Most child sexual abuse survivors experience a great deal of fear on a daily basis. They have lived that way for many years and don’t always link it with their abuse. What is not acknowledged enough is the courage that keeps them going. One of the things I did in recovery was to list all of the times courage surfaced in my life. They may not have seemed important at the time but proved enormously helpful. Even the smallest of experiences, for instance, the first time you got behind the wheel of a car and began driving, the first time you dove from a high dive or the first time you excelled at a sport. They all required a measure of courage. You need to validate yourself for that.
One of the most courageous acts I have ever done was to run away from home. At the time I didn’t think about how much courage that took or the enormous amount of fear that propelled me into running away at the age of 18. In addition to the extreme stress of being terrified of my father and his nighttime raids, I was told that now that I had graduated from high school I would need to start helping out the family by getting a job. No, I could not go to college. They chose my job, they chose how I would get there, and they took 75% of my paycheck. I was not allowed to spend my 25% on anything other than what they approved. No, I could not have any friends, no I could not wear makeup. In addition, they chose what kind of music I could listen to and what kind of books I could read. On weekends I would work for neighbors, washing clothes, cleaning, or any other chores they had and they would pocket the money earned from that. The list went on and on causing me to feel like I lived in prison. The following is an excerpt from my memoir I Never Heard A Robin Sing.
“One Saturday afternoon, I calmly told my parents that if they didn’t stop being so unfair I was going to lose all the love and respect I had for them.
The color drained from Mom’s face. With clenched teeth, she said, “No one talks to your father that way. Bernard, get the belt.” Gretchen, sitting nearby, a sullen look on her face, muttered, “They don’t care what happens to us.” Mom’s hand exploded across her cheek.
Time froze for just an instant as a flashback burst in front of my eyes; a picture of a long hallway with a lighted room at the end and an inexplicable horror waiting for me as I clung to a wall, my knees knocking. The scene darted out of my mind. My throat went dry.
I cringed with terror as Dad returned with a large leather belt. As the blows began, I put my hand over my face to protect it. He lashed out repeatedly, at my thin legs and arms, anywhere my flesh was exposed. The pain was excruciating and all I could hear was Mom saying in a cold, methodical voice, over and over, “Hit her again, hit her again!” I screamed for help, sobbing hysterically.
As I fell to the floor from the blows, my brother came rushing into the room. Dad’s arm reached back to take aim again. Scott hollered, “Stop it Dad, you’ll kill her,” as he tried to grab the belt. Dad doubled his fist in rage and slugged him against the wall. Scott crumpled unconscious to the floor and Dad turned back to me to continue his blows. I blacked out. When I came to, welts and lacerations covered my body, my face was swollen, my mouth tasted of blood. My siblings had slunk away and Mom and Dad’s low voices droned from their bedroom.
I crawled into the bedroom and lay in my Marine Corps bunk for a long time feeling the metal springs push through the thin mattress and dig painfully into my legs. I gnawed my lower lip as tears dripped from my eyes. The house was deathly still. Even our dog Rusty had hidden from the storm. I heard the low hum of an electric clock. It made me think of time. I pictured it ticking away year after year while I stayed a prisoner.
The pain of my body was nothing. The pain in my heart suffocated me. The rage of the past few days no longer consumed me. In its place was a cold despair that swept through my soul.
I knew now what I had to do.”
A week later I ran away from home.
My fear gave birth to my courage. Follow your fears and see where they take you using your courage as an impetus.
(If you want to read any more of my memoir it is currently available in Kindle on amazon.com – see Marjorie McKinnon. It will be available in paperback before the end of the year.)