As I prepared and had posted the writing on healing and prayer (It’s All About The Healing & The Healing Continues), I realized that such a posting might not make sense in its entirety unless I wrote and posted more about myself. With that realization came a not so simple question:
Where do I begin?
Beginning is not easy because I will be making parts of my life, and my family’s lives, public for the first time. Beginning is not easy because there is still pain. Beginning is not easy because lives are convoluted and have intertwining threads of experiences, thoughts, emotions and so much more. I imagine life to look like a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. You can’t remove one strand of spaghetti without touching a dozen others and perhaps jostling a meatball or two. So the question became: which strand first and how do I take the first bite?
The longest bits of pasta in my life’s bowl are the ones that begin with the sexual abuse I suffered as a child and end with the ensuing mental illness I now battle. Since one strand beget the other it only makes sense that my first bite is to share the experiences of my childhood.
Laying bare all that was wrong in my youth would imply there was no good, no loving and no hope. This is simply not true. It was always clear to me that my parents loved me and wanted what was in my best interest. All my basic, and sometimes beyond, material needs were met. Guidance in decision making was given when they knew it was needed. Wounds were mended and discipline was meted out mostly fairly. We were, by all outward appearances and most inward measures, the Brady Bunch Family. Many of my friends would comment to that effect even in using the TV show’s idyllic family as the comparison.
Yet no family is perfect. We had our dysfunctional issues like all families. Some issues though would be less common than others and in these lay the foundation for secrets and hurt. Secrets spawn secrets, drive decision making, and create alliances. For example, there are family secrets to which all family members are privy and decisions around it are commonly understood even if all are not part of the decision making; or the matter is left unspoken and a common understanding exists. Then there are the secrets within the formed alliances. Examples of this could be those kept by the parents, who decide to keep them from the children, and those kept among the children, who decide to keep them from the parents. Finally, there are those secrets held by each individual, who decide to keep them from everyone. And for each dysfunctional issue this layering exists. I believe this to be true of essentially all families. It’s all then put under the cover of, “It’s our private business,” which it actually is; with all risks of damage ignored.
The issues arise when this all leads to lies among the family members themselves. Some of those lies are by definition lies of omission and for me those fed into the sexual abuse because it kept hidden from those who could have, and I’m certain would have, stopped the abuse – my parents. They didn’t know until I was 51 years old, and they still wouldn’t know if not for the issue that sent me into exile here in prison. I had no choice but to talk about it and release the lies and expose the truths.
So what are the truths?
When I was five years old our family went to visit my mother’s parents, who had a dairy farm. I, as a city kid being raised in a suburban setting, thought the farm to be a wonderful place to spend a week or two each summer.
That year we all went to visit family friends of my grandparents, also dairy farmers. It was while visiting this family that their fourteen year old son cornered my sister and me in the hay loft of their barn and he raped me in front of my sister. [I believe he raped my sister later that same day, though I have no solid evidence to prove my belief.]
Did I or my sister scream while I was being attacked? Sadly, no.
Why didn’t I scream? During the attack I dissociated. I didn’t even cry! I fled mentally as I could not flee physically. It’s how I kept my psyche safe. Today I see the incident in my mind’s eye as a movie though I can indeed recall the pain and humiliation.
Why my sister didn’t scream or attempt to run away is not clear to me and never will be as she passed away more than a decade ago without our having ever discussed that day.
It’s incredible to think we could go our entire lives without discussing such a traumatic and horrific event but it’s true.
“Why?” you ask or maybe “How?”
Remember I wrote of secrets being spawned by the dysfunctionalities of a family? This was one secret my sister and I made a pact to keep the evening of the event.
Our reasons for not telling our parents are both simple and complex. Within moments of the attack the boy was telling my sister and me how much trouble we’d be in if the adults ever found out. He ‘explained’ how I had ‘participated’ and ‘wanted’ it to happen and he even used my silence during the attack as proof. Fear and confusion began working to control me. That’s the simple part.
The complex part is difficult to concisely put into words. It’s all about the lessons you learn from your interpretations of messages sent while growing up. My sister and I interpreted messages sent due to my father’s alcoholism as, “you’ll have to take care of yourselves sometimes.” As well as messages sent due to the availability of pornography in our home as, “these acts are okay,” and, “the boundaries of privacy, modesty and personal space are blurry,” and, “people touch in very personal ways.” When all of these things are combined in children from the very first memories they have the children form incorrect, even permanently damaged, views of parental roles and human sexuality. And in this explanation I’ve really only scratched the surface!
So during the attack did my sister see what was happening to me as “normal” due to the images we’d seen in the magazines at home? I’m not sure. It’s in my heart though that she had no malice or ill intent in my mind by remaining still. I believe it was in great part that she was as shocked and scared as I was. I’ll never know as our pact remained until her death.
How did the pact come to be? When visiting my grandparent’s farm my sister and I would share a bed in a room separate from our parents. The night of the attack [attacks if I’m right that this boy raped my sister as well] we laid in bed and talked about the event in vague terms, the pain I felt, and in childhood terms how the boy was a ‘jerk’. For the reasons I wrote earlier: lessons from messages sent due to the alcoholism and availability of pornography, as well as the boy’s words about our getting in trouble if we told, my sister and I agreed it would be our secret and we’d never talk of it again. And from that night until her death, we didn’t. Not once.
Now things become even more complex as we’ve not finished the first strand of pasta, and now we need to begin eating the second strand; that of the ensuing mental illness. So I’ll combine the two issues – childhood sexual abuse and mental illness – into one narrative. Please come back as there’s more pasta in this bowl. ~jdoe