I wish I could say you were the only one, but monsters have cohorts. Monsters also have a powerful ability to create mutant deviations of themselves—so the malignity multiplies.
I was a little girl. I believed in Miss America, the Brady Bunch, and thought the police were nice men who had bubble gum machines on top of their cars. I remember skipping, singing, and emptying the kitchen cupboards so I could pretend I was the checkout lady at the grocery. I remember being carefree and happy.
There is a certain type of joy that never returns when you experience unspeakable terror. That day is as clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. I instinctively knew something was wrong. I tried to run out the back door, but you quickly grabbed me, picked me up and started to carry me to my bedroom. I was screaming and kicking. I remember holding onto the edge of the wall in the living room and you prying my little fingers off. I didn’t have any idea what was about to happen, but the sick knot in the pit of my stomach was compelling me to scream and fight, and I fought as valiantly as my little body could.
I remember the rage in your eyes as you threw me onto the bed and began ripping off my clothes. I was wearing my brown, rubber winter boots and tried to kick you in the face as you were tearing them off of me. I was confused, terrified, and screaming for Mom. I’ll never forget the feeling of hopelessness that entered my soul when you slapped your hand over my tiny mouth and viciously said, “Stop screaming. Mom is in Troy. She can’t help you. No one can hear you.” My heart was pounding as tear after tear streamed down my shocked and horrified face. On that day, my existence was forever altered.
It was the beginning of a nightmare I could not escape.
My innocence was stolen, ripped from me with rage and violence, and your handprint would forever be on that trauma. You savagely threatened that if I told anyone, you would drown me, kill my dog, or beat me with a belt. You stared straight into my terrified eyes and promised that if I told anyone, the rape would be more vicious the next time. Then, as you were walking out of my room, you stated very casually that you would be coming into the bathroom that night when I got my bath and doing this to me again.
I sat there on my small twin bed in shock. As I was putting my clothes back on, I stared at the brand-new Days-Of-The-Week panties I had been wearing. I had been so excited when Mom finally bought me a set. I sobbed when I discovered that during the struggle, the Wednesday applique was partially torn off and now barely hung onto the silk. I tried to push it back on, but it wouldn’t stay. I focused on that torn applique for what seemed like hours. I promised myself that I would never wear Wednesday again.
Certainly, it was Wednesday’s fault and not wearing Wednesday could possibly prevent this atrocity from ever reoccurring. That’s actually a trauma response known as “Identification with the Aggressor.” As a victim, if I can find something that I feel was my fault in causing the abuse—something that I can alter or try to control—then I can have hope that it won’t happen again. If I blamed you for the abuse, if I focused on the reality of the situation and accepted the fact that I was powerless, my little mind had no hope to cling to that the abuse would ever stop. So instead of blaming you, I absorbed all of the blame myself.
Regardless of what defense mechanisms I employed to survive, I was wrong. It wasn’t Wednesday’s fault, it was your fault, and nothing I could ever do would stop you from victimizing me repeatedly for the next several years. Without warning, I was thrown into a battle I never wanted to be in and lived suffering through a fight I could never win.
I was a little girl. All of my dreams and beliefs were crushed and I began acquiring survival skills to assist me in surviving atrocities a child should never have to endure. If I lied at school and said I was sick, Mom would have to come get me and she always took me back to work with her. This priceless trick meant I didn’t have to be home alone with you after school. I mastered the art of keeping water in my mouth from the drinking fountain and going back into class, running to the trash can and pretending to vomit. The sound of the sickening splash hitting the empty metal trash can always resulted in my being sent quickly to the office to go home.
I don’t think a bath ever happened that I didn’t fearfully watch the doorknob, praying that it would not turn. If you somehow missed my bath time, I would lay in bed, eyes fixed on “that” doorknob, knowing the unthinkable was imminent. You taught me to be terrified. You taught me that people who love you, hurt you—They destroy you and then you wake up in the morning and have breakfast with them. You taught me that you can’t trust anyone and you taught me to keep secrets and lie. You taught me I was worthless, my voice didn’t matter, and I was powerless.
I lived decades of my life believing those lies. I had no idea what healthy love looked like, how to be part of a healthy relationship or friendship, and I expected betrayal from everyone I knew. I trusted no one because as my brain was developing, I was taught that love equals pain. The one thing I knew for sure was I was not safe and no one could protect me. The effect that trauma has on the brain of a child is powerful and irrefutable. Throughout my adult life, I struggled with addiction after addiction as I tried desperately to escape the pain that controlled my very existence. I had a Master’s degree in Counseling and I remained oblivious to the fact that what happened in my childhood was controlling every single thing I did.
Then you had the audacity to die. You died before I was able to heal. You were diagnosed with stage four cancer and I was the one who had to take care of you. As I sat there watching you suffer, I had compassion for you. I prayed for you. I asked God to please not let you suffer any longer. I find it strangely odd that I was the only one you trusted to take care of you. You would say, “Where’s Kelley? I want my sister.” I tried to treat you with kindness and grace—the way I would want to be treated.
You kept telling me that “dark beings” would come to you at night and tell you to follow them and that they scared you because you didn’t know where they were taking you. I repeatedly requested the Hospice chaplain to visit you, because I knew you were terrified. After a week of daily visits, he said that you and God had a lot of things to work out, but that you had accomplished it and were finally saved. That gave me a strange peace, because as much as I had hated you, I still realized that you were a victim once too…someone had stolen your innocence as well, and that fact always bothered me.
Three years after you died, my self-destruction finally brought me to my knees. My entire world crashed and I went into treatment. It was then, that I finally disclosed the secret that had controlled me for the entirety of my existence. I learned that time doesn’t heal anything and unhealed trauma will sit in the control room of your soul, quietly dictating most of your life’s calamities.
I learned that I had to <em>unlearn</em> all of my unhealthy defense mechanisms and coping skills and replace them with appropriate ones. I had to slowly begin to trust people, allowing myself to develop a healthy vulnerability. I had to accept the fact that people might hurt me, reject me, and disappoint me, but even if they did, I could survive that. Throughout that process, I lost almost everyone I loved, but I eventually realized that I couldn’t be who I was meant to become with those people still in my life.
The person they knew was not genuine or living in the truth. She didn’t know who she was and she developed her life patterns and behaviors based on a distorted world view that was the result of unhealed trauma. As I slowly began to heal and transform who I was, it was a very difficult task to be close to me—it was as if I was a chameleon—constantly changing and working through a myriad of emotions. Healing isn’t linear and there were days even I didn’t know who I was or how I felt, but I was always deeply aware of what you had done to me.
The trauma you inflicted didn’t leave when you moved out of the house. It didn’t leave when I moved out of the house. It also didn’t leave when you died. The nightmares and flashbacks continued. As a little girl I hated you, and yet I was told to love you. I feared you and yet you were supposedly my protector. I used to watch movies where brothers and sisters were close and I would cry because that is a bond I will never know.
As I stated previously, what I know in my soul is that someone hurt you too. I don’t know who it was, but I know that one monster created another monster, and as a result, darkness invaded my world. Someone hurting you didn’t give you the right to hurt me, but I comprehend that the generational abuse began long before we were created. The evil that infiltrated your life was cast upon many other people. I am here to say today that it wounded me, but it did not destroy me. I’m still standing.
I want to make sure that message is loud and clear: I’m still standing.
Evil may have won many battles in my life, but the war is far from over. You see while it’s true that trauma has no expiration date, neither does hope. The deep trauma that I had to decipher, cast me into a seemingly endless black hole, but the light of hope would eventually shine through, eviscerating all of the darkness. I’m no longer a scared, nine-year-old little girl and my tag-team partner, just happens to be the most powerful force in the universe. Demons run at the sound of His name and make no mistake about it; He fears no monster.
My time in the darkness is over.
I have made many mistakes throughout my life, but I have taken responsibility for them and I am proud of who I have become. I faced my trauma head-on and for once, I didn’t back down. I didn’t try to clean it up or make it look pretty or present some version that was a little more acceptable. I sat in the ugliness of it all and I sorted it out. It took years, but I grieved the childhood I never had and I finally let the little girl whose cries were never heard, rest. I let her know she didn’t need to be in charge anymore because I had finally healed, matured, and I could handle life without her assistance.
In the middle of that darkness I discovered that God had never left me and that if I surrendered it all to Him, He would put me back together in such a way that I would become the very best version of myself that has ever existed. Because I am so thankful for the gift of forgiveness that I have been given, I am able to forgive you and all of my other monsters as well. My heart is full of love and it’s a beautiful, healthy love, not a manipulative, trying-to-survive-and-outthink-the-next-person-kind-of-love. I don’t have to buy friends or attempt to be someone I’m not—because I am enough—precisely as I am. Raggedy, old, scarred-up-Kelley…I am enough.
I refuse to exist one more day in the shadows of shame that engulfed me for so many years. Holding onto hope and believing that I am who God says I am—not who people say I am—cast a beacon of light that allowed me to navigate my way out of the darkness. I don’t want to simply be a recipient of that light; I want to be a conveyor of it as well. When you turn on that beautiful light, the monsters lose their power.
May you rest in peace.