Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Love and hurt, a post about child abuse

I've spent the last hour trying to come up with a title for this piece instead of just getting on and writing it. A delaying tactic if ever I saw one. Thinking about the abuse I suffered growing up is always difficult, but the hardest part for me is thinking about the fact that it was missed by those who loved me. It's taken so many years to recognise that no one knew I was being abused, but that this didn't mean no one loved or cared about me.

Some of this comes down to understanding how and why I was vulnerable, which ties in to why the abuse was not noticed or stopped. As a child, my understanding went something like this: My parents are meant to love and look after me but one of my parents hurts me and the other one doesn't stop him. They both tell me that they love me, but yet they aren't looking after me. So they must not love me like they say the do or else this hurt is the same as being looked after.

I am sure it doesn't take a genius to figure out how this was a damaging idea to grow up with, that I had to chose between the idea that I wasn't loved, or that what was being done to me was right and proper even though it hurt. I wonder at times how much this idea that pain = being looked after contributed to my self harming behaviour.

As a teenager my understanding changed again. I knew what was being done to me was wrong, and I couldn't understand how someone who claimed to love me could do it. I spent a lot of the time convinced that my father therefore couldn't possibly love me. Then he would go and do something kind and thoughtful, he'd look out for in the way that I really wanted him to and I was conflicted once again. For my mother's part, I understood by now that her illness had contributed a lot towards her missing what was going on. There were weeks at a time where she was in the hospital, longer still where she was home but effectively bed ridden and reliant on us to tell her what was going on in our lives. I told her lots of things but I didn't tell her about this. To my mind, she already had enough to deal with. Then she died, and it was too late to tell her anything.

So, by my teens there was an understanding as to how I was vulnerable to abuse. One of my parents was my abuser, the other was fighting a long term, painful and ultimately fatal disease which made it much harder for her to see what was going on. I was so worried about making things harder for her that I went out of my way to keep quiet about things which might trouble her. It did become apparent in my teens that I was unwell and struggling to cope, but given my mum's illness and death there seemed an obvious reason why this would be the case.

As an adult, I can finally look back and say I was loved and I was hurt, the two aren't mutually exclusive. The hurt wasn't right or OK, it should never have happened and certainly wasn't a sign of love or care. I was failed, in that neither of my parents were able to look after me properly however only one of them was to blame for that. The other did everything she could, and to this day I think if I had felt able to confide in her then she would have done everything in her power to protect me.

So, there were a number of reasons I was vulnerable. I had a parent who was frequently absent from home or restricted to a single room due to illness. I didn't have the language to talk about what was happening to me because I was a child.  I didn't want to upset a woman who was already unwell and had a lot to deal with, and whom I loved very much. I was conflicted about my feelings for a father who was at times a monster but other times everything I wanted from a dad. By the time I had the language and knowledge to talk about what had happened to me I had been silent on the subject so long that I was afraid to speak out. There was so much fear around the idea, it would distress my mum, I might not be believed, people would think less of me for letting it go on for so long. These vulnerabilities were things my father took advantage of, then added to. He told me he'd kill himself if I told, or fought back. He told me it would kill my mum if she found out, that my siblings would hate me, that we'd all be put into care.

I wonder now how different things would have been if I'd been able to break that silence and speak out. There's no real way to know, but I have my belief that my mum would have done right by me because I know, without a doubt, that she loved me after all. As an adult, that's the one thing which seems clear and for now that will have to be enough.

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