I recently received a heartfelt letter from a woman who felt I had written her story and put it into a song; I was very touched by her warm thanks for the understanding she said she felt while listening to it.
The song is called “Mama Cried.” It is about a runaway who left home at 16 because her mother’s boyfriend was abusing her. The girl in my song finds herself living on the streets, totally alone, except for the piranhas.
Here are some of the lyrics:
Mama cried, when I said I had to leave, poor deluded Mama she just can’t believe,
someone lied, and I know it wasn’t me.
Something isn’t right here beneath this family tree.
City lights, keep all the ghosts at bay.
No one asks me questions, no one turns me away.
I spend my nights, with friends that I have made.
They give me protection and a place to stay.
I guess it’s not so different from my home now.
At least, I make a dollar for my time.
When I have a quarter, I call Mama.
Just to say I love her, and that just like her, I live a lie.
The Mother did not believe her daughter when she revealed she was being abused; she chose to believe her boyfriend the accused. In my opinion, the betrayal of the Mother was nearly worse than the abuse itself. Maybe it is worse in fact, but really that is a topic for another post.
There is nothing nice about childhood abuse, but I do believe, in the grand scheme of things, it is a survivable life event. If there is the right amount of support and love in a child’s life, they can get through anything.
I am telling you this because I know from experience, from the age of five until I was twelve, I was regularly abused by a person who was connected closely to our family. I know intimately the feeling of being preyed upon, manipulated and told mistruths for years on end by someone you trust.
Child predators are sneaky bastards. They groom children by using intoxicating motivators. I thought I was keeping my family together by not telling because that’s what I was told. It’s a hefty burden for a little kid to bear, and I actually carried it all throughout my childhood. I was even a well-adjusted child, oddly enough. Blessed with wonderful parents, I had no doubts, no fears that I wasn’t loved, so for me, the whole abuse aspect just seemed like a facet of my life.
I stopped the abuse the second I realized I had the power to say no, the very second.
Not to sound cliché, but I recall the moment as if it were yesterday.
In school, one day my grade seven teacher announced a big film they were going to show. It was a brand new topic, very controversial in fact, and she told us that all sorts of parents had tried to stop it from being shown. They had complained that the material was too much for kids to understand, they were afraid to scare the children. Finally, though, luckily, after a lot of arguing, the film received approval to be shown in schools, and our class was among the first to see it.
We were excited. We didn’t care what the topic was, we just loved missing classes and adored the whole film watching experience in general. (I can even now imagine hearing the clickety sound of the old style film projector’s spinning and whirring beside us as we watched.) So, I was in no way prepared for my life to change so drastically after watching this movie. From the moment it started, it had my attention, because the film was about sexual abuse, and it described me.
I sat in silence watching the film, and I recall at one point feeling as if I was outside of myself, watching me come to the realization that the things my abuser told me were not true. I was in a daze for the last periods of the day, and I recall going straight to the library on Granville street after school, where I walked in right past the teen fiction section and up to the counter to ask the librarian if she had any books on sexual abuse. She took me to a pitifully small section of books (by today’s standards), I grabbed them all and went to a table to sit and skim through everything I could find that might be relevant to me.
Now that I knew this was me, I wanted to know, what was going to happen? The film had said there were sometimes drastic effects on people who had been abused, and I didn’t like the sound of that, so I focused on finding out more.
Each book that covered the topic said there were generally two different reactions to this sort of abuse; the individual will act out and become promiscuous; often running away and winding up on the streets selling their bodies and their souls and basically continuing the abuse cycle … or they would become overly cautious, and in that, they were at risk of becoming stuck somewhere, when it comes to various aspects of relationships, later in life.
I took this information and made a decision on that day. I didn’t know anything about relationships yet, but I knew what I didn’t want, and I knew that I would do everything in my power to avoid becoming the promiscuous type. So I made myself aware and watched for red flags all the way throughout my youth. I wouldn’t say I was perfect, but it is very safe to say I regularly opted out of events, moments, and situations where things could get scary or uncomfortable for me. I usually preferred to observe the party rather than participate. (Maybe that is why I like to be onstage even today.)
I pretty much followed that path until I was married, and it largely kept me out of trouble. In hindsight, in fact, it probably protected me. As a young and impressionable teenager, I may have otherwise been far too easily led (had I carried no fears or visions of the future). All the reading (and I did a lot after that first day) gave me a glimpse of tomorrow.
So, the point of all this is that armed with the information I sought out as a result of seeing the film, I found the strength to tell my abuser NO, and the abuse stopped.
However, I still did not tell anyone in my family. I still believed that if my abuser’s partner knew, she would be devastated and crushed, and I loved her so much I couldn’t bear to hurt her that way. (My ‘reading’ at that point did not afford me the insight or the bravery to understand that it wasn’t my fault, that particular realization didn’t occur until much later in my life.) So, I carried on in silence. The abuser was still in our family and present at family events. No one was the wiser because I was very stoic. I don’t recall caring very much, at least I was free from the abuse.
There is a long story of spent tears and healing that follows from this point in the story, but that is not the purpose of this essay. The point is to illustrate how powerful and important information can be to a person, especially a child.
If those busybody parents had been successful in keeping the film out of my school, I might never have understood what was happening to me. Who knows how long the abuse would have gone on? Who knows how much more twisted my life would have become? Despite the efforts of the needlessly fearful parents, the school did an excellent job of educating me on my rights as a human. They gave me the power to stand up for myself.
I will never understand those parents. The ones who keep their children in a bubble, protecting them from everything and anything. What are kids supposed to do when they get out on their own? How do they cope if their hand is held through every experience and someone edits every bit of information that comes their way? How will they deal when it all comes at them the moment they get out there on their own and start trying to test their wings?
If you are a parent of young children, don’t deny them the tools they will need to protect themselves. Instead, arm them with truthful information. Give them the power to say no to adults, because trust me, even if you are a fabulous parent, you may never know what is going on behind your back. You may never know what lies are told to keep your child in a situation where they are quietly complying with the directions of someone in a trusted position. If they think they are protecting you or a loved one, they will never reveal the truth. They don’t know any better, so you have to tell them. The world has bad people. They have to know about them.
That’s what I came here to say today, so, do with that suggestion whatever you will.
I will close with a mini version of how my story resolved. In my early 20s, the abuser left my relative, and with the fear of becoming the one to break up the family no longer present, I finally told the story.
Unlike the young lady in my song (Mama Cried), I was one of the lucky abuse survivors because my family believed me and supported me. I was encouraged to go to the police. Statements were made by me, confessions given by him … and then, he killed himself, and left a note, blaming me.
That sent me spiraling into a dark period of guilt and sadness. I recall so clearly walking down the train tracks by myself, day after day, just crying huge, pitiful, sobbing tears and completely not understanding the world.
One day, though, and I don’t even know why, but one day I suddenly stopped, and decided I was tired of crying about it.
I decided on that day, at that very moment, that I was no longer going to let him have any power over me. I made the choice to not allow this life event to define me. I decided that from that moment forward, I was going to take responsibility for my actions and not blame them on my past. That meant that any mistakes I made, were going to be MY mistakes, and I was sincerely prepared to take responsibility for them.
That also gave me the realization that anything good I did, was going to be my own doing too, and I was going to be able to take credit for that. I reminded myself of what my Dad always taught me, that I have the choice to spread good energy, and I also have the choice to either absorb or deflect the bad.
Perhaps that is why I am so positive today. It is my choice to be that way. Anyone who knows me knows I rarely get mad. I am more likely to get sad at myself than be angry at someone else. Sometimes that point is confused or mistaken, particularly when I lose my ability to communicate effectively, but I have no choice but to be OK with that and realize that for all I have managed to figure out, I will still struggle with personal insecurities and get in the way of myself, and I should give myself a break.
And while I am still very likely to keep certain things private and close to my heart, because I either feel stupid, or the experience was too raw, I know I will continue to share most of my experiences, thoughts and processes as I scratch my way through life, and maybe even just maybe, as a result, someone, somewhere in cyberworld, will recognize something of themselves in my stories of being human, and maybe they will be moved to look for their own understanding and answers. That would be quite worth it I think.
Hearts to you all. xo