by Patty Hite
I remember quite a few years ago, I was watching Oprah while she was telling her story about her childhood sexual abuse. She had come back from visiting her family and stated how she sat at the same table with her abuser, talking to him over their meal. Her guest asked her why she had done that. Why did she converse with her abuser as though nothing had happened? Oprah was stunned when the guest asked her that and I realized at that moment that I was too.
I waited for her answer but she couldn’t give him one. He told her that she had the right to refuse to sit with her abuser and that the reason she didn’t was because she didn’t value herself. I was stunned. It never dawned on me or obviously to Oprah either, that we had a right to stay away from our abusers. We could put our foot down and make a statement that we refuse to be a part of their lives.
With this epiphany, I couldn’t help but reflect on my life and the many times I continued hugging, having conversations with and sharing a meal with some of my abusers, as well as the abuser who molested my sister. It seemed like a natural thing to do. There was never any doubt that I shouldn’t treat them any differently than I always had. I wasn’t even angry with them. My uncle, who molested me many times, would hold me on his lap while conversing with the other adults, and I sat there laughing at his jokes.
Even after I remembered my sister’s abuse by my dad, and my dad blaming her for it, I continued to have a relationship with him. I wanted him to love me, to hug me. I wanted him to accept me and would even go as far to stand toe to toe with anyone who would dare have a harsh word about him. I continued to respect him as my dad and as a man. I knew what he did, I saw what he did, yet, I continued the same relationship with him.
Many years later, after seeing the effects the abuse had on my sister, I started to question my relationship with my dad. I saw pain and hurt in my sister. She never sought healing and spent her life being promiscuous, fearful, erratic, and as an alcoholic. She started to announce her anger at our mother because our mother had allowed her to be sent away while my dad remained in the home. Even though she had every right to be angry at my mom, I asked her why she wasn’t angry at my dad, since he was the one who abused her. She did everything to get close to my dad. When they were in the same room, you could feel this “thing” between them and there were rumors that they were still having sex. It became very confusing to me.
I didn’t understand the emotional ties that bind a daughter and her father, even after the father becomes the predator. But I did understand the effects that sexual abuse and false beliefs have. I understood my sisters “acting out” behaviors and I understood the fears and the pain that she tried to hide behind the alcohol and sleepless nights. But I didn’t understand her loyalty to him and why she wanted to be near him.
It wasn’t until I saw Oprah that day that I found myself doing the same thing that my sister had done. I wanted my dad’s love and affection. Not only I, but all my siblings. We would tap dance for him if he asked us to. It was then that I started to get angry. I felt like such a fool. I knew my thoughts of disgust for him were becoming real. I wondered how he could live with himself and sleep at night. I wondered if he had sexual thoughts about me like he did my sister. I questioned the times he gave me a hug and wondered if he was fantasizing about raping me. There was no end to the daytime nightmares that infiltrated my thoughts. I could not stop thinking about how my dad had betrayed me by being a molester.
I knew that the only way I could ease my pain was to speak about his molestations. I talked to my siblings about him and all but one wanted me to keep quiet. They honored him and respected him and did everything to remind me of what a wonderful dad we all had. No matter how much I talked about it with them, they would not take up the offense of my sister. All they saw was the after-effects of her sexual abuse. To them she was to blame and she deserved to be abused because she asked for it. I realized now that the more I tried to change their opinion of my dad, the more it caused them to focus on the infidelities of my sister. She died a few years ago and hearing my siblings bad mouth her was more traumatic to me than my justifications of having them fight for her cause. I may have lost the battle, but I didn’t lose the war.
It doesn’t matter who believes me, and it doesn’t matter if others still support the abusers. I can’t change their opinions nor can I make them fight my cause. All I can do is tell them the truth and hopefully they will guard their children and grandchildren from him. What does matter is that I know the truth and I do not have to sit at the same table nor talk to the abuser. I don’t have to tap dance or honor or be loyal any longer. I am free to talk about it and I am allowed to get angry over it. Thank you Oprah for that show so long ago.
As a survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Patty Hite has been tenaciously pursuing her healing for over thirty years. She’s a passionate advocate for all survivors and dedicates her life to inspiring emotional wholeness in others. As a former victim of spousal abuse, she’s delighted to find true love with her husband of five years. She’s blessed with four children and six grandchildren.
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