In a previous post (Child Forsaken), I shared a recurrent nightmare that haunted me throughout my childhood. The dream began during the period of time when I was being abused. It would rip me violently from sleep, and leave me trembling in the darkness of my room. Alone…
I often woke up in a panic, my heart racing and drops of sweat running down my face. Though I was trembling with fear, I didn’t dare cry out for my parents. I was afraid that if they found out about the dream, they would find out about the abuse as well. I worried that they would be angry and would punish me severely. I was convinced that they would stop loving me if they knew.
Perhaps you wonder what was behind this fear. It may seem so unnatural that a small child would wake up from such a terrorizing dream and not cry out in fear for her parents.
I had my reasons.
Initially, I kept the secret because of the threats of my abusers. But there were days, and many terror-filled nights, when I considered reaching out to my parents for help.
One experience, early in my elementary school days, ensured that the secret would remain untold…
It was a typical day for a first grader, or rather should have been. The only difference that morning was that my teacher was absent. A substitute teacher stood in her place at the front of the classroom. She seemed young, although the perception of age in my young mind was obviously limited. I remember that she was easily flustered. The boys in my class were full of energy that day, and defied her frequent requests for everyone to settle down.
From early in the day, it seemed obvious that there were no consequences for our disrespectful behavior. As I leaned over to talk to a friend, the teacher had finally had enough. She looked directly at me and yelled at me to ‘Shut up’.
This shocked me. I know that being told to shut up isn’t really that big of a deal, but I was raised to believe that all sorts of words fell into the category of ‘bad’. In my mind, these were swear words. I don’t remember much else from that day, but I’m sure I was much quieter after that point.
This is where the story gets messy.
I went home and told my father what had happened. I don’t remember being particularly upset about it, and I don’t think I was expecting him to do anything about it. I was simply recounting the events of the day.
My father was livid. “No one talks to my daughter like that, ” I remember him saying. I tried to tell him that it was okay. I didn’t like seeing my father get upset. He was so unpredictable.
The next morning my father drove me to school, and led me directly to the principal’s office. He was angry, but in a controlled way, not like what I often saw at home. He demanded to talk to the teacher involved, but she wasn’t there. The principal called my regular teacher down to the office over the intercom.
The principal led us into her office and told me to sit down on one of the chairs in the corner. The three adults remained standing. My father described the incident as I had relayed it to him. He told the two women that this was completely unacceptable. He demanded that something be done.
The principal and my teacher began reassuring my father that I must be mistaken. That they knew this substitute teacher well, and that she would never speak to a child this way.
The adults turned toward me and began questioning me about the incident. “Perhaps you just misheard her,” offered the principle with a smile.
“No, I’m sure she said that,” I replied.
“I know her really well,” said my teacher. “She would never say something like that to you.”
I sat quietly.
The adults continued interrogating me, and offering different suggestions about how I might have misunderstood. At first, I defended the truth confidently, but as the three of them continued to stare down at me and question my truthfulness, I began to feel frightened and upset.
“This is very important,” said my teacher. “She would get in a lot of trouble if she ever really said something like that.” Her tone indicated that she did not believe my story.
“She never really said that, did she?” asked the principal in a serious and intimidating tone.
I don’t know how long this interrogation lasted, but I finally caved. I lied and told them what they obviously wanted to hear, that the teacher had not said those words at all.
The principal and my teacher smiled and told me they were proud of me for doing the right thing, even though it was difficult. My father did not. “This will be dealt with at home,” he said as he walked out of the office.
That day after school my father took me downstairs to our unfinished basement. This was the place for punishment. Not the only place to be sure, but the preferred one.
My father was seething, though collected and in control. He scared me the most when he was like that. He lectured me about lying and about bringing embarrassment to my family. He used phrases like “how dare you” and “I’ll teach you not to embarrass me like that again”.
I didn’t dare tell him that I hadn’t lied. That it had been the truth all along.
“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” he said coldly. I cringed as I heard the distinctive sound of his leather belt being ripped from the loops of his pants. He yanked down my jeans and underwear, then pulled me face-down across his lap. With each thrash of the belt, I felt the heat of impact. Swollen marks reddened my tender skin.
The punishment was meant to teach.
And teach it did…
I learned that my father could not be trusted. That he would not believe me, or be on my side. I learned that the only person who could be trusted to protect me from harm, was myself. Unfortunately, the responsibility of protector was never meant to rest on the shoulders of a five-year-old. I didn’t turn out to be very good at it.
Any thought of reaching out to my parents for help from the abuse was quickly gone. I carried the dark and heavy secrets alone. I would be an adult before I even considered opening my heart to another.
As much as I want Incremental Healing to be a place of encouragement and hope, I also want to be real with you. Writing this post devastated me. In many ways, it is easier for me to deal with the violations that came from outside of my family. I have even come to a place where I am able to label those despicable experiences as abuse. That was a huge step in my healing process.
With my family, its still different. If another child were to be raised in the same environment that I was, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it abusive. But for myself, there is still so much self-blame. I think in terms of ‘harsh discipline’, rather than abuse. This is something I’m still working through.
It has been a tough week for me, as I have been processing these thoughts. I don’t pretend to understand why God allows some of the atrocities that we face in our lives. The arguments about us living in a broken world, and dealing with the natural consequences of sin fail to satisfy.
In the midst of such thoughts, I choose to trust in God’s goodness and His love. I know his ways are far beyond my understanding, and I am choosing to believe that He is somehow working everything together for the good of those who love him.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 44:8-9 (NLT)
I am thankful for these truths. Clinging to the promises of Scripture is often the only thing that gives me hope, and helps me make it through the pain and heartache.
May your loving, heavenly Father make His face shine upon you, dear one, and give you His peace and hope,
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/brandoncwarren/4654245563/”>Brandon Christopher Warren</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>