not keeping the abuse a secret

a child-sexual-abuse survivor's blog

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be silent or be shunned

I found the following in an online stroll and, it really hit home:

“Learning that a relative was sexually abused in childhood can have profound effects on other family members. The disclosure can create a crisis even though the child victims are now adults. Family members who were not aware of the abuse are challenged to revise their perceptions of…the abuser, and relationships within the family. This can be disorienting, disruptive, and anxiety-provoking.” [1]

Shunned as I am by more family members than not, I sometimes feel akin to a disobedient member of an Amish community experiencing rituals of shaming.

Shunned (crop)My misdeed: I refuse to follow “the game plan” of concealing the family abuse. I will not, not talk about it. I will not “hide it” from generations coming up. I will, essentially, not box it and stuff it in an attic. It happens to be an essential part of my personal history — I made numerous suicide attempts because of it; had a nervous breakdown in my 40s because of it; and I have worked hard in therapy for decades now to overcome its damage — I have a right to speak of it! (Should a holocaust survivor be expected to, Be silent, be still, you’re embarrassing us?!)

My own siblings, step-siblings, nieces & nephews are guided? directed? manuevered? encouraged? in their complete-disbelief-of-the-abuse by some, “mere” denial-of-it by others, by one of my fellow abusees and sister, Elle. Like a sort of family Don, Elle — who I sincerely believe to be either a sociopath or to have a sociopath alter — uses her considerable influence to wave family reality away, going so far as to treat with revered status, a brother who sexually abused all three of us sisters plus at least one neighbor girl.

Being shunned for refusing to sweep my abuse under some hypothetical rug has been and, is, so mind-bogglingly incomprehensible to me that looking at photos of these family members recently made me feel physically ill, nauseous.

The quoted material above continues,

“Although the process whereby family members deal with sexual abuse of a family member can be distressing, painful, and sometimes divisive, it can be liberating and healing as well. This book is designed to help families have the latter experience, as it guides them through the crisis evoked by disclosure without denial, minimization, blaming, recrimination, or polarization within the family. The ideal is for family members to believe that the sexual abuse occurred and to support the victim’s right and need to integrate and resolve fear, anger, sadness, shame, guilt, and grief. Also, the family is helped to view the abuser as a multidimensional person who committed a serious offense that requires being accountable, but who also needs treatment.” [1]

I wish that my family were so evolved as to be able to comprehend the above and, of hearts big enough to act on it.

If wishes were fishes…:-/



1 National Criminal Justice Reference Service online, abstract for D. B. Landry 1991 book, Family Fallout: A Handbook for Families of Adult Sexual Abuse Survivors, Safer Society Press, Brandon, VT, at , accessed July 26, 2015.


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hard chain to break

I’m single.  Not in a relationship.  (For, years and, years.)  So, my son has urged me to try online dating avenues.

This is the thing.

What being sexually abused as a child does to a woman… — What being sexually abused by an older brother you used to look up to, does to a child… — What seeing your father r-e-g-u-l-a-r-y steer your sisters into his bedroom to sexually abuse them does to one… — What being roofied and raped as an adult does to a woman — What being raped by a guy you meet in a club and make the mistake of inviting home does to a woman…

Gosh, how to say this?

Um, there’s a lack of trust that ensues??  (Righteously so, folks.)  (Common-sense logically so.)  (Like, one would have to be an idiot or, severely dissociative [<- Been there, too…] to “trust normally?”  I mean, C’mon.)

cartoon, your worst fear, by matt bors--fr dailykosDOTcom
Your Worst Fear
Not all men.  Just some.”
— Matt Bors cartoon.
Find political cartoonist Matt Bors on Facebook at ,
on Twitter at .

 Hard chain to break…


“all he thinks about is sex,” complains my aunt to me one day

I’m 13; and, we’ve returned from Memphis; and, we are living with my mom’s sister Tanis & her three kids-still-at-home; and, Aunt Tanis & my father take an afternoon drive one day to return saying, they’ve married; and, a month?, two months? later, my aunt more sensibly gives my father the boot.

“All he thinks about is sex,” complains my aunt crankily to me one day as she heads up the townhouse stairs to her room, glass of whiskey in hand.  “Sex sex sex!” she sputters.

Wow.  “And he molests Sally & Sharon and he used to molest me,…” I venture.

“Well I don’t know anything about that,” Aunt Tanis says.  “But he shouldn’t beat you like I saw with my own eyes and if you want to go up to Social Services and report him I’ll back you up.  You could get foster home placement.”

I could get what?  I am stunned.  What is Social Services?  (What’s a foster home?)  Wait a minute — I don’t have to live with my father?!?

“You mean I wouldn’t have to live with Buck?!” I exclaim.  (Explanatory note:  at our house there was no “Father,” or, “Daddy,” or, “Dad;” the sibs & I had instead, a “Buck,” our father preferring this nickname over Father/Daddy/whatever, which, he said, made him feel old.)

“Nope,” says Aunt Tanis emphatically.  She drank too much but, this was my favorite aunt, and, I admired that she worked and supported three kids by herself.  She seemed “smart.”  I trusted that she might indeed know what she was talking about here.

And so, I learned where Social Services was located, walked in there one day, met with a staff-person, and spilled.

Everything:  Buck’s sexual abuse of us, Paul’s sexual abuse of us, Buck’s physical abuse of us, the horrors of Memphis — from endless sexual molestation to waking to choke-holds in the middle of the night to Buck dumping poor Philip’s remaining food over his head when he didn’t finish his dinner to being left without adequate groceries while Buck was up north visiting our aunt to… — every single thing.  I’d held it all inside for so long, convinced that the other grown-ups out there were just as potentially dangerous as my father:  no refuge to be had:  be abused in your own home, or, be abused by strangers.


I wanted to live with Aunt Tanis.  My cousin Jaci, Aunt T.’s youngest daughter, pretended to want same and to be working to facilitate this but, I learned way into adulthood, in reality she had adamantly nixed it.  (“I was finally getting into the popular crowd!  It would have just ruined everything if you’d lived with us,” Jac explained far in the future.)

I was placed with my mom’s brother’s family.


The shocker is, — well, to me it’s always been a shocker — a social worker interviewed the sibs in my father’s presence.  Fearing for their lives, they denied any & all abuse.

Sally & Sharon & Philip would live with Buck for several more years to come.

Me, I would leave for Uncle Edward’s house, the first of four foster homes.


little brides of Christ & the girl in the basement

I went to a Catholic school called Blessed Sacrament in first and second grades.  I loved it.  I don’t have any of the mean-nun memories so joked about.  The only scary part for me was when we were to have our first communion, be little brides of Christ as the nuns smilingly called it.

First Communion Class, Holy Redeemer, 1958 Madison WI

Wisconsin State Historical Society photo:
1958 Holy Redeemer Communion Class, Madison, WI

This terrified me.

So much so that, I was good and sick on the day I was to celebrate my own first communion with my Blessed Sacrament classmates.  Somehow, I was aware that brides “do married things” in bed with their husbands, and, I wanted no part of it.  Flat-out scared to death, I started the morning vomiting and got a reprieve.

Why was I so frightened?  OF, exactly, what?  (What did a 1950s seven-year-old know about “things” married couples do in bed?)

Christ or no Christ, I just knew I wanted no part of any brides-&-husbands script.


Memories from my first couple of years of elementary school include this particularly bizarre one:  I am with my father at the home of a friend of his.  The friend has just shown my father something in his basement, me in tow via my father’s hand, and we are walking back upstairs.  (I don’t know how old I am — somewhere between five and, seven?  Eight, tops — but I am young enough that, to hold my father’s hand, I have to reach upwards.)  The stairs are adjacent to the concrete basement wall and my father is on the side nearest the wall.  In my unobstructed right field of vision, I see a naked little girl tied to a vertical pole or column.  I can still “see” me climbing the stairs, a surprised me catching sight of her there, a rope going from her right wrist to around a concrete column or, pole.

“Why is that little girl tied up there without any clothes on?” I ask my father.

“Mind your own business,” he says.

Fade out.

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the dress girl and other mes

I honest to goodness thought there was just one of me.

I won’t go so far as to say, I thought I knew me…  Before my breakdown and even in the early years of my work with Carol-the-trauma-therapist, I often felt quite befuddled by me (although, I admit to having regarded “the many sides” of me as “quirky” and, a plus?  I.e., I was probably, not boring?).

But I did not think there was “more than one of me to get to know,” so to speak, so imagine my surprise when Carol mentioned nasty phone calls I was making to her.

“Horrible,” she referenced them with a surprised face and knit brows.  I had laughed — ME?  I don’t think so.  Not my style.  I hadn’t made any phone calls to her let alone mean or nasty ones, good grief; What was she talking about?!

“So it wasn’t you,” she said.

“Nope, nada.  Why would I even do that?  I like you.”  (Well, most of the time.  True, she did tick me off now and then.)

“It sounded like you,” she persisted.  (And apparently the content was relevant.)  “Has this ever happened before, has someone ever ‘thought’ you’d made calls to them that you had no memory of?”

Now I’m just merrily giggling away.  Hee hee hee.  What a concept.🙂

We talked a little about dissociative identity disorder (DID).  I had never had any experience of any other mes but me running the show, nope.  Well, okay, Dr.-Josephson-the-psychiatrist I’d seen a couple times way back in the early 1970s had one day questioned a casual statement I made that I’d walked to his office from campus “on auto-pilot,” no memory of what I saw or heard along the way — this was in response to his asking me about “the weather out there” or some such, I forget — leaning back in his chair and hooting with laughter, saying, “Not possible.”  To which I, genuinely puzzled, had replied, “Oh, possible; I do it all the time.”

All the time?!”

I revised this.  “Maybe half the time, but at least half.”  Good grief, like, doesn’t everyone?  You know, sort of highway hypnosis but on foot.

Josephson answered in the negative.  Smiling at me though, like, What a neat idea, so when he next asked, “And just out of curiosity, where are you when you’re on auto-pilot?,” I didn’t feel threatened and confided, “You know, just, not there.”

Well he just seemed to love this.  What a creative girl I was [as opposed to, Oh gosh, we just might need to lock her up in the loony bin?]

“You’re simply ‘not there’ ,” he repeats.


“For about half the time.”

“Uh-huh.”  I shrug my shoulders.  Big deal.  Like, who needs to “be there” to do a simple task like walk down the street, or, sit in a really boring class, or, just sit with people somewhere?

“I do,” he says.  “Most people probably do, or they’d walk into a tree or a parked car.”

Huh!  I guess I was more graceful than I thought.

“So, you’re not there in classes too, and social situations?”  He was thoughtful.  “What kind of grades do you get in the classes you’re not there in?”

“Yes to the first part of your question, and, As or Bs — you have to be there for hard classes; I’m never not there except for easy ones.”

He regarded me thoughtfully.  I can still see his face puzzling away.

Josephson was a good doc.  Smart.  If I’d had health insurance or could have otherwise afforded it, I would have continued to see him.  His was a wonderfully easy-going manner, and, although male, he behaved in such a completely non-threatening manner that I felt safe.  I bet he could possibly have helped me.

I can’t even count the professionals I saw who were as helpful as a rock and, knew their business half as well.

But back to Carol-the-therapist and the bad phone calls.

“I didn’t do it,” I protested, laughing.  Gosh — who was this rogue client of Carol’s?  “I’m always ‘present’ on the phone.”  Oh wait a minute — Was I?!?  Drat.  Wow, if I could walk places and, sit in classes and get As & Bs yet not “be there,” Shoot…  Maybe I could do other things, too, “not being there” — like making phone calls?  But it seemed so far-fetched that I was still mentally merry, thinking things like, Quite the accomplished gurl here, could this be showcased somewhere?  Ha ha ha.

Okay, there was that weird time in the Rathskeller when brother Pete’s then-girlfriend Christine had claimed I’d said, “I wish I was dead,” to which Christine had turned to me and said, “I’m glad you’re not dead;” to which I’d replied in irate astonishment, “Well Jeez Christine I’m glad I’m not dead either!  Where the heck did that come from?!;” to which Pete had said very gently, “You just said you wished you were dead.”  Which was preposterous, I had said no such thing.

Or, Had I?  What was going on here?  And it all stopped being funny.

Weeks, months, years of therapy with Carol pass and I work up the courage to indulge my love of dresses.  (Long ago I used to make them.  In my late teens, early 20s.  I sewed a lot back then.  Even on consignment for a local boutique, at one point.)  I buy a dress, at the Gap.  I decide to return it though:  It really needs a belt, I decide, yet I don’t have one that quite works and, I don’t feel the dress is much of a bargain if I have to spend more to belt it.

So a week or so later I head back over to the Gap.  I’m at the register and I tell the cashier, “I’d like to return this, please,” and I hand her the dress and the receipt and, hum dee dum, she’s processing my return and, another clerk whispers (loudly) to her, “She’s worn that!  She was just IN here, IN it, the other day!”

Well I never!  I am quite indignant.  “I have not worn the dress,” I say firmly, with a glare in the direction of the offending clerk.  But as the words come out of my mouth I suddenly know they are not true, as, like a deck of cards fanned out in front of me, I see a series of snapshot-like images in my head.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  Memories, clear as day, but in weird snapshot format.  Me, standing in my apartment-complex driveway about to cross the street, wearing the dress.  Me, browsing at the Gap, wearing the dress.  Me, in a dressing room at the Gap, taking off the dress so as to try on a different one.

Oh my Lord.  I am blown away.

Thankfully, my cashier just pooh-poohs the other clerk and speedily processes my return and I am able to leave the store, because, I need to sit down somewhere, man.

So:  Dress girl.  Phone girl.  Girl who wishes she were dead.  (Person or persons “present” when “I” walk places “on auto-pilot”…  Person or persons “present” getting those “As & Bs in ‘easy’ classes” when “I” am “absent?”…  [Complicated, huh?🙂 ])

Carol-the-therapist and, literature on the subject calls these “discrete alters.”  This seems a misnomer to me — I would have to classify most of my own “discrete alters’ ” doings as quite indiscrete, i.e. imprudent, lacking good judgment — but ordinary discretion, or lack of it, is not, of course, what “discrete” here references.

One website reads pretty generically but clearly on the subject, “In some people, dissociated memory and experience fragments are organized…into discrete ‘personalities’ or ‘identities’ which can be experienced internally as having separate experiences and histories.  Often personalities are so compartmentalized that they are not aware of each other’s existence.  This is called an ‘amnesic barrier,’…”


I can especially relate to the amnesic barrier idea, as, I tend to experience my life memories as, snapshots here, mostly brief videos there — i.e., in pieces, not as a continual flow, which certainly is suggestive of something amnesiac going on.

Meanwhile:  the Dress Girl wants to wear dresses (and makeup).  I’m pretty easygoing, so, I’m working up to accommodating her on that.  (In fact, more & more, I’m thinking, I might like to wear dresses & makeup, too.🙂 )  The Phone Girl doesn’t feel comfortable? safe? whatever, expressing anger at? dissent with? confronting?, people, so, I practice that one in the safety of Carol’s office.  (And interestingly, no more nasty phone calls to Carol…)  The Girl Who Wishes She Were Dead:  my last suicide attempt was in the mid-1990s and, it will stand AS my last:  I’m here for the duration now.  “You tried to murder yourself!,” Carol sputtered.  Angrily?  With tears in her eyes.  (This moved me greatly, notwithstanding that my first reaction was a giggle.)  Yes, I did, I register in surprise.  Horrified, Gasp.  Yikes — I never looked at it that way before.  (And, let me tell yoU, I am no murderer!  Indignation.)  The person or persons “present” when “I” walk somewhere “on auto-pilot,” and, who gets the grades in the “easy” classes when “I” am “absent:”  for these, I work on what may seem simple to some but has not been for me — “being present.”  Being more mindful, across the board:  mindful of where I am; mindful of my feelings; mindful of what I say; mindful of what I do.  Mindful, mindful, mindful.


I like to think of it all as a “What About Bob” [the 1991 comedy starring Bill Murray & Richard Dreyfuss, directed by Frank Oz] thing:  Baby steps, baby steps…  They’ll get you there. 😉


i don’t wear makeup. i don’t wear dresses.

I don’t wear makeup. I don’t wear dresses. I laughingly tell people, “Hey, I grew up with three older brothers, got used to being ‘one of the guys,’ what can I say…;” or I grin and go, “I came of age during the Woodstock era, we hippie girls shunned makeup and that headset just stuck, I guess;” or, I smile broadly and say, “Once a tomboy always a tomboy…”

What I don’t say is, I’m afraid if I look too girly I’ll be assaulted.

What I don’t say is, Well actually, truth be told, The Dress Girl once [once that I know of anyway…] put makeup on and wore a dress to the mall some years back – I don’t know what all she did there though except that, she did go into the Gap.

What I don’t say is, I want to wear dresses and I’m working up to it, I have two right now in my closet plus two skirts…

What I don’t say is, I would like to wear makeup if I feel like it but, it draws attention to a woman and that might increase my chances of getting assaulted.

At the same time, if anyone tries to sexually violate me again I swear to God I’ll take his eyeballs out with my bare fingers.

You could say I have mixed feelings.

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When we moved from the the big two-story house on Knickerbocker Street to the smaller ranch-style house on Caldy Place, our huge dining table was relegated to the Caldy basement.

There was no way that dining table could fit in our tiny Caldy kitchen.

But I had happy memories of all my birthday parties celebrated ’round that table; and, days spent sitting there cutting out paper dolls and clothes for them; and, lots of coloring with my sisters — I loved that table! Beautifully-grained wood, rectangular, and, big enough to sit, gosh, a minimum of eight adults or, even more children?! It made me smile just to look at it.

I was either not quite eight years old, or, had just turned that age when we moved from Knickerbocker Street. Sally was 18 months under me, and, Sharon, about two years under her: roughly, eight, six, and four, we were. (Phil was yet a baby; Pete, at about 11 and allowed more independence, tended to be out playing with his friends.) So, when Mom did laundry down there in the basement on our ringer washer, we girls would sit at the big table and color, play with dolls, or whatever, sunlight streaming down on us through the casement windows.

ringer washer_2Stock photo, ringer washer circa 1950s.

It was a lovely time, and as time went on and we made friends in this, our new neighborhood, “everyone” wanted to come to our house on days too cold or rainy to play outdoors, to gather and play at the giant table.

Until Paul.

Paul was the younger of our two oldest brothers — at least nine, 10 years older than myself — and his “room” for some reason became a corner of the basement under the stairs, and I would come to dread the place I had loved best in our house on Caldy.

A dictionary says dread means “great fear or apprehension,” synonyms including “fear, apprehension, trepidation, anxiety, worry, concern, foreboding, disquiet, unease, angst; more.” Yup — that about sums up how I came to regard Paul in the basement.

It started with me coloring at the table and him, sprawled on his 1950s “Hollywood bed,” saying most warmly, “Would you like a hug?” Well, what little kid doesn’t like a nice hug?

“Sure,” I’d smile and he’d go, “C’mere,” holding out his arms all nice.

Then the hugs turned into, “Let’s cuddle for a little while,” and he’d pull me close and soon he was holding a Playboy magazine in front of us, his free hand wandering into my underwear.  He would want me to touch him, pull my hand to his genitals, all the time pointing out this photo in Playboy, that cartoon, making lewd comments.

I did not like this, I did not like him. I would try to get away but he was strong. It was hard to escape.

Soon, I avoided that basement at all costs unless my mother was down there with me, but, perhaps because she was dying of leukemia and, probably needed an assist around the house, and, in one of those unrealized bad-choice happenstances Paul had been designated her “helper,” we younger kids were told we were supposed to “mind” him. So a lot of times he would insistently yell upstairs to me from his basement domain where he resided like some truly awful particularly dreadful evil giant (six feet four) hiding under a bridge (the basement stairs), “Come here a minute,” and I would “have to” go see what he wanted, even though I anxiously knew.

One time I distinctly remember saying to him, “Stop or I’m going to tell Mom,” at which he laughed and said, “Go ahead. I’ll just tell her you’re lying, and who’s she going to believe?! Me, because I’m older.” And what did he do shortly after that but, set me up one night, telling Mom I’d done some this-or-that naughty — which I had not — and, what happened? She believed him, disregarded my protests of innocence, and I was sent to bed without supper.

This went on until one summer day when I simply left the house after breakfast and did not come home until suppertime — when my father would be home and when Paul let me be — and that marked my new daily pattern. (Did my mother know what was going on? I do not know, but it seems odd to me, now that I’ve been a parent myself, that she allowed me this all-day “freedom,” only asking that I return at the sound of the cowbell she rang evenings to call us all in to dinner.)

I did get hungry during the day, so I would eat apples and pears from the wild orchard across the street; carrots pulled from people’s gardens, brushing the dirt off them with my hands; a tomato here & there from same; young corn-on-the-cob, whole. I’d drink at neighborhood water bubblers, of which there seemed numerous back in those days. I’d eat wild raspberries and blackberries, and there was an edible clover I liked that I called “eating clover.”

There was a home with several horses in the neighborhood and I liked to feed the horses apples, sitting on their fence, my hand held flat. I would “explore” wooded areas; play in the fields; climb trees; run through cow pastures; catch frogs in drainage pipes; play at construction sites. I loved it — I had a good time.

But throughout, I did wish that I could go home during the day if I wanted; that I had a choice. And I envied the kids who could.

I was like a wild child, raised by wolves.


In adulthood I learned that in addition to me, Paul had molested my two sisters as well, plus a neighbor of ours around Sally’s age.  Little girls, all.



In my 40s, following my emotional breakdown and quite a lot of therapy with Carol-the-A+-excellent trauma therapist, I gathered up the courage to write and mail a letter to my brother Paul.  I wanted monetary compensation — I was seeing Carol once- to twice-weekly.  I could not work.  This was the least Paul could do as far as I was and am concerned, statutes of limitations in my state having left him free from any & all criminal charges, penalties.

His response:  no apology, no words of shame or regret; he simply had a lawyer reply to my send and point out, you guessed it, statutes of limitations.

I am, yet & still, majorly proud of myself that I was able to write and mail that letter.