Recovering a Relationship

After discharging for five years about the incest I experienced as a child (from age fifteen months to nine years), I decided I had enough attention to talk with my abuser about it. My abuser was my father, who I stopped living with when he and my mother separated when I was about ten years old. I am now thirty-five.

Why did I decide to talk with my dad? Basically, after these hours of discharging, including raging with indignation, grieving at the loss of trust and ability to show my love for him, as well as other members of my family, I realised that I still like him a lot. He was in fact my best ally as a young person, until my parents separated when I was ten and he went to live in another country. He appreciated me, he encouraged me in my learning about the world, and he made time to give me support and information about a range of things. He was very patient and respectful of young people in general.

I guess I also discharged enough fear and indignation to realise that my blanket feeling that all men are untrustworthy and to be kept at a distance is largely about the abuse. I am in fact powerful as an adult and can be in charge of what contact I have with men, and this includes my dad.

So eighteen months ago I decided to go and visit my father. I had last visited him fifteen years ago, and since then we had had occasional contact, largely via letters. He had a heart by-pass operation about three years ago, and I had noticed then that I really care about him and that I wanted to make contact with him and get closer. I had been writing much more frequently and with a different tone since then, and he had responded by starting to share more about his life as well.

I largely felt proud of my actions and pleased to be there whilst I was staying with my dad. He took a session on how he "hadn't chosen for me to come and stay" on the second day, and I realised then that it was very scary for him to have me around. I slowly started asking him what it had been like when he separated from my mother and why it had been hard for him to keep in contact with me since then. Gradually he opened up and started to ask me more about my life. I discovered that he has a great sense of fun and that he can show a lot of warmth in a shy and indirect way. I also noticed how isolated he is and that he has a chronic pattern of putting himself down. My friend noticed several patterns that he and I both have. That felt weird! On the one hand I felt pleased to share them with him, and on the other the patterns were all very mixed up with the abuse in my mind.

After a week I started to think about how I would broach the subject of his abusing me as a child. I had had many sessions before visiting him on what I thought his reactions might be. I expected he had forgotten what he did, and I knew it was possible that he would deny it altogether. It was therefore important that I remember to do it for myself, with the possibility that it would bring us closer as a bonus.

Then I hit a great lump of fear and noticed that I was beginning to wonder if it was really important, whether I could wait until another time in the future, and so on. So I rang my regular Co-Counsellor in England, and she reminded me about my goals and listened to my fears and cracked jokes with me. With her "by my side," I invited my dad to take me somewhere he likes for a walk that evening. Ironically, he took me along a riverside path where he used to exercise after his by-pass operation! I resisted the temptation to skip the subject of the abuse again, 'in case it killed him'!

I told him how much I had enjoyed my time with him and that I had wondered how we would get on. I was leaving (in two days) knowing that I liked him a lot and noticing that I wanted a long-term friendship. He said much the same thing, and we agreed that we'd done well together. I then went on to say that there was one thing from the past which I would still like to talk about: that I didn't want to leave it unsaid because I like him. He seemed a bit scared, but listened. I am really pleased with the tone of voice and words which I chose: I said, in an unblaming tone, that it was about some unwanted sexual contact when I was young. He then remembered my mother confronting him after she'd caught him abusing me -- which was the last time he did -- when I was about nine years old. He insinuated that I had been persuaded by her that he had abused me. I decided to clearly state that I had made my own decision to bring it up with him and that I wanted to stay talking about us, and not my mother. This worked well. Given their tendency to blame each other, we could have gotten sidetracked.

It was scary. Both of us were having difficulty breathing easily, and I noticed again that I was worried this might kill him. It didn't: he went on to ask questions. I reminded him about a few of the abuse situations, and he didn't deny any of them, although he clearly didn't remember. He then told me about how he had often been seen as weird in his behaviour to children: because he wasn't strict and controlling in the way a lot of adults are. I agreed with some aspects of his behaviour, but said that from my point of view the sexual contact had not been okay. It had confused and alarmed me, and left me unsure about trusting him. This had an impact on him. He then asked me if I thought that what he had done had affected my relationships with men, and despite a pull to re-assure him, I said "Yes." We had a good discussion then about the power relationship of adults in relation to children, how hard parenting is and was for him, and how society gets confused about abuse issues. Then he suddenly said the phrase which I have discharged about since: "Do you think I sexually abused you?" I was so pleased. I had carefully used language which had no "heavy" blaming attached to it throughout our conversation, and then he put the very words before me. It felt a relief, and I said, "Yes." It was interesting to see that his fear from my reaction led him to say: "There's so much publicity about sexual abuse these days." I am so pleased that I managed not to get defensive at this point. I listened and said that I probably wouldn't have used words like those when I was nine years old, but it is clear to me that that is what it was, now as an adult.

When we got home, some sort of barrier between us had gone. It was probably such a relief to not have this unspoken secret between us anymore. It was powerful for me to have spoken with him, and for him to acknowledge that the abuse took place.

Since then I have mentioned it briefly in letters and on tapes I've sent him. He is clearly very scared, and without the resource to discharge he occasionally says things which sound like some form of justification to me. I take this to my sessions and rage and rage. Then I remember that I did this for me.

The impact on my life is enormous. After having almost no closeness with adult men, I have five men in my life. I am clear with them that I like them, and we have great jokes about sex. (I'm really noticing what a relief it is to men to be around women who can do this.) I still feel like killing them at times, but it's so much clearer at the time that this is just re-stim-u-la-tion. I am in an intimate relationship with a man again after eight years, and it is so good. We wrestle, cuddle, laugh, and play together. I am slowly letting him in where I feel I can't risk showing myself to men, and I am learning so much about men's lives. We are about to live together -- a Co-Counsellor noticed that I was holding back and pushed me to get closer to him. I am having to look at my internalised sexism in ways that never posed themselves when I only spent time with women. It feels infinitely more powerful.

I want to finish by saying that I don't think we have to confront our abusers to reclaim our power as survivors of sexual abuse. There are other ways to take on our fears and act against the victim recordings. We will each do it our own way, but let's do it. Just think. We know that the majority of people have experienced some form of sexual abuse. If we each reclaim our power in this area, our leadership in the world will be so much more effective.



Last modified: 2015-07-21 09:41:06-07