T.M. (female)

Incest: Unblocking our family drains.

I am an unrecorded statistic of incest from a so-called ‘normal’, ‘respectable’, ‘professional’ family.

As I write this behind my closed door only a handful of people know. None of my friends or neighbours know. Finally after over 40 years I’ve found the courage to speak up. I’ve found out how to unblock the family drains. With expert help I’ve finally found the only way out of the darkness. I am now surfacing for the first time.

People think I’m so lucky. If only they knew. Not even all the workmen renovating my house would guess that every waking moment I bear the pressure of concealing a complex double life. Every day I’ve been protecting our family name; protecting my elderly mother, my successful adult siblings and all our kids.

Born much younger in the hierarchy, I was so proud to be part of our huge extended family. I was in awe of my older brothers and sisters, excited when the last baby came along in our busy, rambling household. I wanted to believe that I’d had the perfect happy childhood, cradled in the safety of our ‘watchful’ neighbourhood. I was thankful for my respected parents and relatives, who were all pillars of the community; involved with charities, church and schools.

There is no easy way to say this, but as I was growing up in the 60s and 70s I was sexually abused many times. I didn’t have the vocabulary or opportunity to explain. I didn’t understand the severity or long-term impact of the emotional roller-coaster ride, which I’ve always masked with my laughter, compassion and smiles.

I’m ashamed to say that it was my father. He was kind. Everyone loved him despite his mood swings and private temper. It would have been easier to accept if he was a horrid person. It’s still so confusing and surreal. I’d like to say it was because he wasn’t well. But the truth is, his inexcusable covert behaviour wrecked my true identity. It stole my confidence, potential and career. It vandalised my childhood and my adult reality. His betrayal left indelible scars throughout my life.

I don’t know how I had the courage to tell my husband when I met him so young. He’s been my rock, without him I wouldn’t have survived. Over the years I was referred to well-meaning counsellors, but the expensive sessions were never long enough. Their inexperience in dealing with the multiple dynamics of large families, let alone childhood sexual abuse (CSA), submerged me even further. It was a different era, impossible to track down specialist help without the use of today’s technology or a private mobile phone.

After Dad died, flashbacks of what had happened to me became stronger. I was concerned it had happened to others, even outside the family. I had a knowing without knowing, terrified of exposure, and torn by wanting to ensure that no one else needed help. In order to forewarn my siblings it meant I had to reveal what had happened to me. I had to risk their possible denial or rejection. I didn’t want to be the one to shatter their image of Dad, while considering the impact on my unsuspecting Mum. After all I had done nothing wrong. I’m still only ‘the messenger’.

The pressure of being the happy peace-maker heightened while hosting family gatherings. Trying to speak discreetly, while caught in the middle of an endless game of three-dimensional chess; as a daughter caring for my widowed mother, a unifying sibling, supportive wife and busy parent working from home.

By now I was desperate. My girls were around the same age. Memories came flooding back. Everything was closing in. Fighting back suicidal thoughts again. No one must find out or tell the kids. Masked by my ‘cheerful mum’ facade, hectic schedule, schools and busy clubs. I quietly slipped away with conflicting noises screaming in my head. Smiling from the edges of sports fields, their childhood years became a blur.

The stress of carrying the family shame was magnified by people’s reactions to news stories about celebrity and institutional abuse. I’d like to explain to our friends that we haven’t been ignoring them all these years but just trying to survive. Hiding the secret also meant that we couldn’t commit to invites or events. Patiently the kids had to keep switching arrangements with their friends. If only I’d realised how difficult it would be to return to the same community I grew up in. So many people knew my Dad. The fear of triggers and anxiety of blurting it out unexpectedly has meant adapting daily routines, avoidance and isolation.

After hitting rock bottom again a couple of years ago, I urgently needed to find the right help. The turning point came with having my own private laptop. Distressingly before that I couldn’t look up advice or helpline numbers. I was too scared to key in certain words, as web pages would shoot back up on the family’s communal screen.

With my last hope and prayer I miraculously found a leading expert with extensive experience in the complexity of incest within large families. I was rescued just in time. She helped me overcome the plummeting impact of complex PTSD. She gave me the confidence to face my fears. Gradually, one by one I disclosed to the rest of my shocked but supportive siblings and kids, and told them of the help I’d found. The revelations that followed were extremely hard, as some older siblings had also been abused by my Dad. It affected each in different ways as they tried to keep it locked away inside.

After all the wasted years it was so important to me that everyone stayed united as a family. So my inspirational counsellor aided some special family awareness sessions, with those overseas joining us on Skype. Having devised an agenda to suit our precise needs the huge progress has been a massive relief for us all. Some had initial fears, but they now see how everyone is benefiting from unblocking all the drains. It would have been so difficult if the others had stayed in denial or not corroborated my experience, because as a ‘junior’ sibling I often felt my views were dismissed.

With different fluctuating responses and emotions, we are all still learning how to cope with the impact and implications around disclosure to the wider family and beyond. No one can assume that what happened to one person would have the same impact on another. The abuses occurred at different child development stages. No one has the right to say: “Pull yourself together”. Despite all being from the same family with the same parents, the large age range means we’ve all had such different childhood experiences and outlooks on life, depending on our sibling order and gender. As the different pieces of our family jigsaw have come together, things now make sense.

Some people can only see things from their own perspective. Sadly it was the ‘good’ people trying to help who delayed my recovery over the years. They couldn’t see the urgency or ripple effect. I was misunderstood and misinterpreted and my pleas for very specific help were often miscommunicated. I can’t help feeling angry that the people who I originally approached for help got it wrong and prolonged the blockage. I felt invisible, unworthy and powerless.

For years I had wanted to tell our elderly mother but I’d been warned: “Don’t ruin her life, she’ll die of shock”. The break through came recently when I wrote her a letter. I read it out explaining how I needed to make a positive outcome from the desperately negative issues, and how all the kids and siblings have had help to move forwards together. Her response was such a relief. She hadn’t known. She was upset that I wasn’t able to tell her sooner, and that others didn’t consider she’d want to help us put things right. She’s been so supportive.

After years of anguish my family are finally breaking the silence. It’s okay to be vulnerable and to ask for help. Holding it in only impacts on others. Some had buried it unaware that they, or others, needed specialist help. The cycle of family secrets and the burden of carrying the generational shame are the source of misplaced power and control. Supporting friends and relatives please listen until you understand the need for positive change and don’t minimise the reality. To responsibly communicate the full destructive impact of incest will help jettison the blockages, and clear out the ‘I’m too busy to notice’ crap.

Since starting this piece our workmen have finished. We’ve found the way to replace the rotten wood with our strong new timber. By changing people’s attitudes and awareness of CSA we are being released from its devastating stronghold. Empowered with insight our grown daughters and sons are now highlighting the need to sensitively address ‘the elephant in the room’. There are now increasing resources for everyone to learn how to talk about it.

Despite being distanced, my kids and their cousins have re-joined to become the strong new branches, reaching out from our unified family tree. It hasn’t been easy, but they are proof that with VISION and with the RIGHT EXPERT GUIDANCE families are not only healing and transforming, but also showing the way to the ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE CSA.