Shame and Protection…

It was difficult to share with people about my dad and what had transpired between us from my ages 11-14. Not surprisingly, people felt anger and hatred towards him. Could hear nothing of the good I felt he had done for me or the ways in which I knew he had taken care of me as a child, until he started taking care of me in unforgivable ways.

A sense of protection would rise up in me when I felt their anger towards him, and, just as quickly, a sense of shame would start to shut me down and not want to continue to share.

A sense of protection would come over them from the intensity of emotion they felt because of the love and care they felt for me.

A double-edged sword.

It was after all, my experience. My feelings. My shame. My sense of protection. A sense of confinement would take over me, confined from speaking the truth I so desperately needed to be heard. It wasn’t until my mid-fifties that I ever really shared the absolute truth of the abuse. It changed me. Freed me. Catapulted me into a whole new sense of self that I had never been able to access.

Incest is, at its worst, life-altering, self-defining, personality changing, intrusive, overwhelming, terrifying, confusing, detrimental, self-punishing, shameful, dark, isolating, tormenting, oppressive, confidence-depriving, and most painfully guilt-provoking.

I felt and lived all of these things because of my dad’s choice to take me as his lover, his expectations of me likened to those of a wife. Sex wasn’t the only task my dad assigned me, there was also the house cleaning, laundry, cooking, ironing his shirts, bringing his bowl of warm water to soak his feet in at the end of each working day.

He possessed me. Controlled my every move.

Little wonder I’m so fiercely independent, unable to let people too close.

Perhaps all incest survivors experience the same challenges?

I’ve thought often of the impact his abuse has taken on my life. The saddest impact for me has been the ability to marry a man, have children, a family, grandchildren, a home. I have been engaged, married (briefly) no children, (though I have always wanted children.) I’ve loved men, a couple of them deeply. Would love to have been able to spend my life with them, but my feelings could never sustain. Sex was more like masturbation for me, no connection, even if I loved the guy, I couldn’t connect emotionally during sex. I would feel empty and sometimes dirty, afterwards.

This is what my dad robbed me of. The ability to connect with a man in the way I would need to, in order to spend my life with him and be fulfilled. Had I stayed with any man that I have loved, it would have been unfair to both of us because I would have always been disconnected in ways that are important to sustain a life-long relationship. I know this to be the absolute truth about myself. I know this to be one of my greatest losses in life. I will die never having birthed a child. That is a deep, deep loss.

People might ask, “why not have a child anyway?” Well, since most of my relationships have been with women, there have been times that I thought perhaps we could have a child together, but deep down I didn’t believe out relationship would last the test of time and didn’t want to bring a child into a world were I couldn’t provide the stability I had always wanted as a child:

Two parents, a stable home, financial security, a good education. We can say, “but children just need love.” I believe that in part, I also believe, as this point in my life, that a child needs balance, balance of love, attention, direction, stability, a belief that tomorrow will come and the day will not be disrupted by a sudden move to another town in the middle of the night and the start of a new school two days later. I believe a child deserves “normal.” I believe a child deserves vacations, family, cousins to play with, book reading at bedtime, holiday occasions spent with family, traditions that offer a reflection back to childhood that fills the self with warmth, love, connection and gratitude.

It’s complicated really. I have so very much that I am grateful for. I am blessed that my life has turned out the way it has. I have so much love in my life. I’m grateful for all of it, deeply grateful. I just can’t help at times, to wonder who would I be had my dad made different choices, and that I still feel the same protection of him, even with all my sadness and sometimes anger for what his choices took from me. . .

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