In my rage, I learned something.

I am sitting here, several hours past my bed time, waiting for my Ativan to kick in so my heart will stop pounding and I can go to sleep. All because I became enraged over a social media post.

One of the pages I follow on Facebook posted this story: Mom Dies In Hospital, Then Son Writes Obituary Saying He’s Glad She’s Dead.

I was immediately drawn to it, as the headline sounded just like something I would write for my own mother’s obituary. I thought about what it would be like for me when my mother dies, if I am fortunate enough to outlive her. A friend once asked me if I would go to my mother’s funeral. I told him I would. Not to pay my respects, but to see for myself that she is dead. I wanted the same for my father, but to see him would have meant seeing my (very much alive) mother, and I couldn’t risk that.

Even though I have thought about my mother’s death, I never once thought about what I would write in her obituary. My father’s obituary was lacking. I guess it was better to not say much at all than to say the truth of who he really was.There was no emotion behind it. Just his demographic information. I thought about how I would write it, but stopped myself because I had (and still do) an unresolved compulsion to protect my father. Even so, my father knew he was an asshole. He admitted it.

But my mother, that’s a different story. I feel no need to protect her. She has already done a magnificent job of protecting herself her whole life, at the expense of everyone else. It doesn’t matter what truth I or anyone speaks, she will always turn it back and away from her true self. But she can’t do that when she’s dead.

As morbid as it sounds, I feel like writing obituaries for both of them. For their symbolic death, if anything. Let me write their eulogies, too. They won’t be filled with fluff and niceties. They would be filled with the truth and emotion.

Anyway, after reading this article, I felt an immense sense of respect for the son. To come out with such honesty and raw emotion had to have taken a lot of courage. I commented on the post as such.

Then I made the mistake of reading the other comments. Quite a few of them echoed similar sentiments that I had. Then I came across this:

Why wait until she’s deceased to come forward. Should have been done that. Whatever if she did do that then God made her suffer before her passing. It breaks my heart to see people come out like this in the end.

Why wait until she’s deceased to come forward? Because the fear is gone. She is dead. She can no longer hurt anyone. So many people severely abused by a parent continue to live in fear until the day that parent dies. That’s why.

Should have been done that? Maybe they did. Maybe no one listened. Are victims only limited to speaking out once? Is it a case of you’ve had your say, now let it go? We don’t have that option. We live with that shit for the rest of our lives. Or maybe the mother denied everything just like so many abusers do. I don’t see any abusive mothers coming out of the woodwork admitting they are abusers.

If she did do that? REALLY? We are doubting the victim now?. You just proved my earlier point of no one listening. People don’t want to come forward because the victims are the ones scrutinized instead of the abusers. Especially when a mother is involved, because God forbid a mother abuses her child, no, that NEVER happens.

I won’t even get into the rest of that comment right now. This person’s continual comments only added to my rage. Focus on healing their families and not on making the parent look bad. Don’t keep the heartache going around. How do you get to feel better about yourself for something you should have done long time ago. If you would have been said something you wouldn’t have had to wait til mom is deceased to start feeling better. To put in the obituary like that. Nobody probably believes them now anyway. Some should have seen signs. It’s always one person you can talk to. There are signs and there are people to tell.

I responded to some of her comments, but nothing was getting through to her. I told her it had nothing to do with feeling better about oneself. Abused children and adults have a hard enough time feeling good about anything. It wasn’t about making the parent look bad. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. No one should sit there and call that duck an elephant. This was about sharing the truth.

I managed to maintain my composure online, as I like to conduct myself with respect even when I disagree, and fight back knowledge instead of emotion. But on the inside, I was burning. Once she said if you had just said something, I completely lost it. I sat at my computer, yelling at my screen. I was angry.

If I had just said something? You think I didn’t want to say anything? There’s always people to tell? WHERE WERE THEY? No one was listening to me. No one was seeing the signs. Where were these magical, abuse-stopping folks I should have told. Because of course it’s the child’s fault for not saying anything. Let’s not shift any blame to the people who are actually doing the abusing (and the neglecting, for those in power that stood silent). Nope. It must be my fault. Even though I was just a child forced into silence in order to save my life. And now you want to force me and others into silence in our adulthood? Get the fuck out of here.

I got myself so worked up that I could barely breathe. This person was a stranger, but her words affected me so much. And for once, I didn’t turn any of that anger inward. I was angry at this woman. I was angry at every adult that chose silence over honesty. I wasn’t angry at me.

I realized, in that moment of rage, that this was just what I needed. Without thinking, I had admitted out loud (to myself) that I was just a child. I admitted that I couldn’t have said anything. I just spent a week suppressing my anger against others because I wanted to believe that my own silence was my fault. I allowed myself to do that. What I couldn’t allow was someone else faulting me for it.

It was through my need to defend the countless other children who couldn’t speak out, that I finally realized the truth within myself. I was not to blame. No child is to blame.

I get it now.

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The Cost of Silence, Part 2

I want to be angry. I want to hate the teacher that gave me that bunny. I want to hate everyone that turned their backs on me and stayed silent.

But I can’t be angry, and I can’t hate. Because I, too, stayed silent.

When I was in Catholic elementary school, students were encouraged to serve the church as altar servers (basically, assistants to the priest). I didn’t do it because I enjoyed it or wanted to be a good Catholic; by then I had already turned away from God. I actually did it for the money (altar servers were paid to serve weddings and funerals).

One day after mass, the priest told the other server I was with to stay back (we were supposed to go back to class), and they went back into the rectory. I didn’t understand what was so important that he had to go back to his room, but I shrugged it off and went back to class.

And then it happened again. The same priest, the same boy. At first I was mad, thinking that I was missing out on something. My instinct led me to follow them to the back, but the priest turned around and stopped me. I told him I wanted to go, but he said it was a special thing for boys only.

In that moment, I knew. Those words he spoke were words I had heard before. But I didn’t say anything. I left them alone and went back to class as if nothing had happened. I never told anyone what was going on. I stayed silent, just as everyone else had stayed silent. That boy was much younger than me and I failed to protect him, just like others had failed to protect me.

But how could I have known? I grew up in a family that taught silence. I was raised in a religion that promoted secrecy through its own action (and inaction). I attended schools where the tuition not only paid for education, but for silence as well. Speaking up would be too much of a financial risk. One allegation and the student gets pulled out of school, along with the thousands of dollars per year in tuition. It’s much better to turn the other way and ignore it. Just pray about it. Jesus will help.

Jesus didn’t help me, and Jesus didn’t help that boy. Prayers don’t stop abuse. Plush bunnies don’t keep children safe. Silence isn’t the answer. Yet people keep choosing it. I keep choosing it.

And now I am left with unresolved emotions.

I am left with anger I’m not sure I deserve to feel. How can I be angry at others for doing the same thing to me that I did to that boy? Every time any inkling of anger rises to the surface, I can’t let it out, because being angry at them means I would have to be angry at me. I can’t put someone down for the same sins I have committed. That would make me a hypocrite. So what can I do? I want to be angry, but I can’t. It’s not that simple.

I am left with tremendous guilt. I think about that boy, about the other boys that could have been hurt. All because I chose to be silent. If I had just spoken up, it would all be different. No one else could have been hurt.

I think about the children my mother could have hurt. If I had just spoken up about her, she would have been stopped. I wouldn’t have been hurt anymore. Others wouldn’t have been hurt. My mother would be sitting in a prison cell, unable to hurt anyone ever again. But I didn’t speak up. Instead I let my mother continue to destroy me. I chose silence.

And now I am the one paying the price.

The Cost of Silence, Part 1

When I was in first grade, my teacher gave me a small plush bunny. She told me to hold on to it, that it would help me feel safe. And I did. I held on to it for years. I never thought anything of it.

While I was shopping in a store awhile back, I came across a small plush bunny. The bunny looked just like the one my teacher had given me. I remembered. I remembered everything. Then I immediately pushed it all away.

It was not the sweet childhood memory it should have been. It was much more complicated than that. And I didn’t want to bring it all up, so I pushed it back down and buried it and pretended like that memory didn’t exist.

Until the memory came up again. I was sitting in therapy, trying to think of childhood memories, and that memory popped through once again. I smiled at first because I felt the care I was given when my teacher gave 7 year-old me that bunny. Then my smile disappeared and I remembered things I didn’t want to remember. I had thoughts I didn’t want to think about.

I wanted to bury it all again. I didn’t want to think about what that memory meant. I didn’t want to feel the pain in my heart. But I did. And all I could do was cry.

Why did that teacher give me that bunny? Why did she tell me it would help me feel safe? Why did she think I needed to feel safe?

Those were the questions I thought of when that memory first came up, and I immediately pushed it all back down. In my adult mind, I knew the answers, and they were the answers that I did not want to hear. They were the answers I could not handle. And here they were, coming up again. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to face the reality of what it all meant. The possibility that my teacher knew the truth, that she knew I was being abused.

My child self may have thought that bunny helped, because my child self didn’t know any better. But my adult self knows that a bunny wasn’t going to help me. A bunny wasn’t what I needed to be safe. A bunny wasn’t going to stop my mother from hurting me. I needed someone to help me. I needed someone to be my voice. Instead all I got was a plush bunny.

That teacher wasn’t the only person to stay silent. There were others: teachers, family members, family friends. Some of them admitted that they knew something was going on but just didn’t want to get involved, they didn’t want to cross any lines. Then there were other people who had to have known, but just ignored the signs.

It hurts. Sometimes it hurts worse than what my mother and father did to me. I think that it’s hard for people to understand. It doesn’t make much logical sense. How could being ignored hurt worse than the actual abuse?

It’s a different type of pain. It’s not the sting from a cut or the ache from a bruise or shooting pain of a broken bone. It’s a deep pain in your heart. The pain of being invisible. The pain of being unworthy of anyone’s love or attention. The pain of being so worthless that no one would help you.

My parents always told me to stay silent. Did they tell all of those other people, too? Why did no one speak for me? Why didn’t they help? Why did they stay silent? How was I supposed to know I mattered if no one ever acted like I mattered?

I was a child who held out hope that someone would save me. I needed to matter to someone. I needed to be seen. But time and time again, people turned their backs on me. I wanted my parents to be wrong. Instead I grew up believing they must have been right.