Parenting as a Survivor; Sadness and Loss

This is the hardest and saddest post I’ve ever written.

baby_boy_crawling

I was so happy finding out I was to be a dad; completely over the moon; something I had always thought I wouldn’t do. As any parent to be, I had nerves and anxiety, but my past abuse didn’t matter when Yvonne was carrying our child.

For many of the survivors I have worked with, being a parent is full of ambivalence and fear. Some battle with the need to protect their own children, while not wanting to upset them in the slightest. Some survivors find it difficult to relate to the role of parenting; after all what blueprint do they have to work from? If you’re a parent, where did you learn your parenting from? If the guidance you have been given is fundamentally flawed through abuse, what do you use? Many survivors have huge confusion over the necessary and appropriate boundaries to give a child.

The reality is a large number of survivors I have been involved with, take the decision not to have children at all; they either feel they can’t be good enough parents or don’t want to bring another child into the world to suffer. Please re-read that sentence and pause for a moment; just how sad is that? Through being a victim of a crime in childhood, they do not feel good enough to be a parent or view the world as so bad, they don’t want to bring another human being into it.

I had had years of support and counselling and was running workshops on Recovery, I thought I had looked at everything and was done with my own work. Out of the blue my world was rocked, I discovered my own recovery was not complete; the hardest and saddest part was still to come. Being a parent meant I was responsible for these 2 vulnerable children, I felt inadequate, could I look after them, keep them safe, when I hadn’t even manged to do it for myself?

Once again, my abuser was able to reach out and hurt me and influence my life. Being a parent had made me vulnerable and, as with my father, it was through a relationship with someone else, that he managed to get through.

Bubbles, Fun and Laughter?
Bubbles, Fun and Laughter?

A parents involvement with their child at bath time should be bubbles, fun and laughter. For me it was fear, anxiety and horror. It meant flashbacks of the abuse and what he did to me in the bath and the photos he took. I tried, but I never managed to bath my own children, it was too painful.

I can’t describe how sad this makes me feel, I actually have tears writing this; he actually affected my relationship with my children; that is something I cannot forgive him for. I was still paying the price for being a victim of abuse.

Looking at my own children enjoying their childhood and innocence and then going to work and hearing stories of people abusing children the same age as my own, began to take it’s toll. As my children grew up and became closer to the age I was when the abuse started, I started realising just how little and innocent I was when the abuse took place.

I then had to face yet another loss; the loss of enjoyment in watching and experiencing my children grow up without the ever invasive shadow of my own abuse impacting on the experience.

It was at this time, I knew I needed to break from survivor work for a while.

From Victim to Survivor

Survivor as Abuser Myth
“The victim to victimizer theory of sexual abuse receives repeated attention in the professional and popular literature.
It appears that in the mind of the public and unfortunately in the minds of some professionals, all offenders are victims and being a victim is a direct cause of sexual abuse.”Murphy and Smith, 1996
Child Sexual Abuse Perpetrators who report being sexually abused as children typically range from 20-30%.(Hanson & Slater, 1988; Freund, Watson & Dickey, 1990; Murphy & Smith, 1996)  
Contrary to popular belief the majority of CSA Perpetrators have not been sexually abused.
 
“Childhood Sexual Abuse” An Evidence Based Perspective 
(Fergusson & Mullen, Sage 1999)

The counselling looked at every aspect of my life and it became clearer and clearer to me that my identity and the way I lived my life was as a victim. I was still living with the fear of being abused and in fear of my abuser.

I came to realise that the abuse had fundamentally distorted my development as a person; I had grown up as someone who needed to protect themselves from, rather than enjoy, the world. The abuse meant I saw people and situations firstly as potential threats, I had grown up being always hyper-vigilant and constantly on the defensive. Living this way was exhausting.

The longer the counselling went on the angrier I became, the sense of injustice and wrong that was done to me finally surfaced.

The next stage was, perhaps, the beginning of the end of the process.

I had given back the responsibility of the abuse and no longer felt shame or guilt over what had been done to me, I had accepted and now knew that what he did was abuse and was wrong, I even had the embers of self-worth. What came next was to look at loss and to grieve for what I had lost and for what might have been.

It took some time for me to gather the courage to even begin to think about what the abuse had cost me. Below are just some of the issues I needed to acknowledge and grieve over:

  • Loss of childhood
  • Loss of innocence
  • Loss of naivety
  • Loss of opportunities for happy memories
  • Loss of some memory
  • Loss of opportunity to develop a natural curiosity about the world
  • Loss of opportunity to enjoy the world, rather than fear it
  • Loss of healthy social interaction without suspicion and fear
  • Loss of nurturing relationship with self
  • Loss of innate Self-trust
  • Loss of innate Self-belief
  • Loss of innate Self-worth 
  • Loss of opportunity to develop my sexuality naturally
  • Loss of relationships, including that of my father
  • Loss of time and energy spent on the abuse, rather than on positive things 
  • Loss of education and improved work prospects
  • Loss of opportunities 

This was a period of huge sadness. I cried a great deal. I grieved.

How could I get all these losses back? The simple answer; I couldn’t; I had to let them go.

I also came to the conclusion that my recovery could not be based on regaining the specifics of what I had lost, but to reclaim the essence of them.

I could and would build my self-worth, self-trust, self-belief
I could and would build better and healthier relationships for myself
I could and would go back to college and educate myself
I could and would make new opportunities for myself
I could and would learn to enjoy the world and be less fearful.

I was moving on from being a victim of abuse to a survivor.

I began to think about life after the counselling and what I could do. Throughout my life people had seemed to trust me and I was a regular confidante for family and friends. My abuser had given the reason for abusing me as being too nice and too caring. Perhaps, I thought, I could also reclaim these qualities and use them in a positive way to help others overcome the issues they faced, I talked this through with my counsellor, who agreed.

I took the decision to start training as a therapist.