I was taught to keep my mouth shut. Not because it was the right thing to do, but because my story wasn’t worth telling–I was nobody. What was right and wrong? Keeping secrets wasn’t about fear so much as it was about loyalty. After all, when it’s your parents abusing you–the people in this world that are supposed to love you the most–then their kind of love indicates what kind of person you are. That was my thinking.
In my earliest memory, I’m a dirty toddler hiding in the lilac bushes next to the farmhouse. I remember the smell of the purple flowers, the smell of rusty chains and oil from the tractors, and the smell of the pink apple blossoms that fell like snow. I am space here, just before everything began. I am a beginning here, empty, waiting to be filled.
My mother left my father because of his drinking. Soon after, she re-married a man that would change me irrevocably. I was four or five, with white blond pigtails and chubby cheeks. I sang the entire Patsy Cline album for my great aunts. I was happy—listening to Cat Stevens and Bread while cleaning the house with mama as she chain-smoked Dorals and drank pot after pot of coffee. I was her little bumble bee. But something changes after this memory. I shrink inside. I still play and explore and laugh and get lost in the land of make-believe. But I’m emptying.
There are memories from this age of being forced to watch child pornography of my new step brother and step sister. I don’t remember if I’m in the video or being forced to watch it. Something is happening to my body, but I don’t know what. Whatever happened was enough to numb me from all intimacy for the rest of my life. Then I’m chased with fists and boots and belts, propelled across rooms like a boomerang, a strange mixture of euphoria and humiliation. My head gets kicked into a wall where I am knocked unconscious and I wake and go play barbies. It’s not that I am bad; it’s that I don’t count. I take it and look the other way. Shame drives me because my instincts know better. Someone taught me how to lie, because my mother brought me to therapy after she’d found me curled up in a ball whimpering that I didn’t want to have babies. And in therapy I remember being told to draw my family, and I forced myself to draw a blue bird, retracing the black and blue crayon lines over and over.
My teens were a time of discovery, adventure, fight, and loss. Outside I discovered the magic of the woods and climbed mountains of sand hills with my best friend, rode my bike with the Forrest Gump soundtrack playing on the speakers wrapped around the handlebars. But at home I was just a body–my step-father constantly grabbing at me and staring at my new breasts. Then my sisters and I discovered the hole he put in the wall of the basement bathroom which was connected to my bedroom. The hole looked right into the shower and he covered it up with a mirror you could see through from the other side, where his “den” was. I’d find him waiting on my bed in his underwear when I’d get out of the shower. I’d scream and tell him to leave, and oddly he listened. He was afraid. Maybe because I was angry enough to open my mouth now.
“You’re different from your sisters, you’re not my real daughter so it’s hard for me, I’m attracted to you and I will try to control myself.”
My mother believed him over me. And my anger fueled her. She was suffering still from a mental breakdown and Major Depression. She was a force I couldn’t reckon with. I lost my friends. I began to change. I didn’t care about anything. I’d listen to Skynard’s “Free Bird” over and over and hide in the corner of my room, feeling nothing except myself changing into something I feared.
I didn’t tell anyone anything. I didn’t speak. I didn’t feel worthy to myself, and that’s the hardest part of abuse—finding your own worth. At twenty-eight, seven years after my biological father died of alcoholism, I had a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with Complex, chronic Post-Traumatic Stress disorder among others such as Bipolar Disorder, Dissociative Amnesia, and Psychosis. My brain was sick. Is sick. What if I had told someone? Would this have happened? I lost my job, I lost my friends, I lost my house, my fiancé, and I lost myself—what was left of it. I spent many nights in the hospital, too lost and mad to believe in anything. But I got through it, and faith returned in full force.
Every day as I struggle through flashbacks, nightmares, episodic psychosis, and intrusive thoughts, I still have hope. I hope that one day I’ll be who I was meant to be. I hope that one day I’ll heal. But healing isn’t a goal, it’s a process that requires grace and patience and self-love. Most importantly, I tell my story, hoping that others will do the same. Hoping that others will do what they believed they couldn’t: speak.