*Deep breath annnnnnnd…*
This is not an easy thing for me to share. But it is necessary for my own journey to finally release this and stop treating it as my own dirty little box of secrets. There are, of course, some things, some details that will never be shared. Not here and not even with my circle of confidants and support. But I am finally ready to speak my own truth because I realized that when they told me to never tell because people wouldn’t understand or would judge me, I realize now what they were actually saying:
“Don’t you ever tell anyone who and what we really are.”
It was never about me. They weren’t worried for me or trying to shield me from anything. They just wanted to keep up the image they had spent years crafting out of lies and manipulation. I was trained very well to fall in line and do the same.
Until last year. Last year, one year ago to the day, I cut every tie with my family of origin. My mother, my father, my two older brothers. From ages 6 to 16, I faced every type of abuse imaginable: sexual, physical, verbal, emotional. All at the hands of a mentally unhinged woman, an alcoholic Pastor of a father, and two overly aggressive, violent, and sexually inappropriate teen brothers. I was told at every turn that what was happening was normal, or deserved, or even helpful to the family. From my earliest memories I was taught that my contribution to others was my body, while also constantly being reminded that I was dirty, broken, and used up.
I took my story back because I’m sick and tired of letting liars tell it for me, but more than anything– I want to show others that it’s possible. It took me 27 years, half a year of intensive inpatient therapy, hours of trauma therapy, and every ounce of support and courage that my loved ones offered up to me to get to this point today. In fact, the below post was originally a homework assignment from my therapist that just kept gnawing at me. I knew I wanted to address all of this publicly but I wanted to do it right. This isn’t about them and this isn’t for them. This is for me, for the girl I was, and for all of the other innocent ones who find themselves in the care of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
They don’t get to win ever again….
Hey small one,
I bet you’re feeling pretty confused right now. Mom and Dad don’t act like moms and dads should. And they ask you to do things that make you feel scared, huh? You must feel very confused when your teacher tells the class that no one should ever touch your privates, when at home Mom sometimes lets people touch you. I’m so sorry that the people in your life don’t know how to protect you. I’m so sorry that it hurts when he puts things inside of you. I’m so sorry that he makes you look at things that you know are bad.
The adults in your life are supposed to take care of you and watch over you and protect you from anyone bad. But baby, they are bad. I wish you had a different family. One that would tell you how beautiful you are and how loved you are. You are an amazing little girl with the biggest heart. You love so hard and give so grace so freely and it only ends up hurting you more. But baby never ever stop being that way. Keep your heart open because one day soon you are going to be surrounded by people who love and support you and want the best for you. I’m going to ask you to do something that is pretty scary but you are so brave and you can do hard things, right?
I need you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to tell you: It is NOT your fault. You didn’t do ANYTHING wrong. Okay? Repeat after me: “It’s NOT my fault.”
Little girl, I need you to tell someone what is happening to you and how you feel so scared all the time. It’ going to be so scary, but even if you don’t or can’t believe me now, you will when you’re older. You are going to be so loved by so many good people, so many people who treat you well for no other reason that that you deserve to be loved and taken care of.
Don’t worry about getting anyone in trouble, baby. You have done nothing wrong. You mother, father, brother, and uncle are NOT allowed to touch you or treat you the way they do. You may not understand this right now, but believe me when I say your body belongs to you. Let me repeat that…Your body belongs to you and only you. You do not have to carry the shame you are carrying on your little shoulders. The blame is not yours, it never was, and it never will be.
There is hurt, fear that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry. I know that you realized at too young an age that Wonder Woman is not coming. Sweet girl, listen to me when I say that you do not have to wear the cape alone.
But the very people you want to save for no reason other than fear and guilt, those are the ones who are stepping on your cape. It is not your job to save them. They are too far gone, baby. They always have been and as much as they blame you for everything, they also know how to act kind, right? And that’s when you get confused…Maybe they do love me?
Drop that burden now. Do not spend the years of your childhood, adolescence, and adult life carrying guilt that doesn’t belong to you. The people who hurt you are not your people. The ones who step up and shelter you and love you back to health are the ones you need to listen to. They will speak truth into until you can no longer hear any of your family’s voices.
There is nothing that you can do to make your family love you. There is nothing you can do to make them understand your fear and pain. There is nothing you can do to make them change. If there was, you would have done it by now, because all you want is peace. To feel loved. To be free. And in spite of what they tell you, your behavior, good or bad, is not causing their rage and neglect.
There is nothing wrong with your emotions. It is “normal” to feel angry when people are hurting you. It is “normal” to feel scared when people are out of control. It is “normal” to feel sad when people fail to see the good in you. It is “normal” to feel ashamed when the people who raised you trained you to believe it was your fault. But it is not your fault. The fact that you feel a “normal” response to your environment means that you are not “crazy,” and that you are capable of responding appropriately to the things that are hurting you.
You have the right to say no. You have the right to scream it into the face of anyone trying to control you. You have the right to protect yourself. You have the right to get far away from anyone who is manipulating you. Yes, anyone. I know you fear the trouble you will get into for doing it, but I promise you, there are safe people — therapists, counselors, social workers, and law enforcement officers — who will support you. Yes, you will get into trouble with your abusers. Yes, your life will change.
Yes, it’s worth it.
I’ve been there and I’ve seen how this starts to unroll. Despite this letter, it will take a long time for you to realize that you are not at fault, so it will be even longer until you know you need to be forgiving yourself. You are anything but a cliche or trite in nature so I won’t insult you with a garden variety message from the future that “life gets better”. Instead I am here to say that though it’s been ages since we’ve heard from each other – and that’s by my own design to banish you from my current life- I am reaching out to say that I forgive you, small one.
Forgiveness to you must seem both expected and foreign. On one hand, of course you need to be forgiven because- despite most people thinking you are a model honor student- you are constantly told you are doing something wrong.
On the other, forgiveness is not something you’ve ever seen before in your home life. In the chaotic world ruled by fear, hatred, jealousy, manipulation and narcissism to which you were born, forgiveness is a worthless currency. In fact, why would you be so weak as to show someone compassion when you can use any transgressions or weaknesses against them later?
When you grow up, there will be two popular shows called Game of Thrones and House of Cards. The way you have been trained to see the world and think of interpersonal relationships is much like these shows.
That is not good.
But AGAIN– That is also not your fault. You don’t know this yet, but you are being raised by a woman with lot of mental illness for which she will never be cured. She is not someone to whom you can apply logic or reality to. You are savvy beyond your years, ready to debate like a world class defense attorney just for the right to be a normal person, but this will never work on her because she can’t see truth or see you as a separate person with needs. I know you suspect this but you keep trying to win anyway. You feel guilty for learning to live a double life riddled with lies: trying desperately to appear OK to the world and still living within the boundaries set for you to avoid retribution. I forgive you for that too. You aren’t a bad person and you have only lied out of survival. One day you will tell your secret and though people react in disbelief, they do believe you. You will be diagnosed with PTSD but that is nothing to be ashamed of these days, but rather heralded for the strength and wit to come out alive from what you now think is perfectly normal and unavoidable.
I mostly forgive you for the mistakes you make when you’re a 12-year-old thrust into high school and trying to assimilate with other students for the first time in your sheltered life. You are 185 lbs. and 5 ft. You are currently getting hot flashes of fear as you read that number because you are supposed to be 100. You feel inadequate and ashamed because you have spent all of your time cramming to be skinny enough to make her love you and crash dieting to be a size 0.
I forgive you for wasting so many years hating yourself, because you don’t know better and no one has ever given you an ounce of validation. I forgive you for wanting so badly just to cut your fat rolls off with a knife, because you were told to do so repeatedly. I forgive you for scrambling to make up middle school hookup stories, because you were ashamed that you were the only girl in your class without one after enough to share and you assumed you were too fat to ever be seen as anything but a punch line or a punching bag. You know you shouldn’t have been so childish, but you didn’t have much of a choice.
You know you don’t need to feel bad and you should be strong enough to stand up and embrace yourself as-is, but right now you are at sea without map or moral compass.
I blamed you for “not handling all this drama better” and was disgusted by your shows of “weakness” or naivety that will be soon hidden behind your steel wall of cynicism when you hit 16. But even career badass you, isn’t a tale of innocence lost. It’s a tale of innocence never-had, and a coming of age of what will be the strong self-reliant, hyper-capable woman you become. From age 6, you have been treated as an adult who must face the abuse, control, tragedies, scandals, rawness and that deafening silence before the storm – for yourself and everyone around you who is falling apart as we speak. You take that storm head on and come out a better person for it. You should be proud. I know you feel that failure is not an option so you take everything for granted and rarely feel pride, but seriously, not everyone would have weathered the first few decades as well as you will.
No one raised you. No one told you that childhood and emotions a part of life and not a burden to those around you who just need you to perform at will. No one prepared you for anything, aside from assuming all people have malicious intent and that you must fight for perfection to be granted basic respect.
Though, you will begin to give yourself some basic respect and learn to love your body even when it continues to grow after you ditch the diet pills she wasn’t supposed to give you at your age. You will shed the toxic brainwashing of a life you once knew. You will move on.
You will soon end the war within and turn your guns on those truly to blame. You will find them pitiful and sad, instead of feeling anger or fear. You will rise up and stand your ground. You will take major risks, but you will feel better and be whole.
You will be healed.
You will be happy.
You will be you.
You will be forgiven.
You will be free.
PS: You don’t end up marrying a prince from somewhere far away and you definitely don’t get Neil Diamond (but you’ll never stop hoping, girl…)
You marry someone even better, better than you could have ever imagined. Hold on to him tight and love him well.
PSS: You guys have the most brilliant, silly, beautiful, kind, witty, brave, loving, thoughtful, and most fun kids around. Hands down, they are the best of the best. You know what that means? You are not them, you are not who hurt you. You are a mother who would gladly give her life for her babies. You will sit and read with them for hours, you’ll go on daily walks, you guys will bake cookies and laugh and laugh with them.