Behind Closed Doors: When abused children grow up

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I strongly suspect that I have far fewer memories of my childhood than most people my age. In truth, I try not to look back to my early years too often because the few recollections I do have are accompanied by a deeply rooted sense of foreboding, a fear I can never truly decipher or rationalise.

 

The fact is that I was abused as a child by my stepfather, both physically and sexually, over a number of years. I have blocked out much of what he did to me, though the memory is still half-there, like a familiar face obscured by darkness. Try as I might, I cannot forget the fear though. We lived in an old Victorian two-up/two-down house with the family bathroom downstairs past the kitchen, and I recall night after night of desperately needing to use the toilet but being too afraid to leave my bedroom in case the creaking of the door woke him and incurred his wrath. Once, I made the criminal error of asking to play outside after school. I’d woken him from an afternoon nap to make my request, and his response was to punch me in the face before chasing me upstairs and kicking me repeatedly. I was 7 years old. Today I find myself apologising to my husband if I wake him at night, or have to distract him from something to ask a question, much to his complete bewilderment. I don’t know how to explain the fear to him any more than he knows how to make me see that I have nothing to be afraid of anymore.

 

Shortly before my 10th birthday, we escaped and moved in with a friend my Mum knew from work. It took me a further 3 years to tell my Mum what had happened to me during the 5 years we lived with him and to begin to seek professional help in dealing with it. We were given the opportunity to go to the police, but as it had been years since the last incident, I knew that, at most, making a police report would lead to me having to relive intimate details of things done to me that I couldn’t comprehend, but without any realistic chance of him being prosecuted for it. I rejected the counsellor’s help in the end because I wasn’t ready to begin working through those feelings and reopening boxes of memories that I had closed. I haven’t been ready at all yet, almost 20 years on. Now, as a parent to children the ages I was when I started to experience all this, I am starting to struggle. Every time I see them upset or afraid of the most benign thing, I revisit MY fear. I’m desperate to provide them with as loving and safe a home as can be, but I have limited personal experience to draw on. My mother was as loving as a mother ever could be and did everything she could to protect us, but she was as broken and abused as we were by him. On the very rare occasion that my husband loses his temper and raises his voice to our children, I’m flung into a bear-like rage wanting to protect them from him – though he poses no threat whatsoever! To my mind, they are me aged 7 and terrified, and he becomes the faceless yet brutal monster. 

 

For every time I like to claim that I have moved on from my childhood and there is no long-lasting damage, there are countless other times when an image flashes into my mind of something he did, how small and vulnerable I felt, how it seemed that I would never be safe because I never understood what it was I did to deserve all this.

 

The time is fast approaching when I will need to open these boxes of memories and sift through them to make my peace with what happened and learn how to protect my own children without projecting all my fear onto them and without seeing every man in my life as a potential source of harm. It seems silly now that I ever thought I would be able to simply close the door on that time in my life and move forward as any well-adjusted adult would. 

 

I hope someday to be able to revisit this piece and say confidently that I am not afraid anymore, and that I am not ashamed to own this as a piece of my life.

Categories: Behind Closed Doors
18 interesting thoughts on this

18 Comments

  1. Posted April 30, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Good morning anonymous, should imagine you might be nervous about the response to this. I hope that AOW does it’s usual supporting thing for you.

    How brave of you to write this and how fucking horrible that you have to. I’m not sorry for swearing in the comments this makes my blood boil.

    I hope that one day you can come back and repost how you want to about not being afraid. Lots of love. X x x x

  2. Posted April 30, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I can only echo Anna in saying how amazingly brave you are in writing this today, and I hope that perhaps this is the first step in starting to work through this incomprehensibly terrible thing. To have shouldered this with such strength for so long just demonstrates what a great mother you must be to your children. They are lucky to have you.

    Px

  3. Alex now Mrs M
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Hi Anon. Well done for speaking about it, I know it must be really hard. Here is something that might make you feel slightly better,maybe it won’t.

    My sister and I were sexually abused by our next door neighbour, me from being age 5 to being age 7 and her from being age 12 to 15. We never ever told each other or our parents. We moved away, and I found out my sister had suffered the same experience when she took an overdose at age 18. She told my mum everything and I felt so envious that she had told someone…but yet thought if I also said something people would think I was just copying. I know that doesn’t sound normal but I was still a child and still thought his word against mine would win.

    Eventually when I was 15 and we were about to move back to the town this happened in, I confessed to a teacher at school what had happened. He informed my parents, and the police. And even though it was such a long time ago we ended up going through a court trial. It was horrific. I can still, even though it is nearly eleven years ago, remember the terror of having to sit in a courtroom describing the horrific things he did, whilst he and his family listened in. His barrister was awful, really pulled us to pieces…I broke down so much we didn’t even get a guilty verdict…we had to go through a re-trial as they put it down to my statements being so poor in quality (through the sobbing I imagine).

    He did get found guilty the second time, and put away for 5 years, and on the register for life. But honestly, if I had to do it again…I don’t know if I would. It still haunts me how horrific the experience was, and living in the fear of revenge attacks. His family were so outraged and didn’t believe us, and I still now worry if I hear a noise that they are coming for me.

    It never leaves, I walk around town always with one eye open…I dread the day I see him or them again. My sister has. In a shop, and she ran to her car and sobbed for about an hour.

    So, the fear….I don’t know if it ever leaves you but I can say that sharing it with your loved one makes it a million times easier. And your not alone in it either, there are plenty more out there. I share this because it is a part of who I am now, and I see no shame in it, it took a really long time in therapy but I realise it wasn’t my fault now.

    Good luck in the future anon..and well done again for writing this xxx

  4. Posted April 30, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. You are an amazing woman, and by the way you write here you can tell that you are a truly fantastic parent too.

    I should imagine that even writing this for us has brought back some horrible memories for you, but the fact that you have shows how brave you are and, I hope, that you are ready to start dealing with what happened to you with the help of a professional.

    The fact that you have such a loving husband shows that you will never be alone on this journey that you are facing. At times it will no doubt be so difficult and draining that you want to give up, but remember he is your rock – cling to him. Together you will get through this.

    Wishing you all the luck and love in the world, with the hope of lots of brighter tomorrows.

    xx

  5. Sandra C
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Im so very sorry that you suffered like that. I can appreciate your concerns about your children, but you’ve acknowledged the problem exists so you can set about working through it. I imagine that will be very difficult for you. You’re the better, stronger, smarter person here, nothing like the man who put you through this. You will put it to rest-it may take time and tears, but you can. And I wish you all of the strength and luck in the world. Xxx

  6. Steff
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    You’ve already made the first step to dealing with your past by writing this post. I tried counselling myself in the past (nothing even remotely as traumatic as what you have been through) but it didn’t work for me either, my husband thinks about things non-stop, again that didn’t work for me. You may have found that by writing this post it gave you the chance to think about things in a more structured way, it’s like telling someone the story but being able to carefully construct it in your mind first. When you come across issues in your mind you can address them in your own time rather than someone asking probing questions that you can’t find answers for. If/when you feel ready down the line you’ll then have it all there for someone (maybe a counsellor, maybe your husband) to read and offer help without you having to then re-live it all again.

    It’s truly awful that you had to suffer such an ordeal, thank you for being brave enough to write such an emotive post and share it with us. xx

  7. Roz
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Hi Annoymous, well done for writing this piece for us and for yourself. I hope that sharing your thoughts with us helps you in some way to achieving your goal of being able to look back and not feel the fear that you are currently describing to us.

    You write so well, perhaps continuing to write about how you feel and what happened will help you.

    xxx

  8. Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I had to think really hard to know what to say to this, beyond the fact that you are so incredibly brave to write it, to talk about it, to share it and to have survived it. You have already come so far, you’ve been able to form a loving, supportive, strong adult relationship, you have children and you’re raising them with strength and love and care. You’re building a successful life for yourself. To do all these things after suffering such trauma in your childhood is actually damn incredible. There are no words for how sorry I am that you had to go through what you endured.

    One day, I hope you can exorcise your fear. I had counselling for years to deal with my fear (not related to anything as awful as yours) and it has helped me a ridiculously huge amount. I tried three counsellors though, before I found the one who helped me. Not every counsellor suits every person., and of course counselling doesn’t suit some people at all. I hope one day you’re not afraid anymore.

    K x

  9. Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Anon (and Alex too) it was so brave to write this – and that itself is a demonstration of your strength. I would urge you to try therapy again, maybe experimenting with a few options to find the one that works for you. You’ve done so well to move past this but it’s important to realise that addressing any lingering effects ISN’T a step backwards.
    All my love and luck.
    x

  10. Peridot
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    What an awful thing to have happened to you. And how brave you are that you picked up from that and made yourself what sounds like a happy and fulfilled life.

    My father hit me as a child – I remember being fed stories to tell at infant school to explain my black eye (not that I was thrown headfirst into a bookshelf because I’d lost my pen which was the truth). I am still jumpy and my fiance doesn’t understand why – it’s just that sudden movement, loud noise or raised voices signal danger to me. I would like to think that I’ll grow out of it but I’m not sure I ever will. My parents finally divorced about 5 years ago and I cut him out of my life. Sure, he’d not hit me since I was 15 (when my brother told him to stop doing it or he’d stop him) but I can’t forgive or forget. He won’t be walking me down the aisle in 6 months – he doesn’t deserve that – he won’t even be there. He has no place in my life any longer.

    What I do find weird is that my 2 brothers seem to have erased all this from their minds. I think they genuinely can’t remember it happening – although he beat one of them so badly that he had to have his meals through a straw for a week (I was the usual but not exclusive punchbag). And then afterwards there was the sobbing “you made me do it”.

    I would love a lovely father but I’m happier with none at all than the one that nature gave me.

  11. Clare
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Being a new mother, hearing what some parents can do to their own children makes me feel physically sick. Anon, Alex and Peridot – well done for being so incredibly brave and becoming such amazing women despite what these people tried to do to you.

    • Posted April 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Here here.

    • Becca
      Posted April 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I couldn’t agree more. You are all so so so so SO brave and I’m glad that AOW gives so many people an opportunity to write everything down like this. Thanks again to C, A and A x x

  12. Cat
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Anonymous, my heart goes out to you. No child should have to grow up in fear or have their childhood taken away from them, as you have, and I am so very sorry you have suffered this abuse. I know the scars that are formed in childhood can be the very hardest to heal but there are some excellent counsellors out there, who when you are ready, will be able to help you with practical techniques for overcoming the fear you describe.

    As a child, my husband was regularly hit by his mother and father and told he was useless. Several years ago at the age of 30 he went to see a NLP counsellor for several years. It was a considerable investment emotionally but much of how you talk about how you react in certain situations resonates with what he has told me. He no longer jumps if I turn around suddenly and his self esteem and confidence have really improved. I cannot describe the difference it has made to him.

    I think there is a difference between going to see a counsellor who will listen to you and one that is practiced in NLP and CBT and help you to find a practical way to come to terms with what has happened to you, to move forwards with your life and to make sure your children do not feel your fear. You sound like a truly wonderful mother and I sincerely hope that when you are ready, you can find some way to come to terms with your childhood and the abuse you suffered.

    Peridot and Alex, I have always loved reading your comments both on here and RMW and you strike me as really wonderful women. I’m so sorry for what you both had to go through and wish you and anon bright, loving and very happy futures. Lots of love to you all. xx

  13. Anon2
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Wow, that was something I could have written word for word. I had a similar relationship with my Father and it has affected every singe aspect of my life, particularly the way I deal with relationships although oddly enough sex has never been an issue unless I’m restricted in some way and can’t move freely. I have been through the counselling process a couple of times now, the first time I was not ready at all to deal with it and found myself in a place of real turmoil and very dark thoughts so I stopped. I tried it again but the same thing happened. I feel now that even though I have some serious issues because of what happened I am better off keeping those than facing the demons of my childhood.

    I have not got children of my own but I cannot be around frightened/ children in turmoil as I just see myself looking back at me and I have no idea how I will cope when we have a family of our own. I am also terrified that I will turn into my father, even though I know that is utterly ridiculous and repulses me.

  14. katy
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    You are all very brave to put these experiences into words. I can only hope that with the right counsellor you can get the help to live a happier life! You must all be amazing women and are an example of strength and humanity.

  15. Janie
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Anon, and the other posters who’ve shared their stories, I wish you all the love and strength in the world that you need in sorting through your memories and working through your feelings.

  16. Questioning
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    I have dark places in my early childhood that I don’t remember. I know I was abused…I’m terrified of anger, raised voices, being pinned down . . . have one clear visual memory of male genitals … was sexually precocious and promiscuous, remember inappropriate ‘games’ with other kids, suffered from severe anxiety, etc etc etc . . . text book symptoms . . . dreams about being a little lamb penned in and tied up trying to escape. Multiple marriages to abusive men. Yet no memory of the abuser(s). My palms are sweaty typing this and I have a knot in my stomach ever since I typed in the search ‘why don’t I remember sexual abuse’. I’ve been to counseling, and there is some evidence pointing to my father, yet he was a kindly man loved by everyone. My mother was physically abusive. I don’t know if I have to “KNOW” and “REMEMBER” or can just move forward in life and address healing. I’ve always been the happy, responsible person in life. I’m single now and living a happy and joyful life…Yet this nagging question stays with me.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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