This post contains a true story of incest and sexual assault. Practice self care, if you need to.
“I thought for the longest time that a dad was supposed to do that to his daughter.”
That’s the response that sticks most in my head from the interview I did with Gail. Her story is a hard one. It’s a story of years of abuse, decades of emotional pain, and fighting to heal those hurts. Through all that she told me, though, that confusion about a father’s love hit me the hardest.
Gail is now in her 40s but clearly remembers the first time her father touched her. She was laying on her parent’s bed after falling off a bike – resting with ice where her mother left her. However, when her mother went to the bathroom to take a bath, Gail’s father raped her. He molested her almost nightly from then until she graduated and moved out. Actually, even that wasn’t the end of his assaults or those of others.
Gail grew up with her father’s sickening behavior and found herself taken advantage of by other men as well. A neighbor fondled her during a sleep over. A boss exposed himself to her and kissed her. Her father’s dad, her grandfather, touched her and kissed her. Even Gail’s brother raped her and molested her. Oddly, their father figured out what her brother was doing and stopped it.
“Dad was the glue that kept the family together, funny thought, right? But he was.”
Gail’s father, a man who befriended Gail’s husband (Matt) and welcomed him as one of the family, continued to pursue his daughter even after she was married. He continued to rape her into her early 20s. She was scared and scarred and did not fight him until after her youngest daughter was born. She fought back in the only way she could – telling him that she’d commit suicide if he touched her again. He didn’t.
Instead he raped his granddaughters, Gail’s daughters. She didn’t know until years later, but that guilt and pain only compounded what she was already struggling with. By the time Gail’s girls were able to tell her about their abuse, their grandfather and abuser has passed away, leaving so many unanswered questions for those he touched and hurt. He died in 2006 after being ill for some time. In 2004 when her father went blind from Diabetes, Gail stepped up to help care for him. I asked her how she managed that. I was pained for her and amazed by her strength. Her answer shows the complexity of emotions that incest survivors have to wade through.
“When dad went blind and told me he was going to commit suicide, I thought it would be my fault for some reason. After he actually passed away, though, I thought it was Karma. But to take care of dad, I never thought about my abuse. I just thought it was my job as a daughter to take care of him.”
This theme of duty and responsibility shows up a few times in Gail’s story. It was her job to care for her ailing father, so she did. It was her job to make things as normal as possible in her marriage, so she tried. She didn’t want Matt to be mad at her father, so she didn’t tell him what he’d done. She didn’t want to upset her mother, so she hasn’t confronted her. Gail has tried to shoulder hurt she doesn’t even fully know on her own, time and again. “I never really thought of it as hurt,” she told me. Gail saw her first therapist for about seven years and acknowledges that she didn’t even start to feel anything but numbness until a few years into it.
After taking a break from therapy for a bit, Gail is back working with someone else, reaching for even more healing. Her husband has stood by her through actions – keeping secrets, lying about finances, and more – that surely sprouted out of the anxious and tangled emotions of Gail’s decades of abuse. She finally told Matt everything, about all the men that had used her, after he found a bill for a pornographic movie she’d ordered – only 9 years ago. She knew he was hurt but it was finally time to share with him the facts of what she’d been through. “I told him and he just sat there and looked at me with no expression. I left to go to church and feared what would happen. Would he still love me? Would he kick me out?” She needn’t have worried, though. Her husband simply stripped the house of all evidence of her rapists – her brother, grandfather, and father.
Gail felt more patience and openness from Matt after that revelation. Perhaps it explained some things for him. He started going to counseling with her. They made practical changes in their marriage and discovered new ways to talk to each other openly to encourage honesty and healing for both of them, individually and together.
The abuse that Gail suffered at her father’s hands out lasted him in many ways. She still hasn’t talked to her mother about it and doesn’t know whether her mother even knows. She still sees a therapist. Last year, in 2015, Gail declared her sobriety, and continues forward one day at a time.
“I feel that I am growing and healing on a daily basis. I have a few things that help. First of all, my faith in God. Second, Matt is my safe place. Third, I am seeing a counselor and am healing from alcoholism. Fourth, my girls are my strength. There’s a lot of healing that we all need to do and we’re working on it. I believe I am the person I am today because of what has happened to me.”
I think I’ll add a fifth thing – Gail is a survivor; a strong, inspirational warrior. She has met every challenge in her life with the coping mechanisms she had at the time. As that collection of resources, support, and confidence grows…she only gets stronger every day. ODAAT – One day at a time.