Today is my 54th birthday, 2×27. Why this is significant is because when I was a child and teenager I always thought I would die at 27…
I was an abused child from a crazy family with two parents who are psychologically very unwell. My mother and my father abused my brother and me in different ways. They caused us to live in fear and confusion in an appalling atmosphere and they interfered in our development in an inexcusable way. They stole our childhood and caused us to waste many precious years just dealing with the legacy they left in us. That home was not fit to raise children and these days my parents would both be in prison if what they did to us became known. Back in the 1970s when I was growing up there was much less awareness of child abuse compared with these days so we went unnoticed. If anyone did notice something, we never got any indication of that nor any help. We were on our own.
When clients in therapy have something significant happening psychologically that they do not understand and that seems to concern a certain age or period in their lives, we sometimes ask them what their parents were like at that age and what was going on in the parents’ lives when they were that age. It’s not always relevant for everyone, but for me it is.
When my mother was 27 (I was 8 years old) she became ill and was hospitalised for 3 months. It was during that time that my father began to prey on me sexually again. He first started when I was very young around 2-3 years old. But when I was 4, after my mother had my brother and was at home all the time, I wasn’t available to him so easily any more.
When my mother was in hospital and out of the picture for three months, he pounced. Like all predators, he is an opportunist. He waited for me, his victim, to be unprotected and available to him. He took full advantage of the opportunity to use his own daughter, a small unprotected child to gratify his own perverted desires. He continued to prey on me right through my adolescence, but I wouldn’t let him near me any more. I remember many incidents of physically pushing him away from me. He continued to try to touch me even in my early twenties when I was already married. He pretended it was a joke when he tried to touch my bottom, but it was his attempt to keep touching my body claiming a kind of ownership over it even when my husband was right there.
Like all predators this excuse for a human being lacks the empathy to care about how he was affecting me and his other child victims. (Yes, he had other victims too and that is not unusual for pedophiles). Once he finished with me, I would unceremoniously be sent back to bed. I was supposed to fall asleep again so I could be ready to go to school the next morning as if nothing happened. The only way I could cope was block it all out and pretend it wasn’t happening. Blocking things out is a functional and common defence for abused children but it comes with a heavy psychological and developmental price.
For many years bed was not a safe place for me. Like many abuse victims I just couldn’t sleep in my bed. As a teenager I would fall asleep on top of the bed in my clothes and would only get into bed once everyone else was asleep. Often I would sleep like this in my clothes all night. When I was in my twenties, I would often lie on the sofa with the radio and the lights on. When I did fall asleep I would have recurring nightmares about a terrifying dark figure coming in through the doors or windows to hurt me. In my nightmares, no matter what I did to try to protect myself, no matter how many doors or windows I tried to lock, the figure would still manage to come in. This describes precisely the experience of not being able to protect myself from my father. Whatever I tried to do, his hands were there, everywhere, and he took what he wanted. I would usually wake up in terror from those nightmares just at that moment when the figure would come in. For a long time my adult brain wouldn’t allow me to see what happened next.
A recurring part of the nightmare was hearing my name whispered in my ear. It was his voice. This is what he did to avoid waking up my brother when he woke me up to take me to his bed. That whisper in my nightmares was even more terrifying than the fear of the dark figure coming in.
My symptoms were textbook, very much like those of other victims of sexual predators. Fear was at the centre of my being and my existence for many long years. It affected me physically and psychologically and made life a living hell. It is what trauma does to victims. Once you are traumatised, you cannot shake that fear any more and it becomes a permeant feature in your life. It is possible for most people to recover but it is long and hard work to gradually re-wire that fear and move beyond trauma to a non-traumatised brain. (I have written about this in my booklet on trauma, Trauma & Its Impact: What you need to know (Fully Human Tools For Life Series)
During the three months my mother spent in hospital, my grandmother came to stay with us to look after us while he was at work, but that didn’t last. One night she caught him taking me out of my bed to my mother and his bedroom to use me. There was a fight and some violence and the next day she was gone. My father was very manipulative and he got my brother and I to say that we didn’t want her there. But the truth is that he was afraid of her after she caught him red-handed. He was terrified that she would ‘tell on him’. I believe that he threatened her with who knows what if she told anyone what she saw. I still remember her saying in Romanian, “las-o în pace” — leave her alone. Romanian was the language the adults spoke around me and my brother when they didn’t want us to understand something, but as children do we picked up quite a lot of it. So I understood perfectly well what she was trying to tell him.
I think my grandmother was shocked and distressed by this. Imagine discovering that your son, your very own son is a pervert who abuses his daughter, the innocent young granddaughter that you love. From that time on things became very strange with my grandmother. I wasn’t allowed to see her very much and things were strained between us and her. My father managed to manipulate my mother against my grandmother, and given my mother’s own psychology it wasn’t very hard to do. My poor grandmother had a hard life anyway. To then also discover that her son was a monster… She didn’t deserve it. My grandmother Rivka was one of the few people who really loved us when we were children. I have long suspected she herself was an abuse victim. I know she was neglected by her family, considered the ‘runt’ of the littler, never sent to school and left to remain illiterate for the rest of her life. She had her share of homelessness, poverty and terrible suffering but she was kind and she knew how to grow things in her garden once she was finally settled into her tiny little house in Giv’at Shmuel when it was still rural and quiet. I loved my grandmother and I have always felt robbed of the opportunity to have her in my life. But my parents wouldn’t allow it because she knew something that my father was afraid of and because my mother fundamentally sided with my father, although their relationship wasn’t a good one.
My father refused to take us to visit my mother in hospital during those three months. I remember begging him to take us but he refused point blank. He gave us no explanation. I remember him making some excuses that didn’t make sense even to my eight-year old brain. He did eventually take us once because we pestered him so much but when we were there he watched me like a hawk. I now realise that he was terrified I would say something to my mother.
Like many predators and abusers he spent many years manipulating and controlling my memories, watching everything I did and said, just in case I said something to anyone. I am sure he had something ready in case I did say something, and I am positive that no one would have believed me. He is very good at playing the innocent victim although he is anything but. Back in the 1970s the psychiatric profession did not consider ‘incest’ — specifically father having sex with his daughter — to be a huge problem or something that is harmful to the daughter’s mental health. It was Dr Judith Herman a great psychiatrist herself, who fought her entire profession to change that view in the 1980s. It’s only 30 years ago that professionals and society in general began to take that kind of harm seriously. The sexual abuse of boys didn’t even feature of the radar of society and is still by and large a neglected area.
In the time leading up to my mother becoming ill, and after she came back from hospital she told us she was going to die. She threatened suicide often. My mother is an extremely manipulative woman and she used these threats as she did many other practices, to control us and how we felt. She enjoyed making us suffer and used to watch us carefully to see the impact what she did or said had on us. She used to tell me frequently when I was very small that if I misbehaved she would send me away to a Kibbutz. This terrified me so much and she enjoyed watching my reaction. I know because she often had a smirk on her face at those times. I was her favourite victim and she toyed with me psychologically over many years in ways that only psychopaths know how to do. This was worse than the frequent and severe physical violence I suffered at her hands. I learned a few years ago that my brother suffered his share of psychological and physical abuse as well.
So the age 27 is associated with a double disaster. I thought my mother was going to die and was terrified of it. As much as I feared and hated her she was the only mother I had, and I was dependent on her (something she frequently liked to tell me for many many years even when I was much older). I was afraid of her dying because she kept saying she was going to. I believed it because children take things literally. She enjoyed seeing the impact this too had on me. She was also the only thing that stood between my father and me. When she went to hospital I thought it was the end of me. That time in my life, when my mother was herself 27, must have felt like my own life was over.
So the age 27 was fixed in my mind as the age I was going to die. I deeply believed this throughout my childhood and adolescence. But instead of dying at 27, my first husband and I moved to Australia only two months after my birthday. Not only life didn’t end, it was a new beginning to live far away from my abusers. I remember feeling surprised on my 27th birthday, the 3rd of September 1991, that I was alive…
Now I am twice 27 and am still here. I am here not thanks to my annihilating parents but despite them. I am here thanks to all the people who have helped me along the way to claw my way out of the deep scary hole of childhood trauma. I am here also thanks to the brain I happen to have, which has enabled me to recover.
So here, today, on my 2x27th birthday I am grateful. I am grateful for my life and for what I have been able to do with it. I have spent the past 20 years in a profession that I am passionate about and that has allowed me to use my personal experience to help many people to recover from theirs. If I die tomorrow, I will die with a sense that my life has already been worth living.
If you were abused sexually or otherwise as a child, please speak up. Victims must not suffer alone and in silence. They should not bear the shame or guilt that really belongs with their abuser. They should not have to live with the terror and the isolation that abuse carries with it. Predators thrive in an atmosphere of silence and confusion, where victims are not believed and are isolated. It’s taken me many years to speak openly about all of this. I am able to do this now and hope more people will be able to tell what happened to them as well.
No child chooses to be abused and no child can prevent being abused once a predator has marked them. Children must be protected because the human species has its share of dangerous predators who are always out on the prowl looking for the child who is available to them and is unprotected.
Child abuse is much more common than people realise and it is responsible for a great deal of psychological and physical suffering. Most abuse of children happens in their families and the predator is usually someone that they know and should otherwise expect to trust. When children try to tell, they are often not believed. Often they have good reason to not trust other adults in their life. If a child doesn’t tell, there is always a good reason for it. Predators often threaten children that if they tell anyone, they would abuse their siblings or friends, or that they would kill them or do something terrible to them. Many predators tell their children victims that no one would believe them if they told, and this certainly has proven to be the case for generations of abused children.
Predators would not be able to do what they do so easily and so frequently if people paid closer attention to children, how they are feeling and what they are saying and if they took it seriously. Predators would have a much harder time if others stopped colluding and protecting them at the expense of children. Collusion with predators is too common in families and as we know now also in institutions like the Church and other organisations where abuse is inflicted, covered up and where it goes unpunished. Abuse doesn’t just rob children of their childhood, it robs them of their life and their development.
Tell on them! Do not remain silent. Predators are the ones who should be afraid, not their victims. We’ve been frightened long enough.
I would like for my birthday to see a world free of abuse, of children and of anyone. I would like a world that is safe for everyone and where children can develop freely without being afraid. I would like a world where people are kinder, gentler with one another and more caring about the impact they have on others.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask on my 2 x 27th birthday, when I have already lived twice.
Wishing you all the very best XXX
(Key words: Child abuse, sexual abuse, childhood, trauma, depression, anxiety, pedophilia)