by Patty Hite
Last night I received a phone call from the leasing agent in Ohio who told us that we’re approved to lease her house. As much as I love the beaches and sunny days of Florida, this just never felt like home. My husband made Florida home but I have always felt like this was a temporary visit. So Ohio, here we come.
Ohio was my childhood home. I was born and raised there. Ohio is the place I was sexually abused and where I caught my dad in bed with my sister.
I have very few good memories in my life—especially from my childhood. I remember every act of abuse I suffered throughout my life. I can tell you how I felt, what I was doing, what my abuser did, but I can’t remember many good times. It was so traumatic for me to see my dad in bed with my sister that I succumbed to dissociation frequently. I can’t help but think that I escaped to my happy place—a dissociated place in my mind—most of my life.
My children remind me of times in their lives and I can’t remember them. I’ve looked at photo albums and I can tell you what picture is on what page, but I can’t remember what was happening or where we were when those pictures were taken. I remember being in the hospital when they were born, happy times, but few adventures during their young lives.
I’ve lived a stressful adult life and I’ve found that stress was a trigger to depart from my surroundings. When I was overwhelmed by neglect from my husband, stressed over lack of finances, or worried about cooking a good meal, I escaped. It was second nature to me. Trying to decide what to buy at the store or getting to the gas station before I ran out of gas triggered me into dissociation. I realized a few years ago that I was in a dissociated state of mind more than I was out of it. It hurts to know that because of that, I forgot the good times—precious times that I should have had, especially concerning my children’s early years.
The last time I was in Ohio was about eight years ago. Going there brought back little girl Patty. I drove by the home where we lived when my mom discovered my dad was having sex with my sister. I felt sad when I saw the two story house—no great, overwhelming feelings—just sadness. I drove by my grade school and saw the playground. It was the after-school hang-out and where they held daily activities for the neighborhood kids during the summer. Memories came flooding back of learning to play chess and four square bounce, and of the swings and the field where I played kick ball.
One day, I saw a sign that pointed to a park. The name wasn’t familiar, but I wanted a break from driving and thought I would take some time and walk around. There was a path that led to a small bridge that crossed over a little creek. I stood in the middle of that bridge and saw a small but beautiful waterfall. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming feeling that I had been there before and tears started rolling down my cheeks. Before long, I was crying uncontrollably and had to find a bench to sit on.
After a few minutes an older woman sat beside me and asked if I was okay. I told her that these were tears of joy and that I had been searching for something good from my childhood and I finally found it. She patted my shoulder and left, but I sat there for hours as the memories of my childhood came flooding back. Good memories. Happy and joyful memories. This park and the bridge and the waterfall was my happy place. This was the place I went in my mind when I was being beaten and raped by my ex-husband. This was my safe place. This was my escape. Welcome home, Patty Jane.
I asked my sister, who lives in Ohio, about that park. She told me we used to take a bus there. Mom would bring food and we’d spend the whole day. It was before I saw my dad with my sister. Things changed in the house after that. Mom started to work and couldn’t spend much time with us. Their marriage was strained. I think I started dissociating then and it became an everyday thing for me.
Finding that happy place and realizing it was a real place from my childhood was wonderful and traumatic at the same time. I always pictured it as a focus point when I was being abused, but to realize that it was a real place—wow! But to know that I couldn’t consciously remember such a happy, real life place was sad. I had thought it was a fantasy. I had no idea it was a real place. Just thought it was my imagination.
I have spent most of my life searching for my abused childhood, recapturing the memories of my sexual and physical abuse and reliving the false memories that were instilled in my head. But I want to remember the good times.
I need to find the little girl who soaked in the mist that sprang up from the waterfall. I need to find the little girl who learned to play chess and felt the breeze in her hair while on the swings at the school playground. I need to find the memories of holding my children in my arms and I need to experience the good times that they tell me about.
When I discovered the “real” happy place at that park, it was the beginning of a balance in my soul. It was no longer one-sided. Yes, the memories of my abuse outweigh the good memories, but it was a start.
Before healing, everything is unbalanced—our emotions, our relationships, our memories, giving and taking, asking and helping, our boundaries and limits. The more we heal, the more we become balanced. I think it is just as important to remember the good times in our lives, even as few as we may have, as it is to remember the bad times. If we focus only on the bad times, I think our views can become dark. We see enemies everywhere we look, and we expect bad times to overtake us, even if we are having good times. Balance. I think that is where I am headed. I feel it the more I find anything good about my past and remember it. It’s like the pieces are coming together.
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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