What strengths have I developed because of the abuse? What personal qualities enabled me to make it through my abuse and my adulthood so far?
I was only five years old when my abuse began, so I remember bits and pieces of my life prior to the abuse, and of course, I did not change overnight. I remember that I did not tell about it right away, because I knew that it was wrong and I didn’t want to get my brother in trouble. I was loyal and faithful and loving, even as a small child. I finally told when he masturbated in front of me and I realized that it was only a matter of time until he tried to have intercourse with me—and I was very afraid of that. I was a precocious child, and I caught on to things quite quickly. I never had my questions deflected, either. There was no shame in seeking information about anything. I always asked my dad, as I felt closer to him. It might have been different, had I asked my mom. I chose to tell my mom about the abuse, though. She was a girl, like me. I knew that gender mattered. My dad told me much later that he was very interested in knowing what it was that I couldn’t discuss with him (I demanded Mom, even though she was busy and he wasn’t; he took over the preparation of dinner so she could come and talk to me.) He said he never in his wildest imaginings would have thought that I was being abused.
I learned that sex can feel good from my abuse. I am a fairly sensual person and I have not become shameful about my sexuality. That’s something that I’m pretty proud of. It would be so easy, with the right kind of shaming and degradation and secondary victimization, to shut down sexually, and so many survivors of abuse do. I’ve done the opposite. I am not afraid of my sexuality, but I don’t really use it—I haven’t ever worked in the sex trades or anything of that nature. I am very loving when I am in a relationship and I am a loving and devoted mother, who has never hesitated to discuss difficult topics with my children. I’ve also learned that you cannot protect your children from everything. All I can do is comfort them, protect them from further harm, fight for them, and reassure them that it isn’t their fault and that it doesn’t mean they are any less perfect.
The hardest thing for me to learn in my life has been to be forgiving. Forgiveness to me is the letting go of hatred and the hold that hatred places on you. That doesn’t mean I forget. Forgetting is stupid, especially if there is a pattern of harmful behavior from someone. Wariness and prudence are virtues when they are called for. Listening to one’s instincts is also important. Many times I have pretended to believe the lies of other people, or at least not contradicted them. Of course, these are things where the results were inconsequential to me. When those lies were exposed, I was not surprised, but took it in stride without being overly judgmental or outraged. Different people have different reasons at different times for not wanting to disclose the truth and sometimes they are very valid reasons. I learned discretion in an early and hard lesson.
The second hardest thing was to give up my family of origin. Well, maybe I should flip-flop these. Sometimes I still make overtures towards my family of origin, but they never fail to disappoint me. I am completely on my own … with no safety net. I am essentially an orphan, for all the good my family does me. They are not loving or caring towards me. I am the scapegoat. In spite of this, I’ve remained ambitious in fruitful times, and steadfast in lean times, and I’ve learned to find resources in other places. Because of this, I’ve purposefully taught my children the value of family. I’ve taught them that even in the worst of situations, we have each other and we have love. My oldest daughter recently told me that she never realized how poor we were as a child. She never went hungry, never went without clothes, and always had fun. My best friend calls me the Queen of Resources and calls me whenever she really, really needs help, because if I cannot help her myself, she knows that I will find a way. I’ve also discovered that I am friendly and that people truly do like me for myself. I’ve made many casual friends and I’ve lived in many, many places. I reserve judgment on things that are culturally different and truly think about things in an open-minded way rather than instantly condemning anything that is “different.”
I am resilient, too. I’ve been through many horrible experiences in my life. Some of them have been the normal curves that life throws at everyone, but many of them have been exacerbated by the qualities and expectations that I’ve developed from my abuse and the aftereffects. I’ve been exploited and I’ve overcome that exploitation. I’ve had ignorant people take advantage of me—often people in positions of power.
I’ve also been the recipient of much love and caring. I’ve met many fine, upstanding people. I’ve never lost my faith in God and in fact, it has grown through each of my trials. I’ve come to realize though that churches are founded and operated by humans, and humans are all fallible. I’ve developed an ability to read people. I’ve learned that my instincts are usually right and that I can trust myself.