consuming me – confront my abuser, or release the need to seek retribution. Because I did not feel that confronting him would bring closure or resolution, I chose to let go of those feelings of hate, anger, and pain so that I could move on with my life.

It was very difficult at first. As time went on, however, I began to understand that, one day, they will understand the pain and suffering they have caused. And, even though it may seem like my abusers have “great” lives, their hearts and souls are diseased.  In time, the disease will take it’s toll on them, and they will pay a dear price for the harm they have done in this life.

Yet, at the same time, I fear that my silence may bring harm to others.  I know that one of my abusers attempted to harm someone about 30 years before I was abused, and that he was abusing someone else at the same time that I was abused.  This makes it a very real possibility that he will attempt to harm another child.

If I spoke out now, how many people would take me seriously?  It has been over twenty years since I was abused, and I began having flashbacks in my teens.  Everyone will want to know, if I was really abused, why didn’t I say something earlier? I  could stand to lose so much in this life that I have finally pieced together if people take me as some crazed attention seeker…

I do not want to or need to seek vengeance for myself, but at the same time, how many children may be hurt because I do not speak out?

WOW!

For the first time in my life, I told someone that knows my father why I left his house when I was a teen…
Bare with me, that one is still one sinking in. This isn’t the first time I have ever told anyone – all my friends know, and I have no problem telling people who do not know him. However, it is different when they know him. Knowing that what I was saying had impact on this person’s view of my father made it feel awkward. The main thing that kept running through my head was that he would find out – then I would have to deal with him. It’s not that I can’t deal with this, I have dealt with my pain. What I cannot reconcile is that he will always be the victim – even though he was the aggressor. I guess that is what keeps me from telling people who know him about what happened. Deep down, I know that, by telling my story, he becomes a victim. Not that I victimize him, but he sees himself as the victim of my “lies” or my inability to understand his type of “love.”

The funny part is that I never really even said abuse, I mentioned his anger and inability to let it go. I mentioned asking the counselor not to make me go back to his house. I am sure the person I was speaking to could deduce the rest, but I still never actually said the words. There are so many things I could have said, but I did not.

One day, I’m going to say the heck with it and tell my whole story to everyone. On that day, I will make the accusations have held back for so long – and I won’t care if it “victimizes” him or not. But for now, I really prefer not to have to listen to it or justify my point. I shouldn’t have to justify it, but I still feel like I have to sometimes. Maybe one day soon I can reclaim that part of myself and stop feeling so wrong about justly laying the blame where it belongs without regret.