I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot recently. I haven’t seen him for 17 years. I’ve not heard from him or tried to contact him in 17 years.
I cut all contact with him when my oldest son was 3 years. It took me 23 years to realise he was never going to be the Dad that I needed or wanted and that his affect on my life was a negative one. The tipping point was when I had to face up to the fact that I could never and would never leave my son alone with him or any other children I went on to have and especially not any daughters.
About two years ago I had a bit of a look on Facebook to see if he was there and I found out his wife had recently died. This led to a period of deep dread and panic. What if he tried to contact me now he was alone. What if he just turned up in my life again. I made myself sick over it but like all things it passed.
Just before Christmas I found myself thinking about him again. In periods of stress or anxiety my thoughts stray to him. All my self esteem and self worth is tied up with him, how he parented me and how he treated me.
Since September I have struggled with a low patch, questioning whether I’m a bad person, a bad mum, an awful wife and a terrible friend. This peaked when I started questioning whether I had done wrong by my father as well. Had I escalated the abuse in my mind. Have I made it out to be worse than it was. Have I made my father out to be a villain when he was just a bad Dad. I’ve been asking myself if I’m an awful person with a tendency to exaggerate.
Shame. Guilt. Denial. Feeling like I’ve blown things out of proportion, that I’m the problem and that it’s my perception that’s skewed. That’s the sneaky thing about abuse and abusers. The denial is theirs. Refusal to accept responsibility or acknowledge what they’re doing or have done.
I was sexualised and abused by my father when I was 13 when my mother was in hospital for a prolonged about of time. When I went to visit my mother in hospital she asked me to sleep in his bed with him “he’s lonely”. I complied like a lamb to the slaughter. “Sorry Clair, I just miss your mum” he said afterwards. The humiliation and sexualisation continued in front of my mother until I left home at 17.
I burnt my arm with boiling water at age 15 and had significant burns to most of my right arm. My wounds were treated and dressed in A&E and closely monitored while they healed. I couldn’t get the dressing wet. My father insisted on bathing me. My mother went along with it. It was embarrassing and humiliating and something I still feel deep shame about now.
My father would ask me for hugs and then when I hugged him he would tell me off in front of my mother and brothers for pushing my breasts into him. I was mortified.
I would wake up in the morning with him laying on me telling me how beautiful I was and repeatedly kissing me on the lips. I can’t bear facial hair to this day.
At age 19 my mother left my father. My father was devastated and I thought she might be persuaded to go back to him. I finally told her about the abuse that had taken place 6 years previously. My mother told my father that if he apologised to me she would take him back.
The abuse, the humiliation, the confusion, the emotional pain, the mind games and rejection at the hands of my father were trivialised in that moment. As far as my mother was concerned I was so unimportant in comparison to their relationship that all it would take was a simple apology to clear this up for her. A counsellor once suggested to me that my mother reacted like this because she had known about the abuse all along and had in fact offered me up to take the pressure off herself. I hope that’s not true.
The abuse was real not exaggerated. I was routinely sexualised and humiliated. I went to bed in fear every night that I would sleep too deeply and that he would come in and do things and I wouldn’t know. I barely slept and when I did I wore layers upon layers creating a barrier of clothes.
I need to remind myself daily that I have not blown what happened to me out of proportion and that it wasn’t normal to be made to feel like that in my own home with my parents whose job it was to protect me.
I know when the doubts and the niggles creep in that it’s bullshit. All the terrible things I tell myself aren’t true. Fuck, it’s hard.