I started this blog a couple of months ago, writing about my giant leap forward in trying to manage my depression without self-medicating. I drink enough wine that it’s added calories and girth to my size, which in turn has put stress on my heart and arteries ultimately causing high blood pressure. Not to go too far with this issue, but I believe the sugars in the wine also wreak havoc on my blood sugars, causing a fluctuation to a point that some days, I felt hypoglycemic and I needed carbs to stop my jitters and brain fuzz – all caused from the crash after an evening of indulging in too many glasses of Pinot Grigio.
Ultimately, my drinking is a way to run away from my own self-defeating thoughts. I learned to belittle myself as a child and the pattern continues into adulthood. At least, I think shame may be the problem. It may not be but as a sexual abuse victim (at the hands of my older brother), I grew up feeling shame and learned to blame myself. Yeah, we’ve all heard that story, that the victim blames themselves. I want to dig into the idea of my shame on a personal level. What was the shame? How is it different from just sadness or guilt? This is my story.
The incestual abuse occurred at night, over a couple of years, to the best of my recollection. I was perhaps 9 to 10 years old. I pretended it didn’t happen, keeping up a façade to the outside world. As soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning, I switched off the hurt part that I suffered in my own family; I got dressed, had breakfast and went off to school, acting like nothing happened. Here begins the shame.
At 9 years old, I learned the secret was ugly and if I told anyone, I would feel completely ashamed of myself for being in a situation where such an unmentionable act could occur. Wouldn’t my friends ask “why do you let him climb on top of you?” Wouldn’t the outside world think my family was screwed up? Not to mention my mom and her distorted view. I’m working on the issue involving my mom with my therapist so I can’t explain exactly how she plays into my shame but Linda said she sounds like Mrs. Cleaver (who is a TV icon from the 60’s, who portrayed the perfect mom). How would a mom who perceived herself and her children as ideal react to the revelation that her only daughter was being sexually abused by her oldest son? Truthfully, she was not capable of believing such a thing and that is surely one reason I didn’t tell her when it was occurring.
My mom had me believing her high values and vision of a perfect life were true. I assumed I must be luckier than most. My mother’s high moral compass, at least in words and intellect, had me thinking life was ideal in my family. The shame grew out of a sense that the nighttime abuse, which was happening to me, was not aligned with my mother’s ideal view. I was doing something wrong and I was guilty of allowing it to happen. I learned to keep up appearances and hide the truth. Unconsciously I believed that my brother’s narcissistic behavior on my prepubescent body was something I should feel guilty for.
Life became sad for me as a 10-year-old. I stopped smiling but I did what I had to in order to keep up the facade for my mother. I recall people telling me to smile and, if I laughed, relatives and friends of my mom would say “you have a beautiful smile.” I look back now and realize that must be because I didn’t freely smile or laugh. At the time, I thought they liked my teeth or something but I was probably shut down and their comments were an attempt to keep me smiling.
The reason I couldn’t readily smile was due to shame that a piece of my childhood was not as my mom would like. She would never approve. She wouldn’t understand. Her life appeared perfect so the imperfection became mine. I felt extreme shame that I wasn’t what she portrayed to the outside world.
If you are still reading, I thank you because this is where the story gets good. I must let this shame go. I have told the following story once to my therapist (back in the 80’s) who helped me through the aftereffects of childhood sexual abuse. It took months and it wasn’t easy. I almost feel like an abuser myself for what I did. I must forgive myself and let go – move on.
My brother, the perpetrator, taught me that boys like girl’s bodies, and before I was maturationally ready I began to tease and “toy” with boys. I felt like I knew their secret wishes and desires (in a twisted and unhealthy way). This memory is dark and evokes anxiety and fear in me. Although it was me instigating and participating in the events, I feel such shame because I can’t believe the person that writes these words would be so aggressive. When I was around 12 years old I began to do things that were not something a girl would naturally do in her sexual development. Thank God, the boys were genuinely good and didn’t take advantage of my naiveté.
Where I grew up, the neighborhood was a big playground. Friends and their siblings all hung out together on the street, down by the river and at the local candy store. My best friend, Jane, was a year younger than me and had 2 brothers. One was my age and the other was a few years older. I used to sleep over at Jane’s house. She and I played Barbie’s and danced around to the radio until bedtime. We shared her queen-size bed and Jane always fell off to sleep before me. I don’t know how or why I got the nerve up or even why I had the desire, but I would sneak out of Jane’s room and tiptoe down the hall to her oldest brother’s bedroom. To get there I would have to walk right by Jane’s parent’s room. I was scared and felt propelled by something outside of myself. Once in the brother’s room, I would climb in his bed. He was a typical 15-year-old, listening to music and lying around in his underwear. I would lie next to him on his bed. I look back and think he saw me as a little sister. He may have once or twice got excited or “hard”, but he never acted on his impulses. He just talked to me and we hugged. Eventually I would leave but I don’t have a clear reason about when or why. Surreal and weird.
Eventually I stopped visiting that brother and crept further down the hallway to make a midnight stop in the other brother’s room. This brother was my age and more vocal about how I shouldn’t be there, in the middle of the night, with just my nightie on. I tried to get him interested in my visits but he gave me nothing. No sexual excitement, no hard-ons, nothing. I think I only visited him once. I realized what I was doing was wrong and I felt real shame. I stopped making nighttime visits after that.
This was the same shame I felt when my brother intruded into my room and sexually molested me. I felt no different. I carried 2 secrets now. What my brother did to me and what I crept around doing in the night to my girlfriend’s brothers. I hang my head in shame for this secret.
Epilogue – the oldest brother taught me that men can be kind and good, unlike my own brother. This boy never crossed the line and was safe and trustworthy. I learned, ironically, to trust men from this experience. He didn’t abuse me even though I set myself up to be hurt, expecting all older boys to do what my brother had done to me.
The brother my age continued to be my good friend all through high school. We had a brother-sister relationship until one time, when I was on college break, the guy definitely wanted more than friendship. We ended up having a summer fling, but it was always late at night, after my dad had gone to sleep and we were back from the bars. All I can say about that is the guy must have fantasized about me visiting him for years and finally played out his fantasy. Nothing great about that affair. But, I am grateful that he didn’t take advantage of me when I was 12 or 13. He, too, taught me that not all men are out to take advantage of young girls. (As a college woman, I could handle his advances because I became even more of an aggressor but that’s another story).
I carry such shame that I could sneak around at night in my nightie at someone else’s house. I feel like I was an abuser. This feeling of shame still haunts me. The therapist I saw in my 20’s helped me release some of the shame, encouraging me to see that I was a scared, confused girl. She reassured me what I did was not the horror I envision. No one got hurt. I never sexually abused anyone, especially a child. The fear I carry is from putting myself at risk and that feels dangerous. I can see that but I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to offer myself forgiveness and love.
My mind as a child was set in shame and I believe I’ve never healed from the early imprint on my brain.