Was I really abused? Or was I just touched inappropriately by a close member of my family? Abuse. It's a strong word, so strong that it makes me cautious to use it. But I have used it on and off for that's how I chose to describe these pages. They were - and are - written by an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Sexual abuse. Strong words indeed.
Touched. But the touches were wrong, intrusive, invading a part of my body that was totally out of bounds when we were both supposed to be fast asleep. So I was touched, molested, even caressed. Strange. To be abused and to be caressed at the same time.
Sometimes when I happen to be watching a television program about incest survivors or about survivors of child sexual abuse in general, I feel that I don't belong in their company, that they had experienced something far worse and much more traumatic than I ever did. It is not about comparing experiences. What makes one's experience worse than another? The fact that any of it happened at all should be enough.
They were abused, maybe even raped and forced to commit unspeakable acts between a parent and child. And for some, it happened over a period of years. Years. I was merely molested.
Merely. Half-baked. My experiences left me feeling half-baked. It wasn't nothing. But it also wasn't the great tragedy that some might think it to be. Or wasn't it? Didn't it cause me to be wary of my father? Remember your Mother Mary medallion and remember your prayer one night, that you would be protected by some sort of invisible shield so that he couldn't touch you should he come to you that night. But of course he didn't come to me. And he probably wouldn't have. But I shouldn't even have had to say such a prayer. And thinking that my experience may not have been as traumatic as another's left me feeling half-baked again.
I loved baking cakes once. I knew how to bake. I knew when a cake was done. Pulling the cake pan out of the oven when it wasn't completely baked, when the toothpick, after having been inserted into the center, didn't come out clean, or when the top of the cake still wobbled a little, was not the thing to do. Cakes. Half-baked. Another obsession.
Perhaps it is something that I still struggle with. I don't know why. After all these years, when I should know better, and when I should finally leave it all behind me, why do I still feel that my experiences may not matter as much as someone else's? My body has never been violated that way; he never forced himself on me. And I can't begin to comprehend the pain and confusion - and the shame? - that a young girl must go through after realising that she has been impregnated by her own father. And then to give birth to that child. Whether she keeps the child or gives the child up for adoption is her decision. What must that be like? I don't know for it is beyond anything that I have ever experienced.
I should know better. I know what I experienced as a child. I know what I experienced as a teenager. I know the turmoil that I endured as a young woman, so crippled by my shyness and fear of ... what? Whatever it was, I was afraid of it. And I was sometimes seen as unreliable. For I was unreliable. The fear - the dread - was lodged in my gut.
Recently, when I read through some of the journal entries that were written during my early twenties, I realised how young and inexperienced I was. For I was much younger then and so inexperienced. I also seemed rather intense. And my fantasy world was very active. And my desires were very real. But I was also in pursuit of holiness, being an active part of the parish community. There was obviously a tug-of-war. Those were my experiences.
I can't tell someone else's story, that is true. And they can't tell mine. We all have our own story. So I experienced sexual abuse. It still sounds rather harsh, maybe even a little unreal. But it was real. It happened. I may not be among the first to raise my hand to tell my story but I do have a story to tell.
Childhood sexual abuse is something that I can relate to. It is not something that can be neatly packaged with a ribbon so that one can say, "There you go." Not for me. I can most surely identify with another incest survivor. My experiences may not be hers - nor his - but I can empathise. And I can feel compassion for another.
Abuse: "1. To use wrongly or improperly; misuse: abuse alcohol; abuse a privilege. 2. To hurt or injure by maltreatment; ill-use.
3. To force sexual activity on; rape or molest.
4. To assail with contemptuous, coarse, or insulting words; revile." (The American Heritage? Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright ? 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.)
Just as I sometimes hesitate to use "survivor" on myself, I also hesitate to use "abuse." But I was sexually abused. I don't have to keep holding on to that. And I shouldn't. So why then do I keep writing these pages, even the ones about the very topic that I shouldn't hold on to?
Because it was a part of my past. And there are lingering effects. Deep down, I realise it still influences some of my actions and reactions. The past is gone. Those intrusive touches are gone. So is my father. I am left behind to carry on and God knows I'm not doing a very good job of it.
Thank goodness I am not who I used to be - although she wasn't such a bad sort, if I do say so myself - for that would be a crime, to stay the same throughout all these years and not mature. I have grown older. I have also grown.
My father used the cane on me. That would probably be seen as abuse today. It was painful so maybe I would not hesitate to say that it was abuse for he inflicted pain on me, although the welts started to itch after a while. His touches and caresses were not painful. They confused me. And scared me. It shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have happened between a father and daughter. Not like that. And I'll never understand why. I try to and I know that I want to. But the answers don't come so readily. And perhaps they never will.
There is sexual abuse in my history. I can accept that and say that with certainty. It is not an excuse. It is simply a statement of fact, and may even explain why I still write these pages. And I also suppose that it can't help but remind myself that I still need to heal.