I have written about the Code of Silence as it relates to PSU, and in Tuesday’s guest post, my friend and fellow blogger, Dawn Sticklen, has written about how it has affected her community. What I have not written about is how it has affected (and still affects) me.
I don’t like my own story. I feel weak and disempowered when I review the facts of my own abuse. It’s all messy and wrecked and muddled. And I’m fucking scared to talk about it. I don’t even know why I’m writing this post, except that I feel like I owe it to all the little girls who were or are or might be abused. And I owe it to little El.
In Ripple, I create a fairy tale: a father rapes his 15-year old daughter, Phoebe. Phoebe’s mother, though failing to prevent the abuse, protects Phoebe from FUTURE harm as soon as she finds out about the abuse. And in helping Phoebe heal, Helen, a workaholic lawyer, finds redemption for failing to protect Phoebe. No one is perfect in Ripple, but action and disclosure breaks the silence.
In my own life, however, I remained silent for decades, my memories and beliefs and nightmares shrouded in secrecy and the fog of self-recrimination, brainwashing and partial amnesia. I remembered some of the abuse, but I thought every little girl was touched and treated like that. My home life, although painful enough to hide from all of my friends, seemed normal. After all, how can we define normal if crazy is all we know?
This isn’t about my childhood. It’s done. I’ve churned it over again and again in therapy. I’d like to think I’ve healed, or at least I’m on my way. Part of my healing has required that I bid my birth family farewell. But here’s the rub: they don’t want to let go, not so much of me, but of my children.
Almost as worse, a few family members, not having heard the nitty-gritty details, don’t want me to let them go. They think I’m harsh. They think it’s sad that grandparents cannot see their grandchildren. And they pressure me to do a few things that I cannot do, like continue to permit my parents to see my children, and to stop telling my children the truth about my childhood.
After all, my truth hurts. It’s ugly. Either I am telling lies, or my parents are sick people. No one who wasn’t abused, and even some people who were abused, wants to believe that there is evil in our world.
I told a friend the logline from Ripple, and she asked me if the story was realistic. “Do fathers really rape their daughters?” Yes, my friend, they do. Parents abuse their children all the time, in more ways than one. It’s ugly, and messy and confusing to hear someone’s story, but it’s even uglier and messier and confusing to tell your own story. The only thing worse than telling your story is to face the disbelief of others.
That’s what we face, readers, when we try to break the Code of Silence. It’s what I’ve faced when I tried to explain to a family member that as a young adult, I was too weak to break free of my parents. I allowed them to build a relationship with my children, and I could not break free until I witnessed an abusive act. It was a minor act. Name-calling. But it woke me up. It was a catalyst for change.
This family member wrote me an e-mail this morning, in which she tried to guilt me into treating my parents with more compassion. My first response was to think self-destructive thoughts. I set those aside and wrote this note to her:
Please do not encourage the cycle of abuse to continue by contacting my parents in any manner. There are many, many things I have not told you and do not want to discuss with your concerning the abuse that occurred during my childhood. As an abused child, receiving this sort of note triggers a great deal of psychological pain and I do not know why you would send this to me.
If you really do care about my welfare, and the children’s welfare, then you will not have contact with my parents against my wishes; moreover, you will not facilitate contact between my mother and the children. My mother did not respect the boundaries I attempted to set. She constantly snuck into the children’s school and persisted despite being asked not to.
You speak of a grandmother’s love, and all of that is fine. But please do not forget what matters a great deal more: a mother’s love and DUTY to protect her offspring. Without possession of the facts, you are choosing to interfere and I have asked, and really must now insist, that you do not seek to bring my parents into the lives of our children.
And if you do not believe that I was abused physically, sexually and emotionally, then so be it. But if you even suspect that I am telling the truth, which I am, then you will do the right thing: help protect my children.
I was crippled and did not protect them as much as I should have, but I am stronger now. I am protecting them. And I will continue to protect them, until the day I leave this earth.
Please assist. Help me protect them. Help ME stay strong and feel safe in my own skin. And to be honest, this sort of note from you makes me feel scared.
I hope this helps someone reading this. I hope it strengthens my own resolve while I deal with my birth family and my wider family. I hope I can find a way to take all of these fears and doubts and pain . . . and throw them all into the ocean. I’m thinking that’s what I need to do.
P.S. I couldn’t leave this on a sad note, not after watching some good news on NBC. Earlier today, Kayla Harrison became the first American to win a gold medal in Judo. Kayla was sexually abused when she was a 13 year old girl by an ex Judo coach. And yet, she triumphs. She is, my friends, a Rebel Thriver.