This week’s piece comes from a very good friend of mine. She’s offered to share her story publicly for the first time, under a pseudonym for obvious reasons. I’m proud of her and inspired by her courage. May her story serve to hearten and help heal the more than 1 billion women on the planet who have suffered similarly …
How to Child Abuse a 40 Year Old Mother
by Jenny A.
In the 1970’s, sexual abuse was not something people talked about much. Perhaps the subject occasionally crossed my parents’ minds, but not enough for them to stop me from playing at the house of an old man who lived down the street. I suppose my parents thought of him as a harmless old grandfather. He turned out to be a pedophile. My play at his house resulted in me repeatedly being naked, scared and ashamed while he did whatever he wanted with me. I carried the secret of his abuse for decades. This account is the first time I have shared it in a public forum.
The abuse was confusing. My body reacted to his touch, and I also enjoyed the attention, even though somewhere in my little girl heart I knew what was happening was gruesomely wrong. It was also painful at times. Children’s orifices are not meant to accommodate an adult penis. The abuse turned me into a very sexual little girl, and it was not too long before other predators easily recognized the victim in me. Looking back I feel I had a secret sign on my forehead: “molest me.” My story is both similar to and different from Jamie’s Story at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
As the years went by I ended up in situations where a doctor, a teacher, a boss, and a handful of men I dated all abused me. I had never learned how to name or heal the original wounds, so I had few tools for avoiding further situations that ended up being traumatic. Many women who suffer sexual abuse become afflicted with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) without realizing it (I think labels are useless at best and harmful at worst). While this was never my diagnosis, still one of the biggest insults resulted in me having no voice. I had absolutely no idea how to say “No!” Speechless terror does that to children’s voices. I often froze when men put their hands on me. I was completely submissive, my body ready to accommodate their needs. Chronologically, I was 20, 30, 40, but emotionally, psychologically and sexually, I was still six years old. It was not until my daughter turned the age I was when the abuse started, that I mustered the courage to face my past head-on and begin the brutally arduous task of trying to heal. I looked at programs like Model Mugging and the Woman’s Justice Center, but they didn’t fully resonate with me. I mostly did it on my own, for my daughter and for my own inner little girl desperate to be reclaimed and honored.
But the old man down the street wasn’t the only person to exploit me. My father was inappropriate with me first.
Answering the Big Brain Question “NO!”
How does a child make sense of the love that naturally emerges for her father when the things he’s doing are profoundly damaging to her brain, body and soul? And how does she NOT overlay that confusion and disorganization on to every significant relationship with men ever after? How does she skillfully recreate the trauma, not in ways that simply reenact the original wounding, but actually does lead to some kind of healing integration? How does she get back to Square One developmentally speaking? Back, at age 40, to being the innocent child she once was before she was unconsciously betrayed and unskillfully exploited? How does she finally become Incest-Triumphant?
I have had a really hard time trying to figure out how to love my dad and still honor myself in the wake of what he did. Loving fathers don’t violate, betray and abuse their daughters. If I love him and have him in my life, I feel like I am not honoring myself. But, he is my dad and love for our parents is hardwired into us. When we are young we know instinctively that we cannot survive without our parents, so we cling to even the most abusive ones. It’s very confusing. It took an abusive marriage and a handful of later exploitive relationships, and a painful withdrawal from a benzodiazepine tranquilizer given to me to help me cope with my past, to be able to honestly say ”NO MORE ABUSE!! I had to get help to initially stand on my own two feet and learn to take care of myself in every way. Only then was I ready to think about engaging with a man again. Otherwise, I was going to attract yet another perpetrator into my life and once again be sitting in the fire.
Honoring Healing Wanting to Happen
For me, getting back to square one meant having the courage to accept that I am a sexually abused woman. I’ve had to have the courage to feel the old terror and shame, and allow it to surface and discharge from my body. That means some days I’ve ended up crying and shaking. I’ve had to allow the rage to bubble up. I’ve had to find a healthy outlet for it. Some days I dig holes in my garden and fill them back up again, and dig them up again the next day. I have to be kind and compassionate with myself always, and embrace the little girl inside of me who was so badly dishonored. I have to honor her today, in the here and now. I am still reclaiming parts of myself as I go, but at least now I feel far more real and authentic than I ever have before. And I realize that while my father (and mother, who was complicit in the abuse, but that is another blog entry!) didn’t really love me, I am a good person. I have something precious to share with others: my reclaimed heart and soul. Each and every day, I am more and more at peace with myself and the real suffering in the world.