When people ask me about my family, I say that I am an orphan.
It’s technically not true, but this is definitely easier to say than, “Well, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of my father and I told my mother and she ended up choosing him over me and so I was on my own at 17 and then in 2007 in my journey of recovery I broke ties with basically everyone in my family and still somehow everything is my fault according to them.”
THAT is why, when someone asks if my parents live in town, I simply state that I am an orphan with no siblings.
The extended family I grew up with is hearty, Oklahoma farming stock, which means that there are a million family members. My grandmother was one of 13 kids, and I have not seen any of my extended relations in about 10 years. I do, however, stay in contact with one of my cousins who does not blame me for everything and consistently shows me support and love. She will occasionally send me news of extended family members through Husband. Every survivor needs a support system with advocates, and Husband is the Ultimate Referee when it comes to managing information that may traumatize or otherwise disturb me.
The latest message was that an extended family member had had a minor stroke. Husband told me about it in passing, and it was fine.
About two weeks later, I ran across the email my cousin had sent, which said, “This extended family member had a minor stroke and so-and-so is taking care of her. Everything appears to be fine. I wasn’t sure whether or not you would want to know since she NEVER BELIEVED THAT YOU WERE ABUSED. But I pass on the information just in case.”
Not Believing Abuse is a Thing?
Those capitalized words were provided by my cousin, not by me, and they accurately communicate both her outrage and my surprise regarding this issue. My honest first reaction was, “People don’t believe that I was abused? Not believing survivors of abuse is a thing?”
Rationally and intellectually, I know that hundreds of victims of sexual abuse and assault are not believed every single day. These despicable acts are covered up and victims are shamed into silence, and many – unlike the Cosby and Duggar situations in the media lately – never see the light of day. Survivors often languish, receiving little in the way of validation or justice. I know all of that in my head.
But emotionally, her disbelief hit me in the gut. After my initial surprise, I couldn’t breathe for a couple of beats. I have to be honest when I say that my second reaction was, “Well then, I guess you can go to hell, extended family member.” I was completely serious, and it scared me a little bit, and I felt like I was emotionally doubled over from the hit.
I found myself thinking about her disbelief about my abuse for a couple of days after that, which also surprised me. I’ve been on this recovery journey in one way or another for about twenty years, and like I talk about in Caskets From Costco, I must believe that there is some end point. I expect that there is a point at which I will simply be “done,” and anything that anybody does or says will no longer effect me.
What (Dis)Belief in Abuse Reveals
Rationally, I know that I will never be “done.” I’m okay with that. I get that while I can anticipate many PTSD triggers and simply confusing or distressing interactions or situations, I will not be able to protect myself from everything all of the time. The feelings and thoughts that came up in this situation simmered for a few days in the back of my mind, not showing themselves until I was at breakfast with a friend and felt uncommonly angry.
Pleased that I had recognized this emotion for what it was, I started to at least try to pin down the source. We talked and all of a sudden the exchange with my cousin tumbled out about how my abuse was not believed by this extended family member.
“It completely surprised me,” I said to my friend. “I didn’t even think about people not believing me.”
“If she believed you, then that would raise a lot of questions for her, wouldn’t it?” my friend asked. “She would be confronted with quite a few questions, like was she aware of it? Could she have done anything to help? And then she would have a few questions for your mom, like did she know what was going on? What does your mom say about your abuse and your lives during that time?”
I nodded. “They’re not going to talk about any of that.”
“No way,” my friend said. “Then they would have to take responsibility and feel tough emotions and tell the truth. And then everything could not possibly be your fault any more.”
What My Response Reveals About Me
Well, it’s not my fault. I know that, for sure. I felt surprised, confused, angry, and even you-can-go-to-hell-hurt, but this is not on me.
Which is good to know, after a lifetime of taking responsibility for my own abuse until a few short years ago.
And I’m strong, probably stronger than I’ve ever been. While I felt intense emotions, the situation did not instantly result in a PTSD event, nor did it culminate in a PTSD event. THAT is recovery.
So if someone doesn’t believe your abuse, guess what?
It doesn’t matter.
You matter, your healing and recovery and continued hope.
A Funny and Poignant Grief Book
For twenty years, I thought that I had been marching through the stages of grief in a straight line. I had been following the formula, crossing each processed grief experience off my list.
Except that I was totally deluded. And I didn’t discover that until Jim, my beloved father-in-law, died. I found myself drying off from my shower the morning after his death, really hoping he couldn’t see me naked. Or, if he could, that he was averting his eyes.
From that moment, my path through grief resembled a roller coaster, spiraling and twisting and turning, circling back around. Echoes of past trauma, including childhood abuse and cheating death, would no longer be ignored. I somehow needed to get from the beginning to the end of this grief adventure, and I don’t have a good sense of direction.
But what is always present during a journey through grief, regardless of the path chosen?
Caskets From Costco is a funny grief book that demonstrates the certainty of hope and healing in an uncertain and painful world.