I had lost my copy of the Dear Family Member letter that I sent to all of my aunts and uncles on my dad's side of the family. My sister recently found her copy and gave it to me. My last post is of that letter. If you haven't read it, here is the link:
I forgot much of what I had said in the letter. In the letter, it says that I had been dealing with my incest issues for the past three years. My recovery program started in January 1989 when I found a newspaper ad listing an Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting that week. I went to the meeting and found a safe place to start talking about my incest issues. My incest issues were a major part of growing up with an alcoholic. At the time, I didn't see any differences between my incest issues and my issues with growing up with an alcoholic. In my mind, they were so closely related that I couldn't separate them for many years. When I went into that room, I didn't even know what my issues were. For the first time ever, I found a place that I could talk about my incest issues. I didn't stop talking for almost ten years. The flood gates were wide open. I know that some people got tired of hearing me talk about incest.
After three years of getting in touch with who I was, three years of breaking the silence of incest in my 12-Step meetings, I was ready to break the silence with my own family. That is where the Dear Family Member letter came from. After ten years of having nothing to do with my dad's family, (Not because of anything that they had done, but because of my own fears and my denial that if I didn't see them or my dad, then I could live as if the incest never happened.) I had opened the door and started attending family reunions again. Several people in my dad's family of origin had been slipping me hints that I should step in and help my dad get on Social Security and other things since I was his oldest daughter. They felt that I should be helping him out - taking care of him. This letter was an attempt to tell them why I was not going to do anything that would bring my dad back into my life or the lives of my children. As a mother, I could protect my children from my dad.
In reading my Dear Family Member letter, I realized several things. One was that even though I said that I didn't need any reaction back from my family members, I realized that I was disappointed that so few of them did let me know how they felt about the letters. My dad had 10 brothers and sisters living at the time that I mailed out the letters. My sister and I discussed the letter but my brother has never said anything about the letter to me. I was so afraid of what my family's reactions were going to be. I realize now that I was still so afraid that they would blame me for the abuse. That is why I told them, "I don't need you to react at all." I was afraid of their reactions. Today I am not afraid. I did need them to react. I did need for them to tell me that I did nothing to deserve the abuse. It was not my fault. I was afraid of their anger and their condemnation. I was afraid of their judgments - afraid they would match my own critical self-judgments. At the time that I wrote this letter, I still had the inner critic in my head that kept repeating the judgments that I grew up with coming from my parents. That inner critic said I was stupid; I was incapable of making decisions; I was somehow defective or I wouldn't have been abused; I was a bad child or my parents would have loved me. I still heard all of those voices in my head and worse, I believed them. Having a healthy self worth was still a few years away for me.
At the end of the letter, I sounded like I had it all together. How little did I know that I was still years away from doing much more than just surviving. Yes, things were better but they were still a long way from being healthy. I was still living with so much rage that I hadn't learned how to control and let go of yet. I was fooling myself when I said that I liked where I was and who I was. I meant it at the time that I said it but I hadn't reconnected with my body or my feelings at the end of those three years. I still carried around a lot of buried self-hatred. I still had a long way to go. Ignorance sometimes is bliss, as they say. If I had known how bad it was going to get before it got better, I might not would have gone down that path. I am glad that I didn't know. Where I am today is such a better place than I was then. Am I finished with healing? No, I am not sure that healing will ever stop as I move forward in my life. Tomorrow will be better than today. Even today, I take some detours down roads that still require me to be open to new pain and new growth. As new challenges come my way, I am stronger and more resilient than I was as a child and even as a young adult in denial. Because I am willing to face what comes to the door of recovery next, I experience more peace and more joy in my life. I hear laughter more and realize that it is coming from me.
Sending out this letter, writing it, opened many doors of healing for me. This was a very big beginning for me to becoming more honest with myself. The ten years of cutting myself off from my Caldwell side of the family is a great example of what denial can do to you, of how it can keep you locked up in the pain of abuse. In denying its existence (the incest, not the family), I thought it would lose its ability to hurt me. I thought if I refused to look at the incest and acknowledge that it happened, it would go away. I thought the fear would go away. I thought the rage and hurt that I carried inside would just magically disappear if I didn't give it the power of acknowledgment. It didn't go away. It continued to hurt me and I transferred that hurt to my husband and children. Loving them wasn't enough to guarantee that I wouldn't hurt them. Until I learned to control my feelings and feel them rather than stuffing them, I didn't have the tools to heal myself and to let go of the rage in constructive ways.
Denial doesn't work. It was another way to stuff feelings inside. It was another way to become numb to what I was feeling. I didn't use drugs. I used food. To a smaller degree, I still do this today with food when everything gets too intense. Through denial, I almost developed stomach ulcers when I was in my 20's. Migraines started in my 30's. High blood pressure plagues me today in my 50's. I am overweight as a way to physically protect myself from the possibility of sexual abuse. Denial turned me into a volcano or pressure cooker that could explode at the smallest provocation. When I wrote this letter, I still wasn't in touch with my feelings. I didn't know how to control my rage when the volcano erupted. I didn't know how to not let my angry words hurt my husband or my children when the hate and hurt came spewing out when they erupted because I couldn't hold it in any longer. The pressure became too much and I exploded all over my family before I learned to use my anger constructively. It took three to five years before I learned that my anger could be defused without hurting anyone, myself included. My husband will agree with me that those years were pure Hell. My regret is that out of my pain, I hurt my husband and children, before I learned that anger can be healthy and doesn't have to hurt anyone. Anger can be expressed in healthy ways so that it doesn't become rage. In my childhood, rage equalled violence or at least the threat of violence. The threat of violence can be just as frightening as the actual violence itself. That threat can keep you frozen in inaction and silence. I lived with that threat daily and didn't even recognize it until I was nineteen.
Growing up all that I saw of anger was rage and it could be violent. This month is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I don't often think about myself growing up with domestic violence in my family, but it was there. The threat of violence does damage too. In my recent interview with Cyrus Webb, I told a story that I grew up hearing from my mom. My dad only hit my mom once. That was sometime in the year before I was born. I don't know why he hit her, that was never part of my mom's story. She said that he hit her and she went and got his rifle. She aimed it and pulled the trigger. She was so angry that she didn't take the time to load the gun. If it had been loaded, my dad would have died. She was a very good shot with a rifle. He never hit her again. This story was one of the reasons that I didn't tell my mom about the incest until many years later when I was adult. (Actually just before mailing my Dear Family Member letters, I told my mom about the incest.)
I was afraid that if I told my mother about the incest she would blame me and call me a liar or she would shot my dad. If she shot my dad, he would be dead and she would be in jail and I would not have a parent. Those were really big fears in my mind as a child. And it would have been my fault for telling about the incest. This is victim mode thinking.
I ended my letter by saying that I hoped I would still be welcomed to future family reunions. As far as I could tell, the letter didn't make any difference in how I was treated. I don't know if the letter made any difference to any of them but it did for me. I hope that sharing my Dear Family Member letter will make a difference in your life if you are a survivor of abuse. You are not alone. You do not have to continue to carry the burden of abuse alone.