The abuse began for myself and my sisters when we were young. He seemed to rotate us on a weekly basis. I dreaded it but yet in a sick way it was our 'normal.' From the outside we seemed like a typical family.
When he would abuse us, he would often compliment and 'encourage' us. For some reason, even at a young age, I knew it was manipulation. I never believed what he would say, although he did successfully groom some of my sisters into his psychological mind games. For this reason, I believe he didn't like me very much. I was obedient, but he didn't control my mind. Later in life one of my sisters disclosed that he had told her he would have married her - had he met her before our mother . You see, when we were born, child sexual abuse was never talked about. There was no awareness, no outreach. My biological father left my mother for another woman. My mother was alone with myself and my older sister, forced to come back home to her rather poor mother. I do not know many details but within a year or two my mother married my father who adopted us.
When he wasn't abusing us, he would sometimes praise and encourage us in our education and talents. To me, it was all the same. I never believed it - I could never tell the difference between what was a sincere compliment and if someone was trying to manipulate me through flattery.
When my mother would be suspicious that something was going on, my father would berate and accuse her of having disgusting thoughts. He was very controlling of her. I was once sent to my room for the night without supper for doing something very minimal. My mother took some food to me as said she was 'sorry.' She once told me that if he was doing anything wrong - he'd be gone, I just had to say the word. But at the time, I felt like that was him talking - that he would leave us and we would be homeless if we told. Money was always tight and he was always borrowing more than he could pay back and blowing it often at the race track. We were always moving. If he was gone - so would be the meager income we had. Not to mention I didn't believe my mother could help us - after all, if she couldn't stand up to him for sending me to my room without supper, what could she do about something much bigger?
When I was of dating age and a guy treated me with respect, I felt like there must be something wrong with him. Why would he treat ME as someone special - there must be something wrong with him, right? I married young, and as you can imagine, that didn't go well.
My father died young, and my mother said that she felt a huge weight lift off her shoulders. By then she was able to live off social security, and could live on her own terms - to a degree. Things seemed to be pretty good with my siblings for a while, but in time the abuse came back into our lives. One of my siblings was particularly manipulative with our mother and when she finally resisted the controlling behavior, the abuse seemed to turn into something that it never was - as one sister accused our mother of enabling and even participating in the abuse. (This from the same sister who claimed herself to be my mother's favorite and wanted her to live with her.) There are many ways in which survivors heal or struggle to heal from sexual abuse. Some of my siblings, sadly, seem to still be stuck in their anger and hatred and it became a weapon. We were given a choice: to associate with our mother and be disowned by my sibling, or hate her and disown our mother. Our family has not, and seems likely never recover. My mother has been dead for years, but even though we all were victims of our father, we cannot unite and support one another. I have let go of the anger so that I can live my life on my terms. I never saw my mother as an enabler, I saw her as a victim. This may not be true for all non-offending parents, but I never felt my mother didn't care about us - I believe that in today's time, she may have had the resources and support she would have needed to leave him. Back then, most families didn't.
Do I think my mother knew? Yes. But I also feel that she very alone and without support. Back in that time it was encouraged to resolve incest 'within the family' and not involve law enforcement. The attitude was that it was better to deal with the abuse than the shame of reporting and going to trial. Had we left my father, we all would most likely been homeless and put into foster care. You may disagree, but if I had to go back in time and make a decision to live with my mother and abusive father or be in foster care - I would still have chosen to be with my mother. She was my rock and she tried so hard to take care of all of us. Her spirit and perseverance inspired me through life to never give up.
As a mother, I struggled to praise my children or tell my daughter she was beautiful. It seemed impossible to say such words without thinking of my own childhood and how I felt when my father would act like a normal, loving parent. My husband who was raised in an emotionally abusive home came from a childhood where his father and uncles thought it was motivating to make a child feel worthless - so they could prove themselves. Thus our children grew up with one parent tearing his children down, and the other too afraid to build them up.
This Ted Talk by Nadine Harris spoke to me - about how children should be screened for trauma at routine physicals. But here's another idea:
Parents should be screened for childhood trauma before giving birth or through their child's pediatrician. We cannot break the cycle of abuse until we are able to heal ourselves and shine light onto the shadows that follow us into our adulthood.
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