I started this blog for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is to give voice to former victims of childhood abuse. I know there are many people sharing this story, and I thank them. I wish I could say I’m one of those who’ve “made it” and are doing well now and so can help others. I don’t think I’m that person, at least not yet. I am almost 30 years old and I’m still trying to figure out exactly who I am, and what I can do – and striving for a strong emotional connection with my children. That’s how I started on my AP journey; I had to take a good look at what was driving me. And I knew a big factor in what drives me is that I lived the first 15 years of my life that I can recall, being abused.
I only use my stepfather’s first initial because he is the father of three of my baby siblings. Otherwise, I’d post his entire name and picture.
When I was very young, say under 10, abuse wasn’t really something I thought about. It had always been happening to me so I accepted it. But as I entered my teen years and became more aware of the world around me, I felt it. My mom kept us fairly sheltered from the darkness in the world, so I had always been of the opinion that once I left my house, I was safe. I thought that what was happening to me was just a bad side effect of a wonderful experience – being alive, being human. I don’t know what made me to decide to tell my mother that night. I was 13 years old. I’d just skipped the eighth grade and was so excited to be a freshmen in high school. I liked the town we’d landed in, and I was stoked about high school-level English classes. I’d figured out that my future was before me, and I wanted very badly to be an active part of it. A whole part of it. The abuse was shattering me and leaving me in pieces, and I think I just wanted it to stop.
My stepfather was my sole abuser by this time; though when I was younger there were others. My family had been living in central Ohio since I was 8 years old, with no family around and very few friends. I hadn’t visited CT since we’d moved. I’d lost touch with my cousins and aunts and uncles, many of whom I was very close with before we left. We did have religious friends but because we moved so often, we never knew them long. I knew how much my mother depended on my stepfather (whom I called Dad), and I think that’s part of why I’d never said anything to her. My own father had been dead since I was 9 and my grands had passed before I was 5. I say all this to stress that there were no adults in my life whom I could really trust, aside from my mother.
I told her that night after chores that I wanted to talk to her. My mom and I, despite any and everything, had always been very closely connected. She was my heart and I would have done anything for her. I put up with her husband touching me and lying on me and making lewd remarks to me and stalking me around our house, because of her. His actions were so commonplace in my life; and the resilience that all children are graced with, the ability to face the ugliness this world pays to children on a daily basis and to still smile and love and laugh – it had me fooled into thinking that what I was experiencing was less painful to me, than telling my mom would be to her. I knew that my mom was sobbing behind her smiles. Even as she stood at the sink washing dishes or by the stove making meals, I could see that really she was on her knees with her hands clasped together, screaming fervent prayers to God for strength she would never accept, because she couldn’t handle the responsibility. I was always confused as to whether I would be right or wrong to tell her.
When she met me in the living room that night, I smiled nervously. I hadn’t practiced anything. I hadn’t thought about it, even. I’ve always been an impulsive person. I think of something and it’s such a great idea I just do it. :) She stood and so did I. I knew she wouldn’t sit and try to appear comfortable; she was always too nervous for that. To my mom, all news was bad news. I remember her small, brown eyes peering at me, trying to read my face. I remember that by this time we were almost the same height, about 5’7”. I remember thinking how much I loved her, so much. That I was always safe with her. That she always stood up for me and protected me. She never even tried to give me confidence – she didn’t know how to do that. When I showed a weakness she just came to me and offered to carry me. She wasn’t able to tell me how to stand on my own, she knew only how to be my crutch; effectively saying, “My journey up the mountain was so draining that I don’t have the strength left to teach you to climb. All I can do now is lead you up the path I took.” I’ve had to do a lot of work to stop following my mother’s own mis-steps, and I still look down at times and see her footprints beneath mine. It was her best, and it was mostly genuine, and although it’s not the way I’d raise my daughters, I know she meant very well.
“Ummmm…Mom.” We stared at each other. She was not going to speak, that I knew. ”Umm. N’s been, um, touching me.” That was a drastic understatement. And it didn’t account for the length of time he’d been doing it, like soon after they’d gotten married when I was 7. My mother’s face fell, but my heart instantly felt lighter. I smiled and laughed, a nervous reflex I’ve always had.
“Whaaat?” She asked. I couldn’t read her tone because I was preoccupied with how good I felt. I repeated myself with more confidence, louder this time.
“N has been touching me and bothering me, for a long time.” So happy. So happy. So happy. My mother didn’t answer. Instead, she turned. And walked away. I stood there and looked after her. I wasn’t upset, not at all. I had no idea what was going on, thought maybe my mom was having her own reaction. I understood.
Then she returned. I heard the steps before I saw the faces. Two of them: my mom’s and my stepfather’s. My stepfather was in front, of course. My mother had relieved herself of duty. This is why she was married – she did not like being in charge. N walked over to me.
His face said, “You are a small, insignificant idiot; and this stunt isn’t going to help you.”
His mouth said, “Kim, look – I’m sorry if you took something the wrong way. Okay?”
I stared up at him, not nearly his height, 6’4”. I took something the wrong way. His words replayed rapidly in my mind. I was completely thrown off. His head was cocked to one side, haughtily. He was so big. My hatred and my confusion and my humiliation, they were so big. I wanted to disappear; I strongly recall praying that I could just poof away at that moment. I stood there and stared at him and got it, that this is exactly how small I was.
“OKAY?” He repeated himself and waited for my confirmation.
“Okay,” I responded softly, and to add to my insult, “Thank you.” I thanked them. I thanked him. Because that’s what I was trained to do. I’ve always hated myself for saying it. He walked out. My mom stood there, as small and insignificant as me, and smiled weakly, cowardly.
“Are you okay?” She asked. Am I okay. Am I okay. Am I okay? I looked at my mom but I wasn’t thinking anything. I think I’d already accepted what our exchange had meant: that I wasn’t going to be helped, and that it wasn’t going to be discussed further. What else was there for me to be, but okay? It was really weird, like I’d been waiting for a cab and when it arrived it passed me, so I’d just walked home instead, uncomplaining.
“Yes,” I answered. She walked out. I stood in our living room. I looked around me.
Those minutes, standing there alone in the living room, were the start of the last day of my life, for a long time. I died that day, in every sense but the literal. I lost myself because I was too tired now to look. I gave up. I didn’t care because I didn’t think anyone else did, and so felt I was in the wrong for wanting to protect myself. I stopped being excited in school, no longer cared about how cool it was to be a freshman. I started smoking. I stopped eating well. I stopped trying at work. I knew I had to be alive but I stopped wanting to.
My mother’s actions had said to me there is only one adult left in the world who is really supposed to want to help you and she can’t or she won’t and she’s not going to and she doesn’t care. I am the eldest child; when I was 13 I only had 4 siblings but the youngest were very young. I had school. I had my chores at home. I had a job at Dairy Queen. I had to move on. That’s what my mother’s response had said to me. I had a place in life and it wasn’t right of me to disrupt it. I was needed – how dare I need? I had to give love – how I dare I require or desire it?
I believed her, for a long time. I still fight to remember that was wrong. This conclusion is what enabled me to change my thinking, for my children. Realizing that I could experience relationships where I gave and received genuine, pure love, is what allowed me to face my demons and reconfigure. I had to accept the responsibility I had to my children; not only because they were entitled to it – but because I deserved it, as well. I deserved to experience a life of honesty and openness. I deserved the emotional healthiness my life had always lacked. And so did my children. And so will their children. As always, I have a responsibility to a lot of lives; and I take it very seriously.
That day in my family’s living room was/is? just one of many that I think of often. I feel so differently about it all now, naturally. I don’t think I even made an official acknowledgement of my surrender to failure and self-hatred, at that time. There was no point when I said, “Okay, now I give up.” I stood there after my parents had walked out and slumped my shoulders. My face burned with embarrassment and shame; a feeling that was always a fixture in my life. I dropped my head but I didn’t want to cry. I don’t think I could have cried anyway; my body felt so heavy it was as though all the water inside me had been replaced by sand, and it hurt to breathe. I didn’t realize how young I was then, but 13 is so young. And my 13 – no movies above PG; only Disney and Nickelodeon on the television; no news because we were too sensitive; no staying out late after school – my 13 was young. I knew nothing about what I needed to and too much about what no child should know. I walked out of the living room and to my own. I went to sleep. I woke up the next day at 4am to do homework (always at predawn because I truly take procrastination to talent level).
I went to school that day. I came home. I played with my siblings, talked with them, ate dinner, did chores, played some more. Watched TV. Read. Talked. Went to bed. My stepfather continued to “bother” me after that. Because I figure he’s not all human. I spiraled out of my former existence and became a new girl no one wanted to know. So I pretended to still be the other Kimberley, the bright, funny, friendly girl who liked to write and read and be with her family, and no one was the wiser. My mom never mentioned it again. I didn’t say anything to my next sister, Tiff, the most loyal friend and sister a person could hope to have (I would tell her later). It was my burden and I’d gotten the message that sharing it not only caused confusion but didn’t help me. I would go on to tell one other person that year, an adult close to my mom. She unfortunately handled it by first calling my mom, and it died. I didn’t care at that point anyway, which is why I told her. I didn’t care if no one helped me now because I’d resigned myself to walking dead.
Fast forward to now. I’d like to say that’s just a memory, but it ain’t. It’s a moment that I almost let define me. It’s a monster over my shoulder who I’ve been able to finally fend off, but who lurks in the woods of my heart, threatening to show himself should I lose focus. That’s what I guess is the biggest realization I’ve taken away from my reflecting. That for me, having lived through trauma has changed my baseline, so to speak. When I was younger, I think before the effect of the abuse truly set in, I had wonderful aspirations for myself, and a completely different idea of what behavior I’d accept of myself. Now, what is ‘good’ for me is so different. I just want to have weeks of not second-guessing myself; of not making rash decisions that I make even as I know I shouldn’t; of saying aloud, “I got this,” and actually believing I got this.
I’m happy with the progress I’ve made, so far. My mother’s death was almost a setback but I’ve managed to head that off; I suppose by having a non-reaction thus far. I don’t think I’ve handled it well, actually. I know there are things I should do better. I don’t count not emoting at all as healing, and I wouldn’t encourage it for anyone. But otherwise, with my kids, I’m happy with where I’m at. I’ve shown myself to have far more perseverance than I’d have ever thought I have. And it’s felt good. I think this is what I’ve been wanting and needing to do – to really struggle to break free of the protective shell I’d fashioned for myself. Shedding layers is painful as hell. They don’t just fall off peacefully or even sting a little like tape; they rip away like some invisible hand is yanking chunks of you right off. But then after, it’s better. Because while there’s the rawness of the newly exposed flesh there’s also a lightness about having shed the former. I weigh less. I can move more freely. I can breathe more naturally. I’m healthier, emotionally.
So that’s why I write this blog. Because I have to have all these conversations with myself and I figured I should document it. Then I was like, “Aaaayyy (like The Fonz), why not share it?!” And now that’s what I’m doing. I wish young girls read this blog because if they did I’d tell them that if they or anyone they know is being mistreated in any way, they should make someone know. Not to ask them to know. Make them. I don’t know if there’s anything I could stress more than that. Maybe that it’s not their fault, and I’m sorry. Truly.
But young girls don’t read my blog so I hope the women who do will talk about it. I know it can be a weird subject for some, but it’s necessary. There are too many (one is too many) children alive right now who aren’t being respected, and they can’t speak for themselves. I used to look at other kids when I was young, kids who looked more sad than I felt. I’d think, “At least I have my sisters and brother. At least my mom tries to love me. At least I have…” I’d feel a pang for whatever their sadness was because I knew how many possibilities there were for what caused it. And not to sound like I want to be a savior or a hero, but maybe because of what was going on with me; I’ve always wanted to absorb other people’s pain. Like, “Hey, I’m already hurting and I seem to get along fine, so please share your hurt with me, I can definitely take it.” I knew from the time I was small that I would be a voice for hurt children; I just didn’t know how. I’m starting to see the possibilities now. I write. I love. Those are my only powers so I have to figure out how to use them to defend the people in the world who have been and will always be my heroes and my hope and the source of my happiness – our children. Plan A is this blog, and sharing the benefits of emotional attachment.
When I read my own posts and consider what a struggle it is for me to be who I want to be (and I swear I don’t even wanna be all that much), I know that no one should have to fight themselves this way. That feeling is what drives me to share my journey…I hope someone will follow along and feel the same way, and strive to ensure that their child never has to. Thank you for reading. All love.