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Rule #4 of Child Abuse:

Rule #4 of Child Abuse:

You Can Help and You Should

So you finally figured out you were abused…

Its been eight years since I left home. I stayed longer than I would have liked but when you grow up in a small town and rent prices are more than you can afford while working part-time to pay for school—there aren’t the opportunities.

Its been a year since I realized I was abused. A year since, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, reared its ugly head at long last. It explained my mother. It inserted reason into an insane situation. Since that day I’ve spoken to three outsiders about what my sisters and I were tormented with at home. 

I was left with a hole of pain and grief. I have my own daughter. A box of perfection tied up with a pink bow. All of a sudden I was the survivor of child abuse. Only it didn’t feel as though I was a survivor. It felt like it had only just stopped. It felt like yesterday that I worried whether she’d buy food for lunch or whether I’d be left stranded 30 miles from home or if I’d pass out while she was giving one of her three hour lectures.

We were conditioned, my sisters and I, to believe that this was normal. We were told that other parents were lax and that being locked outside with only a spigot to drink from and no food was normal. After all, a mother does get tired looking after four young girls, she needs time to watch soap operas. I thought all moms were volatile, happy with you one moment and then screaming their heads off the next. The thought everyone was punished the same way. I thought everyone was treated the same way. I thought it was normal to fly off the handle when a cheap figurine on a precarious shelf finally fell and broke. Only they weren’t. I knew this…I’m sure I did. I’m sure I knew that what was happening wasn’t right. But what use was it to buck the system when there’s no escape?

I watched a film about female spies during WWII a little while ago. During the interrogation of a French spy, the Nazi officer makes him kneel on a square wooden dowel, a 1 inch by 1 inch piece. It sounds innocuous but I almost threw up. My mother did the same. Only it was our kitchen floor with its deep groves. Forced to kneel there for an hour (at least)…its terribly difficult to walk afterwards. My sister and I leaned on each other, pulling each other up, hobbling back to our rooms once she decided we were “free to go.” Nazis…and my mother…and children.

I have nightmares that she kidnaps my daughter. I dread even seeing her. I can’t think straight. My mouth goes dry. I want to rail against her and force an explanation from her. I wish we still exiled people like the Ancient Greeks did. 

But mostly I want to forget. I want to purge her from my mind and cast her from my thoughts and tread no longer the sad paths of my youth. I want to be mentally free as I am physically. 

I am reaching towards that goal little by little every day. I try to accept that it happened and I couldn’t do anything about it then. I try to let go of my need for explanations. I try to live in the beautiful moments with my family, because when I am strong and making strides, making my passions a reality, she fades away. What she did fades away. 

I never thought I was strong. I pitted that little girl and I wept for her. But some days it’s her that holds me and whispers that if she could get through those years, then I owe it to her to live well now. 

So, yes, I am a survivor of child abuse. But that isn’t who I am. 

I’m me.

You can help. The way to stop child abuse doesn’t have anything to do with blue pinwheels at a zoo or a shiny gigantic ribbon on the side of a state capitol. Child abuse prevention is about relationships with children, its about love. Love does conquer all. And even if you never “rescue” anyone, you are doing a service beyond count or measure. Invest in a child. Invest in talking to the people around you. Stand up for other people’s rights instead of always worrying about your own.

Rule #3 of Child Abuse:

Rule #3 of Child Abuse:

Know When You're Beat

No one expects it to happen to them and then when it does, an overwhelming amount of shame and disgrace takes hold. I struggled for a long time, wondering whether to tell my story. I’m a published author and I hope to write more and a find an audience that will wait with bated breath for my next book. I struggled sharing this because I don’t want my readers to view me as a damaged or broken or crying out for attention.

Know when you’re beat. It conjures up images of boxing rings or failed presidential candidates who take another swing at the ball or athletes who hold on a little too long to their careers or poker games. Or in my case, actually beat. Living, bearing the scars of a life lived too long under an abuser’s roof. It’s important to know when you’re beat. It’s important to be self-aware enough to understand what has happened to you. I was beat, emotionally and physically by a woman that should have been there for me when everyone else left. She was supposed to be the rock in my life, in my sisters’ lives, that we could rely on and call in the middle of the day when we just need a chat. 

I know I’ve been beat. I know that child abuse comes in so many different forms that it’s exceptionally difficult to find. But beyond feeling my scars, inside and out, and accepting that they exist, I must move on. I must not be beaten. I must rise from the ashes of a failed childhood, ashes of my mother’s fire, and somehow start again. Yes, I was beat and for a time I allowed myself to beat. I let the facade she had created continue and a tried to have a relationship with her. I was following in her footsteps without even realizing it. 

I said goodbye. I cut her off. I caught flack from people who didn’t even know my story who thought I was wrong to do so, who preached forgiveness and second chances. I believe in forgiveness. I believe grudges are ‘holding a hot coal and hoping to burn the other person.’ I have forgiven her. But I have myself and my family and my precious daughter to think about. I refuse to lay under her heel, to force my daughter to do the same, and let the beatings continue. My daughter’s life matters. My marriage matters. My LIFE matters. 

I was beat, once upon a time. 

But I stood up and I left the table. 

The final installment on the Rules of Child Abuse coming Sunday

Rule #2 of Child Abuse:

Rule #2 of Child Abuse:

It's Everywhere and Nowhere

I thought my mother was just strict. Sometimes deep down I knew she was overreacting but you can't think that for too long. It'll take hold and you might just find yourself saying it to her. Out loud. And it wouldn't make anything better. No one saw you. No one stepped out to help. 

My mother has undiagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Most of those with NPD are undiagnosed. They do not accept the fact that they need help. People with NPD use those around them. They use them for emotional validation. They are vampires. They suck their prey until there is nothing left, until the other person is as messed up as they are. My mother kept going back to her parents, trying to build a relationship, trying to get an apology or a reason. She tried to get them to love her, to get us to love them.

We were a good family. Four girls. Smart. Athletic. Well-behaved. Decently good looking. But we were living in a cycle of constant abuse and didn't even know it. My mother would never abuse her children!! She was abused. There was no way she would hit her children with a belt. 

Child abuse is everywhere. 

Child abuse isn't relegated to back alleys and broken limbs. Child abuse isn't perpetrated solely by any class, race, religion, or creed. There is evil in people, evil that doesn't care about sides. Your neighbor drives a nice car, his lawn is mowed, his wife goes to weekly yoga, their children play in the yard. But facades aren't like marble temples, they don't need to last forever. They just have to stand up to the passing interest of outsiders. Because we want to think that nice church going families don't have secrets. 

Child abuse is nowhere. 

I saw an advertisement recently. A child holding onto an adult's hand. The child was smiling. But at a lower level, 45 inches to be precise, the child was bruised and battered and magically 911 and a little blurb appeared entreating the child to ask for help. I would never have called. I wasn't bruised. Not on the outside. I wasn't that little kid. I did well in school. My mother just blew up...a lot. She was the one in power. I thought she knew what she was doing and where the line was. That's why child abuse is nowhere. No one looks for anything but bruises and bleeding and broken bones. If they look at all. 

There's a giant bedazzled blue ribbon on the side of the Colorado State Capitol. There are blue pinwheels all over the entrance to the Denver Zoo. But what do they do? Pretty decorations for school children to ooh and ahh over? They are the trappings of a culture that must publicly acknowledge that it's "that time of the year" without taking any responsibility. They mean nothing and they do nothing and they help no one. 

After all, my mother flew the blue flag too. 

Part 3 Coming Friday

Rule #1 of Child Abuse: It Never Looks Like it Should

Rule #1 of Child Abuse: It Never Looks Like it Should

Rule #1: It Never Looks Like it Should

My Mother: Flyer of the Blue Flag

In the mid 1960s a little girl was born. From outside the family looked normal. The father was career Air Force and the mother did a good impression of a stay-at-home mom. A dark secret lay hidden under a blanket of Catholicism and disinformation. It was a secret that Air Force counsellors passed over when the children came back from the hospital with one too many broken bones. 

My mother told it to me when I was eleven. It was supposed to be this 'coming of age' trip where I learned the truth about her past and my own body. It was horrifying listening to her memories of her childhood. What she spoke about scared me. Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Her mothers tacit acceptance of the situation. 

Only when I was much older did I realize the extent of the trauma inflicted. I thought of a scared eleven-year-old girl forced to bear burdens that should have sat on an adult’s shoulders. I was sorry for her. I cried for hours for her, for the loss of her innocence and for the pain. She smiled as I cried. 

She was the victim of child abuse. My mother waved the blue flag, the blue ribbon. After all, April is child abuse prevention month. I thought the blue ribbon meant something to her. It meant that she survived and got out. But our family too held a dark secret. So secret my father didn't even know. 

All the time she flew the blue flag and drove around town with it waving in the wind, tied to the antenna of her car, she was abusing her own children. Oh, but she was smart. There weren't any trips to the emergency room. We did well in school. We were well behaved. But we were tortured. She knew how to buck the system that deserted her.

We never knew when she might blow up. We never knew when the time was ripe for one of her rages. We were always on high alert. It happened once while working on the ranch, she nearly dislocated my hip with the tractor she was driving.

We were terrified. But we loved her. She could be nice and good when it suited her and you wanted to please her, wanted to be good so the pain and suffering would be end. So we could all be happy. 

Part 2 Coming Wednesday