Grandma

This pin is similar to what Grandma had.

My grandmother, like my father, was born prematurely in an era when there was little anyone could do to ensure the survival of babies that young. She was a sickly child who struggled to get through school because she got ill so easily. She had virtually no support from her parents, good German folks who’d left Kansas to avoid the dust bowl.

When Grandma was two years old, her older sister (four years) was bitten and killed by a rattlesnake. Until Grandma was a young teenager, her mother used to say, “Why couldn’t it have been you? Why couldn’t the weak one die?”

One of my grandmother’s proudest achievements was the pin she was given for her perfect attendance at school the year she turned thirteen. She used to get it out now and then to show it to her grandkids and talk about how important it was to go to school everyday. I wish I knew what happened to that pin.

Despite her parents, Grandma was a sweet, loving woman, and I think she had her older brothers to thank for that. They adored her, pestered her, and looked out for her. There was no reservation in their love for her at all.

Grandma loved her children, but she couldn’t shelter them from Grandpa. I can only imagine the confused hurt that came from the fact that she never stopped the abuse that went on. I remember the torment that came out in some of my aunts and uncles when she died. They loved her, but there was a lot of anger in them too.

All my life I’ve felt that Grandma had a special place in her heart for my father. It wasn’t until the day she died that I found out why it was. We knew the end was coming, so the family was gathered around to say goodbye. Grandma’s eyes were closed, but when my mom said, “Hi Mom, it’s C. and N. and the kids,” Grandma stirred and said, very quietly, “C? There’s my baby.” And my aunt K. told about how my dad was so little when he was born that they put him in a shoe box and how aunt K (oldest daughter) and Grandma had to stay up in shifts so make sure that he kept breathing while he was asleep.

When I heard the story, I immediately made the connection to what Grandma had told me about herself.

I also learned that day that my aunt K. was my dad’s godmother. They’d had to rush to christen and baptize him since they weren’t sure he’d live, and aunt K. had asked to have that honor.

All of this kind of explains why Grandma and Aunt K always did special little things for my siblings and me even when our other aunts and uncles and cousins were being remarkably unkind.

I have a piece of jewelry that Grandma gave me when I was twelve. I knew at the time that it was something special, and though I’ve had many of my family members remark on it when I wear it, I never tell them where it came from because I worry that one of them will try to take it away.

Advertisements

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.

Coping Method #3

Image by InsEyedout

This one is big for me, though I didn’t start doing it until recently. It’s not as much an immediate way of handling the feelings that come with a flashback or after being triggered, but it helps when a memory just won’t leave me alone.

Write it out.

For a long time, I was in denial that the memories coming back to me were real. It took having a bunch of them slot together into a disturbingly clear picture of what had gone on before I finally allowed myself to acknowledge that I’d been sexually abused.

After that, the specifics of it all were too painful to think about in an orderly way. Now, after several years of this, I can write/type about some of it, and I get a certain amount of relief from doing so. I think that relief comes from putting the memory into a more ordered, logical form which helps me process the emotions. I also think that it helps that I’m in control when I write it down. The memories and the way that I express them in words are totally under my power. Last, and most dubious, I feel like the memories lose an aspect of their reality when I write them down this way, like I’m telling someone else’s story,  as I often do in my other writing. I don’t know if that’s entirely good, but it helps, so I don’t mind it.

Alas, I’m not to the point that I can have a flashback or recover a memory and then immediately write about it. Usually the shame and self loathing are too strong for a while. I have to wrestle myself out of that state a bit before I can handle writing. It gets easier every time.

Just yesterday, I woke from a nightmare and there were a few lines of writing in my head. I got them down on paper, not thinking that anything else would come from it. I ended up pouring out the story of what caused the nightmare onto six sheets of paper. I felt so much better after that. Usually, those kinds of nightmares ruin my mornings as I feel sick and vulnerable after them. Yesterday wasn’t like that. Just writing it out made all the difference.

I do recommend that you be careful about where you keep or how you dispose of this writing. I’m not ready for my family or friends to know anything about this, so I make sure that they can never stumble across any of it when they’re around and learn my story before I’m ready to tell them. Some of you, who are in therapy (not an option for me just now), might find that what you write could be really useful for your therapist, and that you can relate certain things that happened to you more easily that way than by telling them out loud.

Just Remembered Something Bad

It’s a cold, windy day here, and I was taking a hot shower before work, when I had another memory come to me. It was so bad, it had me sitting in the tub, rocking and gasping, feeling like nothing will ever be okay again.

Just like that, my day is shot. I can feel that I’m hovering on the edge of a panic attack. My chest hurts, breathing is hard, and there are sharp pains in my stomach.

By itself, the memory was bad enough. I’m having trouble handling not only what I was doing in the flashback, but the physical sensations that are coming along with it. Taste is a big one. I feel ill. I thought I was maybe ready to write about this stuff, but this one… I don’t know if I can do it.

Worst of all, somehow, is the fact that what I remembered doesn’t make sense with what I thought I’d figured out about what all happened to me. It suggests that my timeline for the partially remembered rape as a young teenager is either wrong, or that it happened more than once. Possibly once at eleven and once at twelve.

All the order, the pseudo-control that I’d given myself by working out when all this stuff happened just went out the window.

Why am I remembering this stuff? I know I wasn’t doing well before it all, but couldn’t I have just lived a screwed up life without having to relive this kind of horror?

I can’t do this. I have real life adult responsibilities, my job and my schoolwork to take care of. But I just want to curl up on bed and hide while the flames in my soul burn my heart to ashes.

I hurt.

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!