by Christina Enevoldsen
When I was ten, I wet my pants in school. We were taking a very long test and our instructions were to remain silent at our seats. No talking, no asking questions, no moving around. Since that ruled out raising my hand to ask to go to the bathroom, and I wasn’t even allowed to wiggle in my seat, I only saw one choice.
As a child, I went to great lengths to avoid getting in trouble. Following the rules felt like a life and death matter. I didn’t need any type of punishment; it was punishment enough for anyone in authority to be displeased with me. The worst thing I could imagine was being labeled a bad kid.
That fear followed me all my life and it crept up when I started talking about my childhood sexual abuse. The first time I told my story publicly, I heard a little girl’s voice within me say, “You’re going to get in trouble now.” For a moment, fear gripped me and I was at the mercy of my parents again, subject to their judgment and the abandonment that went with it.
I comforted myself with the knowledge that I’m not that vulnerable child anymore and I continued to talk openly about the things my dad did to me and the things he let other men do to me. After a couple of years of sharing my story publicly, I didn’t know how much that old fear of getting in trouble still haunted me. I hadn’t had contact with my parents during that time, though I’d heard from a few people that they didn’t like what I was saying.
Then I got a certified letter from my mother:
Jan. 31, 2011
I am writing to inform you that your malicious slander of your father has not gone unnoticed. You have built an entire world out of your fantasy. In dreaming up your sexual abuse you have maligned your father’s character and deeply hurt his heart and mine. Your lies shall surely catch up with you.
I want you to know that if you have any plans of writing a book, we will sue you and anyone who has anything to do with it. Your defamation of your father’s character will stop. You will not enjoy one penny from any book published about this gross lie.
And I should let you know that we filed some of your inflammatory statements about your father and me, along with your threat against me, with the Mesa Police Dept.
And I will always be your mother whether you recognize me or not as such.
Mary [name withheld]
When I got this, there were two voices in my head. I heard my adult voice, who had healed enough to stand up to the threats, but I also heard the voice of the little girl inside of me who was still vulnerable to abuse and rejection. I had to dissect this letter to face my fears and to recognize the lies behind them.
“I’m writing to inform you…”
The way my mom phrased that statement was so impersonal, as if to emphasize her distance from me. My mom distanced herself from me all my life and this was a painful reminder of that. Though it didn’t appear to be a threat, it served as a threat to my child-self.
Even though they’d already walked away from me a few years before, it was a reminder of the original abandonment of childhood that said, “You’re not good enough to be around, so get in line or we won’t love you anymore. You’ll be all alone in the world and nobody will ever love you.”
The fear of abandonment forced me to comply as a child, but I’m not forced to comply anymore. The key people in my life did reject me for telling the truth, but I’m not alone. Even if the consequence for telling the truth is rejection from everyone I know, that’s not the same death threat that it was when I was a child. I’m a self-sufficient adult and abandonment no longer means the end of my life.
Actually, separation from my abusers has brought me a much more affirming life. I haven’t had a relationship with my parents in years so I know I can live very easily and happily without them, but it was good to remind my child-self of that.
“I’m writing to inform you that your malicious slander of your father has not gone unnoticed.”
The little girl inside of me panicked. “Oh no! They don’t like what I’m doing and they caught me telling”. I’d learned from my family that it was acceptable for them to violate my innocence, but it was unforgivable for me to talk about the violation. But I don’t live by those incest family values anymore. I didn’t do anything wrong by talking about the things my dad did to me.
“Malicious slander” sounded so evil. It was that same fear of being labeled “bad”. That’s a huge part of my need to follow the rules. Being treated like trash gave me the message I was trash so I tried to perfect my way out of the shame.
Even though I’d dealt with the majority of that, I still needed to assure myself that I’m not the bad one here. I carried my dad’s shame for what he did to me long enough. I wasn’t the one who had done anything wrong—he was.
“You have built an entire world out of your fantasy.”
When I first started talking about my abuse, it felt like I was lying. I didn’t feel connected to what I knew. It all felt distant and surreal, like a dream. Added to that, I didn’t have any emotions about it for a long time. It was as though it happened to someone else.
I didn’t think it was possible to experience such horrible things and not feel anything about it, so on some level, it seemed like I was making it up. Eventually, the emotions came and I KNEW those things didn’t just happen, they happened to ME.
Even though I couldn’t be shaken from the truth anymore, my mother’s claim that I was making this up was crushing. I’d felt invisible to my mother my whole life and now she was tossing me aside with the same dismissive attitude. “Your abuse didn’t exist and neither do you.”
In my mind, I was a small child standing before my mother, pleading for her protection and comfort. Not being believed or acknowledged was life threatening then, but I acknowledge my own life through my healing and I don’t need her to believe me now. Coming face to face with this pain showed me what validation I needed to give to myself.
“In dreaming up your sexual abuse you have maligned your father’s character and deeply hurt his heart and mine.”
In their twisted world, they are the victims and I am their abuser. This kind of manipulative guilt trip used to work on me. I was trained to take care of their feelings in the hope that if they were fulfilled, they’d finally take care of me.
I waited for the validation for most of my life that my needs were important too, but it never came from them. Their manipulations stopped working when I realized my value and stopped needing their permission to put myself first.
“Your lies shall surely catch up with you.”
I heard this as, “It’s not only your dad and me who will act in opposition to you, but powers bigger than us will GET you and you’ll be sorry you ever crossed us.” That struck such a nerve and I realized that I’d always been afraid of that. I had a vague fear that God or some force would punish me for talking about my abuse.
Sometimes while I was driving, I was sure another driver would be an instrument in the universe’s hand to pronounce judgment on me. I was afraid I’d discover some gruesome disease overtaking my body. I was always on guard, never knowing which direction retribution would come from.
I’d pushed that fear aside and dismissed it as silly, but as a child, my parents were gods to me. They were all powerful and they held my life in their hands. The child within me still saw them as gods and to cross them was to cross the Maker of the Universe.
When I confronted that lie, the illusion shattered. Not only are my mother and father not God or gods, they don’t represent God or his interests. When I stand against my parents, I’m really standing against injustice, abuse and lies. They do not represent anything to do with God and they do not have any power to pronounce judgment on me.
“I want you to know that if you have any plans of writing a book, we will sue you and anyone who has anything to do with it. Your defamation of your father’s character will stop. You will not enjoy one penny from any book published about this gross lie.”
I thought it was interesting that the threat to sue me was only if I wrote a book. The audience that I’d already reached through my story reached tens of thousands. Why hadn’t they already sued me?
“And I should let you know that we filed some of your inflammatory statements about your father and me, along with your threat against me, with the Mesa Police Dept.”
When I first read that, I was a little girl again, terrified of getting in trouble. It was one thing to be sent to my room and another thing to be sent to jail. But what had I done wrong? I’ve done nothing illegal or wrong. My dad is the criminal, not me. I’m doing something right in telling my story. I’m standing for the truth and making it easier for other abuse survivors to tell their story.
As more of us speak out, maybe more abusers will think twice about hurting other children. Maybe more parents will be diligent. Maybe more survivors will heal. I’m helping to make the world a safer place by talking about how dangerous my childhood was. If telling the truth was illegal, I’d still tell the truth.
Though my mom claimed she and my dad reported me to the police, I don’t know if that’s really true. There’s one thing I have to keep reminding myself: abusers lie. They will say anything to preserve themselves, which to them means maintaining their position of power.
One of the biggest things that stands out to me about this letter is that it’s written by my mother. In fact, this is one of three letters I’ve received from my mother since our “divorce”. Why hadn’t my father made any effort to clear his name or confront me about “lying” about him?
Though my mother is claiming to speak for both of them, my father has been silent. He’s told plenty of other people that I’m lying, but he’s never faced me. I can only conclude that he doesn’t want to face me because he knows that I’ll never be manipulated into silence again. His feigned protests to other people and through other people are an attempt to manipulate them, not me.
This threatening letter was a turning point in my recovery process. A few days after receiving it, I realized that I hadn’t really been standing up for myself enough and decided to report my dad to the police. Seeing how much my parents discounted me stirred something in me. I saw how much I’d been discounting what my dad did to me.
Though my parents hoped to shut me up, it made me more motivated than ever to stand up for the truth. They meant to intimidate me into silence as though I was still that little girl that they could manipulate and control. They did everything they could to appear as powerful as possible but the letter showed me just how little power they actually still had.
About a year later, my parents did sue me. If you want to read about that: Sued For Exposing My Sexual Abuse
Have you feared being sued for exposing your abuser? Please comment below and remember to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to participate in the discussion. If you would like to protect your privacy, you don’t have to use your real name. Email addresses are never made public.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.