I have decided to share an entire, fairly confronting chapter from my autobiography in this post. I know that many people can relate to the negative effects of any form of abuse. I have made very minor changes to this chapter in this second edition of my book. The initial write-up was an extremely difficult process for me. I shared this experience in the following post, for anyone who is interested in reading about it.
There are no graphic depictions of abuse in this chapter, however, there are many triggering topics contained herein, so I am giving you a heads-up. You may want to seek professional help if you have not already done so, or talk to someone that you trust.
Arrested Development (Chapter Title)
Deprived of my freedom
Deprived of happiness
Deprived of my hopes
Deprived of experiences
Deprived of feelings
Deprived of enjoyment
I gave up…
Life for existence
Pleasure for pain
Love for hatred
Trust for suspicion
Honesty for (self) deception
Innocence for guilt
Security for fear
I wrote this poem at the age of nineteen when I plummeted to the bottom of my psychological barrel. I do not recall if I penned this piece before, during or after therapy that year but maybe that does not really matter. The sentiments expressed encapsulate the way my formative years were as a result of the abuse. I now realize that this was also true for most of my adulthood as I continued – or attempted – to evolve the way most people do.
By using the word “deprived” so often, then further on listing all of the things that “I gave up” in order to protect myself, I was emphasizing all the good that I have missed out on in life. This sense of loss is further compounded by the fact that the abuse began – literally – on the day that I was born. This means that I do not have any way of knowing what I would have been like if I had not been violated (in most cases there is a marked difference in a child’s, or adult’s behavior and character after being raped). My childhood was ‘normal’ to me until some adult life experiences demonstrated otherwise. The reality of the pervasive negative effects of such severe and long-term sexual abuse started to set in during my early twenties. There were moments, as I wrote this chapter, when I tried to come to terms with the extent of the losses and the pain that I endured – there were some things that I could not put into words. Nevertheless, I will attempt to make sense of it all beginning with the concept that was first shattered….
The most pervasive negative aftereffect of the sexual abuse was a mangled sense of trust. This influenced all of my relationships, including the one I had with myself. It also affected my relationship with the Creator (God, or the Source – all interchangeable terms in this book) which for the most part, was non-existent. My perception of this concept was so distorted because the love and safety which characterizes trust was completely absent during those early developmental years.
This experience of reality led to my trusting the wrong people over and over again. That is, I had faith in those who treated me as I was handled during the abuse – I was manipulated until they had what they wanted, then they would ignore me until the next time they needed to exploit me.
In my life, this exploitative pattern played itself out in non-sexual ways in almost every relationship (i.e. being used was familiar to me which made it acceptable on some level). These people were interested in taking advantage of other facets of my being – my compassion, companionship, intelligence, labor, energy, loyalty – in one word…support.
Such assistance was never offered to me as I was growing up but it was what I most needed. It was as if I was trying to get people who are abusive to treat me well for-once-and-for-all. I believed that if I treated them with respect I would get the same in return. I thought I would somehow make up for whatever I had done ‘wrong’ which warranted such misuse by others in the first place.
This perception of something not being right with me translated into my not trusting my own judgment or intuition. I had made so many mistakes in relation to choosing trustworthy people and situations, that I believed there was not any way that I could know for sure who, or what was right for me. This lack of self-trust was inextricably linked to not trusting the Creator. That is, the extent of the faith I have in myself is measured by how well I listen to my intuition which is the voice of God speaking to me and me to Her/Him.
What led to an even greater lack of faith in God were the times I did speak to the Almighty as a child asking for the abuse to stop. Since this did not happen when and how I wanted it to, I began to believe that there was nothing and no one that I could rely upon – not in this (physical) world, or anything (spiritual) beyond it. I thought that no one could be trusted – including myself. Trust was simply a game of Catch-22, one that involved putting myself in situations where I was used, disrespected and neglected. However, after some self-analysis this pattern started to unravel which led to my making better life and/or relationship choices.
Romantic love did not register on my radar until after I began therapy in my late teens. I started dating in my early twenties but was always very careful about the men I spent time with – it did not matter how ‘in love’ I was as I did not want to put myself at risk for more sexual violence. (It was unfortunate that I was not as careful about my friendships with girls and women. Many of them were very manipulative which is insidiously abusive. It was not until my early thirties, when I discovered that I had also been violated by women who operate in the same way as male sexual predators, that I understood the cause of many of my poor choices. My lack of vigilance around women may also be explained by the fact that sex was not a part of these relationships.)
Being cautious around men meant that I listened to even the slightest hint of “Uh, oh.” Sometimes my fears would take over especially when I barely knew the men I went out with – “Is he going to touch me? How will I cope with it? What if he’s expecting more than I can give right now? What if he forces himself on me?” I breathed through it and went with the flow. Fortunately, even my worst fears never materialized.
The wise choices I made in relation to men were attributable to the fact that they were respectful of women. This meant that they were not forceful, or manipulative, especially when it came to sex. (I discussed this once with a male health practitioner many years later who described these men as “weak”…it is unfortunate that some people equate decency with weakness). If I felt really at ease with them, I would disclose my childhood trauma as a way of establishing intimacy, as well as preparing them for anything that might come up for me (e.g. my flinching at the slightest touch even when it was non-sexual, mood swings, nightmares, and so on). I also hoped that this would help them not to blame themselves for my behavior.
It was not long after these experiences, that I began to recall several repressed memories of abuse. This proved what I felt to be true for some time: there was much more for me to heal. Opening up to these men made me feel extremely vulnerable. This scared me so much so that I chose to become celibate for an indefinite period of time. I had experienced this before but this was different. Even after I healed the worst of the abuse in my early thirties, I decided to abstain from sex in order to recapture something (possibly my innocence) from my childhood which was vital for my full development as a woman.
Avoiding romantic relationships was not simply about refusing to have sex – it was also about not having to deal with their ‘stuff, or ‘relationship stuff’ (e.g. jealousy, needing constant attention and selfishness) because I did not have the energy to do it. Then there was my baggage which was difficult enough for me to handle let alone men who really did not have the resources to help, or put up with the conditions that I needed to heal (i.e. no sex or touching; my need for isolation for weeks on end, and so on). The fairest and most responsible thing to do was (and is) to remain unattached during those phases in my life.
Even when I was in a position to be in a relationship, it often did not work for the same reasons so many others do not pan out: incompatibility, possessiveness, commitment issues, etc. I was often the one who could not commit because I did not trust certain men. At times, this lack of trust revolved around the possibility of experiencing further abuse, especially in those years before I had dealt with everything. Any additional violence in my adulthood would have been a way for my subconscious to heal what I went through as a child. With one man in particular, I came very close to having such a severe learning experience when I was about twenty-years-old. My feelings for him were intense and I struggled for a long time about whether or not to act on them.
This man had been exposed to violence throughout his childhood – he was also into alcohol and drugs. Even though we never officially got together, we once had a disagreement which resulted in his twisting my hand in order to get the better of me. As soon as he became aware of the pain he was causing, he let go. However, I wondered if he would do the same if this happened again, especially if we were a couple which would have given him a sense of ownership over me.
I paid attention to these red flags so I walked away unscathed and much the wiser. The fact that I had been to therapy before I started dating, armed me with the knowledge to protect myself from further abuse. I also believe that I still had some shred of self-respect that allowed me to make healthy relationship choices. This kind of deprivation – turning my back on what felt like love – was very much a part of my salvation.
Used to go
When he did what he did
Used to escape
From my body
To get away
From this pain
It’s called survival
Don’t you know?
Just my own
This poem describes what I did to survive the abuse since there was no physical form of escape. (When I wrote it, I was only aware of the abuse by PP which is why, in the second line, I refer to the abuser as “he.”) OBEs took the form of either a spaced-out feeling like a daydream, or a spiritual disconnect, where I was outside of my body. They were a coping mechanism for me in any uncomfortable situation, in particular, around men regardless of whether or not I was romantically involved with them.
I became proficient at leaving my body due to the countless episodes of maltreatment in my childhood. This affected my ability to focus and remember details as I was growing up. As a consequence, it took me a little longer to retain information at certain stages of my development, specifically in those years when I was enduring the abuse by PP. This is because it was compounded by the actions of the Dvos as well as some of the other Chesters. The drugs I was given also aided the effortlessness by which I was able to disassociate from my body.
In my adult life, I have re-lived this state a few times. My most memorable OBE occurred in a workshop learning how to properly construct a resume. I began to feel myself drifting out of my body. I could hear and see everything that was going on but it did not feel like I was ‘there.’ I could not speak but when I was spoken to, I responded by smiling, or nodding. It seemed as though my brain had a million nerve cells firing all at once, so I found it difficult to concentrate. I was so frightened I could hear myself ‘screaming on the inside’ (this screaming may also have been a re-enactment of my state during one, or more episodes of abuse). I was not sure if and when I would come out of this semi-catatonic state. After a few minutes, I was back in my body and able to use my voice again.
The most recent OBE experience occurred several months after I began writing this book. I now understand this phenomenon and allow myself to go through it without panicking. It is one of those things that will never completely go away.
The String (1987)
I feel as if I’m hanging
From a string
I’m swaying from side to side
Again and again
As if it’s going to go on forever
I’m going ‘round in circles
Sometimes confused and dizzy
In the middle of nowhere
There are times when I feel
That the string is going to snap
I’m going to fall and it will all
Sometimes I feel like cutting the string myself
But I can’t
There are too many things
Preventing me from doing this
Maybe I don’t try hard enough
Probably because I really don’t want
To cut the string
The thought of committing suicide to escape my pain was on my mind constantly during my formative years – I was seventeen when I wrote this poem. I often contemplated doing it with sleeping pills as I considered this a peaceful way to go. Since we never had any in the house, this required making an effort to obtain them which gave me the time to contemplate what I was about to do. Then, I would decide to cease and desist. I also believe that my desire to live was – is and always will be – stronger than my desire for self-murder. However, I still fought for my life many times until I decided, at the age of nineteen, to end this (internal) war forever.
As a preteen, before I discovered drugs as a means to a suicidal end, I tried drowning myself on a social outing to the beach one day that included the Dvos. I decided to throw myself up against some large waves coming in hoping to be sucked into the ocean and taken away from the hell that I was living. The fact that I could not swim would have meant an easy death, but the ocean kept spitting me back onto the beach as if it was saying, “I’m having none of this.” After a while, I was so tired from fighting the waves that I sat on the edge of the water and watched the ocean. This made me feel that life was worth living again.
Fast forward to the age of fifteen when PP re-entered my life – I had another major push toward my tendency to want to die but this time I disclosed it to my mother. As I had a severe bout of the flu, the emotional pain I was in could not be placated with food, or staying busy (these were my preferred coping mechanisms). Instead, I told her that I hated myself and I wanted to die: her response was, “Stop being silly.” It is a miracle I did not end it all that same day.
This self-hatred was the cause of the pain that I thought I could escape by committing suicide. In reality, it was the anger that I felt toward all of the Chesters turned back onto myself. Anger is such a powerful emotion that trying to stuff it down is paralyzing which then leads to depression. This emotional numbness is what I describe in the opening paragraph of the first chapter in this book. What I did not mention in that part was the guilt that was the catalyst for such self-animosity.
Guilt is something I have come to define as “misplaced responsibility” – only after much soul-searching did I understand that I did not cause, in any way, what happened to me as a child. Before this revelation, I blamed myself for everything that went wrong in my life, in the lives of those around me including the rest of the world. I recall feeling guilty about the people starving in Africa… “Oh my God, what did I do?”
The initial shameful feelings came from the attention I received from the Chesters as a child, since my parents were not paying any attention. That is, I must have asked for it, or deserved it, since I enjoyed the focus on me. I also felt guilty about the fact that I often could not prevent the other children from being abused. I thought it was my responsibility since I was usually the eldest amongst them. It was such a devastatingly awful feeling each time I witnessed the abuse of one, or more of the others.
Feeling so ‘bad’ because I thought I had done something ‘wrong’ made me want to make up for it by being good, or trying to make things better, for everyone else but me. I went above and beyond the call at home, at school, with friends, other relatives, at work later in life, and so on. Of course, I was taken advantage of but on some level I believed I deserved it even though I resented it at the same time. This lack of self-esteem was a result of not only feeling bad…it was also related to being treated like someone who had no inherent value. I was important only when someone wanted something from me and even then, I was not appreciated for what I had to offer (or for what was taken from me, in most instances). This was such a vicious cycle that only I could get myself out of by realizing that although I did not cause nor did I deserve any type of abuse, I was still responsible for taking care of and changing myself.
This self-responsibility meant ending many relationships, including those with relatives who chose to continue to have these Chesters in their lives after they knew the truth about them. This is frowned upon in Hellenic culture because it entails guilt – “blood is thicker than water” and all that nonsense. Taking charge of my life in this way dramatically boosted my self-esteem later in life but what I struggled wit the most in my youth was a distorted view of, or relationship with, my body.
How I hated my body when I was growing up! It is not uncommon for girls to feel this way even if they have not been sexually abused since their/our self-esteem is so tied to it due to outside pressures. However, since my body was being sexually exploited on an almost daily basis, I could only come to terms with what was happening to me by blaming it for my suffering. This further compounded my self-hatred which led to self-punishment.
I punished my body by overeating and not exercising which led to weight gain, stretch marks and so on – I looked as ugly as I felt. (Although I was overweight, I never reached a level of obesity which may have ended my life especially since there is a history of heart disease on my mother’s side of the family. Overeating was also a slow form of suicide.) My larger frame also justified wearing baggy clothes in order to hide my body from boys and men.
My mother became so concerned about my weight gain, that she colluded with our family doctor to get me to slim down. His method involved grabbing my stomach and saying, “This is disgusting for a twelve-year-old.” This made me feel even worse than I already did, so I starved myself until my fat levels were so low that I stopped menstruating for two months. This was not unusual for me however, this time I also developed severe acne as a result of the hormonal imbalance brought on by my drastic drop in weight.
I returned to this doctor for a checkup in relation to this where he grilled me about the possibility of being pregnant. I insisted that this was not true because I had never had intercourse – not as far as I knew back then, anyway. He went on to do some invasive tests of the lower half of my body with my mother present. This made me feel so dirty that I had many showers over the next several days to get rid of that feeling. (It would be another two decades after these events, when I recalled the extent of the sexual abuse and the abortion that occurred only months before the extra kilos piled on in my preteen years. It also dawned on me that this idiot doctor and my mother did not take any responsibility for the fact that my excessive weight loss was caused by their degradation of my body at that time. By the way…my period arrived three days after this checkup.)
My relationship with my body in my formative years mirrored the one I had with every other aspect of myself – self-loathing, self-blame and self-disgust. What added to this negative self-image were the disturbing secrets I had to keep.
For most of my life I was under the impression that I chose to keep the abuse a secret because I thought I would not be believed. However, during the major healing flashback episodes I became aware of the threats, torture, drugging and manipulation I endured with the explicit intention of making sure I kept my mouth shut. This had a profoundly negative effect on my development as an individual because I was not able to speak my truth for most of my life. I had no voice which often led to severe tonsillitis (i.e. a sore throat) in my childhood. The fear of externalizing my thoughts and emotions became so generalized over time that it was no longer about hiding the abuse. I remained silent about anything that was real, or important to me. This translated into not having a strong sense of self: it was soul-destroying because, on some level, it seemed that I was colluding with them in the total disempowerment of myself.
I Want Myself Back (1989)
I am no one, nothing
I don’t exist
I don’t speak out loud
I don’t feel
I can’t express myself
I am lost
I cannot be found
Who has taken me?
I want myself back
I did not understand this poem when I wrote it. I felt so lost, or psychologically fragmented back then. The fact that I began almost every line with “I” was an attempt to have more of a sense of myself, possibly even a whole self. However, this form of self-expression did not make me whole, or help me heal, at that stage.
What I now know is that all of the Chesters had taken bits of me, my energy, my soul with each abusive act they committed upon me, hence the line “Who has taken me?” Not being able to speak up on my own behalf due to the reasons mentioned in the previous section (i.e. secrecy), added to this state of helplessness. Even the title of the poem – I want myself back – is a statement of profound powerlessness, where I am asking for something that I believe only someone else can give back to me. The idea that someone else can give me back to me is ludicrous, but simply an indication of how incapacitated I felt during my developmental years.
To live in such a weakened state took a tremendous toll on my health which is why I was often sick as a child. It also meant being very reserved, shy, a doormat and everything else that goes with not having a strong sense of, or love of, self. In order to deal with this powerlessness and the pain associated with the events that led to such an existence, I had a few coping mechanisms which I relied upon well into my adulthood.
I have already mentioned one of my survival techniques in this chapter, namely, OBEs (out of body experiences). This is a very effective way to deal with traumatic events but to remain in that state means developing some form of psychosis. In an effort to remain sane, I relied upon the following coping mechanisms: denial, overwork and food.
Denial has two aspects to it – one involves knowing about the trauma endured but claiming that it has had no negative effect on me what-so-ever; the other is repressed memories which is an extreme form of denial. The latter I had no clue about until the recollections began but the former I did knowing very well what I was doing. One of my high school friends once asked me if the abuse had had any detrimental aftereffects – my response was, “No, I’m fine.” Then I got on with whatever work I needed to do.
Overwork sometimes came naturally to me because I like being productive. However, there was also pressure to do more around the house, or to look after other people’s children, etc. These tasks were ways for me to avoid my feelings. I would become so exhausted that I did not have the energy to deal with my ‘stuff.’ There was also the time factor – if I kept going, filling up every minute of the day then I simply did not have the space to heal. If I had vacant moments when painful emotions would start bopping to the surface, the easiest, most accessible form of avoidance via self-medication was food.
Ahhh…food glorious food…it is not merely required to remain alive, it is also a great source of pleasure and a very important part of my culture. Food keeps Hellenic families close, is an important part of any celebration and is often given as a gift when visiting others, or offered when people come to visit. It has almost always been associated with love, warmth and safety – the only exceptions to this would be the food, or drink served at funerals, in hospitals, or by the Dvos when I was drugged.
There are certain types of sustenance that cause very specific bio-chemical reactions in the body, so they act like pharmaceuticals (both the legal and illegal varieties): the difference being that using food as medication is far more affordable and immediate. The foods I was most addicted to were dairy products and sweets. Dairy had a numbing effect: it slowed everything down in the digestive system and made me drowsy. This is why a glass of milk before bed is recommended as a cure for insomnia. I recall eating cheese at almost every meal and even making several grilled cheese sandwiches as a snack between meals. Dairy helped to calm me down when I felt anxious or restless. On the other end of the spectrum, sweets gave me energy and boosted my mood when I felt tired and depressed. Sugar increases serotonin levels in the body – a feel good hormone. My niece, who absolutely loves dessert foods once described them as being “as sweet as a mother’s love.” I believe that my overconsumption of sugar also alleviated my fears over the years by allowing me to feel the love that was absent from my childhood.
At some point, these coping mechanisms no longer work, or are given up/reduced for health reasons. When I did the latter in my late teens, my buried emotions rose to the surface and so the healing floodgates opened…