Some kinds of help are the kinds of help that helping’s all about, And some kinds of help are the kinds of help we all can do without.

Shel Silverstein

My abuse happened in the 1970’s.  To say that it was a different time would be a massive understatement.  We have come a long way in the manner in which we deal with issues of sexual abuse.  We have an even longer way to go.

Do you guys remember Something about Amelia?  It was a made for tv movie that came out in 1984.  It starred Ted Danson and Glenn Close.

The father is molesting his daughter.  That alone was groundbreaking- that people were talking about this taboo subject.  When Amelia becomes worried he might do the same to a younger sibling, she tells.  The excuse given is that his wife wasn’t being intimate with him.  He doesn’t get jail time because the judge didn’t want to break up the family.

 I am certain it was considered progressive.

Actually, he was molesting his daughter because he was a pedophile, and that is what pedophiles do.  It’s a CRIME.  It’s not a “family problem,”  it is a LEGAL and SOCIETAL problem.

And this just in, that family was already broken.

I got some help after I told my mother about the abuse, but the help I did get was, in retrospect, of questionable value.

That’s no one’s fault.  It’s just the way things were.

I remember the counselor asking me to tell her what happened.  As I was recounting it, she asked me if I’d said, “No.”  I replied that I had, and she said, “OH, that’s good!  You said no!”

Yes.  I said no.  And then he abused me anyway.  Explain to me, please, how that’s good.

What that taught me was that my no had no power.  It taught me that my no didn’t mean no.  It taught me that I could assert my wishes in a sexual situation, and that it would not make a damned bit of difference.

People sometimes don’t understand why some victims of sexual abuse go through periods of promiscuity- it seems counter-intuitive.  That’s it, right there- all wrapped up in a neat little bow.  If the word no is meaningless, if refusal is futile- why do it?  Just go somewhere else in your head.  It’ll be over soon enough.

And what lesson would I have taken away from that conversation if my answer had been that I’d NOT said no.  Would that have made him less culpable?  Me more so?  Did I need to say no for this grown man to understand that he should not be molesting his granddaughter?  What- he didn’t know it was wrong unless someone told him?  Then why so much effort to conceal it?  Why not out in public instead of on secret walks, and under stairways, in cabanas and utility rooms?

I don’t blame the counselor.  She was trying to help me, and honestly- therapy for this kind of abuse was really in its infancy.  I don’t write this because I am angry at her, but because I want us to think about what we say to children who have been traumatized. The fact that more than three decades later I remember that conversation so clearly speaks to that.

It was a different time.  I think the counselor was well intentioned.  I think the movie was well intentioned.  I think there’s a reason the expression, The road to hell is paved with good intentions exists.

The words we choose wield enormous power.  They have the power to help, and the power to further traumatize.  We should remember that.

17 Comments on “Help

  1. I remember the campaigns at school: “Just say “no” to drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc.” Too late for someone who’d already been taught “no” meant nothing if the person who had power over you ignored it.

    A huge breakthrough happened in my 30s at an event for survivors. It was our first, and we struggled to find common ground. We didn’t want anyone to feel pressured. So we danced around ideas of things we could do together, always with the aside, “But you don’t have to; no pressure.” The ice shattered when I finally spoke up, “What? We have the right to say, ‘No?'” It was the one thread we all shared in our stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Boy do I remember that movie. I was molested by my great-uncle in 1981. For some reason I remember Amelia developing an eating disorder, but maybe I mixed up 2 movies in my head from that time. In what I’m sure was a completely unrelated manner, I developed anorexia in 1984.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t remember that part of the movie, but it’s certainly possible. I struggled with anorexia and bulimia too, as did my cousin. I think it’s pretty common among survivors.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am overcome by your post today. I am. Thank you.

    I said, “NO!” when my mother continued to open the door to my soon to be stepfather. I clawed at her feet, wrapping myself around her legs. Holding on. Begging and pleading with my tear soaked hair stuck to my face and snots dripping down my chin. Screaming at her, “Please! Please don’t open the door!” She did. Always. And I was always shocked by her blatant denial of my pain. Her refusal to see what was right in front of her eyes.

    Over and over again she opened that damn door. Until he never left. I hated him. She told me I was bad for hating him. I told her over and over again that I loved her. That she was a good mother. Hoping she would love me enough to choose me over him. She didn’t. Ten years of abuse. A life time of repression and disassociation from it all. A mother telling me I was crazy. That I was imagining it. That my reality was not real.

    Who does that? Really. Who? Who does that and dares to call herself “Mother.” What is a child supposed to do with that? Self-loathing saturated my soul.

    It helps to write. It’s therapeutic to read your story and others. We are a community of healing. We are truth tellers and demon slayers. Freeing ourselves from the sludge of our past. Blackness dumped into our pores. Together we will sweat it out and create our own truth. Washing ourselves in self love and acceptance. That’s my freedom. That’s the light.

    Sending love to you for your bravery and your story telling. Thank you for bearing witness to mine.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I’m sorry you were abused by your grandfather. You make such an important point. Saying “no” can’t save a child or other helpless individual from being hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My parents sent me to therapy off and on during my teens because I kept “acting out” (suicide attempt at 13, promiscuity, etc). They couldn’t see that our family was broken. I often wonder if we had gone to family counseling instead if I would’ve found the courage and sense of safety to tell my parents about the abuse I suffered. I don’t blame them because they truly did the best they could with the knowledge they had but the idea that I needed to be “fixed” validated my belief that I was to blame for everything that happened to me. I was one of those kids who didn’t say “No” and that added to that belief as well. I guess it makes me uniquely qualified to treat my children differently if and when they have struggles. I’ll never let them believe they’re in it alone.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Two things: 1. “The excuse given was that his wife wasn’t being intimate with him.” Good God. So weird, isn’t it? Such a reminder that we actually ARE moving forward, and so we must continue. 2. “What- he didn’t know it was wrong unless someone told him? Then why so much effort to conceal it? Why not out in public instead of on secret walks, and under stairways, in cabanas and utility rooms?” The locations are such a big deal to me, and when mentioned, it takes me back. It reminds me again that it actually did happen, in real time and real space.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. So awesome, helpful, and safe at “In Others’ Words.” Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. It so irks me that the therapist made such a point of your voiced “no” vs the fact that in an abuse of power, NOTHING you can say at the time would have stopped your abuser. The real power you have conjured is in the now…tracking down your beloved cousin, retracing your childhood steps to validate each other’s pain and experiences, sharing your stories and thus providing an oasis for others who have suffered same. Keep up the amazing work as you continue to heal others through your own enlightenment and empowerment. XOXOX

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think she thought it would be empowering- I truly do believe she had the best of intentions. It just shows how primitive the understanding of what that kind of abuse was back in the day.


  8. As you recently posted: “The littlest said, “She got killed because she said no to a dance.” I said, “That’s not quite right, sweetie. She was killed because there was a boy who had some serious problems. We don’t know what they were, but he was either sick in the head, or sick in the heart. Girls say no to dances all the time.”

    I thought at the time what a wonderful way that was to deal with that comment/fear. There is a lot more knowledge in this area these days in terms of awareness and prevention, but where do people go to learn how to deal with those who have been abused? Aside from the good that has come out of your horror, along with saying, “I believe you,” how else do we learn the words to speak to a present or past victim of abuse?

    Thank you for the outpouring you started and for being a safe heaven (Freudian slip – I meant to type “haven”) for too many wounded folks.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh wow. Thank you for sharing this.
    Heavenly Father, may we all find the words to heal instead of making the hurt worse. May peace come where there is none. And joy to replace the sadness and grief.

    Liked by 4 people

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