I’m different. Odd. Strange. Weird. Not like the rest. The brown egg in a carton of white ones.
That’s how child abuse makes you feel, but until Sunday night’s season three finale of Ray Donovan I’d never verbalized it that way. I’d never said those words out loud to anyone. Even though for my entire childhood and adult life, I’ve felt exactly like that again and again, like I live in a re-occurring dream where I show up to school without my clothes on, the one fool who forgot to get dressed for the day.
So when Brandon, aka “Bunchie,” Donovan (go no further if you watch the show and you’re not caught up!!!) got the news that he’d be becoming a father, and then didn’t react as his new wife expected him to, I already knew why he was apprehensive before he even said it.
If you’re not familiar with the plot line of Ray Donovan I’ll fill you in without giving away too much: Ray is the oldest and most gangster-ish brother of three Bostonians living in LA, two of whom were molested by their Parish priest when they were younger. Of the two, Brandon’s the one who is open about his abuse, and his issues, having sued the Catholic Church for damages.
This scene was powerful. It was emotional. It was perfectly written. When Bunchie’s wife asked him what his problem was he said, “You know what. I’m different.” He was referring to his status as a childhood sexual abuse survivor.
I felt sick, because I know what it’s like. I told my husband: “That’s how it feels. That’s how I feel. And it doesn’t go away.”
I’ve never had concerns about whether I’d hurt a child, that’s not my issue. For me, there’s always this weird, lingering question whenever I have a bad day. It’s this: “Was I abused because I’m different, or am I different because I was abused?”
I don’t blame myself for what happened, I was, after all, a toddler, the innocence of which I’ve been intimately acquainted with as I watch my own child grow. My question is a little different. Was I born this way? Born a victim? Is it the abuse, or is it just me? And, even more personal still, is there something in my DNA that made my father this way? Do I carry the child rapist gene?
I’ve spent many nights laying in bed thinking, thoughts along these muddled, desperate lines. I’ve wondered: how would I be if it hadn’t happened to me. Would I have healthier relationships? Would I have better quality friends? Would I be better at math? Would I have gotten better grades in general? Not been so sick as a child? And on and on, so that sometimes I wonder if every bad thing that has ever happened to me, as the result of my own weakness, can all be tied to that period in my life between ages 2 and 5 (I’ve done some mental record keeping lately, and deduced that the abuse continued through kindergarten, though less acute most of the time, it was still abuse).
Maybe this sounds insane. Illogical. Finger pointing at external factors for poor life choices. But on dark days, this is where my brain goes, a long trek into a black, spider lined cave where all of the monsters live. Thank God there are periods of time filled with so much brightness, so much happiness, I hardly think about the pain. I hardly think about being different on those days. Sometimes I marvel at how remarkably stable I actually am! I don’t always think I suck.
But still it’s there. The memories. The pain. The disconnect between how things are supposed to be, and how they actually are.
So now I have the greatest task of all. Healing. I’ve got to put the work in to change, so I can protect my daughter, not only from the physical assaults, but from the mental ones.
I read on NPR recently about how anxiety can be passed down to children, but how it can be prevented with behavior modifications. I thought about myself, those fervent nights I’ve spent in a sweat of worrying, my mind racing with a stream of sick possibilities, while my daughter sleeps soundly next to me, still unaware of her mother’s angst, of the world’s voracious appetite for inflicting misery. I thought about the ways in which my fears might hurt, not help her.
Because my hope is that if she ever feels different, it’s because she knows she’s extraordinary.
* I’ve decided to begin writing about Parenting After Surviving Child Abuse in this space. Eventually, I’ll have a tab in the menu to make these posts easier to find. Eventually, adapted versions of these posts may appear on MommyWolf.com once I have the resources and contributors accumulated to build it. In the meantime, all posts of this nature will be tagged in this way, so feel free to skip them OR share them! If you know of another mother who has survived child abuse and who could use support in her parenting journey, please direct her to the private Facebook group.