Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Like It Never Happened

Posted by Kate.

OK, ladies, grab a drink and clear out some time, this is gonna take a while - it's a long story, even by my standards.

Right up front, I was raped when I was 12. It was a violent thing, nasty, and I ended up with rather severe PTSD. Part of the messed-up-ness was because he told me the standard, "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you and your family," which I believed wholeheartedly. So my parents didn't find out for three years, and then it was during a fight that I kind of threw it at them. They were shocked and upset, as you can imagine. I didn't fully grasp it then, but now with children of my own, I have an idea of how completely devastating that would be to hear.

At my mother's insistence, I went to two therapists, once each. The first was a family therapist, who first met with me alone and told me, "OK, when your parents come in the room, I want you to tell them why you kept that secret for three years." I was a pissed-off 15-year-old, totally not ready to work with her or get healthy, so needless to say, I clammed up and refused to go again. The next one sat knee-to-knee with me and said, in that stereotypical overtherapisty sicky-sweet kind of way, "Tell me everything that happened." She was literally in my face, and her eyes looked like ET's eyes. Again, I clammed up and wouldn't go back. After that, my mother stopped trying to get me to see anyone, and she never, ever mentioned anything about it.

And that's how it continued for the next 17 years. Once in a while I would make a vague reference to it, she would become visibly uncomfortable, and one of us would change the subject. Fine, I can't blame her there, that Mom-guilt has got to kick in, blah blah. I did get therapy - two full years with the same woman, when I was 21-22. And took medication then, and generally worked harder than I've ever worked in my life and turned a lot of things around. I got healthy, basically. Eventually. It just so happens that this June will mark 20 years since the attack, and I am grateful for just how good my life is, even when it's hard.

Anyway, fast-forward to last weekend. When we were visiting her house, I took the kids to the zoo and left Willem at my mom's house doing schoolwork. He and my mom were alone in the house, and when he took his lunch break, she kind of cornered him. It started appropriately enough: "I'm really concerned about Kate, I hope she's getting treatment, I want you to know that I'm always here, if you or she needs a place to get away for a while..." A little pushy, in spots, but not unreasonably so, coming from a mom.

Then she brought up my blog, which she does not read, has never read, refuses to read despite my assurances that it is public and written with the knowledge that anyone might visit. But because of two factors, I've been much more forthcoming and descriptive about the rape in recent months. One, I've reached a stage in my life where I feel a need to stop treating it as a secret, shameful thing, and can share the details because it might resonate with somebody, might even help someone, somehow. And two, because I've been so depressed, I have been way much in touch with my unhappy memories. Whenever you're feeling something of a certain intensity, it's going to remind you of other times in your life when you've felt similarly.

So, my sisters read my blog once in a while - not every day, but when they have time and interest. Which is fine, I don't mind them stopping by and I don't expect them to be daily readers. They read one of the more graphic posts, maybe in January or so, and Sarah (my 22-year-old sister) was upset about it. She's very empathic by nature, so it makes sense that it would have hit her hard. She went to my mother with it, because she was afraid it would hurt me more (this is before I was even on an antidepressant, much less having it start to work).

So (GAWD this is a long lead-up, but I can't figure out how to explain it differently), my mother mentioned that all to Willem, about how intense the post was and how it upset the girls, and how "they never visit the blog anymore now" - which is untrue, I haven't noticed any change in their frequency of comments. And then.

She said to him, my husband of 8 1/2 years and most trusted confidante, who has seen me go through the worst of the PTSD and come out on the other side... she said, "You know, the longer Kate goes on believing that this happened, the harder it's going to be on her. It never happened." And she repeated, "It never happened."

Willem told me the next day - he didn't want to mess up the weekend, and rightly so. Because it has really, really messed me up. (Again, thank God for Zoloft, if it hadn't kicked in I would be a blithering, sobbing puddle.)

And, to make it all MORE fun, I called her on Monday to talk to her about it - I'd have called her when I found out, but we were in the car with the kids and didn't get home until 11:00. I just don't believe in letting things fester too long, and I knew this was something that wouldn't just ease up if I gave it some time - it was going to eat away at me until I talked to her about it. She denied ever saying that. She says that she told Willem, "I don't know the details of what happened, because I wasn't there, and nobody except Kate knows those details." But I've known Willem a long time, and conversed (and argued!) with him over a lot of years. I know that he very rarely can remember the specific words that someone used, he gets the broad idea but can't quote (I can, neener neener) but when he does remember, he is always right and very firm about it.

Which means my mother is lying about her words, and apparently she either believes that I am lying about the rape, or that I am delusional. I know this, not just think it, because later in the week I talked to Sarah about it - I wanted to let her know that I knew about the weirdness with Mom and that she could always come to me with any questions she might have, just to get both sides of the story. She jumped at the chance to ask a few questions (mostly, "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" to which the answer is, I wasn't ready to share earlier, plus you haven't been an adult for all that long.) And then she said that Mom told her the exact same thing in January, before I could tell her about the Willem-interaction..

I have confronted my mother with it, and it just went nowhere. She is so completely defended against this, she has all of her lines and reasons all figured out already. And I have no idea who else she has told.

I can't wrap my head around this. I can't understand why she feels the need to share her disbelief with others. What bothers me isn't that she disbelieves me - I can't control that, obviously. There's no way I could "prove" it to her, and I would never force her to listen or read all about it. What bothers me is that she has chosen to seek out other loved ones and tell them about her thoughts. Now I have three of the closest people in my world involved, with Willem and Sarah telling the same story (and without having talked to each other about it) and no motivation to lie about it, and my mother denying it completely... both the initial act and her subsequent statements.

I'm someone who copes best with situations if I have some idea of why it happened... I don't need to agree with the why, I just need to understand it. But I don't understand hers. My best guess is that she believes something like, "If something like that happened to my 12-year-old child, I would have noticed something wrong." My parents always labeled me as overdramatic, and apparently she is now forgetting the hypersexuality, the panic attacks, the refusal to sleep in my own room because there was only one door to escape from, and so on. So it has become a measure of her own parenthood - if I truly was raped, then that means she didn't do everything right, at least in the follow-up, and she can't live with that. Or something.

I imagine that it's just too painful for her to imagine that she missed that. I have long since taken responsibility for my own actions - and my own bad choices, like chronic lying and hiding the experience for many years - and have had to let go of any resentment I might have had that she wasn't psychic or perfect. I know she did the best she could at the time.

Sigh. If you've made it this far, thanks for hanging in there. It's a lot, isn't it?

I wish I could just let it lie, smooth it over... because apart from this, our relationship has really grown strong in the past few years. But it has really been gnawing at me. And I just can't see how it would be healthy for me to ignore the sense of betrayal and hurt I'm feeling right now.

So, what do I do now?? Given that I've already had two very long, unsuccessful, unpleasant phone calls with her about it and have gotten precisely nowhere.

And how do I understand this better? Because she's denying so much that I'm not getting any sort of guidance from her, about why it serves her better to disbelieve and tell others than to believe, or to disbelieve and keep it to herself.

She has been very hurtful through those calls, critical of me (ohbytheway, she also doesn't believe that I ever went through any sort of therapy for this), comparing me to her emotionally abusive coworker, talking about how "Now I can't just relax and be myself around anyone because I'm afraid I'll be misunderstood and punished for it" (an excellent attempt at a guilt trip, I have to admit).

My mom is a lot like me in a lot of ways - she can come across as almost too assertive, intimidatingly confident, very self-assured, even when she's not feeling at all like that inside. She Does Not like to be caught or accused of making a mistake or doing something hurtful (not like any of us do, but she's especially defensive about it), even if it's something small like being chronically late or confusing the day's plans.

Anyway. Enough. Sorry this was so endless, but it feels better to vent and organize it a little... I can't blog it.
I don't want my sisters feeling any more in-the-middle than they already do, and I just don't feel the need to preemptively defend myself there - but I really could use some insight.

PS: As an update, after writing the above, I decided to wait until I had something to say before calling my mother again. A month went by, and I finally called her on Mother's Day, mostly to let the kids talk to her. I kept my side of the conversation quick and light, no more than polite. Apparently this signaled to my mother that everything is A-OK now, all smoothed over, like it never happened. She calls me a few times a week "just to chat" and hasn't even obliquely referred to any of this. I've continued to be polite, to call if there's something I need to know (she's hosting my sister's high school graduation in a few weeks), and to wonder what this is really all about. I'm not angry, or even overtly upset anymore, mostly just disappointed and baffled. And I still don't know what to do.


sarah said...

That's a really tough situation. I don't have any good advice or insight into it, but I wanted to say that I'll be thinking of you and hoping you can find some peace with this, one way or another.

CageQueen said...

Show her this post! I think since she has a tendency to manipulate things, that writing her a letter would be a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for all that you went through and all that you are going through now. I wonder if it is guilt on your mother's part that makes her say it never happened. If she doesn't like to be caught making a mistake, maybe your willing to talk about it now makes her feel more guilt that she did make a mistake then because she didn't know and that people will blame her for not knowing. Maybe denying it to others makes her feel less guilt. I don't have any solutions on how to fix things, but I'll be praying for you.

noname said...

My mom rewrites history all the time. I think it's her way of coping with stuff she can't handle. If it didn't happen then A) she doesn't have to face it/deal with *it* or the ramifications of and B) can continue to think she was a great mom. She has a real need to feel she did great by us, that she was 'super mom' so to speak.

I wish you luck with your mom. My guess is that she can't handle the reality of her daughter being raped and her denial to believe it is a coping mechanism.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible your mother was raped or abused? Her reaction sounds very bizarre and like someone who is reacting to a trigger of some sort. I know that doesn't help your situation, but it might help you understand her motivations.

RuthWells said...

Would your mother consider going to a therapy session or two with you? With an objective outside as referee, you two might be able to start finding common ground.

It absolutely sucks that you have to deal with her survivor guilt on top of everything else you've overcome in your life. I've always been very grateful that my parents believed me immediately when I told them that our neighbor -- a pastor! -- had molested me.

Anonymous said...

My mother doesn't believe me, either.

Your truth is your truth. She can't face it because she feels like she failed you. It's been 20 years. You need to let go. Every tear you cry over things that are even tangentially related - like your mom's inability to believe you - just makes you a victim again. Don't let this asshole continue to victimize you.

It's been 18 years for me. I let go after 10 - right around the time I got married. Basically, whenever thoughts about the rape or the guy came in, I'd just say, "Nope, I'm not going to think about this anymore..." and distract myself. Stupid and Pollyanna? Maybe, but it works.

Let it go. And get a book about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I like "Feeling Good" by David Burns.

Jill said...

This is so difficult. The only suggestion I would have is to talk to her in person. Talking about things like this over the phone can be almost counter productive. I don't know how far away from your mother you live, but if you can talk to her face-to-face you might have better luck getting through or understanding where she's coming from or why she thinks the way she does. Good luck!

Crazed Mom said...

Kate my adored(hugs),

I have the feeling your mom is in more denial that just about the rape. She may feel like she failed you because you could not tell her about it when it happened. We both know one cannot be forced out of denial, it's one of the strongest of the coping mechanisms.

Except for the fact she tells others you are making it up~it's her problem.

I would feel betrayed and hurt as well. Your mom just can't handle it. Maybe you could ask her to stop talking about it with anyone as it's your story not hers anyway.


What happened 20 years ago was beyond your control. But your present day relationshipw with your mother is completetly WITHIN your control. You do not HAVE to have contact with her if her behaviour is upsetting to you in any way. Give yourself a little distance from her and her hurtful ways. You do not have to be a victim AGAIN. Protect your mental health first and to hell with her head games. This is about you and your well being. You can't change people even when they are wrong. Change YOUR way of thinking. Personally? I probably would have cut her out of my life years ago. Maybe that's not right, but it just may be healthier for you right now.

Terri said...

Kate, you are an inspiration. You have overcome and unfortunately it's out of your control how your mom is dealing with this situation. You have much to be proud of in your journey and I think if you are able to keep approaching it with her on occasion you may have a break through with her. I think, like most of your commentors, that she is in some sort of denial and is pushing the truth away in an attempt to protect herself. Selfish, but understandable, if you're a mom. Admitting that something this horrible could happen on your watch is devastating, even if none of it was her fault, or anything she could have prevented. I'm sorry this has to rear it's ugly head when you've come so far. Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

My sympathies to you for what you went through, and what you continue to go through. What a shame your mother can't face what happened.

I think you are probably on target with the thought that she has to either deny it happened, or (in her mind) admit she was a bad mother and/or oblivious to your pain for so long. She could not protect you from something so devastating and traumatic, so it must not have really happened. That sucks for you both.

My only suggestion would be to realize that even though YOU are ready to discuss it, she obviously isn't. Just as you refused to face what happened to you until you were good and ready, she should have that same right.

It may be difficult (or "unhealthy") for you to not discuss it with her, or to allow her to deny it has happened, but you were allowed to refrain from discussing it or facing it for many years...if possible, don't force her to face it if she isn't able to.

YOU know what happened, your husband and sister support and believe you. Your mother knows deep down inside what the truth is, and simply can't face it right now.

You say your relationship with her is stronger and getting better, except for this one thing. As long as she isn't running around telling lots of people that you are a liar, maybe the best thing is to let her have her denial (as you had your time of denial), and cultivate the relationship you have with her.

(I have to admit, I also have a big chip on my shoulder about the whole "doing what is HEALTHY" for oneself. I am tired of hearing how it's "healthier for me to be honest, and not repress my feelings, so I'm going to tell everyone judgemental, hateful things about their lives/choices/bodies/whatever..." Sometimes -- though not always -- it's STRONGER to NOT say everything one thinks/feels, and to move on.)

Best of luck to you and your family!

Kate said...

I didn't read any of the other comments, though I suppose I should.

My mother found out when I was 21 that I was raped at 16, that he took my virginity and she just dismissed it. Saying it never happened, because I would have told her at the time. She "would have known". I don't know that I've ever forgiven her for that. When I was attacked 18 mos ago, my now ex husband made ME call and tell my parents. I didn't get that outright display from my mother, but there was no sympathy or support.

I love her, I've moved on, we've both said unpleasant things, but deep down, I don't know that I'll ever be able to forgive her for that.

Good luck to you.

rnwoolf said...

Noname's comment above about "rewriting history" was a perfect description. My mom does that too and I think it is precisely so she can NOT think about those times and events that have been painful for our family. I try hard to keep a good hold on the REAL reality (as "real" as possible considering we each have our own reality) and to own, at least to myself, those things I have experienced or that I have done that have caused me pain or where I have caused pain to others. It is scary when we start altering reality. It sounds like you are very clear about your reality and that you have strong support in your husband and he can help you re-balance when necessary. I'm sure it is a terrible thing for a mother to find out that her child has been harmed, but hello! It happened to YOU, not to her. I hope you will take care of yourself and if contact with your mother doesn't feel helpful to you right now, that's your right. I wish you the best.

Anonymous said...

I think I know how you feel. I was physically and sexually abused by my father (a physician! do no harm, right?) from a very early age and for a long time. It is impossible that nobody knew, in particular my mother who would often come and comfort me after an attack. Yet nobody acknowledges that this ever happened. I have never mentioned it to anyone in my family, and my brother and sisters don't speak to me for reasons that I don't understand (they do have a relationship with my father and each other) and my mother never says a word about it. She also got the crap beat out of her. I have only spoken to my father a couple of times in the last two years. He's getting old and I would never, never confront him. (I still love him and feel too much shame.) It really fucks with my head and makes me wonder what is real. I wish just one person (witness) would say to me "it's real, it happened" (and maybe even "I'm sorry"). I am 42 and would very much like to be "over" this by now, yet I am haunted (despite 13 years of excellent therapy). I'm using writing as part of my therapy (writing in therapy (I can write, but still have a hard time "telling"), creative writing class and creative writing group), but when I submit my work to my creative writing group, everybody is more or less silent. I can't blame them, it's too horrific. I have never even told my husband. (He just wouldn't understand.) I have kept my kids (now teenagers) safe so far and I'm proud of that. I haven't had a full night's sleep in 20 years. I feel totally lost, isolated and lonely. The take home message from my childhood is "you are a fundamentally unlovable person" and I have never quite been able to get out from under that. (My husband is emotionally distant, which makes him "safe" for me.) I apologize for rambling on and on like an idiot but like I said, I am lost. Nevertheless, I do my level best to lead a normal, productive life. And life, the world, everything is just so fucking hard.

Anonymous said...

Based on others comments here and my own dysfunctional family history I feel that the following needs to be said:
Mental illness in family members is hard to recognize, then deal with, and ultimately come to our own terms with because it has helped shape us. We are too close to it to recognize it for what it is when we are young and when we get old enough to distance ourself from the people or the memories it is excruciatingly hard to willingly jump back in and examine the muck (at least it has been for me.) The most valuable mantra I have gleaned so far from personal and family therapy is: X's mental illness is not about me, I cannot choose how X behaves but I can choose how I respond. I choose to respond on my terms, in my own time and with my best interests put first.
I hope it helps to know you are not alone in having to deal with dysfunctional family dynamics.


Anonymous said...

*ish like that is what made me stop talking to my mom. She needs to take me seriously. I refuse, I mean REFUSE, to have anyone abusive in my life anymore.

Her guilt is so strong, it's easier to blame you and think that you're crazy instead of facing her own issues.

And what makes matters worse, you have a voice! She's bothered by the fact that you face your fears and speak loudly about your experience, which takes a lot of bravery.

My mother hates my bravery too.

Anonymous said...

You mother feels so guilty about the attack that if has to deal with it by convincing herself it never happened. She is the one who needs therapy.

She cannot deal with it, a mother is supposed to protect thier children and she feels horrible she let it happen.

Jaelithe said...

I think you are well within your rights to tell her not to talk to other people about it. It's one thing for her to not be able to accept that she failed to protect you, but it's quite another thing for her to go around telling other people-- important people in your life, no less-- that you are a liar. I think you should tell her that if she can't support you by trusting your memory of events, then you would prefer she not talk to anyone about this at all.

This is what I think, but I have never been in your particular situation and I am not sure what would help you the most right now. Maybe you could call up the therapist you used to see, and ask her what she thinks.

Good luck, and thank you for sharing your story with other women. I am sure you are helping a lot of people by speaking out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, very much, everyone, for your comments and support (great, now I sound like Bartles & James on top of everything else!). But, truly, the validation helps. My mother is a very smart woman, very adept at making other people feel like it's their fault, their flaw, their problem... I try hard not to buy into that (i.e., she is chronically late but it's never HER fault, so now I drive myself whenever we go anywhere, even if it's a mile away).

We live 6 1/2 hours apart, which right now is a good thing. The distance helps. She pulled a rude, nasty stunt this past weekend, so now I have two things to be pissed about. I've got to go to her house in 2 weeks for my sister's high school graduation, but we're - for the first time in 10 years of marriage - getting a hotel room instead of sleeping there.

What makes this all that much more fun is, my mother is a social worker, and I'm a clinical psychologist. At least we've got the vocabulary to be able to mess with each other right proper...

Anyway, thanks again. Muchly.

Anonymous said...

*sigh* I was 18 when I was raped. My mom never discussed it with me. I told her it happened and she turned a blind eye. Perhaps because when she showed up pregnant at 16 and said she was raped by a stranger, her parents caught her in a lie when they saw me and knew my father was the 21 year old they'd told her to stay away from.

Thanks to a few years of therapy myself and many years to heal, I've decided that my mother's input/support is irelevant. Because she re-writes history she's probably written out the part where she yells at me for being late, I tell her I was raped, and she silently leaves the house to visit her boyfriend.

My mom will NEVER admit that she is a flawed person, that she does anything wrong. I keep her in my life for my kids' sakes, not mine. I keep my personal stuff - that others may be able to share with their mothers - personal.

Remember this - while bringing it all up again may be therapeutic, it's also like poking a hornet's nest with a pointy stick, for you and for everyone around you.

Whenever something brings the rape up in my head, I journal it privately. You don't ever forget what happened, but you do have to move on, for your own sake and for your family's sake. That's what makes us survivors, not victims.

Good luck to you.

~rape survivor of 25 years.

GeekGirl said...

Another rape survivor here. It also happened in my childhood. My parent's believe me but they see no reason to cut ties with the family member who did it. "He's found God!", and he would never do something like that again.

I might believe them except, I wasn't the first, the second or the third he'd done this too. I have a hard time dealing with this fact. It hurts to know that I told them when I was a kid and they refused to do anything about it and kept knowingly putting me back in that same situation.

PTSD issues, therapy, psychologists and my parents still tell me I'm over reacting. I feel for you girl. We shouldn't have to deal with this. Such is life. Just know you aren't alone, we have our own sorority of sorts. If you need a shoulder don't be afraid to ask.

Anonymous said...

There's no explaining why the brain does what it does. I was raped when I was 12 and I told no one, except my best friend who told a friend who told a friend, etc. until I was surrounded by middle schoolers who knew but no adults ever found out. I built a wall around it, buried it deep and ignored any attempts by well meaning or ill intentioned classmates to find out if it was true. I was scared, ashamed and alone. I made a train wreck of the next dozen years, perfecting denial and substance abuse. If I had told my parents, they would have been devastated as they had welcomed the man into our family. But they would have helped me, and my life and our family would have been unimaginably changed. But I did what I did, which was nothing. Looking back, I'm still not sure if I was brave, strong, stubborn or stupid.

And now my own daughter is 12 and I am overwhelmed with my obsession with that night, the details, the pain and the aftermath. I think at times I need therapy, to learn to let it go, but am too stubborn and too tired to explain this to a stranger. I have confessed to two friends and I only felt cheap and pathetic and exposed in admitting that it happened. So, instead of looking back, I'm trying to look forward. I work diligently to keep my daughter safe, and smart, and to build a relationship that will let her come to me in any trouble. I would kill for her, without thinking twice about it.

I would not be surprised if my mother reacted in a strange manner similar to yours. I have opened up about other smaller, painful truths about my past and was surprised that she couldn't see beyond how it made her feel, and her apology reeked of her own hurt and denial, she made me feel guilty for my honesty because it made her feel guilty. There was no healing. I'm glad I haven't told her what happened to me that night, because it would hurt us both too much and gain nothing. But it would explain why I was such an ass through my teen years, and cared so little for myself and my future. I mourn for that little girl much more now that I have my own innocent 12 year old, and I can't fathom what happened to me happening to her. I was still a child, and that child still lives in me. I try to take care of her as I do my daughter, and hope to put this to rest soon, as he's taken enough from me. I recently googled sex offenders, for odd curiousity, and to assuage my guilt that he might have raped others after me. I found no criminal record of him, no trace. I hope he is dead.

Good luck in your healing journey. Be strong, and kind to yourself. I'm guessing as your mom ages, she's only going to get crazier, so I wouldn't hold out hope of her becoming what you need at this point. And you have every right to be angry about her denial. It's absurd.

Anonymous said...

Two years later...

Since that writing, I gave birth to my third child, and very nearly died afterward. Someone in the delivery room had simple strep throat - not the Group B strep that they test for in pregnancy, but the kind that everyone gets once in a while. But every time I've gotten it as an adult, I've had a terrible, intense reaction and have ended up in the hospital, unable to breathe or eat.

This time, instead of attacking my throat, it entered my bloodstream through the bleeding at the episiotomy site - this baby was a VBAC, no medication (not by choice but because the epidural didn't work!). Within 12 hours, I had excruciating abdominal pain. I was told it was just gas pain and to walk it off... turns out, it was the pain of my uterus rupturing at the site of the prior C-section, because of the infection. I was airlifted to MGH after three days, and spent a week and a half in a coma, on life support, unconsciously fighting sepsis and necrotizing fasciitis. I damn near died.

I spent 36 days in the hospital. My mother moved in and slept on our couch, so that my husband could keep his job and someone could care for my three children: 10 years, 5 years and newborn. She did an amazing job.

On one of her last nights here, we had the same "it never happened" conversation all over again. She refuses to budge. But you know what? She also saved my life, and my lifestyle, by effectively letting go of her home and her job and her life for over a month. She loves me beyond words. So if she needs to think that I'm either sick or lying, in order to cope with her long-term memories... that's OK with me.

This is what true family is: you can think the worst of each other, but as long as you know there's not *deliberate* harm behind the actions, you can forgive and move on. Or, at least, move on.