Aside from the abuse itself, the most difficult … painful thing to live with is the loss of the family I grew up with; the only people who have known me since the day I was born. Beyond the lack of validation as they maintain relationships with my abuser (my mother) I am ostracized my only window into their world is Facebook; at times I allow myself bear witness to all that I am not - and will likely never be included in; that’s the dark-side of social media.
I have always felt the loss and loneliness of not having family connections. It’s particularly painful not to have anyone in my life who has known me all of my life. Lost to me are photographs and anecdotal stories so many people with intact families take for granted. Lost is any emotional support family members rightfully (By rightfully I mean that thing you have without feeling sheepish or asking permission) turn to because my relatives are aligned with my abuser. I have made my friends my family, outside of my beautiful adult children, but it’s not quite the same as leaning on cousins or siblings of the same generation.
I went through two years of intensive therapy that included group therapy for victims of sexual abuse and incest. In my one-on-one counseling, facing the decision to confront my mother came with a warning label. My therapist told me that I would more likely than not lose my ENTIRE family. The families of abusers tend to want to keep the status quo to save face. Speaking out threatens the denial that they were comfortably shrouded in. As abusers aren’t born in a vacuum, outing one means outing the other abusers and the dysfunction that lies within. It’s everyone for themselves which translates to the unit. Better to stand together and make the victim look like a “bad apple” than to have their whole world rocked. In my case I made it easy. As a child who ran away habitually and then with finality at the age of 13, I inadvertently threw myself into a coffin labeled “rebellious problem child.” Being returning “home” at 17 by social services with an infant daughter handfuls of dirt were thrown at me bearing names like “easy,” “damaged goods,” and “tramp” – my mother’s own words. I felt and internalized the sting of those labels. I knew I brought shame to my family, my mother made sure of that.
Back to the loss. I made the decision that the risk of losing the relationships that I did love and cherish were worth insulating my own children and breaking the cycles that most certainly would have continued. I hoped it would just be my mother. I think that I was in a denial of my own. Somewhere in my delusional state I had decided that maybe, just maybe, by speaking the truth my brother would stand next to me. He did grow up in the same home, older and more aware of the circumstances. We had not spoken in years so I don’t know why I thought that to be even a remote possibility, but I did. I guess that’s the optimist that thankfully lives within me - always has and always will. At 26 years old, in a telephone conversation with my mother, I came out to her about the sexual abuse I endured at the hands of my grandfather. I told her that I wanted her to come to therapy with me to resolve our issues. To say that it did not go well is an understatement. Well, maybe not an understatement exactly as she did not actually DENY the allegation.
There was only one other conversation with an aunt - the only other person that I believed might stand with me. The conversation was about my allowing my grandfather access to one of my three children, his “favorite.” It had already been a couple of years since the last time I saw him and allowed him near any of my children. She had confided in her father that she had been touched by my grandfather. Up until a few months ago I referred to my grand-father as a family member other than naming him in public. I wasn’t protecting him as he has long since passed. I was allowing my family their public denial hoping for their eventual inclusion. My wish just as the loss does not just linger, it is and I think will always be palpable. That is just one of the many tragedies of child abuse.
For many years, focused on my now ex-husband and children, I could put my loss on the back burner. The only exception would be when there were significant milestones, those reminders that I was dead to my family. As graduations and birthdays came and went without my mother, half-brother, aunts and uncles to mark the occasions, I felt the loss. That my children grew up without those cousin relationships that I cherish the memory of breaks my heart to this day. Once my children were grown I could, in many ways, focus on my life and the now … until the advent of social media … Facebook.
Facebook gives me a window-in that I wish I had the strength to draw the curtain on. I look at the faces that look like my own or my children’s ... I see the moments … weddings, birthdays, even ordinary dinners, and I feel more than just loss. Sometimes I feel rage, just pure unadulterated rage. My half-brother and I had some dialogue recently - the first in five years. It was the first time he did not support my mother’s behavior - it was not, however, an admission of her abuse of us. I felt a validation which I am grateful for, yet he still stands with her by virtue of their relationship. She attends - by his invitations - the birthdays and weddings. I do not. I doubt that his now adult children know what the true background is. The only thing I am certain of is the fact that I stand alone while they love together.
You may ask why I torture myself, why I look. It’s not like a break-up where you finally figure out that staying connected to social media with your ex will only prolong your pain. This is the family that on some level I will long for whether they accept me or not. There is a part of seeing the “happy” that brings me peace. Sadly, there is another part that highlights my loss and loneliness. I guess it’s kind of like taking the good with the bad.
Today’s Mantra: Give love to those who love you and be grateful for the blessings you do have.
As published in Vocal Media