Dead Silence: Killing My Voice

Mar 21st, 2011 | By | Category: All Posts, Guest Blog

Bethany

by Bethany

I was ten years old when I blurted out my dark secret to my mom: I fantasized about dying tragically. Before I could finish detailing exactly how I wanted my body to be found, she interrupted me with, “Bethany, don’t ever say that again!” So I shut my mouth.

I wanted to die in a catastrophic way. I wanted my body to be discovered bloody and dismembered in a ditch, with my intestines trailing behind me. Although I never talked about it again, for the rest of my childhood and into my adult life, I still pictured the ways I could die. On the subway, I imagined the door coming unhinged and decapitating me. Driving down the road, I imagined a horrible accident that would rip my body in two. I could see the shards of glass slicing though my vital organs and the impact crushing my body until I become something unrecognizable. Although I didn’t voice them aloud, the thoughts were still screaming.

It was terrifying. The fantasy became a fear. A part of me felt crazy for taking pleasure in thoughts of my own demise. I was ashamed that I would think that way and I thought something was seriously wrong with me. I knew these thoughts weren’t normal, so when they came up, I silenced them. I was already good at hiding secrets because of years of sexual abuse by my father. My dad told me to shut up about the abuse, my mom told me to shut up about my thoughts, I told myself to shut up about everything. But it didn’t stop the fantasies from blaring.

When I started to heal from my sexual abuse, I realized that maybe I should start listening to the voices inside my head instead of trying to silence them. What where they trying to tell me? What message was my death fantasy trying to send?

As I paid attention, I saw that it told me several things:

1. I wanted my death to reflect my life.

I wanted to expose the horror of what the sexual abuse did to me. I felt mutilated, shredded, torn, dirty, dead, impossible to put back together. I wanted my death to tell the truth– that I’m not the pretty girl with the pretty life. I am the disgusting mess left on the floor. I needed others to finally see the agony I suffered.

People’s memory of me would no longer be a curly-haired angel, but a ripped in two wreck of a human. The image would haunt them, just as the abuse haunted me. I always had a smile on my face. I was well mannered. I got good grades. But I felt like a fraud. On the inside I was dead and I wanted to show it.

2. I wanted to expose my abuser.

I was angry at my abuser-father for what he did. I wanted to embarrass him. I wanted to draw attention to his sin. I was so angry that I was willing to sacrifice myself to get the retribution I deserved. I wanted all to see the truth of who I am, or rather the truth of what my dad did to me.

Watching the movie, Se7en, I identified with the words of the sadistic killer, John Doe, “We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it’s common, it’s trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I’m setting the example. What I’ve done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed… forever.”

I felt like my abuse was so obvious, yet no one did anything about it. There was a deadly sin being committed right before everyone’s eyes, yet they turned away and ignored it. I wanted an example to be made out of what was done to me, even if that meant dying to prove my father’s guilt. I yearned for everyone to see the horror that he caused no matter the cost.

3. I wanted to end my pain.

Most people fear death; I invited it in. My situation seemed hopeless. Sexual abuse was all I knew. It began before I could remember. There were no indications that I would have a life apart from the abuse. Death seemed like a better option at the time than what I was faced with. Death makes the abuse stop and I was desperate to end the suffering.

I wanted a voice. They took away my words, so I yearned to express myself in a more creative way. I wanted people to finally see. I wanted it to be so horrifying that they would never forget. “Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” John Doe said.

I wanted to expose the horror of what the sexual abuse did to me. I felt mutilated, shredded, torn, dirty, dead, impossible to put back together. I wanted my death to tell the truth.

I yearned for that same voice where I could tell the horrible things my abuser did to me. I couldn’t tell people what was done to my in my life, so I wanted to at least tell it through my death.

And so the hard work began. I had to change my identity, first by addressing the negative self image that the abuse gave me. I’m not ugly on the inside. I’m not broken. I’m not a maligned mess. I’m not replaceable. I’m worth saving. Healing is possible. I’m not defined by what my abuser did to me.

I took back my voice. I told on my abuser, first at nineteen and again when I reported him to the authorities. Every day I continue to tell on my abuser as I uncover the truth of what he did. I’m continuing to expose the lies I believed about myself. And the truth is that the death I once carried with me everywhere is diminishing and new life is emerging.

I make choices that cultivate life. I choose healthy relationships, strive for a better future, and do good things for my health. Instead of making my death an expression of my abuse, I’ve made my life an expression of my healing.

Related Posts:
What is My Anger Telling Me?

Bethany is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print.

[read Bethany's story here]

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35 comments
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  1. Wow, Bethany as I read your blog I became aware of the memories of the many times as a young girl how I would sit in my room angry at my parents and thinking about how they would feel so sorry if I died. I did want to die and most of those feelings were because I felt there was no way out for me, also. I never knew that it was not what most kids would think and feel about their life. My voice had been silenced until one day at my Grandmother’s home i blurted out some things and she stepped in for me and did what she could to protect me. It was hard work and I had many years of brokeness before i finally got my words back. Even after I had told some things, no one wanted to hear the rest of my words. I let those words all come out eventually and my future began to get better and better. Thanks for such a relevant blog. Most of us survivors do not draw the comparrison of why we hate ourselves and our lives so much, it is the silenced voice.

  2. Bethany, I can relate to this too. I used to picture poking out my eyes with scissors or a needle. I was afraid of picking up a sharp object because I was afraid I might actually do it. The root of that was my denial about not wanting to see the ugliness of what was happening. It’s hard to admit to such strange fantasies, but it’s so important to address them for what they are. Thanks for sharing this!
    Mom

  3. Fortunately for you, you didn’t end up doing anything to yourself.
    A person I had known for a brief time-span was overwhelmed by the healing process-she WAS in the process of it, and I was offering suggestions to her as to how to accomplish it. At least in terms of telling her where to go to get started.
    She was unable to do so.

    Anyway, I hope it doesn’t happen to me. I have no idea if it will, b/c I have no feelings with which to start healing. I feel only mildly angry at them. Actually, the mild anger is really a loss of all expectations. If you expect nothing from a person, you’ll never be disappointed when they fail you.
    I gave up on expecting something from them, b/c I think they have no conscience and, ultimately, no ability to feel anything other than pleasures of the flesh. In fact I classify them as something OTHER than human and less than animal.
    I think it’s a waste of time to have even a morsel of relations w/ them, so I feel practically nothing about them.
    That may sound like it’s NOT a response but, for the type of person I am, it demonstrates significant anger. But the feeling manifests as no expectations and an absolute loss of respect for them as people.

  4. Hi Bethany. Thanks so much for this post. I just did a post on Friday and completed it with another one today on identity and how as survivors we have to get a new identity. That we have to quit allowing the abuse and the abuser to define us! What you have posted here confirms what I am also learning. In putting away the lies and replacing them with truth I have been given a new identity! Thanks Bethany!

  5. Linda, I can so identify with that. I remember thinking to myself in junior high, “Gosh, they sure would be sorry if I die.” It was as if I wanted to make them feel the guilt. My dad didn’t seem to feel guilty about the abuse, so I wanted to at least make him feel guilty about my death.

    Mom, you sharing that with me really made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Having those “crazy” thoughts made me feel like I belonged in a mental institution. But knowing you’re not the only one is freeing.

    Vicki, I can see the anger in that. You are so angry with them that they aren’t even human to you. It makes total sense to me. Your anger doesn’t have to be expressed the way someone else expresses their anger. You have your own type of expression and your own timing.

    Dwyanna, that’s so true! Having a new identity apart from the abuse is so important. There are so many lies we’ve believed about ourselves that finding out who we really are is refreshing and liberating.

  6. I can so relate to this, it was such a relief to read this and realise it’s not a sign of being crazy or having an over-active imagination. The bit about your death reflecting your life so resounded with me. I so fantasized over wanting a death as gory, horrific and dramatic as life had been. As a child I constantly fantasized about dying in gory dramatic ways, it would make them sorry, they hated me when alive but they’d miss me if I died! Death held no fears for me, it would have been welcome relief from the hurt, the terror, the trauma!

    Even at the age of 45 I still fantasize about terrible things happening to me – so that I’d have something other than abuse to occupy my mind and I’d have something ‘real’ causing me pain – something ‘tangible’ rather than something horrific that no-one can see.

    Only during the last few months since I reported my abusers have I begun to make decisions that are life enhancing and that are about having some kind of a future that I can’t see but think is worth sticking around for. I still have the fantasies but maybe as I heal I’ll need those fantasies less.

  7. Bethany, thanks for sharing your courage and vulnerability here. I never considered suicide as an option because I saw that as letting my abusers win. The anger which fueled that thought for me is probably what kept me alive. I was 38 when the flood gates opened inside of me and I started talking about the incest in 12-Step groups who listened and most encouraged me to keep talking until it was all out. The few who wanted me to shut up had unresolved issues of their own.

  8. Patricia, it’s so good that you had a safe place to share and people who encouraged you. I think actually healing is a part of not letting the abusers win too. When we heal they lose thier power.

  9. Fi, this is so great that you’re seeing those fantasies diminish! It sounds like it’s evidence of you’re healing.

  10. I remember once I was so angry where I had fantasized about being left in a dangerous area being raped and beaten to death.I never understood why I had these thoughts, but you bring up a good point on how it symbolizes ending your pain. I also wonder if these thoughts are reflecting how I feel about myself after the abuse. Maybe I didn’t think I was worth being treated well. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I remember being a confused teenager and fantasizing about some awful things happening to me. Now I look back and think “How could I think such a thing?” As a teenager, I was so disturbed. Like you bethany, I was a teenager whose abuse was so obvious and nobody did anything about it.

  11. Bethany,
    I had crazy fantasys as a child too, and I thought I was just dramatic. I was told that I was dramatic. This post brought up some new realizations for me! I had not thought of this from your perspctive before, but I did this too. I had not connected the fantasy to myself, although it was myself, so there must have been dissociation going on for me at the same time. But as I read this post I had very clear memories of my dead and mutilated child body found by neglectful parents who were shocked and horrified…….. finally
    Great post!

  12. Darlene, the parents finding us as mutilated children is so key, isn’t it? For me I wanted to rub my dad’s nose in it and I wanted my mom to not be able to over look it finally.

    Nolongeraslave, I can identify with that. Not just death stuff, but wanting harm to come to me. For me I feel like it was a reflection of how I felt about myself. Thank you for sharing. :)

  13. This was a very moving post for me. I too had violent fantasies when I was young. Not so much of my own death, but of serious injury, violent attack, or of someone I loved and relied on (like my mother) dying suddenly. The fantasies of my mother’s death (or at least her departure somehow) were encouraged by my grandmother…so I could rely more on her. These violent fantasies continued well into adulthood and, until very recently, I believed I was the only one who ever had them. Recently, a friend confessed to me that she had similar fantasies (particularly the ones about violent attack, that continued for me until a few years ago), and she compared them to cutting. We do these things to ourselves to feel something. This explanation rang true for me. As a child, I remember wishing that I had bruises or cuts or something to show for what I was feeling inside and the level of emotional abuse that was going on in my house. And fantasizing about being violently beaten gave me a kind of savage satisfaction. Not so that the people INSIDE my house would see me finally, but the people OUTSIDE my house that thought my family was so perfect would see it for what it truly was. I think this fantasy held on for so long because I still feel battered inside constantly…because now I do it to myself. In some sick way, the violent fantasies made me feel better. I still haven’t found my voice. I’m not sure I ever will.

    Anyway, thank you for letting so many people know they are not alone.

  14. Lisa, it sounds to me like you are finding your voice. In just what you’ve expressed you’re voicing those lies and letting this out. Great job! It is very similar to cutting. It’s another coping mechanism and way to express what’s really going on on the inside.

  15. Bethany, thank you so much for sharing this. I can relate, just like everyone else and it feels good to know that we arent “crazy”. That was the biggest turning point for me, was realizing that the way I thought/felt/acted was NORMAL for someone who had been abused. I honestly spent 20 years of my life thinking I was screwed up and crazy and never even thought for a second that my abuse had anything to do with my present life or how my past developed. So just realizing the two were connected and that I was worth saving and that being saved was at all possible, was a relief.

    Im so glad you found your voice and are using it now :)

  16. Fortunately for me, everyone in my immediate life told me exactly how UN-sorry they’d be if I died.
    Their exact words were “We’ll go to your funeral, grieve for a day, and then go on w/ our lives. Nobody’s going to sit around and grieve you just b/c you decide to do something stupid.”
    It doesn’t matter who said that particular sentence. Everybody *I* knew was going to make good and damn sure I’d never make the mistake of thinking I could effect them in even the slightest way. Or that they cared even the slightest bit.
    Consequently, I’ve never had ANY feelings about my own death.
    I used to think about how to kill them; since they’re the only ones they care about, that was the only thing that was ever going to register in THEIR minds.
    When I was “sent back” to be ward of the state, after having been adopted, I knew they were a lost cause from the word go.

  17. Amira, that’s so true. It’s easy to push aside the fact that we were abused and simply think I’m crazy. It’s my fault. Althought, it’s our responsibility to face now, we didn’t make ourselves crazy.

    Vicki, I’m sorry your family has reacted that way. I hope you’ve found someone in your life that does support you now.

  18. Thank you for another wonderfully honest and well written post Bethany. I had similar dark thoughts, especially about decapitation when i was growing up – and for me that means until my late 30s!

    I should have some more time to make the contribution I promised your mum in the next few weeks when work eases off a bit; but in the meantime thank you so much for this space and the conversations you spark in it. XXXX to you across the Atlantic!

  19. p.s. you’ve really helped me to make sense of some stuff that used to go through my head. x

  20. I HAVE found someone like that, but I’m afraid I’m going to ruin it like I did last time.
    There was another person who really did care but, when he showed it to me, it was the first time I’d ever seen it and didn’t know how to react to it. So I reacted if not the wrong way at least in a way that made him so uncomfortable he had to leave me.
    I’m afraid that might happen again.
    I mean really. How are you supposed to know how to react to something when you have almost no experience w/ it? I’m not being sarcastic, that was my attempt to point out that I’m not sure how to do it.

  21. Fellow Passanger, I’m so glad this hit home for you!

    Vicki, I don’t know if we are supposed to know how to act in new situations. For me, all I had ever known was abuse, so a life outside of that and “normalcy” was foreign to me. What did normal look like? What do normal reactions to healthy behaviors look like? Unfortunately, we don’t always know. I’ve learned from the examples of others (watching healthy relationships, reading books on healthy relationships, etc).

  22. I too wished for a violent, gory, horrifying death. I wanted my outsides to look like my insides felt. I heard a church service a few years ago where the pastor talked about death. He said that the way people die often reflects the way they lived. He then spoke of a women who had lots of money, a big house, cars and all the material comforts but she had alienated her kids, her husband left her and she eventually committed suicide. Her body was found by a neighbor on the garage floor, a giant gaping hole ripped in her chest from a self inflicted gunshot wound.

    I am 45 years old and two years ago I began the journey towards healing from a childhood filled with sexual, physical, emotional abuse and neglect. It is such a difficult thing to do. I never understood why I always felt so crappy. I was completely unaware of my feelings – that I was in a nearly constant state of fear and anger – and that’s what was tying my stomach in knots, making me jumpy and causing me to have headaches and muscle pain every day. I was certain I would be the first person my therapist had encountered who had absolutely no feelings about their abuse. None. I said there are none, they simply aren’t there. It really wasn’t such a big deal. And no, the fact that for the past 35 years I flew into a violent rage at the slightest frustration was NOT an indication of the intensity of my repressed anger. Not at all. :)

    I’m still learning about a person (myself) that I never really knew. I didn’t believe that abuse could really do that much damage because I didn’t feel damaged as much as I felt inherently different and evil. Slowly and patiently my therapist has helped me see that I wasn’t born the way I am, the abuse created a personality that I needed to survive but that now I must change because that same personality that allowed me to live is when I was a child is destroying me as an adult. It’s very hard work. It hurts, it’s exhausting, it’s maddening, it’s confusing….

    This is longer than I intended but I’ve done little sharing of my experience except with my therapist. I feel a compulsive need to talk about the whole thing! Thanks to those “listening”.

  23. How come I’m the only one who never wished for my own gory, violent death?
    Does it mean I’m odd, b/c I never fantasized about it?

  24. Vicki, I never once have considered suicide or fantasized about a gory death for myself. Some part of me has always believed that my abusers would win if I took the easy way out with suicide. A friend told me that I did suicide in a past life so on some level I know what the consequences will be for those who do suicide. Kind of like “been there, done that” so don’t want to go there again. No idea if my friend is right about that or not. All I know is that I have never looked at suicide as a way out of the pain for me.
    Years ago, after talking a friend down off of a mountain top where he had gone to end his life, my compassion for people who feel that way changed dramatically. A part of me can understand that sometimes the pain can just become too much.

  25. Judy, thank you for sharing. That can be very true about how some people die. I’ve had this nagging feeling that if I didn’t deal with my issues the death would be inevitable.

    Vicki, I don’t think this makes you odd. The people who are commenting are people who relate to this. We don’t always have the same emotions now or as children. :)

  26. thank you for sharing. i have felt exactly the same way. your posts help me a lot, thanks

  27. Bethany, I used to try and leave parts of my self behind so someone would know I existed, I so desperately wanted to not be just a piece of my family, of their cover up and abuse. Thank you for sharing and posting and I am so encouraged by your voice! Bright blessings…Shanyn, the Scarred Seeker

  28. As I child my mum was often told I was a child only a mother can love. I remember contemplating suicide, and praying for an awful disease like cancer or aids so that members of my family might realise how much i mean to them and actually love me. My mum knew about all the sexual abuse but punished me for letting people touch me in the wrong place. It didn’t really affect me as it was the norm for me until 5 years ago when I became SO angry. I would hit my head on a wall, punch walls and break bones. Realising that I was only hurting myself, I started bottling my anger but that jsut resulted in severe depression and so I started attempting suicide. I knew what I was doing wasn’t good so I started therapy. Your posts help me view things from a different prospective and I find them soothing.

  29. Charlie, there was nothing wrong with you as a child. Those people who abused you with their words were definitely lacking in compassion and were the ones who were damaged in their thinking. I love that we can all be from different backgrounds here and still can relate to each others’ pain in ways that open us up to healing. You were always a beautiful child. All children are beautiful. Those people had no right to abuse you in that way.

  30. This makes alot of sense to me, you have explained it so well. I never understood why I had those thoughts until now. Thank you.

  31. Shannon, Shanyn, Charlie, & Lizzie: I’m so glad this helped you.

    Patricia: You’re right. We all come from such different pasts, but it’s amazing how similar the effects are.

  32. Here’s to finding your voice and being one of the brave ones who overcame the adversity of childhood to thriveas an adult. We survivors don’t take our new lives for granted!

  33. Another challenge, in addition to not allowing the abuse and abuser to define me, is becoming aware of how I identify other people with the abuser, a male. I have a hard time trusting men. In reality, some of them can actually be trusted.

  34. Cassandra, that’s so true. Many times we associate others with abusers when they merely have similar traits. It can be hard to tell the difference between and abuser and someone who is a man for example when it may have been a man who abused us. My abuser was a man, but not all men are abusers.

  35. Marisa, cheers to that! :)