Freedom. Personal freedom. I’ve been fighting for it since I was quite young, and often told my mother that I could not wait until I was old enough to move out. I ran away from home for the first time when I was only 9 years old. I remember the hard-shelled’ powder-blue suitcase that was a popular commodity in the late 70s. I don’t recall what I packed. I know I threw some clothes in, perhaps a book or a toy. I know that when I latched the silver locks, it was loosely filled and half empty.
I walked past my mother, who was sitting in the living room, carrying the suitcase. I recall her glancing at me, but she never said a word. She had a look on her face that I could not discern. I wasn’t terribly worried about it. I was more concerned about getting out the door without her stopping me. I knew it would be terrible for me if I was caught and dragged back into the house.
I walked off down the street. I’m not sure if I had a destination in mind, other than getting away from the home I was living in. I certainly wasn’t heading toward my father’s house. I wanted away from him, too. I took the route I took to the school I was attending at the time. Had I gone past it, I’d have been able to get to the free way or my grandmother’s house.
As I was walking down the street, a familiar car came toward me. I didn’t place it at first, but it caught my attention as it slowed down. Then I saw the driver. It was one of my aunt’s, my mother’s oldest sister. I ducked behind the bar I had been about to walk in front of, hoping to remain hidden from sight. I was not quick enough, and she pulled in behind me, and told me to get in the car. Unused to not obeying adults, my running away at odds with what was my usual way of behaving, I quickly climbed in, silently fuming and equally terrified. I did not want to go back. Even had I ended up dead at a young age it would have been a far cry better than the life I’d been living.
Once home, the only thing I recall is my mother and aunt standing, facing each other in the archway between the living room and the dining room. I was beside my aunt, still holding the suitcase. The most memorable moment of that incident was when I heard my aunt say to my mother, “I don’t know whose ass I should kick first, her for running away, or yours for letting her.” I was agog that anyone dare speak to my mom that way. My experience had taught me that to do so was a death wish. I don’t remember my aunt leaving, but I do recall the heavy punishment. I am certain, to this day, that I wasn’t being punished for running away, but rather for being caught and getting brought back.
I ran away many times between then and when I was 16, though no one knew it but me. They were middle of the night escapades. I’d get a few blocks from home, realize I had absolutely no where to go, and no way to get anywhere, and I’d return home and climb back into bed with no one else being any the wiser. I ultimately ran away for good three weeks after my 16th birthday, never to return home. I moved around for a couple of months before being put into a residential facility for abused kids. Then my senior year of high school was spent in foster care.
As an adult, I have my physical freedom from my parents, but emotionally, I am still deeply attached, despite my best efforts not to be. I recently read a very touching blog about having to let go of parents, and have wanted to write something of my own ever since. You can read that powerful entry here: http://katienaum.com/2014/06/23/why-did-this-happen/
When I ran away from home, I had mostly stopped seeing my father. I had chosen not to see him anymore. There were very bad incidents where I had contact with him, but it has now been five years (I think, possibly only four) since I have seen him at all. It was a bit harder to disengage from my mother, but it will be three years and 4 months on the 8th of this month since I have had contact with anyone on either side of the family.
This is supposed to be a good thing. In terms of continuing to be abused in many ways, it is a very good thing. Emotionally, it’s challenging. It is painful to not have a mother figure to turn to when I rough patches hit. I don’t have support that way, like so many others do. It was necessary to cut off the entire family, because my mother’s 8 siblings and my father’s 6 all keep in touch with my parents, as do siblings, cousins, and other family. I did not want the nightmare of hearing about them or the fear of running into them if I happened to attend the same family events they did.
I miss my parents dreadfully. Not them, exactly, but the idea of them, or rather, the idea of what parents are supposed to be. I keep hoping that something could magically happen to turn them into normal, caring, non-abusive parents. I am slowly letting go, and that is sad and scary, too. I don’t want to let them go. I want to insist that they become the kind of parents a child should have. It doesn’t matter that I am an adult now, I still want “mommy” and “daddy.” Sometimes I wonder if I will ever fully grow up, emotionally, without that.
There is a lot of grieving that goes into this process of orphaning yourself. It is hard to explain to others why it’s just not a good idea to try reaching out and reconnecting. The things that would await me if I did so are the biggest reasons I stay away, in spite of the aching desire to belong somewhere, to fit in, to have family beyond my own two children. Most people just don’t get it, or want to proselytize, or blame the victim in the situation, turning the abusers into the victims.
I hear a lot of, “I’m sure they did the best they knew how.” That is quite likely. From what I know of my family history, my grandparents were never exactly the picture of good mental health, either. A parent doing the best they can with what they’ve got does not negate the severe, ongoing harm, that lasted long into adulthood before I came to understand that what they were doing was not acceptable.
It took five years and a lot of work with my current therapist before I found the strength to walk away. It continues to take a lot of work and strength to stay away, especially in those weaker, lonelier moments when the fantasy of sobbing into a mother’s caring shoulder and being comforted enter my mind. I have to work hard to focus on what would likelier happen.
There is a dead space inside. An empty void. A large part of that space is filled with their corpses. I am unable to bury them and walk away just yet. I keep hoping against hope that it could still change. I keep longing for a day of reunion, when they will apologize, ask me back into their lives, and we will be the big happy family I’ve dreamt of having for 44 years, and that in turn will magically erase the past and change it to what I wanted it to be. Fantasies–I am working toward letting them go, but it is a long, painful process with one step forward and a lot of steps back when I instantly regret trying to move forward.
I don’t plan to forgive them. As a long time Atheist, I don’t get the Christian theory of forgiving others to heal yourself. I don’t need to do that, and I won’t. People who get forgiveness are those who ask for it while doing things to make sure they don’t repeat the same things they’ve done in the past. My path, my goal, leads to me a place where I can let all these things go, let my family go, and move on.
I do not want to hang onto the anger, the sadness, or the grief. I want to move beyond those things, to a place in life where I am not ruled by them. I want the freedom to live without my parents voices and words hanging over my head, still guiding many of actions, in spite of the fact that they have been gone from my life for so many years now. I want freedom from them, and from what I view as the expectations I must follow simply by having been born to, and raised, by them.
What I want is so simple, and so complicated all at once. I want to walk with my head held high, unashamed, unembarrassed, free of humiliation. I want to not be a scared shadow of a person, hiding inside myself everywhere I go. I want to be okay with who I am. I want to feel acceptable to me, in my thoughts and in my body instead of always seeking others approval to find worthiness in my existence. I want to not live my life in fear of what will happen if I ever encounter them again. I want to have the strength to defend myself from them if I should, even if it means having to call the police–other people of whom I am terribly afraid.
I want to be free of the burden that came with being their daughter. I want my freedom. I want my own personal independence day that celebrates a life regained from a past that threatened to destroy every part of it.
“There Will Be A Summit”
I was sixteen when I first came across that phrase. I was in a residential treatment center for teens who had been sexually abused. We were working on collages, cutting pictures and phrases from magazines that had personal meaning to us. I’m not sure that at sixteen I knew the power in this phrase, but something about it really caught my attention. Intuitively, I knew it was important, though I doubt I could have explained it if pressed.
As an adult, nearly thirty years later, I have thought of this phrase many times over the years. It’s never had a meaning that I could verbalize, but as always, it felt important. It’s stayed tucked away in my brain, those words on a magazine page back in 1986. I think, now, that the words represented what little hopes and dreams a damaged sixteen-year-old could contain. The hope and dream that perhaps someday things would be different; life could be different.
I think there has to be some sort of apogee. A place where one can turn around and say, my past is my past, and I have overcome the limitations it’s created in my life. At present, I’m not there. I suspect it will be many, many years before I get there. I worry I won’t get there. Some days, I don’t care if I get there, I just want this over and done. I want the work to be done. The pain to be done. The effort to be done. It’s a lot of work trying to find a place of emotional health, free from the bindings of the past, especially when the past isn’t so very old.
I am 44 now. I’ve been in therapy a very long time. Sometimes I am embarrassed by how long it’s been. I feel ashamed and embarrassed when I look at the years gone by and see that there is still so much to go. It seems to me that I should be healed by now. I express these sentiments to my therapist, and she tells me that it takes a long time to heal from the kind of abuses I survived. She is a lovely woman who really seems to get me…except when she doesn’t. I love her, but sometimes I downright hate her. That’s painful. I want to be healed, already….and I long for a band-aid solution even while I know that wouldn’t fix anything. Sometimes, the shortcut seems preferable to the long-term healing, even if the latter is the more permanent solution.
I was a born to a very dysfunctional family. The first child, a girl, and not a wanted one. I was a result of date rape. My mom was a “Good Catholic Girl.” My dad, also a Catholic boy. She didn’t want me. My dad didn’t want a girl. I heard my whole life that mom wanted an abortion while my dad lamented that boys are supposed to be born first. I also heard that she was forced into marriage because of me. Again that Catholic thing, and mother’s out of wedlock not being the social norm, especially where Irish and Roman Catholics were concerned. My whole life was spent hearing about how her life would have been better if only I never existed. I tried correcting this many times through failed suicide attempts. I still think we’d both have been better off if I’d succeeded, but I haven’t made any attempts in at least a year.
I suppose dysfunctional would be putting it lightly. My parents were horribly abusive. The sexual abuse, I learned when I was twenty-seven, started much younger than I initially knew. I thought it started around age three, but when it starts that young, it’s hard to pin a definitive date on it. My dad admitted to family that it had started when I was a week old. Seven days and my innocence was being ripped away from me. According to my aunts and uncles present when it was said, my father’s reasoning was, “I needed to make sure she was developing properly.” Apparently he genuinely seemed to think this was a good reason to stick a finger up inside of me at such a tender age.
My father was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in his twenties, well past the time I was born, and past the time my brothers had been born as well. This means he has schizophrenia coupled with another mental illness–in his case, bipolar. My mom also has bipolar, but based on what I know, and my therapist’s supposition based on what I’ve shared, my mother likely has borderline personality disorder.
I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t sexual abuse, physical abuse, and verbal abuse. I hit the trifecta. I didn’t know this wasn’t normal and I was too scared and timid of a child to talk to anyone, let alone tell them what was going on. There was a doctor once who suspected, but nothing came of the investigation. There was a therapist in my life, briefly, when my parents were divorcing when I was seven, and she suspected, too. I never said anything directly, though. I knew my parents would kill me if I did. I talked to her in my mid-thirties and she apologized for her lack of intervention. She said she was a new therapist, and that she wished she had gone against her supervisors orders. We only spoke for about twenty minutes, but it felt like a life-time.
One of the things I wanted to ask her was something I still struggle not to deny. When I was thirty-four, it came out that I had alters. Back at that time this was known as multiple personality disorder, now it’s referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is a challenging thing to contemplate. I already feel like such an outsider, such a freak, and I really don’t want to add something like this to it. When I spoke to the childhood therapist, I asked her if she thought she might have seen evidence of that. She agreed, emphatically, and said it suddenly all made sense, the ways I presented myself differently. That felt like a kick in the gut. I had wanted it to be false, in spite of all the evidence I had that said otherwise.
It wasn’t just having DID that that made this such a hard thing to take in, it was what it meant, what the implications were about my life. I knew what I lived wasn’t good, but I didn’t think it was exactly bad, either. I thought everyone lived like that. Screaming parents, beatings, severe punishments, deprivation. I thought it was my heritage as a girl. My brothers didn’t get treated this way, so it had to be me, something I deserved. It was my normal. Being DID, though, that implies a very long, very severe history. This means I was hurt badly, and the DID was a proof that I couldn’t deny.
I get angry when I know of people who fake this disorder. This isn’t fun and games. In order to get this way, I had to be hurt horribly and consistently for years. As it turns out, from the time I was seven days old, my first day home from the hospital with my mother. I don’t like losing time, I don’t like feeling like a freak. I don’t like having to admit that what I lived was so awful that I developed this disorder as a way to cope. It’s disturbing and it can be scary. It can also leave me isolated because most lay people don’t really know what to do with it or how to react to that information.
My therapist says that with time, healing will come. I ask her how much time and she cannot say. She remains confident that healing will happen if I continue to work at it. It’s hard, though. It’s scary. My ability to trust is next to nothing. I’ve been with her 8 years now, and I’m only just starting to trust her. Given the wrong words or movement, that can be easily rescinded. Prior to her, I had a different therapist who was also good. Unfortunately, she had no background in DID, and I felt like I was floundering once that was diagnosed. She tried to learn, but she wasn’t what I needed anymore. The switch was good, and I believe I am with the person who can help me, if I can be helped.
I want to get better. Even inside the depression and the complacency I sometimes feel, there is that push to keep moving forward in spite of my desire to sit down and call it quits. Some days I feel like healing is a joke, that I’ve been cursed to live the life of Sisyphus, going forward only to be knocked back down again. Instead of continuing to push this boulder up the hill, my therapist and I are chipping away at it until it stops rolling back on me. With any luck, eventually I’ll be able to let it just lay there while I move forward without it. I want to be free. I want to see that summit and never have to look back again.