I don’t generally do trigger warnings because I feel that we need to face those things that trigger us and not shelter ourselves from the truth. That said, I do want to say that if you are one of my family members what I’m going to write about may be hard to read and you may not appreciate what I’m going to say about our family. This is from my experience and from conversations I’ve had with cousins over the last several years.
Let me start by saying that the bulk of my family members are fundamentalist Christians. I was raised by my Assembly of God Father and a more liberal Christian Stepmother (First Baptist) so I got some strange mixed messages from my journey through Christianity (and that journey is for another time). My family preaches love and forgiveness for the most part, with a good amount of judgement simmering in the background.
Now to the painful part: my family is built on incest and sexual molestation. One of my dear cousins and her sister were continually abused by their father. He also beat his wife, because the Bible gave him permission (something about how the wife and children are to submit to the husband as he submits to God – it’s in Ephesians) Another cousin was molested at the age of 8 by his teenage uncle, who now, since he’s been saved, is urging all of us to come to Jesus and from what I know he has never acknowledged the pain and suffering he caused to my cousin. And I just found out that uncle was molested at the age of 12 by his oldest brother’s brother-in-law. I’ve heard stories about how one of my aunts left home early to get away from my Grandfather and some of her brothers (one of them was my Father). One of my uncles had a step-daughter that our family used to jokingly call “wife number 2”. And that’s just some of the stories. My family is many shades of fucked up.
I was a lucky one. My Father didn’t molest me. However, he did beat me. And when I look back at how he punished me I realize that there were sexual overtones in those beatings. I had to remove my underwear, bend over bare-assed and grab my ankles so he could beat me with his belt. He didn’t beat my half-sister or half-brother. He beat me. I remember when I was 11, him saying as he was beating me that he would “beat the wild seed of your mother out of you if it’s the last thing I do”. That was the day I realized that his anger at me was because I reminded him of my mother. The young woman who he married at the age of 14 (he was 21) and who he told on their wedding night that he was going to raise her like she needed to be raised. Who, when she tried to leave with me, he forced her to give me up to him (in the 50’s teenage girls had no agency) and who I didn’t meet until I was 19.
Why am I writing this? Because I realize that when we look at family trauma and want to heal we have to confront the past. We have to start the healing with acknowledging what truly happened. I can’t change the past. I can’t make it go away. I can heal though. I also can acknowledge that I love my Dad in spite of his horrendous treatment of me and that he was a victim of his past as was his parents as was theirs, etc. etc. etc. We can stop the cycles and refuse to let them control us.
The first step is acknowledgement. Acknowledging what happened. Not burying it or downplaying it, simply acknowledging it.
The second step is forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean acceptance of what happened. It simply means we forgive them for what they did to us. Forgiveness is not just for Christians by the way.
The third step is forgiving you. Many times when we have been harmed we feel that we deserved it or brought it on ourselves. Forgiving ourselves is a step toward acknowledging that we are not responsible for what our past trauma.
The fourth step is letting go of the past. If we continually live in the past we will never heal. We need to live in the now. Being present and conscious and let the past live where it belongs in the past. Not in the present or in the future where we tend to put it.
Finally, we need to break the patterns and not repeat what was done to us. We need to be conscious enough about our past trauma that we do not inflict it on those we love. We need to ensure that our children and those around us are safe and secure and know that they are loved and safe. If, like me, you were beaten and physically punished as a child, your first impulse may be to do the same to your child. If you are unconscious in your way of being and not present and aware of yourself you may repeat the pattern. That is why we need to address and heal our past so it doesn’t become part of our future.