You were failed by the adults around you, says Annalisa Barbieri, and must now put yourself first
My childhood was lonely and frightening. A female friend lived with my father, mother, brother and I when we were children. She had an affair with my father and was a bully towards me and my brother when nobody else was around. The affair was not hidden from me and left me very stressed, and feeling guilty at five years old.
Around this time she suffocated me with a pillow and later stuffed me in a pillowcase. She also tried to drown me in the bath. I can still remember pretending to be dead to stop the suffocation. For nearly two years I lived in fear and guilt. Later, the affair came out. Dad left and died soon after.
My father was loving and caring but, sadly, not the best husband. He was a flawed man, but not a bad one. My mother is a good mum, but hard to talk to about the past. She’s never discussed her own past much, and I’ve learned more about it from other family members.
I was later also sexually abused by a babysitter. This I don’t remember as much; I think my brain does not want me to know. I have blanks in my past that I just can’t remember, which is more frightening than a comfort.
I told my brother, which was hard (we aren’t close) and he wants me to tell my mum. I’m in my 30s now, so how do I tell her I kept my abuse from her? Is it the right thing to do? I don’t want to take my abusers to court. I doubt I would get justice.
The reason I asked my brother was that I wanted to know if anything had happened to him. The question plagued me for so long. He wasn’t abused, thank God.
What do I do? I feel lost. Do I tell my mum what happened? It won’t change the abuse.
You have been horribly abused by the woman who tried to kill you, and your babysitter. And despite all that has happened to you, here you are caring about your brother, worrying about how you kept the abuse from your mum. Nothing that happened was your fault. You were failed and harmed by all the adults around you. I’m so sorry.
I wondered why you told and asked your brother now, and what else is happening in your life at the moment? Often survivors of emotional, physical and sexual abuse reach a safe place and can look back at what happened – maybe this resonates for you? Or maybe you are at the stage of life where you might be thinking of having children of your own?
I talked to Joanne Stubley, a consultant psychiatrist and a specialist in trauma. She was impressed with your ability to recognise the failings in your parents and not just “see things in black and white, which is what often happens with trauma”. She said: “The big question is whether you should tell your mum or not: but that didn’t seem to be coming from you, but rather from your brother.”
She felt that, before you do anything, you might want to work on “putting all of this together”. While you remember the assaults by the family friend clearly, Stubley thought you described the process of dissociation in relation to the babysitter very accurately when you explained that maybe your brain didn’t want you to remember.
We both agreed that you need to put yourself at the centre of anything you do next. I can understand you wanting to talk to your mother, but I am not sure if she is the best person for you to speak to right now. Stubley wanted you to be very sure – or as sure as you can be – of what you do from now on, so you are not motivated by revenge or anger, or even wanting to save anyone else. This is important because you need to be careful not to repeat what happened to you before: people not noticing, not listening, not protecting you. If that were to happen again, then it may take you right back to what happened when you were a child.
In terms of remembering the blanks, it’s imperative you do this in a place where you are psychologically “held” (safe), because remembering “requires you to feel the pain of what happened and grieve for what you lost”, says Stubley. If you are able to do some work to address the fallout it may help you feel that you have more choices about what kind of life you now want, and that you’re not stuck in this awful trauma.
There are some links below, but start with your GP. Surgeries vary hugely, but are a good place to start looking for some therapeutic help.