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  • Writer's pictureBritt

Daughter of a Child Sexual Abuse Survivor

I cover a couple of different topics on this blog which I suppose isn't normal since blogs tend to stick to one topic and build on that. However, I am passionate about these topics and want to use my experiences, schooling, and thoughts to help spread understanding. One of these topics that I haven't spoken to yet is sexual abuse—although this topic could fit very well under the mental health discussion since it has so many effects on the survivor.

Before I get into all the information and blog posts I have planned for this serious and devastating topic, I want to talk about my experience as a daughter of a child sexual abuse survivor (CSA). I have seen how the abuse has affected my mom and how that affected all of us in her family. So without further ado, here is my mother's and my family's story when she told us what happened after twenty-five long years of suffering in silence.



Shadow of a flower in the sunlight


I was fifteen when my mom left for the first time. Fifteen when I had to leave my childhood behind and help my dad take care of my younger siblings. There was help, of course. Aunts and Uncles would grocery shop for us and take turns watching my four-year-old sister while the rest of us were at school.

As soon as we were dropped off at our humble two-story home in our little country town, it was time to drop the mask I wore at school and around my relatives. It was time to transform myself from a regular freshman girl to a parent.

It wasn’t her fault. I would never blame her. She needed help.

Growing up, I always felt like my mom treated me differently than my brothers. She loved them, joked with and teased them. She loved me too, I knew that, but we were never as inseparable as other mothers and daughters seemed to be and I became more of a daddy’s girl. I found out later it was because she didn’t know how to treat me, especially as I grew closer to the age when she was assaulted. She felt dirty and wrong every time we hugged.

I felt stifled and annoyed when she would tell me to be careful and to watch my siblings every time we’d leave the house. I knew to do both of these things. I had been hearing the same warning for years now. It was so burned into my mind that I didn’t trust any stranger I saw when my siblings and I rode bikes around town or played at the school playground near our house. I felt uneasy around them and made sure to keep them and my siblings in my eyesight at all times.

I didn’t understand yet. I didn’t understand why she warned us so much until later.

***

It was a chilly day. Winter was finally losing its grip and spring was approaching fast; it was March 2015 on a Saturday afternoon when my dad came up to me and said that he had to go find Mom. She had taken off on one of her long drives again. Nothing new. She had been doing this for a while now. He took me aside and told me that Mom was struggling with spiritual and mental issues and that her mind was telling her bad things like harming herself.

“Text me if Mom comes home, alright? You’re in charge.” He told me. His shoulders slumped and his face drawn, none of his usual humor shining in his eyes now. That was one indication of how serious this was. “I’m not sure she’s going to, though.” 

Chills ran across my body. I shake whenever I get angry, scared, or am filled with adrenaline. This time I was shaking from fear and uncertainty. Dad didn’t know where Mom was, and he didn’t know what she was thinking. Later on, we learned that she was at the channel at the beach and honestly, that scared me even more than not knowing. There is only one thing a person thinks when someone they love is suffering from thoughts of harming themselves and they go somewhere with a pier and deep water, all alone.

Dad found her eventually and while they went to our minister for a discussion, my mom’s younger brother came to our house with pizza. We sat at the dinner table as half a family, missing the two people who kept us together. It was quiet as we ate, each lost in our thoughts. The room seemed dimmer than normal, and it was weird for it to be so quiet. Talk and laughter usually filled the air when we sat down to eat as a family. The pizza didn’t taste as good as it normally did—it seemed limp, deflated, maybe because that was how we all felt, uncertainty filling our bones. Our uncle had no words for us and my brothers kept asking me what was happening. They only got angry when I said I didn’t know and that Dad would explain everything when he got home. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them what Dad told me. They were too young.

That day, without a word or a goodbye, my mom was registered into Pine Rest against her will. She would need to stay there until her counselors said she could go home. Dad was allowed to visit, as was our minister and Mom’s older sister. But we weren’t. We couldn’t see her, which hurt, but we could send letters and candy to her with Dad.

It wasn’t her fault. No one knew the horrible secret Mom was carrying with her at this point.

***

Life seemed exceptionally busy without Mom around. I never realized how much she did for us until then. Neverending dishes needed to be done, dirty laundry piled in the hamper, overflowing and overwhelming. Lunch pails were sitting empty and waiting on the counter every afternoon for me to fill them with food for my siblings and my father. I worked on getting my two youngest siblings to eat their supper and then do their homework, making sure that they had taken their showers, helping my little sister with hers, and then sending them off to bed. Every morning we would start all over again.

I sat on my four-year-old sister’s bed as she said her prayers, and then I hugged her goodnight, whispering to her that Mom loves her and will be coming home soon. I comforted my emotional seven-year-old brother whenever he cried about missing Mom. My thirteen-year-old brother was angry much of the time, and I could tell he was hurting too; I just didn’t know how to comfort him. He needed his mom, not his older sister. Dad and I were in charge. I felt like a parent to my siblings. Dad was so overwhelmed that I needed to keep reminding him about appointments, practices, and everything else.

I couldn’t allow myself to get distracted by my or others' emotions. This was a hard task when I could constantly feel how much this was affecting my siblings, my father, our relatives, and myself. Putting up masks became a way to protect myself from showing others what I truly felt and that way my own emotions didn’t affect them. I used a mask of strength and assurance that everything would be okay. I portrayed emotions that I didn’t feel: happiness, strength, courage, a love of God, etc, so that I could keep my true emotions and thoughts to myself and save others from worrying. The only time I ever let my masks drop and my emotions and thoughts overwhelm me was under the cover of night. It became easy to hide my emotions and now it’s difficult to open myself up to anyone.


Our church helped with groceries, gift cards, and meals. The freezer in our basement and our fridge in the kitchen overflowed with meals and goodies, even more than we could keep up with. So many people wanted to help but didn’t know how, meals and kind words ended up being the easiest thing to do. Our aunts took on a lot to help us as well. I felt like such a burden. Sometimes, I felt like a ball being tossed to and fro between aunts. There was so much to do and so many people coming and going, it was hard to get any private time. I started to wish for people to just leave us alone.

Then, one Monday, all of a sudden, after being gone a little over two weeks, Mom came home. I walked in after getting home from school and there she was standing in the light purple kitchen. I was ecstatic and nervous, relieved but tense. I was used to being the parent and wasn’t sure how to hand the reins back to her. I also didn’t know for sure if she could handle the reins again and I was worried about my family and I getting hurt.

The first day, she acted normal but it got worse every day after that. She was quiet. She rarely smiled or laughed. She was tired all the time, sleeping all day or just staying in her room. She was barely responsive, almost like she was simply going through the motions of living. Most of the time, I still felt like I was the mom. I would have to answer for her or prompt her to say something. It made me angry.

She is supposed to be better. Why won’t she say anything!? Mom, speak! Thoughts crowded my mind, though I never uttered them out loud. A bigger, scarier thought entered my head and wouldn’t leave: she isn’t better yet, she should go back to Pine Rest, she’s still in danger.

I felt bad for thinking that. However, I knew that my dad probably thought the same. He had been staying up all night to watch her and then going to work in the morning, dead tired. Finally, I spoke up and told my aunt. My grandma and aunts started taking turns sitting on the couch in our living room, listening and watching for any danger. In my own way, I helped as well. I kept watch and I checked her room every once in a while. Once, I removed a razor blade. It didn’t seem to help much. I still saw evidence of self-harm.

Mom and Dad argued, cried, and hugged a lot. It hurt to see them like that. One time they were fighting so loud in their room that we could all hear them. My brother began tearing up as he attempted to do homework at the dinner table right outside their room, so I took my siblings upstairs, and we all just sat near each other in the hallway between my brother’s room and mine, waiting for them to be done. Afterward, I told Dad what happened. I think that was the last straw. They met with my mom’s side of the family, and Dad took his guns to my uncle for safekeeping.

The next day, April 21, 2015, we waited for my mom to pick us up after school, but my aunt showed up in her silver mini-van instead, and I had a strong suspicion that mom had gone back. I was just waiting for a call from Dad that would confirm it. After waiting a few hours at her house, trying desperately to distract myself with homework, I finally texted my dad. He called me almost immediately.

“I’m going to be late in picking you guys up. I need to talk with Mom. I think she needs to go back in,” he said, and I choked out a simple, “Ok, I love you both” and hung up. My aunt stayed in the kitchen listening in but giving me space. I had turned during the call towards the window in her living room, and I broke down sobbing.

My aunt quickly ushered me into her bedroom so I could cry without my siblings having to witness it. I couldn’t let them see me like that. I needed to be strong for them. I was desperate for the strong, assured mask I had created to wear in front of my siblings to stay up. I shouldn’t be reacting like this anyway, it was Mom who was struggling and who was in pain, not me.

I stayed in her room while the TV played something I can’t remember until I felt calm enough to leave. Dad must have explained things to our aunt because the next thing I knew we were heading out to eat with her and our cousins. After having supper at the Main Street Pub she took us home and the two youngest went to sleep. My oldest younger brother and I talked with Dad once he got home, and he told us something bad had happened a long time ago. Mom had kept it hidden this whole time, and that is why all of this was happening.

The truth is that I was both angry and relieved that she had gone back. I had expected it, and I knew she needed the help, but I was angry that I had to be a parent again, I was angry with God for doing this to her.

School was rough during this time. I didn’t want to be there, and I had a hard time focusing on the lectures and the homework. Ironically, in one of my classes, the teacher had a wall with details about depression, anxiety, and mental illness. At that time, the board made me angry, though I read it over and over. It was as if I thought no one truly understood what was on that board if they weren't going through it, and putting it up didn't help anybody. I even had a hard time focusing on my friends when they were talking. I would zone out and stare off into space or doodle on the pages.

A couple of days after Mom went back into Pine Rest for the second time,  I had built up enough courage to ask Dad if Mom had been raped. That was the only thing I could think of. He sat me down in the basement so the kids wouldn't overhear. We sat on the pull-out bed—we kids kept it out so we could lay on it when we watched movies—half facing each other and half facing the tan cement block wall. “Not raped”, he said. “Not exactly anyway.” He explained, as gently as he could—though there is no "gentle" about this topic, that her junior high coach assaulted her. A female. Someone that she trusted. That her parents trusted. See, it was a private Christian school and everybody knew everybody. The abuser continued this for two years.

Mom hid this truth inside of herself, eating away at her, for 25 years.

This was when Mom told Dad that she felt wrong, guilty, and dirty whenever she hugged me because I was around the same age as when she was groomed and abused. I felt guilty then and for a while afterward, as if Mom being in Pine Rest and suffering from depression and other issues was somehow my fault.

I was shaking the entire time Dad explained the truth to me, gripping so tightly to the thin blue mattress we were sitting on that my knuckles grew white. My adrenaline was flowing, and I was filled with such intense anger and hate for the abuser—and then pain and sadness for my mom and the little girl who was destroyed. I was afraid those would be the only emotions I would be left to feel.

School got worse for me. It was even harder than before to stay focused. I felt like people were staring at me all the time. Half the time I wanted to cry or go to sleep and shut out this world and the problems in it—my imagination was where I wished I could stay. The other half of the time, I was so angry I wanted to punch and throw things. I didn’t, at least not around other people.

I stopped caring about how I did in school. What were grades anyway on the scale of importance in life when something like this was happening? I botched a presentation for one of my classes and almost ran out of the room crying, the students and the teacher staring at me, waiting expectantly for me to continue. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath, and I forgot everything that I was supposed to present. Luckily, the teacher let me step outside for a moment to take a drink and catch my breath.


We were allowed to visit her this time. It made me nervous every time Dad and us kids would fill the car and head over there. Outside of the building, things seemed harmless enough, but once you stepped inside it was like a prison. There were so many rules to follow, and we had to leave certain things inside a locker, like our phones or anything that could be used as a weapon such as strings in hoodies, pencils, sharp objects, etc. Basically, anything we weren’t wearing we would have to put in a locker before we could see her. Any packages had to be searched before we could give them to her and any open candy bags were not allowed. The two youngest thought it was fun to visit. They just thought that Mom was at the "headache hospital". (I’m not even sure what they know now). The time when we could visit was limited. Both sadness and, to my shame, relief filled me when it came time to leave. It was stifling in there.


Mom came home again sometime in May. She seemed better, but not completely better. She was still meeting with our minister and other counselors. We went through the summer as a mostly functioning family. Although, there was one instance I can remember vividly even after so many years have passed. We were going to go shopping with my aunt and cousin. We were waiting in the mudroom for her when she came out in a short-sleeved shirt. I chuckled and asked if she had run into a door when I saw the scratches on her arm—it turned awkward fast. She didn’t know how to answer me and almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized I had just laughed at her self-harm scratches. I felt awful, completely horrible, and I still feel horrible to this day even though I don’t know if she remembers. Instead of having a normal, fun day out shopping with my mom, I felt dreadful the rest of the day, despising myself for being so stupid. If I could change anything, it would be that I be more aware and stop myself from just saying things without thinking.


And then fall came.


In September, my friends and I were going to hang out right after school. Since my phone was off for a while during school, I checked it once we reached my friends' house while the other girls were getting ready. My stomach dropped. I had a lot of missed calls and texts from Dad saying to call him right after school.

Immediately, I guessed what was happening and I quickly dialed his number. Mom was back in Pine Rest...again. I struggled to choke down my tears so that I could continue to hide behind the happy, naive mask I kept up, but when one of my friends noticed and asked what was wrong, they wouldn’t be denied any longer. My friends comforted me as I cried and explained what was going on. I couldn't have asked for better friends than the ones God gave me.

Over the phone, Dad had said I should still go to Artprize and enjoy myself, and so I went, but I felt guilty the entire time. I should be at home with Dad and my siblings to comfort them or at least just to be there and help him with them, I thought. I don’t deserve to be out having fun and being happy even for a short time when the rest of my family is not. 

Mom came back home after a few days. It was good to see her. I always missed her. But I still felt awkward around her. I was worried I might say or do something wrong, especially if she already felt wrong around me.


Dad and Mom decided to meet with the abuser at the end of March 2016. They were working with our church's consistory as well as her church's consistory to get the abuser to confess and ask for forgiveness; however, it didn’t go so well, and the Monday after that Mom went back to Pine Rest for a few days for the last time.

Grandma picked us up after school that Monday, and I knew instantly that Mom was gone again. It didn’t surprise me. Grandma and all three kids started crying. I was dry-eyed, silent, and staring out the window through the entire ten-minute ride home. There was nothing left in me except anger. I helped comfort the kids, and when we got home, I helped them take care of their stuff and do their homework.

Sometimes I feel so alone. Like no one understands me. There’ve been many times where I fake a smile or a laugh. I’m exhausted and I don’t feel any more awake when I wake up. I’m just drained. 

These are some examples of things that I wrote in my diary during this time. I was going through a tough time, but it felt horrible to ask someone what was happening to me or to complain or be anything but strong and positive. It was Mom who had it much worse, and I thought I shouldn’t be feeling like this or thinking the things that I did.

I have generalized and social anxiety. Of course, I didn’t know that until a few years ago when I finally went to a therapist, who also told me that what I went through was trauma for me. I thought I didn’t have a right to feel and think the way I was. My life wasn’t that bad, right? And it definitely wasn’t anything like Mom’s experience. But trauma is trauma no matter how small or insignificant it may seem when compared to others, or so my therapist has said, though not quite in so many words.

It was very apparent that the abusers’ church leaders didn’t understand abuse and they didn’t seem to want to learn from my parents and our minister. They didn’t treat my parents respectfully. They never told their congregation what the abuser did so no one is protected from her. The elders at our church didn’t seem to understand what should be done either and kept telling my mom it was time to move on and get past it even though they knew the abusers’ church members weren’t being given the information they needed to keep their children safe.

Even now, nine years later, she is trying to make the churches more aware of sexual abuse and how to correctly deal with it, to try and prevent it, and yet some leaders don’t want to hear her and they think she is unforgiving. They don’t understand how much the Protestant Reformed Church (PRC) needs to learn. It seems as though many of the ministers and elders are stuck in their ways and refuse to learn. If they say something’s right then it must be right even when the victims of sexual abuse are further hurt by what they are saying and doing. 

The PRC is known for sweeping things they don’t want to deal with or don’t know how to deal with under the rug and saying if it’s out of sight it's out of mind. I saw this clearly during my college years. The PRC has gotten a bad rep because they have done this. They wonder why people don’t come forward for so long or why abusers get away with abuse for years and years—it’s partly because of how we deal with it. Would you want to come forward with your trauma only to be pushed aside as they say, “No, it’s not true; can’t be, they’re such a good person. You would have come forward a long time ago if it were true,” etc. If we don’t begin to change the way we handle cases of sexual abuse, the victims will continue to stay silent or they will leave the PRC in despair.

I don’t write my story as the daughter of a child sexual abuse survivor (CSA) to invite pity. I don’t want it, and neither does she. Writing this story feels too much like bearing my soul and I’d rather stay quiet. Hidden. But I knew I had to share if not just to get it off my chest, then to spread awareness of what lasting effects abuse and mental struggles have on a person and their family. My mom is using her story to spread awareness about sexual abuse; I decided to join her. And for those of you who are just beginning to walk through the disclosure of the sexual abuse of you or your loved one, know that it gets better. God graciously brings healing even if it seems slow to us. Rely on God’s strength for yourself and the survivor, but know that it’s okay to cry. It is overwhelming and scary and you might feel anger that you’ve never known before, but God will show you how to forgive. Whatever you do, don’t give up on the survivor, and don’t give up on God like I did for a while—it just makes everything a whole lot harder.


This is our story. Sadly, many out there have gone through some of the same abuse and the same troubles when they came forward. There are even more out there who haven't come forward yet and are silently struggling with what happened to them. Know that there are people out there who will listen, that will believe you, and walk through your pain and sorrow with you. You are not alone and you do not have to be alone when and if you disclose.


I will be posting more on the topic of sexual abuse, so keep your eyes peeled for a new post. My goal is to spread information and create an understanding of survivors. I also want to spread hope and love for those who have been abused and their family members walking alongside them.

Comment or message me with any questions or thoughts!


For the suicide and crisis lifeline, dial 988.


— Live well and laugh often, Ravens. Signing off for now, Hyperactive Raven <3

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