A person (especially a child) subjected to abuse is at the mercy of others – they have no power. I spent most of my childhood trying to escape unwanted touches, slaps, hits, screams, manipulation and cruel words. I liken it to tip-toeing through a landmine. You have an idea of where danger lurks, but you don’t know if your next step will blow up in your face. When it does you blame yourself, protect the wounds and then cautiously begin to walk again. You do whatever it takes to survive. I spent years trying to protect myself that I didn’t realize the extent of the damage taking place inside me.
The truth is one day without having to deal with abuse of any type was good, two days were a gift, but three days was utterly dangerous. Why? Because that was just about the amount of time needed for me to let my guard down and relax. The brief moments of believing that I was happy, carefree and sincerely loved were precious moments that never seemed to last long, and after a while began to feel like a cruel joke. So at some point something inside me one day just died -which later I realized was my childhood.
In the years I struggled to survive my abuse it never occurred to me it was possible that life could be any better. All you ever desire is for the abuse to come to an end and when it does you are grateful and exhausted. That’s when a whole new level of problems begin – you don’t understand why you feel the way to do, or respond to things the way you do, or why you have trouble making friends, or keeping friends. The pain and the shame never leaves and you feel like a colossal reject and completely alone. I had no one around to let me know that I was the victim, and there wasn’t anything wrong with me. That I should have been protected and given help. I was never told that I didn’t have to live like this for the rest of my life. These are things I didn’t discover for many, many years later.
I was fourteen when I finally told my parents about my sexual abuse. It was a secret that I held inside me for nine years, and hadn’t planned on telling them the day I finally did. Don’t get me wrong I desperately wanted to but I was afraid. When I was five I think I was scared because I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and then later that changed. I then was hesitant to tell my parents (mainly my dad) because it was his family that did this to me. I knew above all he loved and was devoted to his family. My little heart couldn’t bring myself to tell him news that would hurt him. To watch his expression fall when I told him that his stepfather, brother, sister and nephew had done these vile things to me – and many times in his own house.
I didn’t tell my mom because I just didn’t trust her. Did this mean I didn’t love her? No. I absolutely did, but because of the ongoing physical and emotional abuse she didn’t represent a safe place for me reach out for help.
Almost a year had passed since I had attended the family conference in Dallas, and had accepted the invitation to accept Christ in my life. Now I was once again sitting in a church service listening to another pastor speak about family. Unexpectedly at the end of his sermon he spoke on domestic violence and also sexual abuse in families. It caught me by surprise and he now had my full attention. As he continued to speak the memories I had pushed deep down inside me rose to the top, and my eyes filled with tears. I heard him say that Jesus wanted to take away the pain and it was possible to be free of the burden of the past.
I can’t tell you how much I desperately desired it.
So at the end of the service I once again went forward to ask for prayer and to find out how it was possible. I remember the shocked looks on my parents faces as I walked past them towards the front of the church where the pastor was standing. After I shared why I came forward the pastor immediately called my parents to come stand by me, and shared with them why I came forward. They seemed stunned and didn’t know what to say and I began to cry. Nine years of holding a secret wasn’t an easy task and now the moment had finally come, and my head was spinning.
I was told to claim my freedom I needed to forgive everyone who had wronged me. What?! I wasn’t even close to being ready for this big step. I remember thinking that was completely impossible and wasn’t ever going to happen. I mean the pastor couldn’t understand just what I had to endure for all of those years – I hated all of these people. As much as I truly loved Jesus and was grateful for my relationship with him – I wanted each and every one of my abusers to burn in hell.
So I told the pastor I just couldn’t do it. For what seemed like forever my parents and the pastor tried to convince me otherwise. They all had good intentions but I told them I would be lying if I did it. They continued to push me to do it – so to make this all go away I did it – I went through the motions of saying that I forgave what each person did to me. I left that church feeling like the biggest liar ever. My parents then drove me all around the town to talk about the details of my abuse. Let me tell you that drive lasted for hours but not much was said between us. It was so difficult for me to share information with them – it’s hard for me to talk about it today let alone when I was fourteen.
I gave them the basic overview of who and how it happened and when they realized it was wasn’t going any further we went home. It was such a difficult night for me that I never expected to happen. In some ways even today – I wish it never did.
In my mind for years I believed that all hell would break loose once my parents discovered the atrocious betrayal that these relatives had done against their daughter. That there would be a sadness and sorrow to realize it – followed by a fierce response in their quest for justice for their first-born child. To this very day it is difficult for me to accept what actually took place.
You see the truth is outside of the conversation with the pastor and the long car ride with my parents – nothing happened – and we never spoke of it again. Well, that’s not completely true. Many years later when I attempted to fix our lifelong broken relationship between us – I brought it up again with them.
The day I finally realized that I couldn’t overcome my past abuse on my own and that life could truly be different – was the first step in my healing. I soon discovered that my journey towards freedom isn’t linear, and that A + B doesn’t always equal C. At times the path can look more like a dot-to-dot picture with a thousand unmarked dots. As hard as it may seem at times – it is possible to achieve – it just requires that I fight for it.
In an attempt to salvage the relationship with my mom and dad I reached out to them. I don’t know why but we planned to meet at Macayo’s Mexican Restaurant to talk about it over dinner. I can’t tell you why but my mom, dad, Robbie and I were seated in the banquet room. It was a week night and the restaurant wasn’t even close to reaching full capacity. It was if the hostess could see the future and knew she better seat us far away from everyone else. We sat, ordered and went through our pleasantries before digging into the real reason we decided to meet.
My mother started the discussion by sharing how she and my father felt a disconnection from both Robbie and I, and also how they felt I didn’t respect them. She went on to list occasions to show why they felt this way, and we just listened. I did my best to be objective and open as to why they felt this way. I tried to look inside myself to see where I could have done things differently or handled things better. Then she attempted to seal her argument by using the scripture that speaks of “honoring your mother and father”. I stayed quiet as I searched for the words that would clearly communicate my heart and position.
I apologized for anything and everything that made them believe that I didn’t love them or respect them as my parents. I shared with them that I was learning about healthy boundaries and was trying to put in place the things I learned. I could see how this change could make them feel shut out, but that I still desired a relationship with them. It would just look a little different now. For us to move forward we needed to deal with the past. I shared about my counseling and the things I learned about healing from abuse.
I shared I was hurt over the fact that I’ve been repeatedly judged by them by how I’ve raised my children, my relationship with God, my relationship with my husband and others. That the biggest hurt is how they didn’t help me or stand up for what was done to me. Even after they found out continued to have a relationship with the people who abused me. How much it hurt when they became angry (at me) when I refused to attend family events where I would have to see these people. Even as recent as months prior to this dinner.
During our discussion my father became very uncomfortable and left the table several times. When he returned the final time he said words that have been forever engraved into my heart and soul. He stood by the table, looked at me and said “I’m okay with what happened to you – that is between you and God”. It was if I was punched in the gut and I couldn’t speak. Tears began to well up in my eyes and I looked over to my mom who looked conflicted but remained quiet.
I felt Robbie tense up as he was shocked over the words we just heard and impulsively he grabbed my hand. Before he could respond to my father I said “I don’t know how you could say those words to me. How you could be okay with what your sister and brother and others did to me? That you would be okay with they way they touched me and used my body. How can you say that to me?”
He looked at me and said “I’m fine with it”.
I had just stepped on another landmine. I began to sob with tears flowing down my face feeling pain I hadn’t experienced in years. Just then our server approached our table – and I heard Robbie say CHECK PLEASE!
It was a devastating blow in my pursuit towards healing which did set me back for a while. When the sting finally started to fade I knew this would be the first hurdle of many to come, and I couldn’t let this stop me. I’m not a child or a victim anymore and could now protect and stand up for myself. Unlike when I was fourteen it was easier for me now to choose forgiveness. My father’s betrayal still hurts very much – especially since it wasn’t the last time he said those exact words to me. I just chose to move forward because my freedom is most important.
I also realized that God has given me other places to receive unconditional love and acceptance, and I’m grateful.