Raised in hell, but still parenting well
Today’s post is another on parenting, this time in response to Dawn’s incredible piece a couple of weeks ago, about how parenting proved to be a completely unexpected source of triggers for her, due to her being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. This piece exploded into the Sisterwives’ submissions queue, and I couldn’t wait to publish it – not only because it emphasises the need for Dawn’s project, and how vital it will prove to be, but because it demonstrates more clearly than anything what an important forum this site is, for you to be able to share the things which are important to you, and to be received gently, respectfully and with compassion, and to realise those two fundamental truths: You are NOT ALONE, and Together We’re Stronger.
Thank you, Christine, for making both of these points so beautifully, and with such incredible courage – Lizzi
This is in support of and response to Dawn’s piece Parenting as An Unexpected Trigger! because I realized how much I NEED her words.
‘Jump up and down happy’ was my response to reading her gut-wrenching and honest writing.
It was liberating; joyous; validating.
Just to know that another woman parenting as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is talking about these issues makes my actual daily life easier. The existence of her words, the putting them to paper and the sharing them in the world was a gift and I am Christmas-morning-knee-deep-in-wrapping-paper happy.
Her words capture a reality I inhabit: have lived and am still living and see reflected back in the culture almost never. What it’s felt like for me is Awful. Specifically, invisibly, I’d often sit in play groups when my daughter was young. When people talked about co-sleeping with toddlers I bit my tongue or worse, judged. They worried about a good night’s sleep and I worried that they might be child molesters because if I, an adult, slept with a toddler in my bed, I would have surely felt like one or worried that others would think I was one.
Sleeping in my bed, was where I was molested and I’d wake to hands in my shirt or underpants or to a member of my step-family dry humping my leg and using me as a blow-up doll. Co-sleeping sounded more dangerous than letting a child crawl across a highway. Even the conversation would make me feel dizzy, ashamed and gross. Silently, I felt thoughts and feelings rot like fruit inside of me where they collected the flies of fear which festered.
When people shared pregnancy and birth stories I was again silent, unable to admit I was too terrified of my body – of myself and my genetic legacy – to give birth. I was afraid anything that “cooked” in me would be damaged and that giving birth might cause a break from reality and turn my post-traumatic stress disorder into post-partum depression.
I chose adoptive parenting because by the time I reached my 30’s I knew I could manage my PTSD and still be loving, responsible and responsive. I was not sure that would be true if I was hormonal or vulnerable or sleep-deprived. This was an enormous source of shame for me. It felt kind and safe to parent via adoption without worrying that I might injure or hurt a dependent newborn the way my own biological father was violent with me.
Attempting childbirth while terrified seemed selfish to me even though by my 30’s doctors and therapist tried to assure me that my fears were trauma-related and not reality-based. But they didn’t know how deep my fear went and how long-lasting the damage was, from childhood sexual abuse. I wasn’t capable of missionary style sex or penetration. That too was a factor (rarely discussed or addressed) which I battled, managed and felt ashamed of because if anyone had those thoughts or fears I didn’t know or hear about them.
How, when and where can women talk about that? And feeling things such as these?
And imagine how the Not Talking feels, and is experienced by women such as me? Even now, this is difficult to write but I will and am determined to get it down, for Dawn and for myself, and because yesterday, just yesterday, I sat in my own dining room with a 20-something who confessed her fears about herself and mothering. She worried about her own crazy or lack of ability to love, or her potential to lose it and snap though she is one of the most intelligent, kind, caring and sensitive people on the planet.
But I know that feeling. “It feels evil, right?” I asked and she nodded.
The problem is that she knows what I know and that is that people we love and who love us, people even that we were dependent on for our care, could gut us like fish and use us for pleasure or addiction fixes or ignore, feel burdened or even hateful towards our wants and needs, feelings and existence. It’s big, hard and complicated stuff to reconcile, this kind of ‘knowing’, especially when the thoughts reside inside the shame and silence of traumatic pain.
I could assure her those feelings are trauma-related and signs of anxiety and remind her of her inherent beauty and goodness. She could hear me say I get it and that I know and that she would, if she chose mothering, deserve support and also, she didn’t have to be a mother if she didn’t want to be.
This stuff can’t be kept inside where it becomes the gas that fills the tank of fear, which will run roughshod over our lives. These are the residual after effects of childhood trauma.
Survivors have conversations like this, when brave and able, and aren’t seeking sympathy for old hurts done decades ago. These fears are in the now and shape our days and souls. “It feels evil, right?” I said and she nodded. To fear being evil, soiled, damaged and f’d up beyond all repair or that the kindest thing you could do is not spread your self or genes or issues – is not a wonderful feeling to marinate in.
I used to believe I had attracted or made people evil and that’s why I was abused – something in me brought out the bad and if I didn’t let people love me or come from me the world would be a safer place. The shit kids think to make sense of the thoughts and feelings they are left with after abuse needs to be expressed, verbalized and challenged for the child logic and pain it is.
We can’t have these conversations in the families where the abuse happened and it’s hard to risk adding the weight of fear into the friendships and relationships which seem positive and healthy. Doctors and therapists might help but sometimes they stigmatize and make it worse. So, words, just truthful and honest and real words matter. A lot. Like water. Air. And food.
And for this reason I offer up my own vulnerable and tender truth. And for another: there is joy and celebration and transformation and we need to know this too.
In my 40’s, I can have intimate and missionary-style sex (and orgasms). It took a long time and a lot of work but it’s glorious and people need to know no matter how long it takes that healing, even sexual healing for survivors of sexual abuse, IS POSSIBLE AND WONDERFUL.
And also – my daughter, last week said, “Can we stop cleaning and cuggle for a half hour before bed? If we don’t I’ll have trouble sleeping.” She knew what she needed. She expressed it. She asked me to help meet her need. It was a question and she waited for a response.
She didn’t say, like I still might, “I’m sorry for being needy.”
She didn’t say, like I still might, “If it’s not a bother to you can you help me and if you do I’ll forever be indebted to you.”
She just recognized, expressed and asked that a need be met. And I, in my 40’s, could quiet down and get still and ‘cuggle’ on the couch knowing I am not a child molester and that I am a source of comfort and security.
And that moment – that exchange – is how we break-the-cycle. That too needs our words, and to be offered as the hope it is, so we can share with others who are seeing things in our children that we didn’t (and maybe still haven’t) experienced so we can celebrate and support each other.
We are a group of mothers who never want our daughters to be in this ‘club’ but who very much need one another to say, “yeah,” “I get it,” “Me too,” “Yay” and “Hang in there.”
Thank you Dawn because your words help me find my words. And truth. And hope.
Find Christine at her blog, Heal Write Now: How to live on earth when you were raised in hell at www.healwritenow.com with free inspiration for trauma survivors.
Christine Cissy White is an activist, mother and practical dreamer breaking silences and the cycle of abuse. She free writes, keeps a journal and has been published in Spirituality & Health, Ms. Magazine (blog), The Boston Globe, Literary Mama and Elephant Journal.