I am 57 and was molested by my stepfather when I was 13.
When my mum and nan went out on a Friday night, he would pull me to him from behind and put his hand inside my bra. I asked him not to, but it went on for a while before I told my nan.
I then started sleeping at her house over the road, but he tried to control me by making me come back from nights out with my friends very early.
From the age of 17, all I wanted to do was get married so I could get rid of his family name.
I married at 20, divorced at 23, then got together with my current partner, whom I used to work with.
The relationship has not been easy, as he is verbally abusive when he’s had a bit too much to drink, and I’ve tried a few times to leave him, but we have three wonderful children and four fantastic grandchildren who make my life worth living. I still live in the same house.
My parents emigrated to the U.S. and I have had a letter from my stepdad saying he is sorry for what he did.
He has asked me not to reply, but I feel I need to write back and let him know how his actions have affected my life. My partner cannot come up behind me and wrap his arms around me, and I don’t like people close to my back in lifts.
Once, when I took the kids over to visit them, he put his fingers inside my daughter’s top while putting her seat belt on, when she was just developing.
This could have been a fluke, but because of what happened to me I will never know for sure.
Also, my son went over to visit on his own when he was nine, and my stepdad went in the bathroom to show him how to wash himself and touched my son’s penis.
I have been told he raped his sister when she was 18 (he was 26 and drunk).
He told my younger sister this is a lie, but we cannot ask my auntie, as she died six years ago.
My stepdad has prostate and bone cancer and I don’t know how much longer he has to live, but feel I need some kind of resolution before it is too late.
Maybe I should have sought some help or advice sooner.
This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail
This, of course, is a letter about the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. Whilst you are speaking mainly about the abuse you suffered at the hands of your stepfather, you also mention that you are still being abused by your current partner. You mention it and then downplay it – acknowledging it and denying it at the same time. You had no autonomy in your early life and it sounds as though you still lack the confidence to be independent of abusive men.
You make it clear that you asked your stepfather at the time not to abuse you, but he ignored you. You managed to tell your nan but, by the sounds of it, she did not call the police or confront your mother and stepfather and he continued to abuse children. You say you can’t be sure about some of the abusive actions against other children (your own) and yet you cite them clearly. Again – acknowledgment and denial simultaneously. This kind of fear and uncertainty, worry that you are wrong or might be making it up, is a classic reaction to early sexual abuse.
It’s interesting that you took your stepfather’s name in childhood as it somehow underlines his complete domination of your life, a deletion of your original self. Of course, sexual abuse is very much about power and control as you rightly suggest. You say your current partner is abusive ‘when he’s had a bit too much to drink’. The euphemism for drunk, a way of trying to exculpate him, is strongly suggestive of your feeling of helplessness and uncertainty as to whether your own feelings are valid. You say you tried to leave ‘a few times’ but, instead of explaining why you didn’t, you mention your children and grandchildren. You are counting your blessings in a situation that feels helpless – something you have always had to do.
I wonder why you mention that you still live in the same house. I think you are saying that nothing has really changed – that the mental prison of self-doubt, domineering men and helplessness still surrounds you.
You say your abuser has written to apologise, but again he controls your behaviour – dictating what you should do. You go on to say how ill he is as if this might be a reason to obey him – again. Your own letter seems to be asking permission to disobey both your former and your present abuser, to have your own feelings. You do not feel you have the authority, the worth as a person to do this without the consent of some lofty figure – in this case a newspaper columnist.
Your childhood abuser has also abused both your children and still you doubt yourself. Although you should of course write whatever you would like to write to this abuser, it seems unlikely that resolution will come from the hands or mouth of the person who took your childhood away and made you, not without the collusion of your mother and nan, a frightened adult in an unhappy relationship. Your mother introduced this man as a father figure and continues, apparently, to live with him. This must exacerbate your feelings of confusion and abandonment.
You say you should have sought help earlier but, despite the measured tone of your letter, you have sought help only when you were desperate enough to feel you have to act. Now that this man has written to you and is dying, the situation has become intolerable. I would suggest that this is because he has written to you. Now that he has admitted what he did you can no longer maintain the half-denial you have maintained thus far in order to protect yourself.
Now you are asking in desperation for a magical end to the truth of being an abused child. A truth now openly confirmed by the abuser. Of course, this isn’t possible. I would strongly recommend that you read The Courage To Heal http://www.amazon.com/The-Courage-Heal-Expanded-Survivors/dp/0060950668 a book about the lasting symptoms of childhood sexual abuse, survivors’ stories and a guide through the healing process.
You are seeking permission to think and feel and suspect the things your think, feel and suspect. The thrown-in mention of your partner’s drunken verbal abuse is particularly disturbing. On the one hand you are obviously aware of the legacy of the original abuse and on the other hand you dismiss it. Presumably you had to carry on as normal when you were a child at the same time as being abused, and you are still doing this. The fact that you don’t mention your mother or nan’s role in any detail is interesting. You obviously felt entirely unprotected and assumed it was up to you to protect yourself as best you could. This must have been, must still be a very lonely place to be. It might well be that some proper therapy could help you find some of the resolution you are unlikely to get from your original attacker.
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