The following letter was written when I was in my 20’s, a couple of decades ago. It is titled “To My Mother” and it is signed “An incest Survivor.” That is noteworthy because it shows that I understood my feelings to be greater than just my own experience. I was not alone when I signed that letter with the backing of many women just like me. We are united in our painful childhood legacy. I was lost and suicidal until I released the shame.
Here is the letter, unedited…
TO MY MOTHER
I’ve begun struggling with the whole experience of incest in my childhood. I feel pretty screwed up in my adult life because of it and I want to tell you about it.
I have many negative effects from not being protected from childhood sexual abuse as a child. The biggest is I’ve grown up feeling worthless and alone. Deep inside I feel no one really loves me. As an adult, there are times when I feel isolated and lonely.
I contribute my lack of feeling support to the silence and secrecy surrounding what my brother was doing to me when I was younger. I quickly noticed you were hiding it so I learned to hide it. As a child, I learned the incest was too horrible for words and transferred that to “I’m too horrible.” I had to grow up so I learned to separate the rest of my life from the bad thing that was happening at night. But, inside myself, I knew that bad part was really me; I was the scared, abused child. Basically, I felt alone with no one to help me. I was taught, consciously or not, there is no one I can trust and, from that, I’ve learned shame, secrecy and silence.
As long as I can remember I’ve felt different. I’ve been carrying a big secret around. The incest has been the defining experience of my life and yet, I’ve believed that if anyone knew they wouldn’t like me. Since I don’t share the horror of childhood sexual abuse—I don’t share myself and, consequently I don’t trust anyone or make healthy emotional attachments. It’s not right that I carry such shame and blame. It was not my fault.
What I want from you is to accept the blame. I was a child and shouldn’t have blamed myself yet that’s what I’ve learned.
Right now, I believe you and my brother should accept full responsibility. Whether you choose to work on that part of you that allowed the abuse to continue is your choice. And whether my brother decides to examine the part that allowed him to cross the boundary of acceptable behavior is his choice, too. But, I know the behaviors that were yours and my brothers allowed the abuse to happen and continue as long as it did. It was not my fault and I will no longer carry the secret or the blame.
An Incest Survivor
Fast forward 20+ years. I’ve done a lot of psychological work to get where I am today, where I don’t carry shame but I do have the legacy of depression that follows me wherever I go. It is the after effects of childhood sexual abuse that I’m working on now…