Grandpa

I loved my grandfather, and he loved me. The man adored all his grandchildren, but especially his granddaughters. Something about little girls delighted him. He used to sit on the porch-swing with my grandmother and two or three of my girl cousins and myself and say, “I’m surrounded by beautiful women.” And he’d smile at us. We’d all laugh because we weren’t even teenagers yet. Grandma would laugh too, and Grandpa would hold her hand.

Grandpa made a ceder chest for as many of his granddaughters as he could and gave it to them when they graduated from high school. Mine was the last he made, but he was too old for the work at that point, and was embarrassed by how it turned out. I never got to see it. Admittedly, I was a little hurt that I didn’t get it, but I didn’t learn til later just why that was. Because of the way politics work in my dad’s family, I’m used to being ignored and belittled by the rest of the family. I just thought that not getting a ceder chest was an extension of that. I can’t say how glad I am that my Grandpa didn’t care about that at all, that he still wanted to give me something even though it was beyond his ability at the time.

I’m still working on forgiving the uncles who cleaned out Grandpa’s shop, found that sad attempt at a chest for me, and broke it up. I wouldn’t have cared how rough the thing was. I’d have done whatever work it took to finish it, but they took that option away from me.

The grandpa I knew was not the father that my dad, aunts, and uncles grew up under. Their father was a hard, damaged man who’d grown up in the care of much older sisters who’d been told most of their lives that their daddy only really wanted a boy. When their mother died of asthma related complications, they took charge of my grandpa so their dad could keep working and, eventually, drink himself to death.

Grandpa never learned a healthy way to express love, and all the damage that had been done to him as a child, he passed on to his own children. This means that my dad’s family (consisting of fifteen children) is extremely dysfunctional. My dad is the third youngest. He was born prematurely and nearly didn’t make it, so he got a lot more attention from my grandmother, who had a special place in her heart for him, and that led to a lot of resentment from some of the older kids who still take it out on my family to this day.

Despite the way my grandfather treated his kids, he really did love them. And that’s where the hardest knots in the family’s emotional tangles come from. None of them can separate the fact that he looked out for them, clothed and fed them, made sure they all went through school, from the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse they took. Not all the kids got the same level of physical abuse.

Grandpa didn’t hit the girls. Being excused from that aspect of their family’s problems didn’t make my aunts any more normal than the other kids. They just have a different set of problems since they were indirectly complicit with the person abusing their brothers. Grandpa didn’t beat his youngest five kids, he did hit them from time to time, but not like his older boys. This is because his three oldest kids took him out behind the house and beat him up right before they moved out of the house, and told him that they’d do it again if he treated the little kids like he’d treated them.

Having grandkids really changed my grandpa. He didn’t have such a big stake in our lives that his affection got tangle up with his anxiety and protectiveness and turned into anger. He began to learn how to express his love in ways that weren’t harmful for all involved. He learned guilt for what he’d done to his own children.

For some of my aunts and uncles, that was enough to gain him a measure of forgiveness. Others haven’t been able to lay their bitterness aside even now. I worry for them. Grandpa’s not here for them to confront. What will they do with themselves?

I miss my granddad. I tremble for the effects his death is having on the extended family. I pray that God will intervene and keep the peace between us. I also pray that he helps me forgive some of my uncles for the things they’ve done as revenge against their dad that have really hurt some of us grandkids.

I’m writing about this because my dad’s family history is closely tied to my own story. How could it not be? I’m working my way up to telling it all.

Christmas Eve

Image from ChristmasStockImages.com

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!

It’s early morning, and I’m getting myself mentally ready to help my mother with the flood of people who will be here in a few hours for breakfast.

Welcome to some of the most difficult days of the year. I understand that a lot of survivors struggle over the holidays, like I do. Even though they’re supposed to be fun, the holidays are also stressful. And that’s for folks who had normal childhoods. I remember some pretty bad Christmases. Coping with painful associations over the holidays is also compounded by being back in contact with family, or with being alone for the holidays, both of which can be painful.

This year, I’m going into Christmas with a different attitude. I mean to reclaim the holidays for myself. I deserve to enjoy them.

Instead of trying to avoid conflicts with my family, I’m going to enforce my boundaries. I’m not going to be bullied. I’m not going to be ignored. I’m going to hold tight to the knowledge that Christmas is about giving gifts, so the fact that I will give a lot more than I receive means that I win. Lol, okay, maybe seeing it as a contest isn’t entirely healthy either. Instead of saying “win” in my head, I’ll say succeed. 😉

Since I’m easily overwhelmed by having a bunch of people around me (I’m extremely introverted, thus get my fill of people a lot faster than most do), I will make sure that there is a clean, quiet space available to me so that I can take breaks from everyone when I need to.

I’m going to enjoy the food, the cookies, and the company of the people who want me around.

I’m also going to have as many of my coping plans in place ahead of time as I can manage.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Isolation as a State of Mind

***Warning — Physical Violence, Burn Injury ***

Image from FreeFoto.com

One of the things that I remember most about my childhood is the constant sense of isolation that I lived with. Even when I didn’t remember what had been done to me, I still felt like I lived in a world separate from everyone else’s.

I didn’t make friends easily, but even when I had a friend or two, I didn’t really feel connected to them. It wasn’t until I was in college that I made a good friend with whom I feel very close.

In some ways the feeling is hard to describe. It was like part of me was a terminal (sorry for the tech-speak, I can’t figure out a better analogy), the part of a public computer that users can access for certain functions. Part of me was the server behind the terminal, always monitoring what was going on, but not really engaging in the the interactions, and constantly making sure that the terminal’s outputs were correct and that the people interacting with the terminal couldn’t access any more than what the server made available to them, and couldn’t even know that there was more to the system than the terminal.

I still get this way sometimes, like there’s a dispassionate observer in my head that doesn’t get involved in what I’m feeling or doing. Until I started remembering the sexual abuse during my childhood, I always though this separate part of me was because I write (and have since I was six), that I’d somehow trained myself to be objectively observant of all events, including ones involving me directly.

Now, I’m pretty sure that it was a result of trying to live as if I were a normal kid when I was so thoroughly damaged. I remember lots of events — birthday parties, bike crashes, arguments with my parents — in a dual way, as if I had parallel cameras going that were recording different spectrums. One side of the memory just watched, the other side participated and felt.

I don’t get that feeling like I used to, but there are things that can set it off, and then it’s hard to get back out. I can also deliberately send myself into that state, but I don’t like doing that anymore.

Whatever it is I was doing, it was definitely useful on a few occasions. One was when one of the kids in our neighborhood (I think I was seven and this kid was probably about thirteen) liked to come into our yard and bully my brothers and I. One day, he brought a piece of rebar and went after my brother, A. lets call him. A. ducked the blow just in time, and I saw myself stand up, rush over to the bigger kid, and take the rebar. It was like watching someone else do it all. I’m still not sure how I took the bar out of his hands. I shouldn’t have been strong enough to do it, but I did. And then, I could see, not feel, really, but see that I was angry. I was going to kill the boy for trying to hurt my brother. I hit him with the bar, and he fell over. I hit him again, and again, and again. I only stopped when the observer part of me told me that killing him was a bad idea, and that I’d hurt him enough that he probably wouldn’t come back (he did, and I beat him up again, but that’s another story).

Even though this divided state of mind was useful to me sometimes, it left me feeling so disconnected from everything that I didn’t feel like I ever belonged anywhere. It kept me from connecting to people too. Worst, it messed with my ability to figure out what I was feeling about things. I often dismissed my own emotions as my imagination since clearly I wasn’t feeling anything, or was I? I had the same problem with physical pain. The more severe the pain, the farther I got from it. I burned my hand on the waffle iron one morning when my dad and I were making breakfast. It hurt right away, but nothing like it did later. Yet, I still made the decision to go play baseball in the park with my brothers even though I’d have to put that hand in my catchers mitt. Enough of me wasn’t feeling the pain that I couldn’t make safe decisions about my own health. The blisters all burst, bled a seeped clear liquid. It was hard to clean the glove out, and the burns took longer to heal because of that.

I pretty much lived in that state from about six years old until I was maybe ten. After that, it would fade out and come back depending on what was going on. When I started high school, I went back into that mode of living most of the time. I hated feeling that way, and it exacerbated the depression that had started when I was twelve-ish.

Now it only turns on if I’m triggered, or I have a memory resurface that I can’t handle right away. Living is getting easier. Though, some days, I have to remind myself of that.

Breaking the Silence

Image from Wikipedia

I don’t think there are any triggers in here, but read cautiously nonetheless.

There are a lot of reasons that talking about the abuse I suffered is very difficult for me. Actually, considering how little I’ve shared about it, “very difficult” is a pretty big understatement. “Nearly impossible” might be more accurate. This seems to be true for other survivors as well, from what I’ve seen on the few other blogs I visited before setting mine up (so I’d feel like I knew what I was doing).

The three deepest reasons that I never told anyone are these:

Fear

I was afraid that I would get in trouble if I told my parents that the neighbor boy was touching me inappropriately. I feared my parents’ wrath above all in life. Even the continued molestation seemed less scary than letting them find out about what was going on.

I was (and still am) afraid of telling people who know me because I don’t want to change the way they see me. I hate the idea of them picturing me as a little, abused child. I also don’t need people’s pity. Compassion is great, pity is bad. It would be nice to have people understand why I do some of the things I do, and why certain things REALLY freak me out, but I can live without pity.

I was afraid that people wouldn’t like me anymore. I had become a dirty person, defiled by what that boy did to me. What happened nearly every day was so disgusting to me, that I felt tainted by it. I was now a disgusting person. I couldn’t let anyone know what happened if I expected them to keep liking me. Paradoxically, I came to feel unlovable, and assumed that meant I was unloved so no one would care about what was happening to me and wouldn’t save me from what was happening.

Later, I was afraid that no one would believe me because I hadn’t said anything at the time. It didn’t help that I was a compulsive liar because of the emotional abuse from my parents.

Shame

I think that shame is closely tied up with fear. I was disgusted and ashamed by what was being done to me, so I was afraid that I was disgusting and shameful, and that if anyone found out, they would hate me. Even now that I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is nothing disgusting about me, I’m still afraid of what people would think if they knew about the times I was raped, or the sexual abuse that was inflicted on me for years.

I didn’t remember it happening

I’ve read that children under the age of seven have the ability to repress traumatic memories. I’m not sure if this is what I did (I was four when it started, and nine when it ended), or if enough time passed that the memories didn’t come up any more. I do remember a few instances when I was older of recalling something that had happened to me and being deeply horrified, but I “forgot” those memories too, so it seems likely that I repressed the painful incidents, and that once my brain had the knack for it, it just kept doing it even though I was older than the usual age for repression. This is just speculation, I know, but it’s nice to have logical explanations for why I don’t remember anything that happened after seven either, and why I don’t remember (even still) what exactly happened to me when I was twelve.

The first time I started to remember this stuff, not just in casual flashes like before, I was twelve, and I’m pretty sure it was triggered by being raped again (though I can’t remember the incident itself, there’s too much evidence to deny it happened). The timing was rotten. I had just learned about sex, what it meant to a husband and wife, and I couldn’t handle the idea of what had been done to me, and what I had lost. Within months, I no longer remembered any of it, but was so depressed and full of self loathing that I attempted to end my life.

The second time memories came back, I was seventeen (pretty sure I wasn’t raped again, but I can’t know for sure at this point). The results were pretty much the same. Again, the memories were buried. They didn’t come up again until I turned twenty-three. When they did, I didn’t think they could possibly be real. I thought that I was some kind of sick person to have fantasies of myself being raped as such a young child. I thought that it was probably physically impossible for a boy of that age to do what I remembered happening. I pretty much labeled myself as a psycho and tried to get on with life. I wasn’t about to tell anyone about what was happening in my head. I denied it to myself, and tried to repress the emotions that were being stirred up with the emerging memories.

There are other reasons, of course, that I’ve never said anything about this, but those are the main barriers that kept me from telling. Now the fear and shame dominate, especially the fear. I don’t want to confess and not be believed. I don’t want to be believed, and then have my confidant’s opinion of me and behavior toward me change. I think that’s part of why I can type it all out this way in my blog. No one I know in person will ever read it, and you, Dear Reader, are just getting to know me, from the ground up, so you have no opinion of me to change.

While the relative anonymity of the Internet means that I haven’t really overcome my inability to confide in someone about these painful things, I think it’s a splendid start, the first crack in the wall, if you will.

I know my experience is not unique. I know that there are lots of others out there who have held on to agonizing secrets, suffering in silence. I want to hear about why you didn’t tell what happened to you. Or, if you did tell, what were the results?

Please include trigger warnings if you post triggering material. I will do my best to make sure warnings are present where necessary, but it’ll be a huge help to me if you do as well. Thank you!

Coming up for Air

Hi! I’m Katie King. I am both excited and anxious as I set out on this blog. I’ve never actually talked to anyone about the childhood sexual abuse (CSA) that I lived through, though there are a few people in my life that know about the physical and emotional abuse, as well as neglect, that happened when I was little.

I have been coping with most of it on my own for nearly twenty years (or not coping, as the case may be). God has been there for me when I’ve let Him, but it took me a long time to realize that He wanted me and would heal me if I allowed Him to.

Now, I think it’s time to share my story, and the ways that I’ve learned to handle the pain and shame, and what God has taught me about compassion and my own self-worth. I’m still recovering memories of what happened to me, still learning, and still having bad days. I just hope that I can help someone else, even one person, come through this more easily than I have.

God bless,

Katie