At age 49, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m 54 now; I’m a 5-year-survivor. I’m doing well. But my survival after a journey through lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and then 5 years on anticancer drugs is almost secondary compared to the journey into repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse that began concurrently with the cancer diagnosis. I’m convinced now that without being backed into a corner by the diagnosis, I probably wouldn’t have opened to the reality of the memories locked inside me or ever really have listened to them or given them credence. I wouldn’t have allowed myself to re-experience the pain of the secrets of the childhood terror and trauma stored inside my body. It was a necessity at that time—to repress the memories that is. I survived childhood by weaving a different conscious reality than what actually was the case. The secrets and the hypocrisies that betrayed the little-girl me were profound, well-protected, and base.
I’m learning now to trust the messages my body communicates. It seemed for years my body was the betrayer, culminating in the ultimate betrayal of cancer. But I know differently now. It was the grown-ups, the adults around me that betrayed me and taught me not to trust myself or my body.
I believe protecting children is a sacred trust—perhaps the most sacred trust our species is given. When children grow up in a home where emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual abuse are perpetrated upon them, they easily lose themselves and lose all trust in the world around them. Children naturally protect their abusers by keeping dark secrets. When a child’s love is thus twisted and used against the child, who depends so completely on the adults in its life for survival, the child’s life almost certainly becomes off-balance in some way as years go by. I know mine did. Children grow up attaching themselves to people, groups, activities that are equaly abusive and destructive to them. And even worse, they may become perpetrators of similar abuses in turn. It is what they’ve learned after all.
I’m not a trained psychologist, but I’ve lived through such a lifetime. Unraveling and disentangling all my emotional knots has been heart-wrenching and arduous. I’ve had to re-learn what love is after choosing several partners in my life who were equally as abusive as my parents had been. It puzzled me no end why I chose such people again and again. Then the memories and the reality of the cruelty of my childhood began to surface. I found the reasons why I had made such choices—the reasons why the abuse felt so familiar and comfortable. And I have been able to change the destructive patterns in my life.
I hope I’ve also broken the generational patterns of abuse in my family. You see, both my parents experienced terrible cruelties in their own young lives. And I suspect there was a family history of such abuse even before that. I don’t say this by way of offering an excuse for my parents’ actions. On the contrary, I believe they bear full responsibility for the things they chose to do. But the fact that abuse can be passed down from generation to generation is sobering.
Before age 10, I resolved to protect the children born to me with every ounce of my being. Funny—I didn’t really have a conscious understanding of why that was so important to me. But just thinking about it has always brought out my Harry-Truman-type resolve: “The buck stops here!” I have only one son, but I pray that when I reach whatever way station we all arrive at on our journey out of this lifetime, I’ll hear these words, “You did it! You protected him! You broke the cycle!”
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