How I Survived a Troubled Childhood

For eight years of my life I was sexually abused by my father. The abuse began at age 11 and ended when I left home at the age of 18. I tried to tell my mother, my aunt, my grandmother. Still, nobody helped me. Back in the 70s it was easier just to live in denial than to face embarrassment and public scandal, especially if your family was well known and thought of in the community.

At times I thought of calling the police, but I knew my father would go to jail. I didn’t want to be responsible for that. I knew my parents would divorce. I didn’t want to be responsible for that either. It’s funny how I actually thought it would have been my fault. Children think that way, however. At times I even thought it must be my fault my father had started abusing me. My breasts had developed earlier than other girls my age. The boys at school noticed and often said ugly things to me. Therefore, my father must have noticed them too. Perhaps I should have worn looser clothing so he would not have noticed.

I often thought of running away. The only thing that stopped me from doing that was my desire to one day go to college and do something important with my life. Every time I thought of running away, images of teenage prostitutes came to mind. I didn’t want to end up that way.

I even thought of killing my father. As horrible as that sounds, there were times it seemed like a perfectly rationale thing to do in my mind. I always imagined burning him in his bed while he was sleeping. The only problem with that scenario was that my mother would be in the bed too, and I had no desire to kill my mother. Another thing that kept me from actually following through with this plan was my relationship with God. I knew that it was wrong. I knew that somewhere amidst my pain, He had a plan for me.

At first I tried to survive my abuse by manipulating the situation. I would set my alarm a bit earlier so I would be up and dressed before he came to wake me up for school. But that didn’t work. He would get very angry with me. I would then pretend to sleep and not wake up in the hopes he would just go away. That didn’t work either. He didn’t care if I was awake or asleep. I would tell him to stop and he would get very angry with me, and it only made him more determined. I would cry and he would get mad at me, telling me I was nothing but a big cry baby.

Eventually I stopped fighting, crying, or trying to manipulate. I learned to close my eyes and leave my body. I would travel to the ocean in my mind, and there I would bask in the warmth of the sun, build sand castles, and splash in the waves. It became my safe place. He was nowhere around. In that place, I felt safe and loved.

I also learned to read my Bible. Some people have asked me how I could believe in a God who would allow such abuse to happen. I’m not sure how to answer that other than to say that I always felt God had a plan for me. I never felt abandoned by Him. I learned to find great comfort in reading Psalms. In them, I found the hope to survive each day. In them, I found a reason to live. I also believed that I would one day be able to use my abuse to help someone else.

When I reached the age of 18, I graduated high school and went to college. I thought, that in leaving, I was also leaving the abuse behind. Physically, I was. The emotional scars, however, stayed with me. Those scars led me on some paths that were positive. They also led me on some very negative pathways.

My self-esteem was shattered. I had a compulsion to find someone who would love me and give me the love that my father was not able to give to me. I had a need to feel “normal.” As a result, I became sexually promiscuous. I wanted to be loved, and felt that sex was all that I had to offer. After all, my own father could not love me without it.

When I fell in love and got married, I felt complete. I thought my past was finally behind me. My husband was kind, loving, a Christian. He had grown up with an abusive father, so we had a lot in common. I thought that was a good thing. I didn’t realize at the time, however, how scarred he was as well.

One day, he touched me in a way that reminded me of my father. It actually made me have a flashback. He had no idea why I was upset, because he had lovingly touched me in a way husbands touch their wives. It was then that I realized I was not yet healed. He was very patient and loving with me, and we were eventually able to overcome that particular problem.

As time passed, our lives became very busy. We had three children. We were involved with church. I was a stay-at-home mom, while he was busy working outside of the home. The years revealed something to me about my husband. He was dealing with deep emotional scars himself. Not only that, he began displaying symptoms of being bi-polar. He would have incredible mood swings. His mania would last for weeks, and turn our entire family upside down. He would get fired from one job after another for preaching at work, or saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. At home, he was very emotionally and verbally abusive during these times. He refused to take medication for his illness. I found myself withdrawing further into my shell. I found myself feeling the same way I did when my father abused me. Once again, I learned to leave my body and go to my safe place during the difficult times.

People thought I was so kind and good and courageous staying with my husband. Little did they know that I was just scared. I felt weak and unable to care for myself and my children alone. I was disgusted with myself, because I felt like my mother. Just as she did not protect me, I was not protecting my children. Still, I rationalized in my mind that they were better off with two parents. After all, when my husband was not in a manic phase, he was a wonderful person and father.

I stayed for 32 years. I loved my husband just as I had loved my father. I kept hoping he would change. I kept thinking if I was only a better wife, he would not be the way that he was.

I left him the day after my youngest son turned 18. I didn’t plan it that way. In fact, I didn’t plan it at all. On this particular day, I just knew that unless I left, I was going to die. I can’t explain it, but that is what I felt. I left having no clue where I was going to go. I just knew that any place would be better than there, even if it meant living on the street.

As a child, I had no choice but to deal with the abuse as best I knew how. As an adult, I don’t have to deal with it at all. I finally realized that. I finally realized that I am worth more than that. I deserve to be at peace and happy in my life. The little girl inside of me deserves to be at peace and happy as well.

Yes, God had a plan for me all along. I have worked with abused and neglected children as an advocate in their behalf. I have written and reached hundreds of people through my poems regarding abuse. The many letters of thank you I have received have meant more to me than words can ever say.

I am 54 years old, and feel like my life is just beginning.

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