When I was sued by my parents for exposing the sexual abuse that was perpetrated on me by my father, my lawyer asked me a question: “How do you if know your memories of sexual abuse are real?”
He was defending me against charges of defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress so that was a fair question.
Though I was solid in my history by then, that’s a question I asked myself frequently as I faced my past.
I didn’t always remember my abuse—at least not consciously. I repressed most of it until I was an adult. When the memories returned, they felt like dreams. It was like seeing them through a wall of water or heavy mist.
As much support and love as there is in the community of survivors that gather online, there is a topic that seems to divide us. I’ve rarely witnessed discussion topics that become as hostile as the issue of forgiveness.
It’s easy to understand why there would be so much disagreement considering that there are so many definitions of forgiveness. To some it means accepting the past. Others define forgiveness as letting go of negative emotions. To some, it coincides with reconciliation or feeling no ill will toward towards the abuser, while others believe it has nothing to do with a relationship the abuser.
Added to that, forgiveness is very often preached as necessary for other survivors. It’s one thing to say that forgiveness is important to you, but quite another to insist that it’s important for all survivors or to tell others what’s best for their own healing. That’s when forgiveness discussions turn into defenses against boundary violations and condescending remarks.
by Christina Enevoldsen
When I decided to report my dad, I didn’t even know if the abuse that had happened forty years ago could be prosecuted. I checked on the Arizona statute of limitations but because of how it’s worded, I still wasn’t sure. I also didn’t know if I remembered enough to make a case, especially since I didn’t have any physical evidence. Even though I was full of uncertainty, I decided to do as much as I could.
I was familiar with the process of reporting sexual abuse since I’d gone with my daughter to report her abuse. I left a message for the detective who handled my daughter’s case when we reported her dad. I held back the tears as I choked out the words. Then I hung up and waited.
I didn’t hear back for a couple weeks. It was agonizing. I felt forgotten, unheard and discounted. I discovered that I should have phoned the main number of that unit instead of calling the detective who worked on my daughter’s case.
When it came to my own dad, I didn’t feel that way. Even though both of our fathers had done the same things, I didn’t believe my dad deserved the same punishment.
Reporting my dad for the things he did to me seemed like reporting him for making me go to school or forcing me to eat my vegetables. I didn’t see a crime. I believed my dad was entitled to do whatever he wanted to me and that I deserved it. It wasn’t about who the abusers were; it was about who the victim was. It was horrifying to think of someone else being abused but it didn’t seem as wrong or as illegal to sexually abuse me.
Even if I had recognized that I was just as valuable as any other abuse survivor and deserving of protection…
New Year’s Day is traditionally a time for a fresh start. There are the usual resolutions and goals that everyone seems optimistic about—the eagerness to leave behind the old and to embrace the new and improved.
Until the recent few years, imagining or planning what I wanted to accomplish for the coming year seemed impossible. When I tried to envision a future for myself, it was dark and hidden. It felt presumptuous to say I could or would work toward a particular outcome.
The control I had over my life was limited to how I would adapt to the disaster I knew was coming. I’d be ready when the rug was pulled out from under me. I became an expert at “making the best of a bad situation” and “going with the flow.”
By the time I married Don almost ten years ago, I’d started to end some of my abusive relationships but I was still feeling and deciding and acting out of the beliefs that I had as an abuse victim. In the first few months of our marriage, we had a horrible fight that ended with me slamming the bedroom door and shouting, “I WON’T LET YOU BULLY ME!”
Several months ago, I settled a sixteen month long lawsuit with my parents (actually, my dad died before the case ended so only my mother was left). They sued me for defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress. I’d publically exposed my childhood sexual abuse by my dad and they didn’t like that very much.
I like to think of myself as a crusader. The internal image of myself is a fierce-looking woman, charging on horseback toward oppressors, declaring the truth to those they hold bound and inspiring them to overthrow the tyrants’ rule. I don’t back down from standing for and with the oppressed.
I’ve eliminated abusers from my own life, but after the relief of not having a relationship with my mother for nearly six years, she was back in it. With the lawsuit, I didn’t have the choice of walking away. I not only had to read the painful lies my mother used as “discovery”, I had to respond with a defense. I felt controlled and victimized again.
by Christina Enevoldsen
I’d known my dad was getting close to the end. Ever since I’d really been facing my sexual abuse, I’d wondered how I’d deal with his impending death. There’s such a fantasy about deathbed reconciliations. Death makes us consider what’s really important in life—love and the people close to us.
After a six year estrangement, I didn’t follow the advice of well-meaning people to “let bygones be bygones” before it was too late. I couldn’t buy into the “he won’t be around forever” threat. It reminds me of a high-pressure sales pitch, “Hurry! This deal won’t last!!!” But what kind of an offer is that? The advertised version of the last moments with my dad would be bittersweet but fulfilling, but based on my dad’s history, that’s not what I’d really be buying.
by Christina Enevoldsen
When I started writing publicly about my healing from sexual abuse, I did it to validate my own history and journey and to inspire hope in other survivors. It’s been wonderfully empowering to record my triumphs and to share the process with thousands of fellow journeyers.
However, being so public about such intimate feelings and experiences has been costly. For the most part, I count it a bargain compared with the expense of silence, but that resolve isn’t always very convenient or comfortable.
One of the recent costs for being so vocal is a lawsuit from my parents. They are suing me for defamation of character and emotional distress. Through their case, they want to shut down OSA and silence my voice.
In the minds of my parents, they are the victims; I am the abuser.
by Christina Enevoldsen
I was twenty-two. I’d been married five years when I confessed to my husband that I’d been having an affair. While he decided if he wanted to stay with me, I went to stay with my parents.
The day I arrived to my parents’ house, I sat in one corner of their living room while my mom and dad sat in the opposite corner. The living room was mostly used as a pass through to get from the front door to the rest of the house. But on this day, I wasn’t allowed entrance to the rest of the house quite yet. I don’t remember anything specific that they said, but the message was, “How could you turn out so bad when you came from such a good family?”
My lifetime of abuse gave me the feeling of being the constant target of a nameless, faceless bully. Unable to conceal my terror or prevent whimpers from escaping, every sign of protest fed his lust for more suffering. He was never satisfied; the more he saw the pain he inflicted, the greater his appetite for more.
My hope for relief seemed to be in pretending I didn’t notice. I desperately wanted to be someone who could say, “Is that all you got?”
I couldn’t have conceived of chasing off my attacker or of defending myself. The only thing I could imagine was coping better by developing tougher skin.
It’s not a mystery to me where I learned to cope. While I was growing up being sexually abused by my dad and emotionally abused by both my parents, I had no voice, no impact. There was no escape from the bullies in my own home and it was unthinkable for my child self to say, “Mom and Dad, the way you treat me really hurts me and I deserve to be valued and respected. If you don’t change, I’m moving out on my own.”