Day 24: Starting Over After Childhood Abuse
Abandoned as an infant, by an alcoholic mother, the day her daddy found her and her brother being cared for by complete strangers was her dream come true. As her brother would tell her later, it was his hope that now that they were reunited with their father, perhaps they’d have a “normal” family life. She was 3 years old and he was 5.
Two years later, she’d be wishing she’d known those strangers a little better. Her father remarried and it was unfortunately to a woman who had all of this young girls’ extended family deceived. She looked and sounded like a country music star, but the only “lyrics” this girl would hear were,
“A bruise on her leg
A scar on her face
Why would she be
In such a horrible place?”
(Jason Michael Carroll)
This is an anonymous friend who has decided to tell her story now as part of her healing. I will tell the story in 3rd person and change all names to protect only the innocent. If I could personally tell this story now and name her accuser, it would be my pleasure. But, there are innocent people whose lives might be affected negatively, by revealing the person whom I refer to as the “step-monster.” The cruelty that this young babe experienced is evil and deserves punishment, but to me, the saddest part of this story is that my friend’s innocence was ripped out by the roots, from the sweet, young age of 5 years old.
Tamar had beautiful hair and her first memory as a child is how her daddy would compliment her on how pretty it looked when she brushed it. Some mornings it would be a different compliment, but, as soon as her daddy left for work, Stepmom would take her into her room and pull her hair out by the roots. Tamar would later brush out the hair, wad it up in a ball and hide it in an air conditioning vent to “save it.”
Some of us may have pleasant memories of Saturday mornings as children. My sisters and I would watch cartoons, play games, clean a little house and sit down to a delicious breakfast of biscuits and gravy; only served on the weekends. Tamar would wake to the smell of bacon frying and biscuits baking, too, but she would be in bed praying that this Saturday would be different.
Stepmom would rise early while everyone else was sleeping to prepare a wonderful breakfast for the family. Then before anyone else woke up, she would sneak into Tamar’s room and drag her out of bed to eat her breakfast first. She would still be groggy from sleep and not yet hungry, but that didn’t matter. Stepmom would force feed her biscuits, eggs, bacon and sausage until she almost threw up. Once she was done, Tamar was instructed to “get in there and straighten yourself up. And if you know what’s good for you, you will not say one word,” her stepmom would whisper. Tamar was familiar with this instruction, as she had been told the same thing once at her grandmother’s house. After eating a few chips from a bag, Stepmom carried her into her grandmother’s bedroom and force fed her the rest of the bag of chips.
When I asked her why she didn’t tell anyone when she was young, she replied, “I thought she was the mother and she could do anything she wanted.” She believed that there was no one who could do anything about it. Her own mother had abandoned her, there were family members who knew about a small portion of the abuse, but they didn’t intervene, possibly thinking that it wasn’t that bad. She explains how this feels today, looking back on it, “it’s like I was in a pool, drowning, and all my family was standing by the pool talking about me drowning.”
Stepmom had 4 children; three from a previous marriage and one with Tamar’s father, so at times there were 6 kids living in the house. Tamar was close to only 2 of the other children – her own brother and sister. The reason for this is, as she began to develop in her teens, her stepmother once stripped her of her clothes and allowed her own boys to whip her with a belt. I can only imagine the humiliation of a young girl lying across a bed, naked, while her stepbrothers beat her. She went to school with stripes on her legs and whelps across her bottom. She covered them up as best she could, frantic that if anyone said anything, “she’d get what was coming to her.”
The usual method of abuse was committed in secret. The silence must have been excruciating. She was always alone or at the very least, taken into a room where no one could see what was being done to her. There was an incident, however when her father witnessed the abuse through a window from outside. He came into the house after watching this woman strike his young daughter in her small developing chest, and knocked her to the floor. Tamar, her father and brother moved out shortly after. At this point in her young life, she thought of her daddy as “John Wayne.” He rode in on his proverbial white horse and saved her from the torture.
I wish I could say that this was the end, but the abuse continued until Tamar was in her teens. Her happiest memories are of the time when she and her small family lived in an apartment about 15 minutes from Stepmom. Her heart was broken again when they moved back in with her abuser about 2 years later. And this time, the abuse began to escalate. She was forced to wash dishes with hot water only. She could not turn on the cold water, wear gloves or put dishes away before Stepmom inspected them. Tamar learned how to wash dishes quickly and not to ever leave the slightest crumb on a dish or pan. If there was anything left in a pan, she would have to scrape it out with a spoon and eat it. She was also forced to eat old food in the refrigerator because she had failed to clean it out.
Because of the never-ending emotional uncertainty that goes along with abuse, Tamar was terrified of not pleasing her stepmother. She would even make Valentine’s cards, Christmas gifts and other things hoping to convince Stepmom that she was lovable. On one occasion that she did not please her, her stepmom put her in a closet and told her not to come out until she could “straighten up and do right.” Tamar remembers the darkness of the closet and of her own mind as she tried to figure what to do next. Not really knowing what she’d done wrong to set the abuser off, she didn’t know how to straighten up. She stayed in that closet for several hours. It seemed like an entire day because when she went in, it was daylight and when the door opened that night, her stepmother had the belt and beat her for not coming out.
Tamar was not allowed to sit, either. At night, when her dad would come home, she would want to sit and watch tv with him. Stepmom would sit behind her father (so he couldn’t see the looks she was giving Tamar) and stare at her until she got up and “got busy”. To intimidate her, if she didn’t get up and get busy, her abuser would get up and walk around the room snatching things off of tables. This was a sign that this is what will happen to you when he isn’t here.
One of the times that he wasn’t home, she was whipped with the belt buckle. Like all children do, she put her hands behind her trying to protect her bottom and Stepmom continued beating her until the prong of the buckle stuck into the palm of her hand. Her hand had to be bandaged and her sister had witnessed the whole thing this time. When their daddy got home, her sister told her to “show daddy what mamma did to you.” She did.
Her stepmom had been at work that night, so she felt somewhat safe in showing him. When he saw the wound, he was furious. Her daddy took the belt and sat down on the porch steps waiting for her to get home. Stepmom drove into the driveway, saw the belt in his hands and drove away.
The last beating Tamar took from this woman was turning into a bad one. Her brother just happened to drive up and caught her in the act. He picked up a baseball bat and told Tamar to get in the car. He threatened their stepmom that if she ever laid a hand on his sister again, he would use the bat on her and then drove his sister to their grandmother’s house. He is our hero. She lived with her grandmother for two years, until she got married.
Years later, Tamar went by the house to visit her dad. As she approached her abusers house, she felt strange, somewhat strong, and yet overwhelmed with a weird sense of consciousness. It was wrong what had been done to her as a child. Her stepmom opened the door and invited her inside, while demanding that she “take off her shoes.” She is an adult now, 30 years old, so she replies, “I will not take off my shoes,” with her father standing near. An argument follows. During the argument, she shares every bad thing that was ever done to her by this woman in her presence as well as her fathers’. Her stepmom calls her a liar, her father cries. Her stepmom tells Tamar that it was all her fault. She had caused it all to happen. “I tried to be good to you”, her stepmother screams, “but you wouldn’t let me.”
She decides then and there to take a stand for herself and doesn’t back down. She tells her stepmom that she will never touch her again! Tamar is then attacked for the last time physically by this woman who tries to push her out of the house. “Get out!” she screams, “or I will call the law”. Tamar replies to her, “this is my daddy’s house and I will not leave.” On her own terms a few minutes later, she leaves, vowing to never go back. She has never stepped foot in that house again.
Today, Tamar has a college education, is manager of the department she works in and in most ways, has “pulled herself up by her bootstraps” and made a great life for herself. But, when I asked if she had ever had counseling, her answer surprised and saddened me. “Years ago, a doctor told me, for other reasons, that I was co-dependent and needed to read the book, Co-Dependent No More, which I did. It didn’t really help, because as she shared with me, “one of the most heartbreaking things that I’ve experienced as an adult is hearing that my father sat down to Thanksgiving dinner with her and her kids. This is a season to be grateful, and show appreciation to others, but because of the heartbreak I’ve endured at her hand, it was painful to imagine him celebrating the season with this woman. He tells me all the time that he loves me, but I needed physical, emotional and on-going help, that I’ve come to realize has to come from a higher power than my dad.
God just had to intervene. Tamar told me, “A family member use to share stories from the Bible with me from a very young age and there was a time when I took my Bible out and tossed it on the bed, asking God to please tell me something. It opened to a page that was titled, ‘What Is Happiness?’ and this is what I read from Eccles. 6:
18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.”
She continues, “For a long time, this was sufficient for me. But lately, when I hear of people who take their own lives,” she says through tears, “I understand. You just get to the point where you want the pain, the stress, the battle to be over. As I think about my life now, I realize that I am never satisfied. I am OCD. Everything has to be perfect. I take medication to get through the day and medication to sleep at night. My biggest fear is failure. My mind and my body have just about worn me out. While I thank God for my blessings, and my health, the internal battle often overcomes the good and I begin to feel unworthy of my blessings.”
I made her promise me that she would consider counseling. We are gathering names as we speak, to help her get the relief she needs. She believes seeing this story in print will help. I pray it does. Telling the story is her way of finally taking a stand for herself, but she doesn’t want to hurt the people she loves, in the process. This is her sweet heart to a T.
Even after proof-reading the text I sent her, I shared with her that this is the longest article I’ve ever written at 2,408 words. Her reply was, “And this is just a drop in the bucket.”
While I am not a counselor, I can’t help but think about the hair that may still be stuffed in a HVAC vent. She may not have understood her need to “save it”, but we do, don’t we? She couldn’t save her 5-year-old innocence from being ripped out by the roots, but she could save her hair.