I was afraid every day of my childhood. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t a struggle. I struggled to fit in. I struggled to be good enough. I struggled to figure how to make people like me. Life was hard.
I came from a family of four. My mom stayed home with my brother and me until we were older. My dad had lots of different jobs: golf pro, business owner, office manager, bartender, truck driver, handyman and others. We seemed like a normal family. We took vacations together, we celebrated holidays together and we ate dinner together. All the time we lived together, we were emotionally distant from each other. Virtual strangers.
I don’t remember how young I was when my dad first sexually abused me. Most of the sexual abuse that I remember comes from the time I was eight or nine, though I know he abused me before and after those years.
I didn’t always remember my abuse—at least not consciously. I repressed most of it until I was an adult. It came back over a period of years. When the memories returned, they didn’t seem real. They felt a lot like dreams or like those things happened to someone else. The only things that seemed real about them were the intense fear that came with them and how they all tied together. There was something very familiar about them. They fit.
Even though I forgot most of my abuse, there were a few things that I never forgot. I didn’t define them as sexually abusive until I learned the true definition of sexual abuse.
I had minimized them by just calling those things, “strange” and “hurtful”:
When I was about eight or nine years old, I was playing dress up with my mom’s things as my parents were entertaining guests. I put on my mom’s black half slip and wore it as a dress. I accessorized it with her shoes and pearls. I felt pretty and wanted to show everyone. I was too afraid of rejection to present myself to the adults so I passed by them on the way to the front patio, hoping they would see me. As I was going outside, my dad joked to the guests that I would make a good call girl. Everyone laughed. I felt a strange mixture of pride and shame. Somehow, I knew that my dad approved of me “making a good call girl’ but I also knew there was badness attached to it.
Another part of my sexual abuse that I always remembered but tried not to think about was that my dad liked to watch me masturbate. He’d get a glazed look in his eyes, like he was sexually aroused. I remember feeling uncomfortable about it, but my dad really liked it and he gave me his approval.
The way I seemed able to earn my dad’s approval and “love” was through sexual acts. It seemed impossible to earn approval or love from my mother so my dad was my only hope not to be abandoned.
Even though I didn’t remember most of my abuse or define the things that I did remember as abuse, I still suffered the effects of it. Among the effects that I was most conscious of, I felt shameful and dirty. I grew up feeling different from everyone else, as though I didn’t deserve to belong. I was terribly alone, no matter how many people were in my life.
When I was married to my first husband, he told me that he’d been sexually abused by his parents. I was devastated, as though it had happened to me. Soon after that, I began to remember that I had been sexually abused. It was more than just a suspicion; I knew.
Many years passed. I divorced my husband and discovered that he had molested our daughter almost all of her childhood. Sexual abuse was again in the forefront of my mind. I started having graphic flashbacks and dreams.
The flashbacks, nightmares and other memories revealed that my father not only abused me himself, but also traded me to other men. He took me to sex parties where young children were exchanged. My dad sent me to the neighbor’s house, where the neighbor raped me with a pool cue in his basement.
It was hard to accept those things as real, but they kept coming up. All of them seemed to have a common theme of betrayal and violation. As hard as it was to accept, it was hard to deny that they fit all that I’d felt my whole life and the ways I behaved.
It’s taken me about seven years to get to where I am now. By addressing the worst part of my life, I made it possible to live the best part of my life. Even though those things happened to me, they don’t define me. My life is far more than the abuse. I’ve faced the fear, the pain and the anger from the ways I was treated and those old memories don’t haunt me anymore. The effects of the abuse—the ways I coped—are fading. I’m delighted with the person I am. I’m surrounded by people who value me the way I value myself. I’m thrilled with the life I have!
Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for hope, inspiration, encouragement and tools for healing. She’s the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. Christina’s passion is exploring new ways to express her new life and freedom. She’s recently discovered the joy of waterslides and the delightful scented lotion from Bath & Body Works, “Dark Kiss”. She and her husband live in Scottsdale, Arizona and share three children and six grandchildren.
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