*Trigger warning - this very lengthy post discusses some of my broken up/fragmented memories and behaviors as a child. No actual CSA details are shared, simply because I can’t remember any. But some of these memories may be triggersome and I ask you all to please take gentle care while proceeding.
Today, I want to talk about something called validation. Or the lack of, when it’s otherwise referred to as its counterpart - invalidation. This is a term known all too well by survivors of sexual abuse and the many ugly forms it takes.
Validation is something we seek more than we do most other things. It’s that priceless feeling of being given air when we’ve been deprived underwater for long enough that we feel close to drowning. It’s a form of relief that doesn’t come easily and I don’t know if I’m divulging a huge secret here - but it’s what we, as survivors, want more than anything else as we heal from the emotional turmoil that we now recognize as a permanent stain in the fabric of our lives.
Looking back at myself when I was a child saddens me. Not only did I have the worst haircuts and a wicked overbite, I also had secrets that although I knew they were very real for me, they wouldn’t be considered normal if I were to be compared to my peers. It wasn’t as easy as comparing stickers in an album or whose Barbie doll had nicer clothes or who had more charms on those 80’s plastic charm necklaces (remember those?). My questions for them were ones that I knew even as a child that it was inappropriate to ask. And so, I didn’t. I said nothing, I went on thinking that I was different, I was crazy, I was the weird one.
You see, as an adult, I now have too many thoughts, too many contributing factors, too many suspicions preventing me from throwing up my arms and walking away from it all. Especially since I cannot remember the possibility of certain events or occurrences that would have caused me to react in certain ways. But even I can’t lie to myself anymore and say that there’s nothing there. If I don’t have memories, then there’s nothing to remember, right?
Wrong, wrong, WRONG on so many levels.
I do not remember the circumstances nor the order of events, but I know now that something was truly off in the early years. That’s the only explanation I can give for my subsequent behaviors as a young child. There was something wrong with me. Something happened, and I can’t say what the cause was for every effect, but overall, I know this…children don’t behave in an unnatural manner unless this behavior is learned or otherwise adopted as a means of self-preservation or coping. Children do not come equipped with the knowledge or understanding or even the correct words to explain or describe their feelings. No, that comes much later on in adulthood, and usually not before they are able to identify that what happened to them was likely a result of sexual abuse.
And now, I’ll talk about the things and behaviors I do recall, now that I’m at least thirty years older and wiser. I’m sure many people wonder why I dredge it up, why now, after so many years have gone by and nothing is going to be done about it? Why not just forget it?
I’ll answer that, first. Partially it is because I still feel like I personally, for my own peace of mind, need to make sense of it all. It’s part of the fine-toothed comb method of analyzing myself as an individual, identifying my past and present behaviors and trying to make sense of them so that I can finally move on, only this time with a wealth of information that will enable me to accept things that I can now recognize as facts. Another part of me wants to be heard, to be believed, and to be validated. I guess it all falls within the whole theme of this post.
One day, when I was a child, I remember being asked by an adult (unsure of what role she played…Was she a teacher? A counselor or therapist?) why, during playtime, I made the Ken doll inappropriately touch the Skipper doll. When asked who Ken was supposed to be, I said, “my uncle.” I remember my mother being called. And then, I never saw that lady again.
I do remember soon after that, two different ladies showing up at my house with questions. One of them pointed between her legs and asked me if I knew the name of that body part. There was an investigation, not sure if it was official or unofficial, as no one ever took the time to explain to me why they were asking me such questions. I do not know what went on behind-the-scenes, I was never made privy to any of that information, not back then and certainly never after it was all over. I do recall my mother feeling the need to speak for me, though, possibly because as an individual, she is constantly trying to keep the peace, even if it means sweeping things under the rug. I don’t know whether she fully understood the seriousness of the situation, or chose to turn a blind eye because it was something she couldn’t handle properly. Either way, she convinced me, and quite possibly herself, that I, at the age of six, had miscommunicated the situation. Had he only “smacked” my rear end because I didn’t behave? To that, I answered yes. Because my genitals/behind were in the same general area, that seemed an acceptable answer to these investigators. Then, I remember nothing further, after I eventually told the ‘investigators’ myself, from my six-year-old mouth, that it had all been a horrible mistake.
I do believe that whatever had been going on prior to this, ended here. Nothing more was done. I maintained a relationship with my uncle. I saw him at family gatherings, I saw him at holidays. A lot of time was spent together. He used to take me to movies. I remembered NOTHING from before the investigations, even though I would have been more likely to remember things back then, being only a few years away from the actual time frame where this would have occurred. I’d remember more back then, wouldn’t I? Certainly I couldn’t make more sense of it now that so many years have passed? Time has repeatedly proven that theory incorrect.
Even though I had no concrete memories of the possible causes, the ‘abnormal’ behaviors continued in the background. And this is where it used to be embarrassing or shameful to share. I mean, who would? It’s private, personal stuff that would have been the exact reasons my classmates picked on me or made fun of me when I was a child and that would have been my worst nightmare. And so, I said nothing, I held on to my secret behaviors, I hid them from every living soul.
I, however, am now at a point in my life where I want to console, and also, validate that younger version of myself and tell her that I now understand why. I understand why she repeatedly soiled herself, mostly during the elementary school years. I understand why her hands wandered, mostly in the bathtub. I understand why she craved the feeling a climax/orgasm provided, craved it enough to bring it on herself when she was as young as eight years old. And I understand why this behavior continued all the way until she was in high school. I understand now why I was brought to my first therapist when I was also around eight. What I DON’T understand is why the therapy ended so abruptly a couple years after that. I can only assume that since a resolution was never presented, that perhaps she was getting too close and it was nipped in the bud before any more ‘damage’ could be done. I suppose that’s laughable considering how much had already been done.
The days, months, years that followed made me further question myself and who I was as a child. For the most part, I knew that I was me. But I also knew there was something very wrong with me. Something that I didn’t have the tools to explain, and wouldn’t otherwise recognize until I was much older, much smarter and much more aware of the sick and twisted world we live in.
It all came to a head when my son was just under a year old. My Grandmother’s death played a very strange role in my coming to terms with what very possibly happened to me at the hands of my uncle. Let me explain. When she was alive, she lived in a 2-family house, he resided in the apartment upstairs from her. They had every meal together. She took care of him. He never married, he never had a family of his own. He basically had his mother prepare every meal for him, he would come downstairs only to eat, or whenever we came over, but for the most part, he was a hermit living the better part of his days in that shit-sty he called home. He was/is a priest, for crying out loud…a priest. *insert the bright red flags here!* He was never a ‘real’ priest to me. He didn’t get paid to do what he did, he had a small chapel in his apartment upstairs. He said mass daily, in his chapel, to a congregation of statues. I am remembering he had the Blessed Mother, Jesus, Joseph, other saints in statue form, and more often than not, those made up the audience he preached to. He didn’t belong to any church we could have visited him at. If you ask me, he was entirely full of shit, he was a fake, he wasn’t a good person, and I could tell this of him without any of the past examples that still fester in the darkest corners of my mind today. But regardless, he was my uncle and a part of me loved him even if only for that reason. His faults and shortcomings were overlooked, because a child’s affections are unconditional.
(And now that I think of it, this is probably where most of my issues with religion and faith come from! But, that’s a topic for another time.)
Anyway, Grandma fell ill when I was in my very early twenties. It was ultimately complications from her osteoporosis that she passed away from, and devastated us all. I was married to my (now ex) husband and we had our son, who was just under a year old. The time came for us to go through her belongings, so I went to the house she shared with him to sort through what I might want to keep of hers.
As soon as we walked in, it was like, a flip had been switched. From off to ON. The workings of the mind have always been fascinating to me, but this was by far the most intriguing self-realization that I’d ever experienced.
All of my Grandmother’s belongings were gone. The room that used to be her bedroom was now empty and he had transferred those stupid statues from his chapel upstairs to downstairs, and there they all were, where my Grandma used to sleep, not even a week prior. There was Jesus, Mary, Joseph, St. John the Apostle, other people from the Bible I didn’t know the names of nor did I ever want to know their names, having always experienced a sort of a mental block whenever it came to learning religion.
That wasn’t even what did it, though. I looked at him and listened to him as he shared his plans to expand his chapel and to make the entire downstairs his own personal space. All this when my Grandma hadn’t been dead a week, yet.
At this moment, an overwhelming, freezing feeling came over me. It hit me like a speeding train. What was once dark was now bright and was staring me in the face. Everything in me tightened, even the muscles in my brain. It’s so difficult to explain but perhaps that was the part of my brain that held onto what I only knew and still know as only possibilities. Either way, thoughts were coming at me from multiple directions, almost comparable to the image of a stuffed animal, tied to a post and arrows being shot at it from every available angle. None of these arrows caused me (if we’re using the stuffed animal analogy, then that would be me) any pain, but to remove them all would have left behind multiple holes. Holes, that I know can be patched up in time but never will this stuffed animal be the same. No, not when now, this stuffed animal, this wounded creature, now sees these holes.
I realized at that moment that I loathed this man. My uncle, the priest. The man I spent so much time with when I was a very young child. The man who used to walk over at night and tuck me in before bedtime. FYI, I attribute this time frame to be from when I was about three to four years old, because I remember my mother to have been single at that time. He was the default babysitter/caretaker while she worked or was otherwise busy, which was easy, considering we lived in a tiny little studio apartment around the corner. He’d have made comments about how he used to come tuck me in at night, and when asked about it now, I don’t remember. I don’t remember him coming over at night AT ALL. So what else was there that I didn’t remember? That, along with other things, flooded my memories and I found myself having to sit down while I processed these new thoughts.
I hated him, I hated how he looked, I hated how he SMELLED. He has a birthmark on his hand. I hate that birthmark, too, it makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me feel uneasy, sick to my stomach. My feelings of hatred were joined by feelings of nausea and I had to keep myself from vomiting all over St. Anthony’s porcelain sandals. I left there that afternoon and in the weeks that followed, I found myself questioning all of the behaviors I’ve talked about so far. Was this the reason? Was this why I was taken to therapy? Why can’t I remember if he did anything to me to cause this overpowering feeling of hatred? It’s not something I enjoy admitting that I feel about another human being but there’s no alternative word that fits.
So here’s the dilemma. At this point, I can’t remember details. I don’t know what he did to me. I’m fairly certain something happened but have absolutely no evidence to support it. So I kept a distance. I began to decline his invitations to go for lunch, to come for a visit. It was progressive, but it was made clear to him that now that my Grandmother was no longer living, there was absolutely no reason for me to go to the house anymore. And so, I saw very, very little of him in the few years following her death.
Aside from the epiphany I experienced at my late Grandmother’s house, there have been very minimal “telling” moments, one of which came at a time the sonofabitch got sick, himself. He was hospitalized, and my mother called to strong-arm me into going to see him. Out of respect for her, and because he was her last living relative, I agreed to go and see him. I told my husband to leave the car running and went up by myself. I went to his room, where I found him laying in the bed alone. He wore a gown. He looked like the most pathetic excuse for a human being I’d ever seen in my life.
I sat in a chair, saying nothing. I think I managed a weak “hello, how do you feel?” It might have come out as one word. “Hellohowyafeelin’?” Either way, I was not there for him or for myself. I was there for my mother, because I knew it would have made HER happy that I was there.
He started sobbing. His shoulders heaved. He blubbered something about how sorry he was that we were enemies. He then says in between tears that he didn’t mean it.
I didn't know what the hell to do with that. I told him that M had the car running because there was no parking. I had to go. I couldn’t sit there any longer. And so, I got up and left. I didn’t look back.
I did the next best thing that I could do for myself. I cut him out of my life, completely this time. I refused to visit him anymore. I did not respond to any of his emails, his phone calls, his letters. There was a point in time where he sought me out on Facebook and tried to initiate a conversation. I deleted it without answering. He may be still living on this Earth, but to me, he’s dead.
I wasn’t and still am not ready to share with my mother my reasons for losing my shit whenever I hear that he’s going to be present at a family function such as a wedding or a funeral, these things cannot always be helped, but I’m ALWAYS requesting that he be seated as far across the room from me as possible. She has asked why I’m so angry with him and I admittedly hide behind my Grandmother’s death and tell her that I have a hard time dealing with how he was able to move on so quickly and so disrespectfully, I didn’t like how he treated her when she was alive. Of course, there’s a whole lot more than that, more reasons that I don’t dare share with her. For now, that quells her and she knows now that I want nothing to do with him. Additionally, if I can’t help the situation, (him being at the same family gathering as me) I do not allow him near my children, even though they are past the age where most damage can be done. Still. I don’t want him looking at me, I don’t want him looking at them, telling THEM how much they look like me. I want none of that, as much as I want answers, I want the truth, I want validation!
Here’s the tricky thing about validation, though.
When you have no concrete memories, how do you know the validation you receive is of the truth? Just because it’s your own truth, doesn’t make it one hundred percent accurate. And that is one of my fears. I don’t know that I want validation for something that I question, something I have doubts about. I need to be sure. I need my truth to BE the truth. I’ve asked myself that if he were to confess, would that be enough for me? Was what he said in the hospital the closest thing I would ever get to a confession?
As of today, it is. So I’m going with that.
In closing, I can’t help but wonder what a difference it would have made if I’d had the validation I didn’t know I needed when I was a little girl. Validation from my mother, who instead of being the number one protector in my life, became my first invalidator. Validation from the stupid-ass therapist I saw for two years, who obviously didn’t know how to do her job correctly. (And I say this knowing that I don’t have the full story. She may have said or attempted to say something that resulted in the subsequent pull from therapy.) Either way, I have no answers there.
And so, I shall remain forever invalidated by my mother. I will maintain the not-too-close, not-too-estranged relationship I have with her, because let’s face it…she’s my mother and I do love her. She does a lot for me and for my children (perhaps out of guilt she’ll never admit to) and continues to do a lot for us today. She did not physically harm me. She did what she felt needed to be done at the time for my own protection, not necessarily the best course of action, but I accept it as the ONLY thing she felt she could do. I imagine it got too overwhelming for her, so she threw up the blinders and hoped for the best. I know that, now.
I can safely say that not only because of childhood, but because of other contributing factors, my trust has to be earned, and her actions have made it very difficult for me to trust her. And so, given she did not effectively protect me as a child, I continue to refuse to share with her other things that have happened, things unrelated to my uncle and his suspected abuse.
Thinking back, I believe it’s a tit-for-tat kind of thing. She had one job, one chance to do the right thing. She didn’t, for whatever reason, or at least, she didn’t do it properly. So, in turn, I will not share with her parts of my life that I feel are important enough for a mother to have input in. For example, the first time I had sex. I’ve had sex with multiple people and to this day, I tell her that I’ve only been with my ex-husband and my current partner. It just saddens me that she is not someone I want to share with, these little things/first experiences that a daughter would ideally go to her mother for. But I think all this mother stuff may be better reserved for a future post because there’s more that lies under the surface there; more that I need to fully comprehend in order to put it all into words.
Anyway. That’s my take on validation/invalidation for now. I know a lot of other stuff seeped through, but it all goes hand-in-hand with the topic of validation.
I’m always, always thinking. My eyes are wide open, as is my mind. Please bear with me while I try and make sense of all of this. I thank you all for listening and reading, if you’ve made it this far. I welcome any thoughts and/or comments. Like so many others, I’m trying to figure it all out and I know no one can do this alone.