I don't tell my story often or speak on specifics. Not because I am ashamed but often because I don't really feel it's necessary. I am a survivor of child abuse and sexual abuse. Anyone who truly knows me, knows this. I think the writing I did in 2007 in which I wrote my memoir My Voice of Truth: Distorted Beginnings, truly allowed me to recapture some of those memories and explore them from a different perspective than just the "wounded" perspective. I must confess that emotionally there is still work to do of course, but laying down my story in the 364 pages of my yet unpublished book truly allowed me to begin the process of releasing the shame and the feelings of powerlessness and begin to create a new identity. But first I had to explore what was created, in these memories. The false beliefs I uncovered.
I am thinking it may be time to publish it myself, not sure what that will entail but I wanted to share a chapter from the book with all of you. I want to practice being seen in this. I think part of the reason I kept this book tucked away is because of the very sensitive nature of it, and how exposing it truly is. So these feel like some safe steps to begin the process of being seen in trauma I experienced. At some point I will share one of my letters to one of my perpetrators, but for today here is a memory from childhood that was very painful for me. A loss of innocence and sense of play was taken from me on this day.
If you are in a fragile place, or afraid of being triggered, stop reading now.
The Makeup Bag
At seven, I am a big girl now. We are visiting friends in “el campo” in Puerto Rico, a very rural part of the island. I like it here. There is a mama pig and her piglets out back and a German shepherd barking on the porch. It is like a ranch and except for the creepy man who lives there and keeps looking at me funny, I am having fun.
I tiptoe into the room where my mother sleeps. My socked feet sneak across the floor, careful not to wake her. The mission is clear; I know what I am looking for. I spot the red and gold makeup case on top of the dresser. I swipe it and hold against my chest. With the coveted bag in hand, I whisk myself across the room, leaving the faint whisper of my sliding feet behind. I drag a chair into the bathroom and put the makeup bag in the sink.
I dig my hands in, looking for the pink shiny lipstick, the one I dream of.
I find it and paint my lips.
I go to the eyes next and curl my lashes black.
I am pretty now.
Next I dig for the blush, the last finishing touch. I grab the brush and jab at my cheeks. I think that’s how mommy does it.
Now I am beautiful.
But mommy doesn’t think so as she stomps her way toward me, her rollers bouncing atop her head. Before I can hide my offense, she smacks me hard. It stuns me for a moment and I am unable to recover before more blows come. She slaps my face, hands, arms and legs. She claws at my arm until she has a good grip then reels me in closer to her face.
She half screams this, half growls, “Who told you, you could touch my things, you don’t touch my things, you hear me. You don’t wear makeup.
I shuffle backward trying to escape her. I am surprised by her anger, unaware of the severity of this infraction.
I cry and cry until I can barely remember. I am hurt in so many ways beyond the slaps. Pretty means punishment, Mommy hates me, I can never make her happy, I do not feel safe with Mommy. I can’t predict her; I can’t even begin to understand her.
I don’t even notice her walk away as I bury myself in the pain of having once again, disappointed her. It is painful to be a bad girl, painful not understanding what makes you bad or worse, what could ever possibly make you good again.
Those days would mark the beginning of a new brand of motherhood. For twenty years, I would struggle with the contradiction that was my mother. How could she love me and hate me in the same breath? How could she be so cutting and gentle within the same hour?
As children we cannot fathom that our parents are wrong and so we take the blame unto ourselves. We make simple assumptions based on how we are treated and the things our loved ones say. We even make meaning from the silence or absence of things like love, encouragement and praise. We cannot reason that Mommy has a problem and that it is not our fault until much later on, if at all. By that time, the beliefs are so ingrained into our sense of Self, it is often difficult to change them. The following are some of the beliefs I created in those early years.
· I am bad
· I am unlovable. (My mommy wouldn’t hurt me if she loved me, therefore she must not, and therefore I must be unlovable.)
· I am insignificant. (My mommy doesn’t really talk to me. What I think and feel does not matter since I am never asked or acknowledged as a human being.)
· Pretty isn’t a good thing. (When I tried to look pretty, Mommy beat me.
· I deserve punishment. (If Mommy is punishing me I must deserve it, she cannot be wrong)
· I am not good enough; nothing I ever do is good enough. (Despite my attempts at pleasing her and doing things in just the “right way”, she is always displeased. I am never good enough for her to love me and be happy with me.)
· I have to be perfect or else something bad will happen.
· I am undeserving of praise and encouragement (Since I don’t receive it and I see friends receiving praise and encouragement from their parents, I must not deserve it, or else I would be getting it.)
I am powerless (there is nothing I can do to stop any of what is happening to me, she is in complete control, she has all the power. I don’t have any or else I could make it stop)