In Shattered: A Memoir, Patricia J Grace tells her story of the lasting impact of childhood sexual abuse. This abuse occurred at the hands of multiple brothers, as well as others, after the death of her father. While her mother was aware of the abuse, she did not intervene to try to stop it. In fact, when she became infected with public lice, her mother gave her DDT to apply, adding that her brother had already been treated.
Patricia writes about the body image issues she developed as a result of the abuse. She believed fat=ugly=safer, although of course it didn’t work out that way. As an adult, her weight continued to rise as attempted to fake her way through her various role functions. Her mother pressured her to have weight loss surgery, and she went ahead with this. She later realized: “Without changing the internal messages of badness or dealing with the fear of others, I would continue to turn to food and fatness to feel safe.” This reminds me of Roxane Gay’s book Hunger, in which she wrote about overeating to seek safety, and try to make herself less vulnerable to abuse.
Patricia eloquently describes the psychological torment that resulted from the abuse she experienced. The abuse battered her sense of self, leaving her feeling like “a ghost of a person undeserving of the same rights, voice, or worth as others.” She had learned to remain silent, and she felt emotionally stunted and without a centre. She felt “trapped alive in a coffin with nails hammered down, scraping and clawing for a way out, fighting for a life with my head up and heart full.”
The difficulties Patricia faced in getting effective therapy will sound sadly familiar to many. It was challenging to overcome the taboo and break the unwritten rules of silence instilled in her. Heartbreakingly, like so many other childhood abuse victims there was also a great deal of guilt, “as if I were the abuser not the victim.” One therapist commented “oh, so you were a precocious child” when Patricia disclosed her childhood sexual abuse. Another would regularly disrupt sessions to take calls on his cell phone.
I find it so gut-wrenching to hear how even non-abusing parents can be complicit in covering up abuse and allowing it to happen. Unlike her brothers, who were trusted to maintain silence, Patricia’s mother “needed to work diligently in shaping me”. She explains simply that “It’s not hard to silence a child. Just threaten to abandon, not in words but in actions. Do this, you’ll be loved. Don’t and you’re not. The message hit home over time. It took repeated lashings of, “You should be ashamed of yourself” to brand that scar into me, burned so expertly into the template of who I was to become that shame replaced wholeness like a headstone.” Her mother even went so far as repeatedly pressing her to forgive one of his brothers, minimizing what he had done to her when she was a child.
She explained how she became split in two, with a part of her that remembered and a part of her that had repressed the memories until they became inaccessible. She felt like Humpty Dumpty with no idea how to put herself back together. In the end, it was Buddhist meditation that helped for to find peace and connect with herself. She has come to accept that what happened is inescapable. She writes that “Moments of peace, internal connectedness, and the late blooming birth of self-acceptance make aliveness worthwhile.” She has found that she is worthy, and she is okay, and this really is an amazing story of healing.
You can find Patricia on her blog Grace to survive
Image credit: Amazon.com