Content Warning: Discussion of child abuse
This is the one topic that has affected my life the most. I found helpful information while reflecting on this topic on a site by the organization Prevent Child Abuse America (https://preventchildabuse.org/what-we-do/). Honestly, if you’re looking for a way to understand and know more, even find a way to help this is a good site.
On it they have a quote that hit me in the feels; “Together, we can prevent child abuse, America. Childhood lasts a lifetime.” So, let’s rephrase that: childhood trauma lasts a lifetime.
Trauma from my childhood still affects me today in my relationships with lovers and friends. Every part of me is wrapped around surviving the memories. Even after, maybe even more so after I forgave my abuser, and came to deep peace, the trauma swelled up and began to overflow. While that peace with my abuser is there, the actions, the fear, the pain, the emotional trauma is also there. My abuser was a broken person. She was lost in her own fear and trauma from a very bad marriage and events of trauma that happened in her life. My abuser loves me dearly now and even possibly then but did not show it. Today? She shows me it every day or in as many ways as she can now. Although I don’t need apologies over and over and I don’t need a great big action; I often do receive them.
I do not think all abusers should be given the get out of jail free card but in some cases, I can see way more healing in forgiveness than dwelling on the pain they caused. I am still very guarded with my abuser. I do not let that guard down or small things would really get to me. I have to protect my heart and mind constantly. I will say this with conviction -my abuser does not even know she is crossing lines with things she says. Everyone has their own variations of life. In our situation, it is better that I stay guarded so when something triggers me, I act appropriately and not fly off the handle or cause more hurt for me and for her.
Let’s rewind. I don’t know exactly when the abuse began. I have talked before about my first memories of it. What I’d like to focus on is the first and only time someone tried to help me. I remember my 3rd-grade teacher seeing the strap marks across my legs and checking my back, where she also saw those marks. I don’t remember the things that happened after that exactly but I believe my teacher talked to my mom. I am not sure what was said. My mom does not remember it even happening. Every day after that day my 3rd-grade teacher would hug me, encourage me, and show me a great deal of love. She has passed on now but I wish I could have told her how she will forever be a beacon in my memory.
From what I have put together is, my teacher talked to my mom thinking it may have just been an accident. Let’s not forget I grew up in a small southern town where even in schools’ “spankings” were accepted. After that first talk, my teacher watched me and when I kept showing up with “bruises” she called child services. Upon looking into my mom, nothing could be found. After all, she was a beloved teacher that her herself had turned in a good deal of parents for child abuse. Then there was also the fact that mom was very much a mom who would come to bat in defense of her child in public ways. Why would she abuse me they must have asked? She is a wonderful woman.
The fact is she was /is a wonderful woman. She has the ability to connect with special needs kids and adults like many can’t. She is a good teacher who is beloved by almost all her students. She was a single mom, special education teacher, Girl Scout leader, Sunday school teacher, volunteer tutor, she worked two to five jobs at the same time (waitress, tutor, teacher, cleaner, seamstress). Some of which she did while furthering her education. leaving one job to go to another. How did she even have time or energy to abuse me? Trust me I understand why they doubted me. Plus, there were the facts that I only ever said, like mentioning that I got a spanking or the spanking really hurts. In my mind, that was what all kids received as a discipline.
So, in third grade, I began therapy. I remember a conversation with my mom before I started therapy. She said to me then like I had heard many other times; Mommy loves you but if you aren’t careful people will send you away to your dad and you know how much worse daddy will hurt you. So, stop talking about getting spanked. You know mommy doesn’t mean to hurt you. While I generally believe she did not want to hurt me, it was the easiest thing there was to get her pain out. I wish someone would have made my mom go to therapy then. I wish someone would have done more, been wiser to the abusive situations.
I lived with the abuse but soon at age 14, I began to spend a lot of time at a friend’s house. I would stay with my friend every time my nana was in the hospital so I would not have to be alone with my mom. In fact, I practically lived there from then to age 16. So many things changed that year.
So, what is it we can do to help child abuse not be overlooked? The child welfare gateway is a really good sight to help you learn how to recognize abuse and abusive behaviors. If you would like to know more information, I would suggest this website: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/can/identifying/
Warning signs of emotional abuse (bolded text is what was overlooked for me) (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect.htm)
Be excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
Show extremes in behavior (extremely compliant, demanding, passive, aggressive).
Not seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
Act either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).
Warning signs of physical abuse
Have frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts. Their injuries may appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
Be always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
Shy away from touch, flinch at sudden movements, or seem afraid to go home.
Wear inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
Warning signs of child neglect
The child may:
Wear ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate clothing for the weather.
Have consistently bad hygiene (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
Have untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
Be frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations.
Be frequently late or missing from school
How would my life had been different if in 3rd grade they would have seen my mother as someone that desperately needed therapy and guidance on how to handle her stress better? If someone could have looked deeper, cared enough to figure it out? My life could have been one that was based around healing and my mom loved me enough to get help early on. I may have known what it was like to feel safe and content.
Child abuse is not always from a bad person, sometimes it stems from a person that just needs help. I truly believe that was my situation. As an adult, I can truly say that my childhood abuse has ruined parts of my life. I did not trust anyone for a long time. I make mistakes and I instantly reference my past, I fear daily my temper- I never want to be like she was then. I wake up in the middle of the night shaking out of fear, I take medicine, go to therapy and group therapy to learn how to better regulate my emotions and feelings. I am mad that the mom I have now isn’t the mom I had then.
You can help a child not end up like me. Pay attention to the children in your life and that is around you. More often than not they will tell you without ever saying a word. This is our job… To make our world safer for our children.
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