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Abuse as Told By Survivor #4

A Note From Jackie…

Here is another story of a life full of unanswered questions and some hurtful memories.  This young woman bravely faces her memories and is willing to share them with you.  She wisely recognizes that her healing process is a journey and she bravely and gratefully moves forward – one day at a time! 

Some memories

Many of my childhood memories are like a dream to me.  You know how a dream is portrayed on TV?  Like a dense cloud and the events aren’t that clear?  That’s how my early childhood memories are in my mind. 

 I’m not sure how old I was when the sexual abuse first occurred.  I do know that when I talk about it, the emotions I feel are overwhelming.  I’ve been told that having such strong emotions like that can be synonymous with sexual abuse before age five (when children begin to formulate words for feelings).  My memories of sexual abuse began to surface when I was in college at age 20-21.  I was seeing a therapist at the college campus counseling center for depression and self-injury behaviors at the time.  One evening, I had a dream that a man was sexually molesting me. This dream wasn’t that detailed, except that the man was having sex with me and he didn’t have a face.  I mentioned this dream to my therapist.  The therapist told me to let her know if the dream ever re-occurred and we could talk about it more.  The memories didn’t re-occur… until I was 27. 

At 27, I started having memories of being molested in a tall, yellow wheat field and of being forced to perform oral sex on a man.  I’m not exactly sure how old I was in this memory, but I know I was very young.  I’d say I was probably around four to five years of age, if not younger.  This molestation memory really scared me because it seemed really violent in nature.  This memory was also the first one I had that included sexual penetration. 

Triggers

To this date, I am disgusted to the point of nausea by anyone with bad breath, or what I perceive as bad breath, and I feel like I have to brush my teeth and tongue until they both are super clean.  I frequently have to be careful to not gag myself as the gagging happens easily.  My memories include thoughts that the man towered over me, and he casting a huge shadow like a person would imagine a monster getting ready to attack its prey. 

I’m still not exactly sure where these events took place or who the man was.  I do remember going back to a house after it had occurred and just wanting my mother.  I was covered in blood, terrified and crying.  When I went to the house seeking comfort from my mother, I don’t remember being validated or comforted by anyone.  It was like I was all alone and couldn’t find anyone.  I’m also triggered to this day by anything off-white or creamy in nature, and specifically liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner or body wash.  This causes an immense fear in me when I am triggered.  It’s like I can’t even look at the liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner or body wash for too long.  I have to tell myself that I’m okay and that the liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner or body wash is not what it was in my memory.  Later in my therapy process, I did ask my mother if my father could have ever molested me.  She adamantly denied this possibility.  I’ve also asked my mother if she ever left me alone somewhere, and she says she can’t remember.   

Abuse by my father

My relationship with my father has never been what a person would consider a typical father-daughter relationship.  From as early as I can remember, my father was verbally, physically and emotionally abusive to me.  I’ve always been afraid of my father.  He’s 6’3” and over 300 pounds.  My parents always told me that the abuse I endured was simply discipline, and, if I would just keep my mouth shut, they wouldn’t need to ‘discipline’ me.  

My father and I have strong personalities; consequently, neither of us gave in easily.  We constantly argued our side of an issue and would fight until he threatened to shut me up (which usually meant physical abuse) or he would take something from me for which he was paying.  He once punched me in the mouth, which ended up splitting my lip and turning it blue and swollen.  I can’t remember what had happened that caused his abuse.  I did go to school the next day.  I was in high school at the time, and my best friend knew exactly what was going on as she had witnessed a fight between my father and me previously. 

There was another time when my father chased me down a full flight of stairs.  He kicked me in the back of my thigh with his dress shoes still on.  I believe this was because I had called my mother a bitch, but the memories aren’t too clear.  I just know it left a bruise the length of my thigh from my butt almost to my knee.  I also have a very vague memory of me cowering in the corner of our couch begging my father to not hit me and doing whatever I could to protect myself from his rage.  I know I was shielding my face with my hands and crying, pleading with him not to hit me.  The words, “Daddy, please don’t hit me,” repeat over and over in my head as part of this memory. 

It Wasn’t Okay to Feel

I learned quickly that I needed to figure out what mood my father was in and this information dictated my actions or lack thereof.  The unspoken rules at my house were don’t talk, don’t trust and certainly don’t feel.  If you had feelings, you were threatened with my father offering to give you “something to cry about.”  We, (my younger brother and I,) were told that we were lucky that my father didn’t do to us what his father did to him.  I never heard too many details about what his father did to him except that he kept a razor strap on the refrigerator and used it as necessary. 

So, what did I do with my feelings?  The only thing I could – I stuffed them.  When I got to college, I began to cut on myself with razor blades and found a temporary release for the deep pain and anger.  I remember using a box cutter to cut on my arm once because I was experiencing such tension and did not have a razor blade available.  I was at work at the time in the mail/reception center of the dorms.  I couldn’t express the anger safely, so I expressed it on my body. 

I Really Didn’t Want to Die

This only became worse when my father once told me he’d wished I were never born.  He also said I could go ahead and keep stuffing pills (anti-depressants) down my throat if I thought they would work.  At the time, I was still in college and on my parent’s health insurance; therefore, they were paying for my medications.  My father telling me this was the event that preceded one of my suicide attempts.  (I had previously attempted to cut my wrists when I was 15, but I couldn’t go through with it because, surprisingly, it hurt too much.)  I mean, if your own parents don’t want you, then what’s the point?  I felt very helpless and hopeless.  Not to mention lost beyond all belief and alone, very alone.  I remember to this day that I grabbed my two medication bottles in the closet of my dorm room and was going to take all the contents of both bottles.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I was sure it would do something to make the pain go away.  I believe the medications were Zoloft and Ativan, but I’m not exactly sure on that.  For some reason, I ended up picking up the phone and calling my best friend at the time, instead.  I still don’t know why I did that, but I know somewhere – deep down inside – I really didn’t want to die. 

How to Cope?

I don’t remember when I was “officially” diagnosed with depression, but I know I’ve struggled with it since my early teens, if not before.  I know as a teen, my diary entries alternated between wanting to kill my father, expressing hate toward him for the abuse and contemplating suicide.  I somehow learned how to cope with all my feelings, but not in healthy ways.  I learned that if I was hurt, afraid or sad, I could express it in anger.  If I wasn’t allowed to express the anger, then I could take it out on myself by self-injury in order to get the emotional pain out through physical means.  I could either do this – or I could turn the anger inward and deal with the resulting depression.  Sometimes, I did both.

I’ve also learned how to “take care of” feelings by finding relief in food.  I’ve tried all kinds of diets only to fail in the long run.  I still struggle with looking at myself in the mirror and can only approve of my face – when I have makeup on.  Today, I recognize when I am overeating, but I still engage in this habit occasionally.  Growing up, my mother usually made three-course meals for every meal except breakfast.  If I was sad, upset, or having any unpleasant emotion, she would offer food.  She and I would take trips to the local ice cream shop after going shopping or to choir practice.  We always had to make sure we got some ice cream for my father as well.  He would be upset with us if we didn’t.  My father frequently would become irritated with my mom if she didn’t make enough for dinner and he was still hungry.  I remember him eating two sandwiches and munching on a bag of potato chips about an hour before dinner several times.  During sporting events, it wasn’t uncommon for my father to eat an entire large bag of potato chips by himself.  I hate to admit it, but I have adopted several of these eating habits.  I suppose there is a lot of truth to children learning and eventually doing what they observe. 

Codependency

Somewhere along the way, I recognized that I am codependent.  What that means to me is that I obtain my worth by doing things for others that they can do for themselves.  Funny thing is that doing these things doesn’t make me happy.  It only makes me resentful.  I confuse the definition of enabling and helping on a constant basis.  Thankfully, through the 12-step support group of Al-Anon, I have worked on this issue extensively. 

Romance

I’ve had two romantic relationships in my life.  One lasted three months.  The other – three weeks.  One of the men has since come out as being gay and the other had issues with alcohol and dropped out of college.  I’m afraid of being intimate with a man because of how uncomfortable it makes me.  For some reason, I can’t imagine a man wanting to be with me.  With my second relationship, we came pretty close to having intercourse, but I just couldn’t allow myself to experience it.  I’m not sure if I didn’t want to have my first sexual intercourse experience with this man, or if I just was afraid of the unknown.  Would it hurt?  Would the memories of sexual abuse from my childhood come up and ruin the experience?  Would I not be good enough?  Would he still care for me after I’d shared myself with him in such a way?  I know I wasn’t able to allow myself to just “be” in the relationship and experience the wonderful parts of it.  I kept focusing on the negative feelings and allowed them to overrule the positive.  I was too uncomfortable and it felt awkward being loved.  It’s been said that a girl obtains her sense of self-worth from her father.  I’ve always longed for that “daddy’s little girl” type of relationship, and to this day, I don’t know what that feels like. 

Healing is a Journey

I’ve been in therapy/counseling now for about ten years altogether and I feel some days as if I’m just at the tip of the iceberg.  Abuse affects every facet of your life.  Sometimes I wonder how fair it is for the abusers to “get away” with it while we are the ones left with the memories and after effects.  Then, I am reminded that they too, have memories and will face their judgment one day.  Until then, I will continue to live as a grateful and blessed survivor as I know not everyone who has experienced abuse is given this chance.

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  1. Elizabeth says

    Thank-you so much for being brave enough to share your story!



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