This past summer, I turned at a fork down a long path. The path was terrifying, leading to nowhere I knew, leading away from what I did know.
But I only looked over my shoulder for a second. I looked behind me at a road that, while familiar, had been an endless nightmare. Behind my shoulder, I saw a literal lifetime of pain and fear, all of which I had lived in silence. I spent my whole life keeping my nightmare a secret.
Here is the secret I never told my aunts, my uncles, my teachers, my pastor, my first serious boyfriend, and most certainly not a single friend: my mother hit me. All the time. She did it the first time when I was two and a half. She called me names, like “bitch” and “stupid little bitch”. She choked me, pulled out my sibling’s hair, kicked the dogs, and she did so much more that. But I’m not going to tell you more now, because it’s too much. It’s too much for me, it’s too much for one blog post, and it’s too much to not exhaust the reader.
As I got older, my mother stopped physically hurting me, but still threatened me, put me down, and manipulated me emotionally. As a entered my late teens and twenties, I walked on tightrope over burning coals, afraid to do anything that might make her mad. Even away from home, in the relative safety of college, I lay awake at night crying while unwelcome memories flooded me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but from puberty onwards I battled PTSD (I still do, but now I have support). I have clawed my way through major depression, suicidal thoughts, and suffocating daily anxiety. I believed that I was a messed up freak. Sometimes I still do. All this is a common outcome for adult survivors of child abuse.
In fact, it’s extremely common, and therein lies the problem. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a government organization under the US Department of Health and Human Services, state in their 2015 report that “at some point in their lifetime, 54.5 percent of children and adolescents (age 0 to 17) experienced some form of physical assault” and that “51.8 percent were victims of relational aggression (i.e., emotional bullying)”. Those statistics are outrageous and disgusting, because they indicate that over half of all children undergo those kinds of trauma–and we haven’t even peeked at sexual assault or neglect yet. And yet, even though it is so common, I spent my entire life until my mid-twenties thinking I was alone, a freak, that what had happened to me was my fault.
It gets worse.
The same organization found that in 2012, “There were 686,000 child maltreatment victims or 9.2 per 1,000 children in 2012” reported to state welfare agencies. Keep in mind, these are the reported victims. We can only guess how many children, like my sibling and I, hurt in silence, unnoticed by those who could have made a call to CPS.
Now, before I share one last statistic, let’s consider the deeper complexities of my abuse. My mother hurt me. The person who gave birth to me. The person who dressed me for the first day of school, who showed me how to shave my legs, took me to swim lessons, and cared for me when I needed minor surgery in college. Which is why, insanely, I was the one who always felt guilty when I was angry with my mom for hurting me; I was supposed to be thankful. I made so many excuses for her, and punished myself for being bad. And, sadly, I am forever angry at her, and also deeply filled with grief, because despite her doing all those things, despite being my mother, she couldn’t love me enough to not hurt me.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway found that, of all those kids above who were abused by caregivers in 2012, in 36.6 percent of cases the mother was the perpetrator.
And 1,593, of all those kids above, died. They died from abuse.
I am fortunate that I did not die. And not all mothers are monsters. In fact, I made good friends throughout my life, many of whose mothers have “adopted” me as their own upon finding out I am estranged from mine. I met a good man who became my husband, and his mother is one of my favorite persons on the planet. These people all helped me find the strength to disentangle myself from my perpetrator mother. The main point is that in the rare case when a mother is in fact a monster, the abused child should know that she is not at fault. It is not my fault what happened did happen. It never was.
Thus, we come to the turn I took at the crossroads of my early 20s: I do not talk to to my mother anymore. I never will. This is not wrong; I deserve to bloom.
But though there is silence between her and me, I will not be silent. I am just starting to tell my story, because people need to know. I invite others to share their stories, because people need to know. They need to know, because of those hundreds of thousands of kids who aren’t safe, who are still living in silence.
And people need to know about child abuse because of you readers who are also survivors: you also deserve to bloom.