"What Happens In This House, Stays In This House."
That was the catchphrase growing up with my parents. As an adult, hearing something like that sends alarm bells ringing.
This is a story of how abuse and neglect nearly ruined me, but hasn't. I am two short years away from being thirty years old, and it's only through writing on this site that concepts I've been struggling with for ten years have come to a head. I have been starting to love myself a lot more over the last few months, and in the last week it's ringing true. Writing as therapy ...
My parents began telling me to "grow up and act reponsible" from the age of four. My family is, like many american families, completely dysfunctional. My mother was abused as a child and it was then ok for her to do it to me. I believe in some respects, in the beginning of my life, my mom was just determined to make me a decent person by being strict .. but it soon deteriorated as my stepdad was on the scene from the time I was two.
When left in my stepdad's care, the curtains were always drawn and the lights were always out. I grew up in the dim and the dark. I was tiny even at five or six and couldn't reach the light switch or the blinds in my room so I played alone with no light. My mom ignored me unless I had done something she considered "wrong" when it became "Wait until your father gets home" .. what father? And I would be beaten with a leather belt. There was constant emotional and mental abuse, as well as physical. Name calling, beatings, silent treatment - they would go a week without speaking to me sometimes.
My parents saw fit to make me a latch-key kid from the age of six. For three hours I was home alone. Granted, I was a "gifted" child but I would in no way leave one of my children home alone at six years old no matter how intelligent they are. I wouldn't let them out of my sight at six. On one occassion I had left my key at home, and had nowhere to go, and I was scared and needed the toilet, so I wet myself. I couldn't hold it. My stepdad came home with his friend and they ridiculed me and called me "pissypants" for the rest of the day. I was SIX YEARS OLD and no one even helped me to clean myself up.
I was fed once, maybe twice, a day, my mom seemed terrified I would get fat and didn't believe in giving me much food. My grandma once found out I lived for two days out of crumbs at the bottom of a pretzel bag. She was appalled, but she did nothing ... I love my grandma but that was the same attitude of fear that allowed my mom to become such a messed up person to start with.
I used to wet the bed from time to time as I was afraid to get up in the night and leave my room to go to the toilet, at seven or eight I can remember getting up, changing the bed, changing myself and reading a book until I could manage to sleep again. They just didn't give a **** about me at all.
When my sister and brother came along, I was a built-in babysitter. When I started high school I got the double whammy of no life at all due to looking after the little ones every evening while my parents went shopping or out to eat, and my stepdad beginning to sexually abuse me, and my mom still beat me. With my stepdad it was mostly verbally, he also tried to get me into bed with him by promising me ice cream [I wasn't stupid, thank the gods - if I had been things would have been so much worse], gave me alcohol disguised in cola until I passed out [I've no idea to this day if anything happened while I was out, but I woke up crying], and had put his hands on me on a few occassions ... If my mom wasn't home he would walk around in shorts with no underpants or shirt on. He would try to bribe me with different things, would waltz into my room and say what he wanted, whenever he wanted.
I started to self-harm and used to lose it and push my stepdad when he came near me. His reaction? When my mom got home from work, cry and tell her I was violent and hit him. So then I'd get a beating from my mom, and a threat of juvenile hall. I had to choose between being molested or being beaten - he was having me done over, as it were, for not letting him touch me. It didn't help that from the age of twelve my mom had taken to calling me a "****" [I never slept with a boy until I was 17, so I felt confused and hurt by this], and reminded me everytime she was angry that was what she thought of me. I was now on my way to believing I was worth very little.
Eventually I told someone about what my stepdad was doing. Apparently, it was illegal and I could have pressed charges. I was at my grandma's when it happened. When my mom found out she tore round with a bag of clothes that didn't fit me. I hid in the basement, so she threw them down the stairs at me, and my grandpa had to hold her back, as her first reaction was to beat me again.
For some reason, I forgave my mom as she begged me to come home and not press charges. She promised me my stepdad wasn't going to drink anymore, and not hurt me and that he was sorry.
We had family counselling. I went once. The first session the counsellor thought my social worker was a probation officer - obviously judging me by my ripped jeans and pearl jam t-shirt, and half-shaved head. I lost faith in the system. That same day I also lost faith in my family, as my stepdad told me my perfume smelled "butch" and was I a lesbian ... nothing had changed.
When I went back home, things were slightly better than they were but never perfect. I was still there as a babysitter and they just found new ways to make me feel like nothing. When I got my first job they would find a way to punish me by taking my paycheck off me. On one occassion, over doing some household chores, my stepdad said I had lied and not done something. I had. So everytime I protested it was another "lie" and every "lie" cost me $50. All of the money I earned in two weeks suddenly belonged to my parents.
I moved out when I was eighteen. My mom cried. I didn't.
I've tried building a relationship with my mom in recent years, now that I'm thousands of miles away from her. I don't care now. The miles between us don't change the fact that I've had to undo a lot of trouble caused by her and her bad choice of husband. She will take his side over anyone's and it's sick. It's since been revealed to me he has had affairs and made obscene phone calls. This is obviously acceptable behaviour in la-la land. Her apologies mean very little to me, as they are selective apologies. She is sorry for beating me until the day I left, but she makes excuses. She never acknowledges the neglect or what her husband did to me. Those things I think would be too painful for her to admit. That a woman who was sexually abused grew up and married someone who is basically a paedophile, and stands by him. If she didn't paper over all the cracks, it would drive her crazy. So I let her live her life and I live mine, and the two need never cross paths again.
It's now, as an adult with my own children, that I realise I deserved none of this. I let it lead me into bad relationships with men, let it turn me into someone who was afraid of a lot of things, confrontation, speaking my mind. Now I let it make me stronger. I am not the little girl who wet the bed or played in the dark on her own. I'm a strong woman who is rising above this life I used to live. I am intelligent, loving and kind, they could never beat or insult that out of me.
I hope for all the best for anyone who was raised by people who should never have had children in the first place, for we are here against the odds, carving out our own lives and being decent members of the human race. For those still finding their way because of being abused, my thoughts are with you and I know anyone can make it through, because none of us deserved what we got as children. It's the abusers who were wrong, and we are all beautiful, wonderful people inside.