Editor’s Note: This is part 46 of Marie’s Story, continued from There Were so Many Secrets…It Was Easier to Avoid my Dad.
Me: I’d like to read the letter I wrote to my mom. It’s not nearly as long as the letter to my dad. I guess I didn’t have as much to say to her. And, just like the letter to my dad, it doesn’t have a congenial opening; I just jumped right into the tough stuff.
Carl: That is totally appropriate for the context of a private therapy session. There is no need to be careful about watching your words to keep from hurting her feelings. She isn’t here to hear them.
Me: Okay. Well, here it goes…
“You allowed Dad to hit me. You hit me. You allowed [my sister who is 16 years my elder] to spank me. You allowed [my sister’s husband] to spank me. You allowed my babysitters to spank me. I thought [my sister who is 3 years my elder] was on equal grounds with me (as in, I thought I was safe from her), until the day you slapped me in the face when I was 12 when I dared to express my frustration at having trouble being motivated enough to run my business. [My sister] said to you, “I’m glad you slapped her because I was getting ready to slap her myself.” I expected you to tell her that she was not allowed to slap me. But, no, you didn’t. And she walked away from that scene knowing that she had to the right to slap me. I was not safe from anyone.”
Carl: It sounds like there were no boundaries around who could or could not be physically violent towards you—that you were fair game for anyone who got frustrated with you and with situations that might involve you.
Me: Yeah, pretty much. I guess the shit all ran downhill onto me, and since I was the youngest, it stopped and piled up on me.
Carl: Ouch, ouch. So, you were running a business at age 12?
Me: Yeah. When I was nine, I started a little babysitting/pet-sitting/house-sitting/lawn mowing/yard work type of business. I kept it going until my mid-twenties.
Carl: And one day you were frustrated with the level of effort required to run a business.
Carl: At 12 years old, you expressed frustration over the challenge of doing something even an adult would likely feel frustrated about.
Carl: And you got slapped for expressing your frustration.
Me: Yeah, but I was being a pill about it. I had chronically low blood sugar back then due to a growth spurt. So, sometimes when my blood sugar was low, I acted like an out-of-control little child. I would lie on the ground and cry and refuse to get up. It’s not like I was calmly expressing my frustration. I wasn’t behaving like a twelve-year-old should behave.
Carl: And an appropriate response from your mom would not have included slapping you hard across the face for being frustrated and having low blood sugar. Right?
Me: Well, yes. That’s true.
(After a thoughtful pause, I continued . . . )
Me: “You didn’t express emotion. I learned how to mask my emotion from you. When I was hurting and scared, I learned you were not affected by my pain. I learned I was alone in my pain. I don’t remember what happened that might have taught me, but I clearly learned at a very early age that I could not discuss pain in my private area.
When I was six, I cracked my pubic bone on the edge of barrel in which I was playing. You asked what was wrong, and I knew I was not allowed to say the words because saying those words to you or to say them in front of Dad would be shameful. I remember you and dad talking, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I just stood there, crying, too ashamed to speak, until you finally figured it out.
Didn’t that seem odd enough to cause you to start asking questions, to not let my ‘I don’t know’ answer to your one inquiry be enough to know to ask more?”
Carl: Excuse me for interrupting. You read that you don’t remember what happened that might have taught you that you couldn’t discuss pain in your private area. Do you have any guesses about what might have happened?
Me: I assume it is from when I tried to tell her about “X” molesting me. I have this faint idea of a memory of her telling me that “good girls don’t say such naughty things” and her being horrified by what came out of my mouth. I also have a sense of being very confused by this because I didn’t know what I had said that was so naughty.
I think I took away from that exchange that anything having to do with pain in my privates was unforgivably shameful and to discuss it was sinful and might keep me from going to heaven. I don’t have a clear memory of that conversation. I’m not even sure it took place. I just have a general sense about what might have happened.
I do know that the weight of and the confusion around that shame stayed with me for many years. I never really understood why it was shameful, I just knew it was terribly shameful. So, something like that had to have happened. Why else would that shame be so powerfully persistent for me?
Carl: I believe your memories are far more accurate than you can imagine.
Me: Yeah, I’m starting to think that, as well.
(I paused to see if he had more to say—he didn’t—and I continued . . . )
Me: “When you were angry, when you had nowhere else to vent your anger, you vented it on me. I preferred getting the belt from dad because for the most part, it was controlled and predictable. It had ceremony and rhythm. I knew how bad it was going to be. I knew the process I had to follow in order to survive it.
But, when you declined to pass along the dispensing of punishment to dad, it was when you couldn’t control your rage anymore. I hated that because I didn’t know which way to run and where to hide in order to be safe. I never knew when my actions would trigger your rage. I didn’t know the rules of the game.
When did I learn it was my job to protect you?”
(Carl again sat quietly, watching me—watching to see what might be happening with me now that I had completed the reading of the letter to my mom. Finally, he spoke. )
Carl: I know we have touched on this before, but I want to reiterate: what your parents did to you was abuse. Hitting a child so hard that she has trouble sitting down at school the next day is very clearly child abuse. Under no circumstances could it be justified. You didn’t deserve it. Are you clear on that?
Me: Yeah, I am. I know it was abuse.
[Continued in the next post . . . ]