The first time I told my mom the truth about having been abused in childhood, and then its effect on my teen and young adult years, she cried. That surprised me, but what I didn’t expect her to say was that she couldn’t even remember some of the events that were most upsetting to me. One memory was of my mom giving me a sewing lesson, a rarity to get one-on-one time with her, let alone for her to have the time to teach me anything.
About seven or eight years old, I thought the relaxed moment was good enough to tell her about the abuse again–as that wasn’t the first time I tried to tell her. That day I said, “Mama, Eddie keeps touching me. Down there.” I looked downward, because we weren’t allowed to say the V-word. My mom stopped sewing and narrowed her eyes on me. She clamped the top of her bathrobe tight at her neck and shouted, “Stop trying to look down my robe! Cochina!” She had called me a dirty pig.
As an adult, I had my first candid adult conversation with my mom and reminded her of this incident. She told me she didn’t remember it, but was sorry she had reacted that way. I asked her how could she ignore my trying to tell her yet again that I was being molested by one of my brothers (who later became a Christian minister and denied ever having abused me, my sister, and other young girls in the family.)
Among other things, my mom admitted she had also been sexually abused, by her brother, too, and by neighborhood boys. I found out that a few of my aunts, my mom’s sisters, had been abused by the same brother who assaulted my mom. Cousins, too, had been abused by their brothers or fathers.
Sexual abuse is more often than not, a generational pattern.
My mother knew my work involved coaching abuse victims and that I planned on writing a book about it. She asked me not to write it until after she had died. Shamed or embarrassed, I figured she didn’t want to see the truth of her ignorance, to be made aware of her mistakes as a parent. Maybe she didn’t want to admit that she had been abused, a subject less talked about in her generation than my own.
I told my own daughters about my abuse, not the horrific details, but enough to hope they would learn to say no to anyone who would take advantage of them. Fast forward at least a decade later, to after I found out my oldest daughter had been molested by my father and raped by a neighbor boy. I never expected to hear anything like that from any one of my children, thinking I had prevented it with my telling.
My daughter had her own coaching business, primarily helping people with issues surrounding their sexuality and relationships. One of her clients was interested in taping her story. During the interview, Marisa shared a childhood situation when I caught her fondling herself. She described the shame she endured and how she felt I discounted her feelings. The incident traumatized her. As an adult, she told me of the incident and was stunned to learn that I had forgotten all about it until then.
I don’t think I easily recalled the incident because I didn’t see it as a horrible event. Awkward, yes, because having a sexual abuse background, I had a distorted viewpoint about sex and didn’t know what was considered the norm and within healthy boundaries. In retrospect, I know I could have handled the situation a lot differently, but given my limited knowledge, I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.
Still, seeing her share that story in a video, I felt what must have been the same punch to the gut my mother had when I confronted her about the past and announced that I planned to write a book about it. Watching that interview, I felt painted without patience, wisdom, compassion, or understanding when I thought I was being very modern—acting totally concerned yet cool in catching my daughter in an act my mother would have beaten me for.
Ignorance breeds ignorance. And I think now, rather than asking my oldest daughter to keep mum until my dying day, I’d rather bring all the cards to the table, clear up the baggage, and move on to a better relationship with her. It is through her I have learned the meaning of integrity and authenticity, especially when it involves communication between us. I am saddened that I couldn’t do a better job raising my girls. A product of ignorance, I didn’t educate myself enough before having children.
The relationship I’ve built over the past few years with my daughter has included the best and the worst moments in my life. They’ve been emotional celebrations and challenging hits to the heart. But the new foundation is stronger than anything we’ve ever shared. I know we still have many paths to walk together, a journey I’ll gladly take to its fruition.
Coming clean about our thoughts and feelings to our parents, children, or other loved ones is a difficult process. The ego suffers when truth is revealed, but it really does set one free from anxiety, guilt, and/or negative thought patterns. Consider any overdue apologies you need to make, explanations at least for your behavior, or someone who needs to know the truth. Release yourself from the past and share your story with those who matter, even if there’s a chance you won’t get the reaction you’d like. You will uncover your integrity and learn to be more authentic in your voice from that moment forward. You’ll find that the next time you interact with someone, it will be pleasant when that story finds its way back to you.