One of the ideas that I have struggled with the most this past year is that I was a slave. I was owned. Words that are hard enough to type and still stumble and bumble off of my tongue. My heart clenches, my hands shake, and my mind screams NOOOOOOOO every time I delve into this subject in therapy or on my own. I still ask how? why? Questions for which I will never really have answers.
We lost our home when I was about 4, and my happy little family ended up in the care of our pastor and his wife. I’ll call them W, wife, and P, pastor. We had been a part of this small church since before I was born. As an adult, I have had many conversations with my parents about the circumstances of being a part of this church and to my understanding, like any abusive relationship, W and P didn’t start off with control of my parent’s lives and by proxy mine. They made them doubt themselves, what they thought, what the believed, until all decisions went through W and P for approval.
The long story short, we found ourselves living in the crowded parsonage with W and P and several others. I was left there a good bit while my parents both worked. don’t think they had to put a lot of work into the grooming process, for now, I’ll say maybe a week or two, to break the initial barriers and teach me to keep their secrets behind the mask they helped me create. A couple of weeks to undermine my faith in my parents ability to rescue me. A couple of weeks to turn me inward, so I would never look outward and see hope. It took them a bit longer to break my spirit.
In the beginning, I fought every demand every time, and then I fought only in the mornings or until right after lunch. Then I stopped fighting all together, there was no point. There were no superheroes or anyone else to notice. W and P trained me in all the ways they preferred to be serviced. I would have to earn my meals, sometimes each bite. I would have to earn the right to go to the bathroom, and sometimes that was their way of punishing me. Humiliating and shaming a child so young is really not hard when they are not seen as anything more than a plaything. W and P could be particularly evil in their punishments because they did not want to leave obvious marks for my parents to notice, one of their favorites was leaving me in cold water in the bath tub.
Along the time that I stopped fighting is the time I learned to stare my way into paintings that adorned the walls of every room. It did not always work, as they derived a lot of pleasure out of my reactions. They would make me come back by pinching, cold water, or simply smacking me every time my eyes would glaze or stare into the distance. They wanted me to look at them, in their eyes, at all times as they had their way. Sometimes they wanted the tears, sometimes they wanted the whimpers, sometimes they wanted faked cries of pleasure. My job was to figure it out if I ever wanted that particular activity to end.
I soon learned that I was not to be just for their use. I was trained in how to do many things because I was to be special. I don’t remember the cost paid for my services in dollars and cents, I do know the pieces of me that were carved and walled off from the rest of me in order to survive. I was special, this girl I became for them, the girl who was not a girl but a construct of their will and desires.
As I come to terms with these memories, I have come to realize the number of times that I still behaved as if my value could only be derived in services whether cooking, cleaning, volunteering, or time sacrificed for others. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it for me because I was invisible and unworthy of this effort. I couldn’t derive value from my own services because my only value was the worth to others. I have had to withdraw from so many things not because of what I was doing or for who, but because my mindset was all wrong. The activities, the things I chose to do with my time, were draining me of everything because I was still becoming whatever was needed without ever seeing that what was needed was me. I have been a chameleon my whole life, and I didn’t even know it.
I am discovering me. I am claiming ownership over myself. They sold my body, but they did not own it. They stole it for their uses. I am learning what I really feel, think, like, and love. I am finding love for myself. Healing comes slowly, and often with a great many tears. Healing comes from the inside out, and the ache it brings is often difficult to bear because with it comes the acceptance that my skewed view of my reality needs to change. It does change. It becomes clearer with each click of memory in place, each understanding of what happened and how it links to my now, and each time I choose to love and accept myself.
Thank you, until next time……