I shared my story in group therapy the other day, and I’ve decided that, in the spirit of sharing, I would write it out and post it here as well. There may be sexual abuse triggers during parts of this.
My father was born in Italy, south of Naples in a small town in 1950, just after the height of World War II. He used to say that he’d skip school and go play in the ruins of Pompeii. His father had been captured by the Nazi’s and was sent to a work camp. When he came back home, my grandmother said he was a different man, which is understandable. At some point early in my father’s life, his father simply left and was rarely heard from again.
My father never talked to me about what life was like for him growing up. It must have been chaotic, though, because his two siblings, a younger brother and sister, are both nuts – and not just because they’re Italians. His sister, my aunt, is the most neurotic person I’ve ever met. She’s never been married, has barely ever had a boyfriend, and lived to take care of their mother who died in 2007. My father’s brother used to have serious drug problems and it took a long time for him to make a life for himself. He now has 3 kids and they live 10 minutes from where I grew up, but he has major problems with anger, and I know his marriage has been on the rocks for years.
After their father left, my father took over as head of household. He worked on a cruise ship, and then at the age of 15, he immigrated to the States with his mother and siblings. They lived in New York for several years. At some point, my father left and started working in hotels, which is how he met my mother. She used to have a band and they would travel all over and perform, and he was the manager at one of the hotels where she was staying. He wined and dined her and eventually won her over. They got married in 1980.
I’m not sure how long my father was faithful before he started cheating on her, but I know he’s been verbally and emotionally abusive to her pretty much from the get go. Their relationship would ebb and flow. He’d do something awful, she’d get upset, then he’d cool off and apologize and she’d take him back. At some point, my mother had her tubes tied thinking she didn’t want to have kids. She loved her life, living on the road, traveling with her band, so I’m sure she didn’t want to give that up to have children. There was an especially rocky point in their marriage, and my mother told me once that she thought that having a baby would somehow make their relationship better. Because – naturally – having a screaming baby solves any marriage problem.
Over time, I’ve realized that my father – and I don’t think he has fully acknowledged this himself – was actually jealous that I got my mother’s attention instead of him. And so I think he resented me. He’s the kind of person that has to make everything about him…He doesn’t care about anyone other than himself. My father used to have restaurants and had no problem with the fact that he had a loyal business partner who put up his house as collateral for the restaurant and then lost it because my father stopped paying the money to lease the property. Before I was born, he was in jail for a week for embezzling money from a hotel where he worked and for years he has evaded taxes as well. I remember, when I was little, answering the door to police officers asking where my father was because he had to go to jail again for his tax evasion. And he always thought of these things as a big joke. He’d just laugh it off. He has no concept of the law or of right and wrong.
My memory of my home life is very fuzzy. I can remember things that I did outside of the house a little better, although school is really foggy, too. The only things that I tend to remember fairly vividly is when I was at the barn. But I wasn’t in my body at home, and for good reason. After I was born, my mom quit her band but she always tried to hold onto her passion for music. So her office was upstairs right next to my room, and she’d spend hours and hours in there with big, padded headphones, working on her music. The world could have gone to shit and she wouldn’t have known it. And when I was 5, my world did.
My father would have two “moods” when he’d abuse me. The first is when he was angry. And it wouldn’t necessarily be at me, although sometimes it was, and of course it was nearly always for some petty reason. And he was very non-forgiving with me. He was not gentle. He’d force me to do anything and everything he wanted. Nothing was off-limits. And somehow, I never fought, possibly because I was never in my body. All of my memories during the abuse are from above, just watching myself like I was his puppet. The other times he would do this would be when he just felt like it, which somehow is harder for me to handle than the times he was angry. I think because when he was angry, I could convince myself that it’s a punishment that I needed to endure, because of something I did. But when he just felt like it…that’s when I felt the dirtiest. Those are the times that just make me nauseous to think about.
The only times I was actually ever in my body were right before and right after. My father was always the last person to come upstairs at night. He’d stay downstairs and watch TV or read the newspaper. And so I’d be laying in my bed, and since the stairs came up right next to my room, I’d always wait to hear the creaking of the stairs as he walked up. I’d watch the light underneath my door and I’d wait for him to come in. The times I was the most terrified were in those moments right before the door opened. I’d just stare at it and wait. And dread.
After he would finish, he’d lay in my tiny twin bed with me and sometimes just fall asleep for a while. So I would just lay there, wide awake, as he slept. He was an overweight man, and I remember looking at him in sheer disgust, and then thinking of how disgusting I was for everything that he did to me. When he’d leave and go to his room – because my parents always slept in separate rooms – I’d sit on my bed and just cry, but I couldn’t cry loudly or else he’d hear. And this went on for years. It didn’t stop until I was about 11. Several nights a week.
My only solace was in riding horses. It’s been the only thing I’ve ever loved, and it probably saved my life. The only time I was ever completely in my body and totally present was when I was riding. And I could forget about everything and not have a care in the world. I used to have lots of migraines, too, but I could just get on and start riding, and somehow I’d forget about any pain. I remember riding horses and singing songs in my head to the beat of the horses hooves in the sand. It was another level of dissociation, but all the while, I was completely in my body.
In Kindergarten, I would intentionally hurt myself in class, and it was just because I wanted someone to ask me if I was okay, but no one ever did. If a teacher noticed, they’d just write it off as something else, dust me off, and let me continue on my merry way. I didn’t really relate to other kids in school. I just went out to the barn and would ride, although I did have some friends out there. At the time, I had a really great horse trainer. She was always really positive, a big self-esteem booster, although that didn’t last. And then, in high school, things started to deteriorate on many levels.
When I was 15, my father walked out on my mother. He’d been cheating on her for years, he traveled all over because of his restaurants, and he even had a separate apartment. I had thought they’d taken some sort of legal action, but I only found out within the past few years that they never did. But he moved to Ohio to manage his last restaurant, which still ended up failing. We had to sell our house and we moved into an apartment. I will say that I was lucky enough that, although it was very grudgingly, my father did help pay for horse shows. He always hated that I rode horses. He wanted me to play soccer. But once he left, I stopped showing and it took saving every penny my mother and I had for me to be able to keep my horse. She’s always known that horses are the one thing I have a passion for. They’re what keep me alive. So she fought for me to hold onto that. But the only friends I ever had were at horse shows. It’s a totally different life, and suddenly I was shunned out of it because I couldn’t afford to do all of that anymore. And it was really, really painful.
Not to mention my mother, who’d always been a stay at home mom, suddenly had to become employable again. And she was really irritable for a long time. We didn’t get along for a long while. We fought a lot, she’d tell me bad things about my dad and he’d tell me bad things about her and then they’d want me to give each other messages – it was ridiculous. This was all still during the time that I didn’t remember the abuse, so when things got especially bad with my mother, I cracked one night and said I wanted to move up to Ohio and live with him. It was really only because he didn’t micromanage. Or, really, it’s because he didn’t care what I did. I never moved up there with him, but I visited him occasionally. And at the time, he seemed like the preferable parent.
And I’d try to ride, but it became bittersweet, because I’d also remember all of the friends that I no longer had. So it became harder for me to enjoy it. Not to mention, toward the end of when I left my barn and went to another place, my trainer became very passive aggressive with me and was so critical. She’d turned other people against me, talked about me behind my back to other people at the barn, and basically made me a pariah.
There were many times in high school where I thought about killing myself. My life just didn’t make any sense. I couldn’t enjoy anything, I felt like I was just.. wrong. Since I didn’t remember anything at the time, I didn’t know why I felt that way, and so I became more and more convinced that I was just fundamentally messed up and wired wrong to where I couldn’t enjoy normal things. I’d be driving home from school and imagine letting my car drift off the side of the road, and there were several times that I came close to doing that.
I went to college to start the “4 best years of my life,” but I still felt like I was wrong, like I was living life wrong. So I went to the counseling center on campus. I never even realized it, but when they started asking me about feelings, what I felt or how I felt, I realized that I didn’t know. I didn’t feel anything nearly all the time, and when I did, I couldn’t pinpoint what I felt. And then they pointed out my dissociating. I had a really hard time opening up because I just found it so hard to trust anyone or to believe that I was even worth someone spending time hearing me talk about me. I didn’t share everything else that was going on. It was torture to talk. And since it was through the university, the sessions were limited to 10. My therapist at the time pushed me to go into group therapy, which I don’t think I was ready for at the time. I didn’t even understand my thoughts and feelings – I had no clue what to talk about, my life still didn’t make sense. It just didn’t work.
So once the group was done, I started up with my current therapist. And I had started to have these moments of irrational terror, a lot of times when I was looking at a door, or someone would come through one. I had a flashback in the middle of a class, I’d have nightmares. It was only over a lot of time that I came to understand and realize what all of these things meant – the dreams, the feelings or lack thereof, the flashbacks, the fear, all of it.
Everything with my parents stayed the same, pretty much…I’d talk to my father occasionally, he switched jobs, moved different places, would get angry, call me and my mom names, same old same old. But it got harder and harder to tolerate him once I remembered everything.
A couple of years ago, my father had to have a triple heart bypass. The surgery went fine initially, but then in recovery, one of his arteries burst. They opened him up right there, no sterilization, to stem the bleeding. There was no blood going to his heart – it all filled his chest. The doctor had to manually pump his heart to try to get oxygen to his brain. But they estimated that it was about 10 minutes where he didn’t get any blood to his brain. They fixed the artery but he was sleeping and they weren’t sure if he was going to wake up. My mother was down there – this was all in Louisiana, where he now works – and called and told me this. And I felt so horrible. Because when I had found out he needed the surgery, I’d had this thought that I hoped he’d die. And, even though it’s a major surgery, it’s fairly routine. So some irrational part of me felt like I’d done this to him. And my mother was broken up over it. So I felt guilty, because I felt like it was my fault that she was in pain.
Regardless, and I’m normally such a.. forgiving and passive person… but part of me was actually disappointed when he woke up the next day and was completely fine. The doctors called it a miracle. They had no idea how he went so long without oxygen to his brain and came out unscathed, with no motor function issues, his speech was perfectly fine, his memory, everything was fine. And I just kept wondering, what has he done that he deserves to get that kind of miracle when he’s done such horrible things?
I graduated last May and immediately started my current job 10 days later. So, I was finally fully supporting myself. My mother has never made enough money to help support me, so I really had to rely on my father, especially for health insurance. But I couldn’t tolerate placating him any longer. My mother has this convoluted relationship with him right now – she lives 1,000 miles away from him but is a website designer and works exclusively for the resort he manages. So she puts up with his abuse all the time, because he’s now her boss. They’ve been together – or at least in contact – for more than 30 years. And no matter what he’s done to her, she still can’t break loose from him. And she kept encouraging me to just “use” him. She would play it off saying, oh, you can make him the fool by having him give you money. Just placate him, he doesn’t even know you’re using him. And it was almost infuriating how often she’d say that. Because you don’t trick him, you don’t own him. If he’s in your life, he owns you. Because he won’t allow anything other than that. So I couldn’t tolerate it anymore.
This past October, I cut off contact with him. I was terrified doing it, and I knew that I was possibly putting my mother’s job in jeopardy, and I did talk to her about it ahead of time to warn her. But she didn’t expect me to actually do it. I sent him a short email pretty much telling him that I didn’t want to have contact with him anymore. My mother said it was cruel, the way I did it, and maybe it was. But no matter how short or how long my explanation was, the reaction from him wouldn’t change. I did blow up a nuclear bomb – half the family hates me and has forbidden me from coming to any get togethers. My mother’s job was in jeopardy for a long period of time. She’s really only just recently starting to feel a bit more secure. She thought, at the time, that I needed to write him another email and explain all the things he did to me to give him my reasoning. And she doesn’t know about the sexual abuse, but she does know about the verbal and emotional abuse. And I didn’t want to do that. He should know what he did. He has always been able to “conveniently” forget things that maybe he was at fault for, but I don’t feel like I should have to remind him. He can remember if he wants to. He can face his mistakes if he wants to. But he won’t.
My mother practically begged me to give him more information, for the sake of her job. So I did end up sending him another email. I didn’t explain anything, though. I just explained that it was immature and childish of him to be angry with my mother for a decision that I came to entirely on my own and that if he hopes to repair anything with me, any chances of that will be thrown down the drain if he blames her and fires her. Of course, it didn’t work. And in the end, he said that he didn’t want to hear from me if I didn’t want to talk about it with him. Because I wasn’t responding to his email back to me where he insisted he was the perfect father, he gave me everything I could ever want, and so on.
He hasn’t contacted me at all since his initial two emails. He started drinking, though, and I know he’s been horrible to deal with at work, more than usual. Right after this all happened, my mother mentioned just on the fly to me this comment he made to her. He said to her that if he were in her position, he would want to know if he’d molested me. I was kind of shocked to hear that from him…I honestly thought he’d pushed the memories of that so far away for so long that he’d convinced himself that he really didn’t do anything. Of course, my mother wrote it off as “crazy talk” and forgot about it.
It helped to hear that, though. I mean, it wasn’t a clear confession, but given the context of everything, I did take that as him maybe partially acknowledging the damage of what he did. And it helped, because I’ve had trouble believing myself a lot of the time. He has always been very good at making me doubt my own reality. He used to tell me that he knows me better than I know myself. And I used to believe that. So I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the things I’ve remembered. But it does help makes sense of everything for me, especially since I didn’t used to remember much of my childhood at all.
A couple of months ago I received an email from an anonymous email address, sent to my work email, which is public. It had private Facebook messages my mother exchanged with her sister and her friend dating back over 3 years ago, and parts that said something particularly bad about my father were literally highlighted in yellow. I guess it was especially “bad.” About a week later, my father sent a scathing email to my mother about her trashing him on Facebook. She had no idea what he was talking about but he responded and told her to entertain herself with the attached file, which had everything that had been sent to me. It turns out, it was my father who not only dug through her Facebook but who also sent me the anonymous email. He’s become entirely paranoid.
The other day I was speaking with my mother and I was sharing with her that I’m having some money problems lately – and she actually suggested going back to him and apologizing. And anger is an issue for me..I normally don’t get angry – but I got angry with her. I couldn’t believe she was suggesting that to me. I used to not share much with her about things he’d say to me, because I didn’t want her to feel guilty or bad for me, but since I cut off contact with him, I did open up to her once about some of the things he’d say. So it angered me that she suggested I put myself back in that position. I don’t understand how she can actually suggest that. I guess it’s because she’s put up with it for so long, she hasn’t ever realized how hurtful and demeaning it is.
I suppose my mother and I will never completely be on the same page with everything unless I tell her the full extent of what my father did, which I am not prepared to do. She has already told me that she feels guilty for not giving me a better father. I don’t want to make her feel more guilty than she already does. So, at this point, I don’t see much changing with her unless she chooses to finally break off from my father’s hold, which I can’t see happening. I’ve decided that I can’t help her more than I already have. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I can’t push her to change if she’s not ready to or can’t even see why.
That’s my story so far, in all its insanity.