The scars of abuse, any abuse, are permanent. Like a tattoo, they may fade with time, but they will always be there, just under your skin.
SOMETIMES AT NIGHT…
Sometimes as I drift off to sleep, my mind wanders back in time and I’m a little child again. The last conscious thought I discern is my own voice calling, “Mom? Mom?” She doesn’t answer now, just as she didn’t answer back then.
In reality, I’m fifty-five years old, but as I fall asleep I lose track of time and I feel eight or nine. Terrified. Alone. A jolt of fear runs through my veins and I struggle to pull back from the drifting darkness of sleep where I’m trapped, helpless and afraid.
Losing the battle, I fall off the edge of awareness, tumbling through sleep’s doorway. The faces I observe are familiar, but I fight the memories. I can’t bear to see what my subconscious wants to show me and the little girl inside of me is so afraid. I run from the illusion, crying, sobbing my heart out.
It seems to last forever, but as I open my eyes, I see the fluorescent numbers on my alarm clock. It’s been less than an hour since I fell asleep. I sit up in my bed, shaking, still afraid. My husband lies sleeping beside me, but I don’t wake him. Many nights, I have screamed until my own commotion has awakened me and he has slept on, unaware. I don’t know how. I’d awaken him if he could comfort me, but he can’t.
Going out to the living room, wrapped in his bathrobe, I get my Marlboros, and make a pot of coffee. Then, I sit in the dark; my eyes squeezed shut, trying to stop the tears from leaking down my face. The aching for my mother is so strong that I actually pick up the phone to call her. Hesitating, I don’t dial the number. Holding the receiver in my hand, reality comes back and I hang up the phone.
My mother can’t bear my pain because she carries enough of her own. I don’t hold it against her; but, I’m so alone. All I want is for my mother to help me to feel safe. I’m vulnerable as a small child and that child doesn’t feel safe. My mother’s hugs and reassurances didn’t make the fear stop when I was a little girl; maybe that’s why I long for her to console me now. “Okay Mom, let’s agree to do it over and we’ll make it come out right this time!”
I’ll call her tomorrow and barely touch upon my fears, my need last night to hear her voice. I’ll hear the discomfort behind her words and I’ll change the subject. I don’t want to hurt her and she still can’t save me. The answer beats in my own heart and on a conscious level, I know that. I’ve been blessed with that knowledge in my own recovery from alcoholism, which also helps me to understand my father’s alcoholic rages, my mother’s co-dependency. Still, sometimes at night, I get lost in my past, tangled up in my nightmares.
My dad was so scary, ranting and raving until dawn, screaming that he hated us and threatening to kill us all. I would hide under the covers holding my baby sister, planning how I’d protect her if he came into our room. I wanted to kill him before he could kill us. Sometimes at night, he’d come into our bedroom and just stand there beside our bed with a hunting rifle in his hands.
I was powerless, unable to even breathe, frozen with fear. He never pulled the trigger, but a part of my childhood innocence died each time that he stood there. As he’d leave the room, I’d wet the bed and begin to breathe again. No tears. Just fear and anger. I was so angry that he was my dad.
As he stood over our bed late one New Year’s Eve, I thought that he was Father Time or maybe the Grim Reaper. He robbed me of my childhood with his alcoholic madness. He stole years of precious time. I couldn’t even go to school, because I was afraid to leave him alone with my mother. I needed to be there to protect her. Of course, I can see now that I never could’ve protected her or my sister. However, I’d have tried.
Although I hated him, I still tried to earn his love because he was my dad. The only note he ever wrote me is saved, treasured, because he signed it, “love, Dad.” I remember that he showered me with attention when I was a very young child, but he’d pulled away by the time I was about five. I didn’t understand and it hurt. I always figured that I’d done something wrong. I didn’t know that it was because of his own fears and childhood abuse or that he loved me the best way he knew how to, by leaving me alone.
The men in my life have all been angry and it used to feel comfortable, familiar. I tried to earn their love too. If only I could be pretty enough, if I could just be a perfect wife. I’m growing past that now, but it isn’t easy. My roots go deep. I still want to be loved, sometimes at any cost.
At times, I believe I’m a grown woman, but too often I react like a lost child. Sometimes after a nightmare, I hide in a corner of my dark living room and try to ease the fear. I curl up into a ball, crying, and rocking and I say, “It’s over, it’s over, he’s gone. You’re safe now.” The fear is so real at night because I regress back to childhood as I sleep and I become absolutely defenseless.
Years of recovery programs and therapy have helped. I don’t accept abuse from anyone (when I recognize it) and I can function out in the real world. Today, I can hold a job and for years I couldn’t even do that because of my anxiety. I’m developing self-worth and gaining self-respect.
Writing down my thoughts and feelings during these difficult nights seems to help me. I’ve written some of my best poems at dawn. My husband tries to understand, but he really doesn’t. Maybe that’s because he’s not afraid. I wrote lyrics about that thought and he set them to music for me. The song starts like this:
She’s looking through a window
That time forgot to close,
She’s staring at some memories
Full of pain she never chose.
My poetry is like therapy because the words help me to understand and organize these haunting memories. Each time I write I sense the past letting go, I observe the pain being processed and the old wounds being healed. Still, sometimes at night, I’m so disoriented, a lost, little girl, trapped in a woman’s body.
I’m recovering on a daily basis, from alcoholism, co-dependency, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, Adult Child of Alcoholic issues, depression and anxiety. I’ve spent a fortune on therapy and with all my “program” have managed to raise my children in a dysfunctional home, while I was sober. I started chain smoking when I’d been sober ten and a half years. I also drank one night that year and then tried to kill myself in front of my children. There were many reasons that I was brought to my knees. It happened mainly because I wasn’t taking care of myself and I let an excruciatingly painful situation overwhelm me.
I was very close to my A. A. sponsor at the time and attending my home groups faithfully. Nevertheless, I could not see the hope or the love, all I could see was my own pain and the pain my decisions had brought to my children. I lost sight of everything that I’d learned when I let my pain become the only emotion that was real.
My Higher Power saved my life that night and He set me back on my feet. He used that experience to teach me and to strengthen my foundation. He helped me to move on. I learned about co-dependency then, my need to be a caretaker, my urge to save and my obsession to maintain control, control I never owned.
I’ve changed in many ways, during my last thirty odd years of sobriety. Some people like it and some don’t. I like caring about me and letting my loved ones make their own choices. I cannot save the world and it feels good to let go when I’m able. I don’t have to try to save anyone but myself. The hardest piece of recovery for me to grasp has been finding the willingness to face reality and to deal with life as it happens. Also, I need to learn to accept that life is not always fair and that not all my mistakes will be forgiven on this earth.
I look back and wonder how I ever came so far and then I understand. My Higher Power has led me and every day He continues to love and to guide me. When I was at my lowest point and couldn’t even love myself, He loved me. When I screamed at life and scorned my sobriety, when I turned my back on him, He loved me. The nightmares are rare now and my Higher Power never lets me go; still, sometimes at night…