[I] may be crazy but I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.

05 July 2013

Freedom Letter

She's crazy as anyone can be
That's what they say, they say of me
What wanting love can make some do
Isn't my fault,

Standing on the outside, 
State of grace, state of sin 
Sheryl Crow On the Outside

Content trigger warning:  The following post speaks plainly on the subject of sexual abuse, specifically, sexual abuse that happens within families for generation after generation. It deals head on with the longterm effects that occur when a child is sexually assaulted by a family member and then raised within a family-enforced code of silence.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, particularly if family was involved, please pause to reflect on whether this content might be a trigger for you. 

For those who choose to read on, my hope is that these words encourage you in your healing journey. This letter, which I call my freedom letter, is what I wrote and sent to my family less than a month ago, and so I raise a glass: To healing and to living in the full light of truth. Blessings to all.

Freedom Letter

Dearest Family,

Grand- and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, mother, fathers, sisters, cousins; Bertocchinis and Schusters all; both living and departed. Each one of you is someone I grew up with, and whether elder or age mate, nuclear family or extended; a family member by blood or by virtue of marriage; each one of you has borne children into this family and so each one of you has a part in the story I’m about to tell.

Most of you know, if only by way of family gossip, that I deal with clinical depression and a bipolar disorder. We don’t talk about these things in the family, at least not my wing of it. All the same, I’m guessing that I am not the only one who takes medication to keep depression in check. Additionally, I battle post traumatic stress. The cumulative effect of mental illnesses and PTSD is debilitating enough that I live on disability, a state that carries some shame. I continue to work with doctors to heal what can be healed and to manage those deficits that will be lifelong. We all have deficits and burdens we carry alone, and mine are no more important than anyone else’s. What is important, what is worth sharing, is this: the originating trauma, the thing that broke me, is something that happened within our family. 

Beginning at age four, I was sexually assaulted, repeatedly, by no fewer than four people, none of whom were strangers to me. One was a trusted family friend. Two were immediate family members. Of those two, one is still alive. 

I know that some of you are feeling the shock of what I just said; you didn’t know, and you didn’t see this coming. I also know that some of you are shocked that I said it at all. You are among those who knew-- absolutely you knew, though you ignored and eventually managed to “forget”-- that family members used me for sex. I am not the only child in this family who was abused in this way; this is a secret we have all kept. 

Had I been someone else’s four-year-old or, better, kidnapped and held in the basement of a sex offender, the family’s reaction to my pain would have been outrage. The sexual abuse harmed me, there’s absolutely no question about that, but it was the isolation-- the emotional shunning from my family-- that was the true and lasting trauma. On the surface I was cared for and loved: good food, warm house, nice clothes, good schools, regular bedtimes and rules, hugs and “I love you”s. All those things were real, and I benefited from them. This was also real: I was allowed the expression of absolutely no emotion that was unapproved: no sadness, no fear, no needing closeness or reassurance, no anger, and certainly no talking about these feelings. It’s one thing to have your abuser threaten you with, “Don’t tell or....” It is quite another to have those who love you enforce that code of silence. 

On this point I want to be very clear. The isolation I experienced wasn’t simply painful or pervasive. It was absolute and immutable. I was expected to be a pretty dolly in a glass case. Perfect; hollow. It is this harm that has had the most lasting effect. 

Emotional and psychological development weren’t the only things affected. My neurological damage is this: a brain that was formed in an environment of trauma, specifically, a child’s brain that grew and developed in the potent neurochemicals that are released during trauma. So while it is true that I now have mental illness and other deficits, I wasn’t born this way; I was made. 

Why am I telling you this? Simple. I need to be done. Done not only seeing the elephant-- ALL the elephants-- in the room but also being the elephant in the room. Done seeing the effects of abuse perpetrated on other family members and having no way to stop it. Or prove it. Done pretending that everything is fine, that I am normal, that I have a job, that I can support myself, that I function well. I am not normal. Some days I function only barely. I am mentally ill and physically compromised, and I was not born this way. I was crippled by a family legacy of intergenerational sexual abuse and a code of silence. 

This is not my burden to bear alone, though I have done so until now. I don’t know what any of you will do with this information. I don’t know whether you’ll believe it or deny it, let it help you step forward in your own struggles or let it fall by the wayside, and it doesn’t matter. I have already been called crazy. I have already been told that what I know couldn’t possibly be true. So, believe as you will. This much I know for certain. The more I deal with the origins of my illness, the less suicidal I have become. The more I deal with the original trauma, the less chronic pain I have to bear up under and the less medication I need. Best of all-- and in many ways, saddest of all-- it appears that I am not, in fact, bipolar. All the craziness that is the hallmark of that illness has an external source, as it turns out, an originating trauma, and the more I deal with that trauma the saner and more balanced I become. 

There is no good way to end a letter such as this. So I will sign off with love. You’re all family to me, each and every one, and I value that connection. In far too many ways I feel I have never had a family connection, not truly, but I hang onto the kinship all the same. Must be all that Italian blood.

Wishing you well,

aka, writer of SinsoftheEldestDaughter


Google: sins, sexual abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, PTSD, complex PTSD, trauma, childhood neglect, psychological abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, incest, long-term effects, adult survivors, family, sex offender, depression, bipolar, chronic illness, disability,

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  1. This made me cry. I wish there was something I could say or do, but there really isn't. *long healing hug* All I can say is you are beautiful just as you are, regardless of anything <3

    I'm always here if you ever need anyone for anything.

    1. Kurt, hi :)

      Thank you so much. For stopping by to read. For taking the time to comment. For telling me I am beautiful just the way I am. ~big smile~ And, most of all, for the healing hug. I consider myself quite lucky to have friends like you who buoy me up both as a person in her everyday struggles and as a writer.

      Hugs backatcha!

  2. Courage, driven from necessity/survival, is a most wonderful thing to experience. I am personally proud of you.

    1. You know what's in my heart, Greg. <3 And also this: It's a particular honor (that's the right word) to read your words to me here. Thank you, dear friend. xo