After my brave wife told me about her childhood abuse, she showed me what a hero looks like.
Victims of sexual violence and abuse are legion across the American landscape, degraded and debased by strangers, neighbors, acquaintances, employers, teachers and even priests and religious.
Then there are those who have this wickedness thrust upon them by those who should love them, and protect them, best — an uncle or brother or maybe a father. Sometimes it might even be a mom or grandmother or a sister. This poisonous combination of abuse delivered by those we love may be the ultimate betrayal a person may ever have to endure. Victims are deeply scarred for life. Some can find healing, some never do. None of them ever forget.
Included among those abused by family was my wife, Loretta. She passed away 15 years ago from cancer, and I believe she may be the most courageous woman I have ever knew. After years of torment and struggle and yes, therapy, she recaptured the terrified woman who had been hiding inside her. She stood tall and strong and ventured forth. She was a true and heroic survivor.
I didn’t know it when we were first married. But one night, we were all having dinner; the kids were nine, six and one. The baby was propped up in the high-chair, and the boys were there, and all I remember is Loretta saying to me, out of the blue, My —— molested me.” (I won’t identify the close family member(s) because I know she would not have betrayed them as they did her).
I remember staring at her, not knowing what to say. She held my gaze, looking me dead in the eye, and waited. She had never before mentioned her secret to anyone and now, 10 years after the last attack, she had blurted it out.
I managed to keep holding my fork and said, “Uh, what?” I was clueless.
Always a woman of faith, she started to softly cry. Then she said, “After supper, we need to say the Rosary.” We waited until after the kids were in bed and then we prayed the Rosary. We held hands as we prayed, and tears streamed down her face the whole time. So many tears. She knew she was about to confront her monster, and she was scared to death.
That was in 1978. It took her six years to confront her abuse for what it was, and she began therapy in 1984. I still have her notes.
Her journey began with an eight-page letter she wrote to herself. The title was “ME.” No one has ever seen these words until now.
To demonstrate how sexual abuse can traumatize a person forever, I have selected some phrases from her notes, and share them here. Please note that all the writing began 17 years after her last assault occurred. Like I said, these violations against a person live on forever.
“What are the feelings we hide in the depths of our subconscious? Do we carry them inside like ghosts that haunt us? My memories of my early childhood are mixed with security, love, and humiliation. Sick feelings that make my stomach turn. Moments that the thought of make me sick.”
“I am also sure that I am like a negative that was never fully developed. Loved yes, developed NO. As crazy as that seems its as close as I can come to how I feel.”
“I feel a need to know the feelings I felt so many years ago, during the long silence, my invisible years. It must have hurt but what did I do with the hurt. I can’t find it, but I know I should. Something tells me that I should.”
I had no idea of the interior horror sexual abuse can leave behind. Loretta always locked our bedroom door at night. The screams would start around 2 a.m. Blood-curdling screams as if someone was in the room attacking her. In the beginning, I would jump up, calm her, and reassure her all was all right. But nothing was “all right.” The screams became so frequent that I actually began sleeping right through them.
My grown kids still talk about those night screams.
That should give any doubters an idea of what sexual abuse can do to a person. It is indescribable. Better yet, it is sick. It is messed up!
Elizabeth Scalia’s recent article in Aleteia has moved me to write this, so that I might help people to understand the devastation sexual abuse leaves behind, encourage victims to tell someone they trust and begin the healing process; let yourself develop. I share this, most of all, to honor my brave wife, Loretta, both her suffering and her determined healing.
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