Peer Support for Abuse Survivors
My story unfolds in 1962 when my mother became mentally ill with paranoid schizophrenia and ended up in Western State Hospital. I was 2 years old at the time.
My father’s job as a policeman caused him to work long hours so my older brother and I were placed in foster care. I recall watching the foster father touch my brother and making my brother touch him. My brother was 5 and he’d naturally regressed from losing our mother, and so he’d have accidents and pee his pants. He was made to blow them dry.
Alters within me holds the memory of the sexual abuse I suffered then because I recall only what my brother had to endure. In those days Social Services wasn’t very good about background checks and just about any pervert could be a foster parent. Eventually the foster parents’ abuse was discovered and my brother and I were placed in separate homes where we stayed until my father remarried in 1967.
The Catholic Church did not and still does not advocate birth control. Even though my Mother was in the state hospital she was allowed visits home with my Father. This led to my Mother becoming pregnant two more times. First with my brother Michael and later with my brother John. Unfortunately I have no pictures of John during his childhood.
In the years I spent at the second foster home, I’d only see my father twice a year, at Christmas and on my birthday. Since there were four kids that pretty much kept him busy. The only way my father could get custody of us all back was to remarry. I later learned that he’d gotten my stepmother pregnant (they weren’t married at the time) and she’d had a baby girl but since his kids were in foster care he refused to allow her to keep the baby.
The baby girl was placed for adoption into Catholic Charities. Since it was a girl, when my father brought me home, I served, as a constant reminder of what she didn’t have, her own daughter. For this reason and who knows what else, she was without mercy when it came to me.
While in foster care, I used to sit in a huge bay window waiting for my father to come and get me, wondering if I’d lose him too. Sometimes he’d come, sometimes he wouldn’t, as his schedule and circumstances allowed. Those years, though painful, were some of the best memories I hold in my childhood.
In 1967 my life was changed without so much as a warning. The ride home in the car with my father and new stepmother could not prepare me for how I would be treated. Terrified that something I had done had caused my mother to become sick and leave, and terrified that my father blamed me for it and would leave me too, I tried desperately to be a “good girl.”
On the way home, I felt my life was beginning anew and declared my love for my father. At that moment, my stepmother’s long fingernails pinched into my thighs and I screamed, “OUCH!” Her response was, “Oh I’m sorry, honey, did I accidentally scratch you?” My warning lights didn’t go on, and I smiled and said it’s ok.
As I think back now, nothing could have prepared me for the 7 years I was about to spend with Rachel. It began almost immediately with strange mind games. She’d hide my clothes, literally removing them from my room and then tell me to come in and change clothes. I’d not be able to find something to wear so she’d spank me. I tried so hard to be good. I learned quickly that crying was not a good thing.
Often I’d hear, “I’m only doing this because I love you.” She convinced me she could read my mind, so I felt like there was no place safe, not even in my mind. I tried so hard to have all the right thoughts and all the right feelings. Those thoughts and feelings being whatever she told me were acceptable at that moment. I learned that would change quickly depending on her mood.
My stepmother was fixated on my relationship with my father and my deep love for him. She tried to convince me it was wrong, that it was she I should love not him. In the morning I’d need to go to the bathroom and my bedroom was next to the bathroom and across the hall was their (my father/stepmother) bedroom. She said I only wanted to come out because I was hoping to catch a glimpse of my father naked as he dressed in the morning. She forbade me to go to the bathroom in the mornings.
I was terrified of her almost from the beginning because I saw quickly how badly she could hurt me. Spankings were more like rituals for her. There was a great deal of shame involved as she’d make me strip and lay across the bed and beat literally to what felt like an inch of my life, always forbidding me from protecting myself with my hands. That only made the spankings worse and last longer. I was afraid enough to comply with her wishes and not go to the bathroom, but I had to go so I went in my room using a suitcase in my closet. The smell became overpowering as you can well imagine.
To this day the smell of urine triggers me to dissociate before I even know I have smelled it. I don’t use public rest rooms, I don’t camp, and I don’t often go to the zoo. I don’t go to people’s homes that have cats or anything that might cause that smell.
My father supposedly knew nothing about what was going on. When he did come home, which became more and more infrequently, he’d spank me too for not finding the smell in my room. He never made me strip. Instead, we did what was called “the belt dance.” He’d hold one arm and swing the belt with the other arm and I’d dance around him in circles. Usually, I never received more than 8 swings from him.
The neighbors on both sides of our house knew the abuse was happening. You can’t hear children screaming and not know that something is very wrong in a home. They’d yell to my father, “Don’t you know what she’s doing to those kids?” My father, though, would develop tunnel vision and find his way directly into the house. Knowing would have required action on his part and he just didn’t want to have to act. I never knew or understood why. I speculated he didn’t love us.
My 2 natural brothers (Robbie and Michael) that lived with me through the Rachel years were abused, too. Rachel’s stepson, Brian, who was the same age as Michael, also lived with us but was NOT abused. The 3rd brother, John, never came out of foster care. His first placement nearly killed him. He was a colicky baby and the foster parents, either in frustration or anger, threw him into the crib at just a few months old. He developed a concussion and Group Health misdiagnosed it and gave him paregoric, which was used at the time for colic, to make babies sleep.
My brother John was permanently blinded and placed into a second foster home where he lived most of his life. For the most part the foster parents were good though their own biological children were not. My brother was molested there (he confided years later). He said that is when he first found out that he was gay. My brother has been missing a while now. He had a trailer in Alexandria, and just disappeared, no one has heard from him.
My oldest brother was abused, too (see above). He was schizophrenic but no one knew it. He used to walk in circles in the lower levels of the back yard talking to himself. As soon as he learned about drugs, he used them as they helped him dull out whatever the voices were telling him. Since my father was a policeman, Robbie was kicked out quickly, as if it somehow dulled my father’s shiny reputation.
Robbie still resides in a hospital in the Midwest. I haven’t spoken to him in many years. I once tried to write him but what came back so totally filled me with despair that I never wrote again. It was the writing of a child or a very sick person, just a few scrawled sentences that barely made sense.
In 1974 the abuse ended because my father and stepmother separated. It didn’t end there for me though. I ran away from home a lot, trying to forget all that had happened. I was placed into a group home. I was removed from that group home and placed into a private hospital known as National Children’s Rehabilitation Center (NCRC). I later found out the reason my placement was changed. The protector alter (within me) broke the housemother’s neck (the housemother survived) at the group home.
I spent 2 years at NCRC. Like the 7 years I spent with Rachel, much of the time in the hospital remains a mystery. I remember I was locked in the quiet room a great deal and heavily medicated. NCRC first diagnosed me with “Split Personality.” They told me it was a form of Schizophrenia. They discharged me to Western State Hospital telling me, “You can’t get better, you’ll probably spend the rest of your life at the state hospital.”
My final diagnosis at NCRC was Chronic Schizophrenic Undifferentiated Type, which in layman terms was that my insurance ran out and they didn’t know how to help me. My worst fear was being realized; I was crazy like my mother, and, in fact, in the exact same hospital she’d been in 10-12 years earlier.
Initially at the state hospital I was placed on a chronic back ward and not seen for 30 days as they observed me. When the psychiatrist saw me, he said, “You’re not sick, you’re just immature.” He changed my diagnosis to Adolescent Adjustment Reaction. I was placed on the Adolescent Ward at age 17 and stayed for almost a year.
I managed to get my high school diploma even though I’d only been to the 8th grade when I dropped out. I even began college at Blue Ridge Community College carrying 21 credits, passing everything. I qualified for the BEOG. That’s the Basic Education Opportunity Grant, probably the equivalent to today’s PELL grant.
For what seemed like the second time in my life, I was hopeful for success and a future. Once again, I was sadly mistaken. The hospital decided that I should find my own transportation back and forth to the college. No one really took into account that I didn’t want anyone to know where I was living at the time. Nor did anyone at the hospital suggest to me that the credits would be transferable. I dropped out of college. I was soon discharged from the hospital.
I moved back home with my father and my brother Michael. I began looking for work immediately. I changed jobs frequently for some reason. I also kept ending up back in the hospital for suicide attempts, at the time still determined to end my confusion and misery.
The last time I was hospitalized was 1983. I was fortunate that a doctor believed in me and helped me to see that many of the problems I was having were directly related to the abuse I suffered as a child. Reluctantly I began to talk about what happened to me when I was growing up.
I didn’t mention the voices in my head, and I didn’t mention the lost time. Amazingly enough, through all the doctors and hospitalizations, even though my record followed me wherever I went, no one asked about what happened to me. So I never told, as I was taught not to tell. My abuse was pretty well documented. There were the doctors visits from various injuries throughout my childhood, court records from the divorce (my father cited the abuse as one reason for his divorcing Rachel). There were school records which included coming to school with many bruises and injuries and being sent to the clinic. Social Services also had the records from earlier abuse in foster care. Yet not one doctor or therapist ever asked about it. That doctor changed my diagnosis to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
I met my husband in the hospital and we were married. I believed at that time I would never know what real love was. My husband had a bad temper, so I know all about domestic abuse. That period in my life I do recall a great deal more than I’d like. My husband left me for the lady that lived across the hall from us. He emptied the checking account and just took off.
When I moved back home I was pregnant with my son Joey. I knew nothing about parenting and was resolved only to raise Joey using the guidelines of, “I won’t do what was done to me.” They have worked out so far. I’m not a perfect parent by far but I’m good enough. I’ve raised an emotionally healthy, intelligent, humorous son. I’m proud to be his mother.
In October 1987 my brother Michael committed suicide. He was unable to live with the memories of the abuse. No one expected him to commit suicide, except me perhaps. He was always considered the strong one. He used to tell me that I needed to just forget that any of the abuse happened. God how I tried to forget. His death nearly destroyed me. I thought if he couldn’t make it what chance did I stand?
In March 1994, an alter drank antifreeze and I nearly died. Having to face that made me stop and think, ok, maybe I have a problem and I sought counseling. I was seeing one therapist for almost 4 years, with a constant struggle and little movement forward. October 1999 I changed therapists, hoping for more success. The fact that I can write my story now speaks volumes, if only to me.
Now more or less that’s my life. Seeing the things I remembered can you possibly understand how I might feel that whatever my alters were holding is better held by them than by me. I truly don’t want to remember. I want to live my life without feeling that, at any moment, I’ll find myself somewhere I don’t remember going to. I don’t want to live my life feeling a flashback can happen to me at any time and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.
In this life we all have few real choices. Control is an illusion we all participate in. We want and need to believe that things are within our control, but they rarely are. The variable is always other people. You can only control yourself, and then, if you have MPD, sometimes it feels like you can’t even control that.
I sought to heal. I thirsted for answers, though I ultimately learned, they all lay within me. Every day that goes by I am reminded of how many children are still being abused in the world around us. Though the public is much more educated about abuse, child abuse continues to be a serious social problem. It can happen to anyone. There are no real social barriers. It happened to me. If you are reading this — it may have happened to you too. I’m sorry if it did. Child abuse has a way of changing a person forever. I am not going to spout off any cliches or tell you that everyone heals. They don’t. I hope you do. I am not sure I can. Anyone of us can become a statistic. As long as you do your very best, that’s all anyone can ask.
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