A few years ago I realized how much shame I had been carrying on my shoulders for as long as I could remember. I had been carrying this weight for so long that at some point it became so comfortable and familiar that I didn’t even realize it was there anymore.
I struggle to pinpoint exactly when it started and I can only recall poignant moments in my life when it peaked and could not be ignored. The shame of having a mentally ill mother, the shame religion heaves on you, the shame of being a victim of sexual abuse, the shame of child marriage and of course the shame of my own poor choices.
Shame plays a large role in many factors of our lives, but today I want to focus on the shame victims of abuse feel and how that manifests for beyond the acts of abuse themselves.
Three years ago I didn’t give much thought to shame, perhaps on purpose. Feeling ashamed and of lying to cover up things about myself I didn’t want people to judge me for was so ingrained in my life that I didn’t even realize it.
Here are a few excerpts from the book I am working on.
My mother had this narrative that I supposed started it. Her narrative was about the poor single mother struggling to get by and often relying on the kindness of the church to help us. From my perspective my mother was most ashamed of two things; Her weight and her financial situation. Neither of these things bothered me growing up I felt and still do that she had much more things she should feel ashamed about.
I felt ashamed when she married a boy on his 18th birthday two days before my 6th birthday. I would just stand and stare drowning in shame when people would ask me about her ” boy toy” husband.
I felt ashamed when I would be playing in my room and hear the sounds of their constant sex coming from behind the bedroom door of my mother’s bedroom. When I had a friend over and they heard the sex noises and asked me questions about what was going on.
Seeing this ” man” walk around in my mother’s underwear and stalkings. Having them come in a ” tuck me in” ( this is not something my mother ever did). I am still puzzled to this day about why they came into my room one evening after fucking for a while to ” say goodnight”. my mother tenderly kissed me goodnight on my forehead and her boy husband was naked except for a pillow he was holding over his private area. He had this bizarre look on his face of utter delight. Many years later I learned in college that these behaviors are referred to as covert sexual abuse. My six-year-old self could not process what was going on.
The shame I felt at being sexually abused.
I was sexually abused for the first time at the age of 2 by an older child. I don’t remember this act of course because I was too young. My mother felt that I not only needed to know that this had happened to me but also explained how I was now damaged from it. I can’t recall the exact words that she used to describe what happened or exactly how it had damaged me. But I knew from that point on that I was damaged, shameful and had a feeling that I was worthless and would never be ok.
If this had happened to one of my children I would have sought help for them. My mother chose to just make sure I knew I was damaged goods and watch my life play out. You might be thinking that maybe she didn’t know that assistance such as psychotherapy was available? I can’t confidently say that she knew about options for help, but I do know for sure that she had a masters degree in psychology by the time I was 5.
I was abused again by the neighbor next door starting around the age of 7. This man also abused his children and his sons would grow up to sexually abuse more children. All the children in the house except I believe the oldest had sex with each other and I was often thrown into the mix. Sometimes the older brother ran the show sometimes the dad was involved. They had a devoutly religious mother that my mother would often talk about like she was a saint. I cannot say for certain that she knew of the abuse, but I can’t see how she could not have known. When adults act like everything is normal and Ok so do the children. I don’t think to this day I can completely sort through the confusion of this situation. I lived next door to this family from the age of 2 until I was 11 or 12 years old. Some days I would go over there and play with the girl who was 2 or 3 years older than me. Sometimes we would play with her brother who was my age. We would play with her easy bake oven or sing along to Debbie Gibson. Some days I would go over to play and no one would be home but the dad and he would tell me that everyone would be back soon and I could wait. While I waited he would put his hand down my pants and touch me. I would try to go numb and wait for it to end. This was my cross to bare being this dirty, damaged worthless slut. To this day I remember the prayer cards sitting on the plastic table cloth on the dining room table in a little bread loaf that said ” our daily bread”. This sat under the picture on the wall of Jesus at the last supper.
Somehow the abuse was reported to someone who came to investigate. No one was ever arrested or charge or put in jail. It went on until I moved out of state. Years later I would return to that town to discover that the daughter had a child at 16 which all the neighbors found shocking and scandalous and the two oldest boys had died in a car accidents. ” That poor good Christian mother didn’t deserve that kind of suffering” they would all say.
It is not clear how the shift happened but after the investigation that resulted in nothing happening, my mother was often angry at me for accusing her husband of sexual abuse. I don’t remember ever accusing him of sexual abuse. He never touched me in a sexual way. He beat me up often, shoving me, pushing me down, spanking me until I had his handprints on my bottom, hips, and thighs and couldn’t sit down on the hard chairs at school. His favorite was to kick me as hard as he could in my butt causing my small body to fly across a room. I heard the moans and screams from the bedroom. Often saw him come out naked to get a drink of water. Heard him and my mother discuss sex, Dr. Ruth and other things I had no business hearing. I was shown books such as ” The Joy of Sex” with illustrations. Often walked in on him jerking off to porn in a room with the door unlocked or cracked open. Looking back at it now, all of these are forms of sexual abuse. But no, I never told anyone that he sexually abused me. After all, he never ” touched” me. By the time I was 7 I knew more and saw more about sex than most 40-year-olds and I felt totally normal.
After the fourth man began grooming me, I told my mom that I was confused about his relationship with me and just felt like I needed to tell what was going on. I think the only reason I said anything was the fact that mom had told me before I ever met this person that she was sure he had molested someone else in the family decades prior and told me to stay away from him. Later she gave him unrestricted access to me and rented a house from him. Not only were my concerns dismissed but I was told that ” I had the spirit of a prostitute” and “I looked older than I was” and “because of my prior sexual abuse, I was the seductive one”. I was bad, dirty, perverted and I was the only person who should be punished and feel ashamed.
I told someone outside of the family about my 37-year-old boyfriend and they called the police. There was an investigation. I was interviewed by a caseworker who told me that whatever I said would stay with her and that she wouldn’t tell my mom. I told her that I had been through this shit several times before and already at the age of 12 knew they wouldn’t do anything to protect me. I don’t remember telling them anything. I had to have a physical done by a physician. I remember laying there on the cold table in the cold room in the flimsy open-backed gown. Some male doctor I had never met before asked me to open my legs and inserted some cold painful object into space I tried to ignore existed. I just laid there and let the tears roll down my checks. After that my mother took me to an appointment with a psychologist. I don’t know if the department of children’s services made her take me there or the pressure from outside family made her take me. I only went once, that was the ” help” I got.
As the investigation continued I tried to go back to being a child. I was told that the person who had been arrested for sexually abusing me could not have access to me and that I was safe. Of course, I knew that was bull shit. No one ever protected me and I didn’t even know what safe felt like. When my mother got the call that he had been arrested she called to me from downstairs in the house we rented from him. She said, ” its all over, come here your in trouble now”. I remember crying myself to sleep that night and praying to God I wouldn’t be in too much ” trouble”. Looking back now I have no idea what kind of trouble I imagined I would be in?
A week or so later after I had enjoyed an afternoon of swimming at my grandmother’s apartment complex ( my mother’s mother). I walked into her apartment from the swimming pool. Soaking wet in my bathing suit with a small towel. I walked into the apartment and my grandmother looked like someone had died and said that she needed to talk to me about something. Even though I was wet, I walked over and sat on the sofa. The air conditioning was on and I began to shiver from the cold. She opened the apartment door and let in her friend of over 30 years walk in. This friend was the ” friend” that my mom was renting a house from, the person who my mother suspected of molesting another family member years ago. The friend my mother had let prey on me and who I was supposed to be protected from. There I sat frozen, literally. I sat on my grandmother’s sofa almost naked in a soaking wet bathing suite freezing, ashamed, confused and afraid. The goal of this little meeting became clear right away, they were there to explain to me how this whole situation was my fault. I was a disgusting, dirty and a little whore who had lured this wonderful Christian man into sin. I don’t think I said anything I just sat there and shivered. Then my grandmother told me how to fix it.
I felt ashamed and confused as to why I didn’t go to school. At one point in my life, I thought it was because I was too dumb to be in school. When I was in school I was ashamed because I could not focus and do what I needed to do. Often I was hungry or had been up all night the night before class from abuse or insanity going on in my house. It was challenging Intermittently going to school and having to navigate huge gaps in learning. I would sometimes attend school and then be pulled out and not be tough anything for months or years. I would then be plopped back in like nothing happened.
I remember sitting in my seat in fourth grade trying to follow along about the principals of multiplication. I don’t know how much my 4th-grade teacher knew about my questionable education but he knew I was totally lost. I had never heard of ” times” or multiplication. He asked me to answer; ” what is zero times zero”. I froze, my cheeks burned and I felt a tightness in my chest. I didn’t know the answer and wanted the ground to swallow me. The whole class was staring at me and once they began to realized I didn’t know this simple thing a boy from across the room pointed it out and laughed at me. This memory resurfaced years later in my first English class at community college. When I enrolled in community college after taking my GED exam I took an aptitude test to see where I would start. Amazingly I didn’t have to complete any remedial classes and was placed in the advanced level English class. On the first day of class, I was excited to get started on the education that had been denied to me for so many years. The instructor went over the first assignment and then we went to the computers to get started. Part of the assignment was to write the paper in 12 point Times New Roman Font and have it be double spaced. I didn’t know what any of that meant so I grit my teeth and asked the teacher. The teacher responded that it would be the same format that I used for my high school papers. I nodded and didn’t tell her that I never set foot in high school. I never told anyone I didn’t have to tell, I was too ashamed. Some kind, young, recent high school graduate came over and helped me format my paper. Later I would come across many an older student who didn’t grow up with computers and the internet struggling to navigate college today with the technology they didn’t understand. They would often be embarrassed when they had to ask for help. Once I learned my way around technology and Microsoft office I was always happy to help, judgment-free.