What is the view of child abuse? I struggle with that question. I’ve found that child abuse survivors are viewed as damaged goods. I see pity in people’s eyes. I say, don’t see me and my ordeal—understand that there are children out there right this second that are undergoing the same kind of ordeal. Young, dead bodies discarded like trash by the side of the road or on beaches… See them and know that they’ve been released. Children are toys—property of the adults who produce them. Not everybody plays nice with their toys.
I kept my eyes down as a child. I didn’t know the moon could be seen in the daylight sky until my 3-year-old son pointed it out to me. When he said, “moon”, and pointed up to the sky, I scoffed, then looked up and was amazed. There it was. At that moment, I realized I had kept my eyes down all my life.
It is difficult to convey to you in words just what an abused child experiences. I want to reach deep down inside you, find your greatest fear and turn it into some physical form that walks beside you daily for years. That form will invoke constant, terrible fear; you must take its hand as you traverse those years when your body is growing, developing; when you are most helpless and dependent. There is no escape. You must endure it. You have no choice. There is nowhere to go. Remember—that physical form enveloping you in fear is right there. Tendrils slowly emerge from its hand, and they merge into yours, crawling up inside your arm. Fear morphs into a blob and surrounds you. You can’t break free. Fear becomes pervasive for years on end. A constant in your everyday life.
By the age of three, I had two permanent physical deformities. I remember being in the hospital and fervently hoping they would not send me home. I felt safe in the cage-like crib guarded by kind adults who took care of me. But they sent me home—minus part of a finger.
I don’t remember much after that until the age of four when I could run. Take your fear by the hand and run with me. You cannot escape. There’s going to be pain. The thing that is chasing you is going to train you to lie still, don’t scream, and don’t cry. But you are four, and terror forces you to try to escape. The lock to the front door is too high up, and you can’t reach it. It’s just there up above the doorknob. buried in many layers of white paint. You pray for the day you can reach the lock and run outside.
By the time you can reach the lock, you realize it is senseless to go outside. You’ve come to understand that people know what is happening, and you believe that they just don’t care. They don’t want to get involved. God knows what is happening, and he doesn’t care either. The fantasy that you are adopted, and you have birth parents out there somewhere who will realize they have made a terrible mistake; find you, and rescue you has become an illusion—not real. You are utterly alone.
Now you are maybe seven or eight. Fear is your constant companion. You’re running again, but something stops you. It’s been years living in terror. On the one hand, you have pain. Pain is inevitable. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. But fear? Fear could be something you can control. Your little legs are trembling almost like they have a mind of their own. But with the sheer force of your will, you stop them from moving. You submit to the pain to shorten the length of time you have to be terrified. A first step….
Eventually, as you experience the pain, your young brain helps you feel like you’re floating. The chant your abuser spouts that accompanies each blow is barely heard, but you note the information in order not to repeat whatever offense has earned you your beating. Ahhhh, and the pain is less. You have to remember to cry out enough to satiate her desire to inflict pain. Even though she told you not to cry, you instinctively know she needs affirmation. No cry? Longer beating. The fear is gone.
You are about nine. By this time, you believe everything you’ve been told. You are a bad kid who deserves whatever happens. You don’t tell anyone what is happening because that was something for which you’ve already been beaten when you were five. What you do start telling professionals in your elementary schools is that you are a bad kid. They should just give up on you because you are beyond bad. They try to help you move beyond it, but you know it’s hopeless. They just don’t understand. You are such a horrible human being that when you lie in bed at night, you try to stop breathing. But something whispers to you that death is also the only escape. It becomes a friend.
Now that you have walked with me, perhaps you have a better understanding of the havoc abuse wreaks. A child needs love, but what is love? For me, if someone didn’t abuse me, they didn’t love me. Why I didn’t perpetuate this kind of abuse, I’ll never know. I started to, but nipped it in the bud right away. Everything inside me screamed I could not do to my children what had been done to me, yet I worshiped my mother until well into adulthood for her effort to make me, “a good person.”
I’ve mulled over what constant fear must do to the developing brain… I have traits that I view as being hardwired. I have an acute awareness of my surroundings. I am in constant survival mode to this day. Dr. Christine Courtois states that trauma victims tend to be revictimized again and again. I can attest to that fact.
I was lucky. I chose a course of action that helps me understand the effects of trauma. I studied psychology. I’ve been crawling around in my brain for years. I’ve succeeded in alleviating some of the effects. The current trend in psychotherapy is to keep evaluative thoughts a secret from the patient, much like medicine years ago. In other words:
Many of you probably don’t know or remember a time when a dying or deathly ill person would go to a medical facility or doctor, and they simply would not give you the information about your condition. I remember when my grandfather went into the hospital to die of colon cancer. He asked if he was dying and they told him no. I remember him groaning on a stark white pillow; gaunt- and sallow-faced; head lying in the brief sunlight of evening as cancer ate him up inside. Now it’s nearly impossible. If you are dying, they have to tell you. Not so in psychology. Ssssshhhhhh… It’s a secret. The patient can’t handle it. There is no collaboration or discussion. Changes need to be made.
But hey, let’s go back to the beginning. Small children are suffering these kinds of things right this second. Some die. Jeremiah Oliver’s body was found by the side of the road stuffed in a bag. He was five. I share my experiences with you not to elicit pity. I want to elicit action. Use your voice and your keyboard to shout for better care for children. One child dies every five hours.
Children’s protective services are underfunded. There aren’t enough social workers working in the field. It is my belief many are too inexperienced to recognize this kind of abuse. Deadly abuse. I was always clean and fed. But I was being killed, and these kinds of abusers often have excellent social facades. If a child is rescued out of a home, there aren’t enough places to put them. They need heavy-duty services to help them to recover.
Complex Trauma often goes undiagnosed, in my opinion. Complex PTSD can be the result. Other circumstances can result in Complex PTSD, but this is the one in which I am interested. Children are dying.
YOU can make a difference. Enforce and reinforce Mandatory Reporting laws. Make penalties for not reporting harsher. Many professionals abhor Mandatory Reporting. I’ve seen professionals who are designated Mandatory Reporters ignore the law. I’d like to see professionals that don’t report three times lose their licenses. It’s better than children losing their lives.
Copyright 2017 Joyce Bowen
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