Joined: 18 Feb 2011
|Posted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 12:08 pm Post subject: Dilemma
|I apologize, in advance, for the sheer length of this post, as well as for any triggers. I would have made it shorter, but I needed it all out, an account as complete and honest as I could bear to make it. Perhaps I do not need anyone here to read it, but I need to tell it. I never tell. And perhaps, I hope, someone in a similar situation will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. Here goes!
I have a dilemma, which leaves me tattered and confused. I am caught between love and hate, and do not quite know where to turn. I read in this forum of people abused by true monsters that are fully deserving of punishment, incarceration, and perhaps even unmitigated hatred. We are all free to snarl at their memory, to force them away from our memories and to know that they were absolutely in the wrong, and the victim truly and indisputably a victim.
I do not have that luxury.
I was sexually abused as a young girl, but my abuser was not a monster. He was a child, only three years older than myself, a victim himself of abuse by a teen down the street. He was my elder brother, the one I tagged along after, hoping he would include me in all his adventures. He was bigger than me, and sometimes forceful. At times he was cruel to me, cruel enough that the neighbors would call my mother and ask if she knew what was going on. I believe she did what she could to keep him away from me, but she was distracted–I now know–with some horrors of her own, not to mention three other sons that brought home their share of chaos. He and I were often together and often alone, and at such times, his word was law. I had long since learned that to defy him when in a temper was only to invite more brutal words. Around him, I had no right to a voice, or to tears. Better to swallow it all and sneak away into my room and my mind. When he pulled me into the bathroom, I did not fight him. I followed his directions without a peep, and when he told me not to say a word, I was silent.
***potential triggers–sorry!*** Probing hands on road trips and camp-outs, far more extensive and dramatic and invasive actions behind any locked door he could pull me behind. Nighttime visits to my bedroom, the fear that he would have stripped “in his sleep” and left the door open for my friends and I to see. ****Safe again (I think)*** He treated it as a game, and because what he did to me did not result in blood and fierce pain, I was at first more confused than hurt and afraid. And some part of me–some hateful part–was aroused in previously unknown sensations and became almost hungry for them. Gradually, I became more and more aware that what was happening was wrong, but I did not know what to do. I felt that it was in some way my fault, and this feeling grew worse and worse as my knowledge that some part of me welcomed the sensations. Then it became horrible, because the person I began to hate was myself. I would try to resist, try to avoid him, try to pull away, but he would be persistent and in the end, I always let it happen. I thought I gave in too easily, thought that I was becoming evil, that I liked it and wanted it and was inviting it. I was letting it happen, and I wasn’t making a sound in protest. I wasn’t being strong, wasn’t telling him no, so that made it all my fault that it didn’t stop.
I could not talk to my parents because I feared punishment and disappointment or anger from them (not necessarily because that is how they would have reacted, but because I was six and was convinced that I was doing something horribly wrong and should be punished for it). And a part of me feared what he would do. If I talked to them, they would talk to him, and then he would know I had tattled and I would be faced with the backlash.
I remember at age eight, I was baptized into my religion, a ceremony that was meant to wash me free of all sins, mistakes, or blemishes and leave me as clean and new as I was as a baby. I was thrilled! It would all go away, everything that had happened in the past would go away, as if it had never happened. I would, for one brilliant moment, be clean and pure. I remembered thinking that, as long as I kept away from him after that, then I would never have to feel dirty again.
Strangely enough, the abuse stopped for a while after that point. Then I hit puberty at age 11 and the appearance of breasts was apparently too much for him. He came again and I found, to my horror, that I was no better at telling him no than I had been before! My life quickly spiraled into a black hole that only recently have I come to recognize as genuine depression. I was evil, I was dirty, I was sinful, and the longer it all lasted, everything would only get worse. I remember writing my "confession" in my journal, telling my parents how horribly sorry I was for doing this, how I would never do it again and that I would never lie to them again. I hoped and hoped that my mother would pick up the journal and read it and finally know this dark and messy secret. Her sweet baby girl was harboring a lie, and that lie needed to get out or else it would burn me alive.
Finally, I told them. Or, rather, wrote them a letter as I do not talk much at all and avoid even mildly unpleasant conversations like my life depended on it. I talked to religious leaders as well. They all wanted to know details, wanted to know if he had threatened me, wanted to know how long it had been going on. End verdict? It was not my fault and the only thing I had done wrong was not to bring it up earlier. They even assured me that it wasn’t a sin on my part at all. I was under eight, too young to be accountable for my actions. I glossed over the older episodes. I wanted so desperately for it to not be a sin and not my fault that I didn’t want them to know what had happened when I was older. I didn’t want this surprising lack of punishment to disappear when they all knew I had been old enough to say no and then didn’t. I wanted to bask in their assurances that they loved me, that they would talk to my brother and deal with the problem there. I don’t know what dealing with the problem meant, I just know that he never touched me in that way again.
I know that I am blessed, that I am incredibly lucky to have parents who believed me and listened to and loved me. And for a while, that was enough to hold the guilt and the memories at bay. I would lecture myself, try to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault, and then force it out of my mind and focus on school. There were times in high school when I almost could forget the sordid past, though the effects of it were there, just disguised, suppressed, shoved unceremoniously from my consciousness.
It all came back when I began college, the stress of a new environment drawing out long suppressed memories and feelings. I would have flashbacks, sudden and overpowering desires for those sexual feelings that had been forced on me as a child, in the middle of the night, when I was foggy brained and delirious and didn’t even remember if it was all a dream or reality. I should have asked for help, immediately, but I was a six-year-old girl again and terrified. I couldn’t talk about it again; I would have to say that I had lied, that I hadn’t pushed him away when I was 12, that I really was guilty. They would take it all back and decide in the end that it had been my fault and that I needed punishment. And this, this seemed proof that I was the evil one: he wasn’t available to abuse me anymore, so here I was abusing myself. I cannot put words to the horror and self-hatred that burst within me at this point, and that linger today. I will not even try.
For six years, I spiraled. I fought the sickening, sensual urges with every ounce of strength I had, but they would never disappear for long. I couldn’t overcome this on my own, yet still I struggled on alone. The rest of my life suffered. I isolated myself and despised myself. All emotional progression came to a grinding halt. I went through the motions of college, desperate to maintain good grades because that had become the last barrier between me and the unassailable conviction that I was utterly worthless. As long as I kept earning A’s, then I was smart. Anything less and I was nothing. Nothing but a perverted beast. I began to die inside, until everything in my life seemed covered in a thick, oppressive fog. I started having panic attacks: chest pressure, fluttering heart, and the utter conviction that I would not survive until morning and that I would go straight to hell when I died. When the heretofore solidly positive family members began falling apart as well (attempted suicides, successful suicides, relapses, drug overdoses, child molestations, the discovery that another brother had used me as a masturbation tool, only doing it while I slept so that I did not realize what was happening–those sorts of things…) I took it as proof: life was black and hopeless and miserable, every bad experience or addiction would poison your life forever, and all happiness was naught but a temporary illusion doomed to shatter and leave you blind and alone.
I ran away. From everything. People have told me that it was brave of me to move so far away from anyone I knew, alone. I knew better; it was not bravery, it was cowardice. I thought that if I moved away to a graduate school on the opposite side of the country, escaped all mention or memory of my past, buried myself in the pursuit of a prestigious career–one that would ensure that no one but I could accuse me of uselessness–that I could perhaps pretend it wasn’t real. And for two years, it almost seemed to work. In the back of my mind I recognized the poison that was running through me and knew that it would catch up with me in the end, but still I ran.
It did catch up with me, and the result was utter collapse. Days, weeks, months dominated by excess amounts of sleep and obsessive escapes into books, movies, television shows, anything that would distract me from the ashes of my life that were slowly burying me alive. I could not do my qualifying exams. They gave me an extension. I didn’t even try the second time around. When I began to seriously wonder why anyone bothers to live at all, the subsequent burst of fear drove me at last to the therapist’s office.
I’m doing a little better now. I’m on antidepressants and seeing a counselor. I’m trying to salvage what I can out of graduate school, and I can assure you, it is not much. But the poison is there still, and I’m having a difficult time eradicating it. And now, I am in the middle of a series of dilemmas:
My therapist insists that the events in my childhood count as abuse. It was an uneven playing field, and nine-year-old or not, he was abusing me. Yet a part of me doesn’t believe her, thinks that because he was young, because I wasn’t in physical pain and because I didn’t fight, that I have no right to give it the sinister dignity of being called abuse. In a conversation with my father, he once asked me if I was still bothered by the experiences of my childhood. Silence on my end. I think he was trying to comfort me when he told me that it wasn’t my fault, that it was just children experimenting and that it need not poison my life forever.
Just children experimenting. Perhaps, from his point of view. From my point of view, it was a particular brand of hell on earth that has expanded into every aspect of my life. It was the start of a cancer that, if I am lucky I may be able to force into remission, but that I will never, ever be fully rid of. In spite of this, I am terrified he is right. I am a mess, I look at lists of symptoms of sexually abused children and see my past and present self reflected in every word, and through it all I still don’t even know if I have the right to call it abuse. Not sure if I have a right to join the ranks of people whose experiences were so much harsher, more terrible than my own. I am miserable but have no right to be. I deserve no sympathy. Or do I?
I love my parents. They believed me and did not chastise me. They assured me that they loved me and would continue loving me no matter what happened to me or what I did. And they are not empty words: there is not a day that goes by in which I am not grateful for the parents I have. Yet, even they did little to help. One conversation in which they tell me it isn’t my fault and it is not mentioned again. They somehow stop the abuse. That was supposed to be enough. Even that much is rare and miraculously good luck. I should be thankful. I am thankful. But I am also bitter. It was not enough. Not even close. I think they were too willing to discount my experiences as relatively insignificant and thus allowed them to fester, unresolved, for years, and I am now paying the price. For this, I resent the two people I respect and love above all others, and I hate that fact.
I am an adult and this is my life and no one is supposed to have power over my life, save me. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. These statements are meant to empower me, to give me the strength to take ownership of my life and direct it where I want it to go. The choice is mine. But, does that mean the choice has been mine for years? If my brother–if the experiences of my childhood–have no control, then does that mean that all the unhappiness, all the dirtiness is my fault? If it is my choice, then did I choose all that? Do I have no one to blame but myself? If I blame him, I feel that I am choosing the cop-out option. Blame myself, and there is nothing but misery.
And, the biggest dilemma of all: my relationship with my brother. You may be shocked to learn that he and I are friends. I was the first person he told when his wife discovered she was pregnant. We went to the same university as undergraduates and our circles of friends overlapped considerably. He calls regularly, wants to know about my life and to tell me about his. Upon reaching his twenties, he began making a conscious and herculean effort to be kind to the sister he had terrorized in his youth, and he persists in that effort today. I feel genuine pity for him when life deals him a low blow, and I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t love him, as a brother.
I also hate him.
He stole my innocence, stole any chances I might have had for childlike naivete. He poured into my six-year old mind and body knowledge and sensations that no child should be forced to experience. I’m not even sure I can be considered a virgin, and I never had a chance to cherish and guard my chastity and virtue–or choose whether or not to lose it–because I did not have anything left to defend. I am fighting compulsive behaviors and horrible memories that, had he left me to myself, I would never have had to deal with, and I will be fighting them for the rest of my life. The injustice of it all makes me burn with anger. Rage. Fury. Bitter, bitter resentment. And he never even told me he was sorry for doing it.
My brother is happily married with children, perfectly comfortable with intimacy. I, for the first time, have allowed myself to be in some sort of relationship with a man, and if he so much as kisses me, it takes every bit of self-control I have to not wipe my mouth before he is out of sight.
I watch my brother playing with our nieces and nephews (all of which seem to love him), caring for his own children, and I shudder and cringe and have to look away. The same goes for almost any man whom other women would label as “good with children.” I am seized with a horrible suspicion of what dreadful things he might be thinking or doing out of sight, and I want to scream at him to take those hands away, to stop touching the children. If I ever marry and ever manage to allow myself to reach a level of intimacy that would make child-bearing even a remote possibility, I fear that I will never want them near their uncle and will never be able to trust him again.
While he tries very hard not to say terrible things to me, he does not exercise the same control when around my sisters-in-law. He is invariably the center of any discord at family gatherings and his intolerance and borderline-abusive diatribes against some of these women are such that I am left either sobbing in a corner or fighting the desire to start screaming back, to tell him he is the scum of the earth, to swear and snarl and maybe even punch him in the face (this from a woman who has never yelled at or hit a single person in her life…I told you, my response is to close my mouth and slink away.)
Yet, I do not want to hate him. Do not want to blame him. He is my brother and in some ways I think I understand him and pity him, and sometimes he is funny and protective and someone completely loveable. And that is what makes it so difficult for me to handle. I love and hate him, and neither emotion is willing to give way to the other. I am left not knowing what to think or how to heal. I’m stuck.