As the founder of The Lamplighters, an international movement for recovery from incest & childhood sexual abuse, I receive many emails from people who were sexually abused as a child telling me of what happened to them. Some of their stories are so horrific that I have a hard time reading them. I think, compared to them, my story is mild. And yet, I know, that we all have stories that are different. We all have stories that are the same.
How did they survive? How did I survive? If the perpetrator is a parent, often the mate who is not the abuser, is not aware of what happens. Even if they are, they appear helpless in protecting their child. In the case of my mother, when my father was my perpetrator, her motto was, "Even when he's wrong, he's right." This was not a motto she thought up to hide behind. It was a belief system perpetrated in the 40s and 50s that most women lived by. Alhough it is hard to believe, many wives were worn down by succeeding pregnancies when they had no options for birth control. Having no desire for another yet unwanted pregnancy knowing that their husband was taking care of his desires by raping their daughter was a relief. At least he was leaving her alone. In today's environment with birth control easy to access and abortions now legal this is no longer the reason for not protecting their daughter. And yet, many wifes do nothing. Sometimes it is because they are afraid, afraid of losing their source of income, afraid of the family breaking up or if they are in a domestic violence relationship afraid of being physically assaulted.
Having no one to protect them how does an incested child survive? I can speak primarily in my situation. When I was raped by my father at the age of 13 I did not even know what was happening. Despite being thirteen I knew nothing of where babies came from. I assumed you bought them at a hospital. That's where my mom got my little sister, Jeanne.When I screamed and screamed for help by the time my mother, who was a heavy sleeper, finally got to my bedroom my father was standing at the door, his bathrobe tightly closed. I tried to explain to my mother what had happened but didn't know the correct terminology. Hysterically I told her that someone had been on top of me and they had done something so painful and so awful that I thought I was dying. My mother kept telling me over and over that I'd had a nightmare. From that night on I never screamed for help from my mother. Instead, I relied on amnesia. It slipped over me like a blanket, covering up the horror. So, in the beginning, my innocence protected me.
Eventually my mother found out, confronted my father, who denied it and had him get me out of bed so she could interrogate me. Afraid that something terrible was going to happen to our "happy Catholic family" I kept saying that nothing had happened so she told my father to get the belt and beat it out of me. The blows were so painful and I was thin to the point of emaciation. After falling to the ground after several minutes of fierce blows I confessed saying it was my fault not daddy's. That was the night I lost my mother forever. She coped by laying in bed day after day, sobbing fitfully. She had me bathe her and shave her legs and comb her hair. My father found a job out of town and came home only on the weekends. Our house disintegrated into another world. We now moved through our days like shadows, afraid to speak even to each other. My mother had us put Marine Corp blankets on all the windows. We fixed our own meals usually sodden, tasteless affairs as we'd had no experience in cooking. Mom remained a psychotic prisoner dooming her five children to a living death. We were afraid of everything, even laughing. When Dad came home on the weekends life was worse. My mother related to him our wrongdoings, the worst I can remember is taking a lemon drop without permission. My father had his own way to punish us.
During those years there was a part of me that knew how to survive. All incest and child sexual abuse victims know how to survive. When the emotional pain became too much to bear I ran barefooted out to our vegetable garden, yanked carrots out of the ground, shoved them into my back jean pockets and ran for Rae Creek. Rae Creek was a small wooded area half a mile outside of town. Once I crawled under its fence all the horror of my home life dissapeared as if it had never existed. I was in my magical fairyland, with it's spring and summer flowers, it's oak and cottonwood trees following the path of Rae Creek. I stood at the edge of a pasture filled with cattle. Then, my thin arms outstretched, I sang my courage songs: When You Walk Through A Storm, Climb Every Mountain, Ole Man River, Amazing Grace and a dozen or so other songs in my repertoire to the cattle as they moved through the pasture, keeping an eye on me while their mouth chomped on the grass. Then I climbed my favorite oak tree, one that had a huge branch that extended across Rae Creek. There I sat in the arms of the tree, my back against the trunk writing poetry in a notebook I always carried with me munching on my carrots, totally free from any trauma, filled with joy at my Rae Creek and its forested land.
I turned increasingly to my religon, Roman Catholicism, for survival, singing in the choir, my days wrapped around Catholic rituals, the rosary, and the depth of my love for the Mother of God. My rosary became my constant companion and the Virgin Mary altar at church, my second sanctuary. I picked wildflowers for her out at Rae Creek, placed them in a vase in front of her altar as I babbled endless prayers for help, never sure why I needed it.
Today, the memories of Rae Creek and the Blessed Mother Altar at St. John the Baptist are sharper and clearer than my memories of what happened on the bottom bunk of my bedroom. For that I am eternally grateful. Today, despite having lost all of its trees through a tornado many years later and the creek bed, without anything to shade it from the sun, drying up into a thin trickle of mud, Rae Creek is starting to resurrect. I was there a few weeks ago and after wandering in its midst took pictures of what it looks like today. I can imagine it with a rich forest of trees and wildflowers, the creek babbling again as it meanders through the woods. Just like I have healed and flowered into who I was before the tragedy so will Rae Creek. One day I'll again wander through my beloved sanctuary and see it as it was when I wandered in its thick forests hiding my sorrow in its midst.