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A Victim Can Be A Survivor

I was the first girl in my family. Six older brothers, one younger sister from my mother’s second marriage.

The man who became my stepfather was an alcoholic. He was abusive. He would beat everyone except my sister. After all “she was his” but we weren’t angry about her being spared. We were thankful. She was safe.

He would think of ways to inflict more pain during our beatings. He would gloat about his “latest idea”. He was so excited when he created a board for our beatings that had circles and lightning bolts cut out of it. Thrilled when he saw that his plan worked. The cut-outs left circular and lightning bolt blisters on us where he had hit us with it. Our butts, our legs, our back. Wherever his newest invention connected with our flesh.

We couldn’t control our stepfather. We couldn’t control his drinking. We couldn’t control his beatings. And by God, you had better cry when he beat you. One of my brothers tried to control the only thing he could. He decided not to give him the satisfaction of seeing the pain he was causing. When he didn’t cry, he was beaten harder. Then harder still. Then harder, until the rest of us were screaming that he was going to kill my brother. He finally gave up in disgust and went to the bar. My brother was home from school for a long time after that beating.

There were days that he felt “fatherly.” He would take me, at three or four years old, to the bar with him to show off his “little girl.” There I would sit, hours on end, surrounded all the other drunks who weren’t home with their families. Even at that age, I knew this wasn’t the right place for me. I didn’t like the way the men looked at me. Asked me to sit on their laps.

I was scared.

When I was seven, my stepfather upped the ante and found a way to scar my soul. He began sexually abusing me. He didn’t start out with other things to gain my trust, or tell me how special I was, or try to make me believe this was because he loved me, like so many other abusers do. No, he did what he wanted with no preamble. He took what he wanted violently. HE was angry with ME afterward. HE was disgusted by ME afterward. He had found a much more efficient way to destroy me than a beating.

This abuse went on for years. I started walking to a little country church every Sunday. It began as a way to get out of the house. It became my only source of hope.

He tortured my brothers and I. He waved guns in his drunken stupors. He humiliated us by bursting into our grade school classrooms drunk and demanding we leave with him. (This was in the 70′s. The school let him take us when he could barely stand. I would hope that wouldn’t happen to children these days.) He would be gone for days or weeks at a time. We would learn not to relax when he was gone, as soon as we did he would return. It was as if he knew we were suddenly feeling safer in our home and he couldn’t have that.

When I was in sixth grade, my mother divorced him. I felt guilty for the internal relief I had over him leaving our lives. After all, the Bible says to honor your mother and father. I struggled with that for such a long time. Now I know that I couldn’t be expected to honoring a man who was so unhonorable. No loving God would ever expect that.

I haven’t seen him in the 30 something years since the divorce. Thank God I haven’t seen him again.

I followed the Family Rules for a very long time. I didn’t tell anyone outside the family. I took on the shame. I took the responsibility. I took the burden. I took the pain.

But eventually I grew up. I married. I told my husband some of what happened after we had been married a little over a year. I regret that, I should have told him sooner. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. Thankfully, he is a wonderful, gentle soul and understood why I didn’t tell him sooner. And he didn’t run from my pain. He didn’t run from my past. He didn’t see me as the damaged goods. He was supportive. He was awesome. We have been married 30 years now.

We had children. A boy and a girl. As my daughter grew, the childhood I tried to forget started pushing itself forward in my mind. First a whisper, then a speaking voice, and eventually screaming YOU CANNOT IGNORE ME! I was a mess. So emotional, so raw, so frightened to face it – to speak the truth.

Eventually, I had to seek counseling. I could not get through a day without the memories forcing themselves front and center, in my dreams at night, in my day with flashbacks. Horrible, painful, frightening memories.

I was blessed. I found a wonderful counselor on my first try. She guided me. She gave me a place to speak. She encouraged me when I felt overwhelmed (most of the first year). She HEARD me. She didn’t judge me. She showed me that the shame and disgust didn’t belong to me. They belonged to HIM. It took a while for me to believe her. That pain, shame and disgust had been mine for so long.

Eventually, the shame and pain was transformed into anger. No, that isn’t quite right…it turned into ANGER! Anger that frightened me with it’s intensity. But finally I was feeling the anger at what he had done to the little girl I once was. Once I found the anger it was a very good thing that I didn’t run into him (he lives in another state). I would have ripped his manhood from his body and shoved it down the throat that used to tell me it was my fault.

I went to therapy for a year and a half. I won’t sugar coat it, it was a very tough year and a half. There was a lot of hard emotional work to be done. But oh, what a gift that therapy was for me.

I KNOW it wasn’t my fault. I KNOW I didn’t deserve what he did. I KNOW it wasn’t the clothes I wore, the way I acted, the choices I made. It was HIM. He is a sick perverted person.

Therapy made me a stronger person. My hard work transformed a victim into a survivor. It helped me become a better mother, a better wife, a better human being. It helped my soul to be set free from my past.

My younger sister? The one that was “really his”? The one he spared the abuse? She grew up to feel horribly guilty for what her birth father did to us. (We are all still thankful she didn’t suffer along with us.) She couldn’t escape the pain of her guilt. She began abusing drugs as a teen. She is forty three now. She has spent the last 27 years in a deep pit of drugs and alcohol trying to escape the past. She lost custody of her son when he was five, due to her addictions. My husband and I adopted him. We couldn’t stand to let him go to strangers and lose everyone he had ever known. We couldn’t stand to lose him in our lives either. We continue to help him battle the demons his past have created. Spared her? I don’t think so.

I am no longer angry. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t want to ever be anywhere near my stepfather. But I don’t want to harm him anymore either. Growth. Now, if I think of him, I feel pity for the twisted, dark, hurtful person he is.  But I don’t feel sorry for him either. He made his choices. If what he did haunts him when he least expects it, that is his consequence. Somewhere deep inside of him he knows what he did, who he is.

I don’t want to give him one more minute of my life. A minute I spend hating him, is one more minute he owns. He took enough. He took too much. He can’t have any more.