Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

The Confusing Search For Love After Abuse

A child does not have the option to choose the parents that they have. They also don’t make the choice of their siblings, their childhood or their rights.

When a child is raised in an abusive environment, it becomes a part of THEM. The horror and the pain become a part of the child’s psyche and the lack of control that the child ‘earns’ in their household can either make or break their ability to become a responsible, loving and considerate adult.

Part of an abusive ‘cycle’ is that a child begins to form a type of addiction to being abused. Whether its mental, physical, or sexual abuse, it becomes the only attention, in most cases, that the child receives from the people she trusts. The child grows to rely on and depend on various forms of abuse as a type of affection, if that is the only form of interactions that are shared. This harmful upbringing impacts the child, as they begin to search for the same type of abuse from others, believing that it is the way that people who love and protect her are able to express their LOVE for her.

As a child who suffered abuse at the hands of 5 people, who told me from a very early age, that they ‘loved’ me, I still struggle to comprehend what LOVE actually means. It became an entangled emotion that is always attached to conditions or abuse, which has been a toxic struggle my whole life. The word LOVE makes me cringe, when someone says it to me the very first time in relationships, as it is a piece of vocabulary that has always been attached to pain. Sometimes it is emotional pain, sometimes physical, but it always has pain attached.

The day I discovered that I was pregnant with my daughter, a switch went from Off to On inside my heart. I was fortunate enough, after 3 miscarriages, to carry my daughter full term and she was a happy and healthy infant, toddler and overall human. LOVE became a new world to me the day I held her in my arms for the first time.

I was 24, and 5 years deep into a confusing but wonderful marriage. Her dad was the ‘ONE’ who saved me from my family and from my own personal hell. He was the first person to say ‘I love you’ to me without any pain attached. We fell for each other while working at a restaurant together, with a relationship of continual fun, sarcastic, work banter.

He was kind-hearted, handsome and charming. I was young (at 17), broken and scared.

I was continually waiting for the day when his love for me would turn into the monster that had dragged me through my childhood years, and I never learned to trust him. It wasn’t his fault. It was partially my own fault, but mostly, the blame fell on the shoulders of my family and my first boyfriend at the age of 14.

I had survived sexual abuse, verbal mistreatment, and violent physical torment throughout my entire childhood memory book. Up until the day I met my husband, the only ‘love’ I ever knew, came with the price of my soul, my body, and my self esteem. Even though I consciously LOVED him, and told him multiple times per day, I never truly understood what the word actually encompassed.

My Daughter

When I looked into her eyes the very first time and heard her cry, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with emotions; fear, love, compassion, worry, joy, pride, and happiness. Much like any young mother, I wanted to make sure that I bonded with her, and she with me. I wanted to make all the right decisions for her and I wanted her to be happy and healthy. Most importantly, though, I wanted her to experience something that I never had the opportunity for- true, unconditional. non-painful, secure, safe LOVE.

I attended an Early Childhood Education program prior to becoming pregnant with her. I had no intentions of having a healthy baby, as I was told it would never happen, after my miscarriages. My goal changed from having children to raising other people’s children. So I went to college.

It wasn’t until attended school, that I started to understand what ‘normal’ children need. I finally understood, at 20 years old, that ‘normal families’ weren’t like mine. I always knew that the way they treated me was WRONG. I just didn’t comprehend HOW WRONG.

Child Psychology courses actually gave me nightmares, as I learned the real terminology for the abuse I had endured, and could give it all a name: Sexual/Physical/Emotional Abuse and Neglect. It was horrifically enlightening, and it drove me to seek therapy.

Once I had graduated and gave up on the notions of being a mother, I was told I was pregnant. I continued seeing my therapist.

I learned that the abuse I had suffered from my siblings was their ‘learned behavior’ from being raised in a violent family. They never understood that loving someone meant you protected them and not harm them.

Fortunately, as a new mom, those courses and my diploma became my new Bible. My husband’s mother also mentored me, showing me ways to soothe teething gums, and that it”s okay to feel frustrated when you don’t know why the baby is fussing, among other ‘mommy’ tricks. She taught me not to fear being a mom, and how to embrace every fragile, blink-of-an-eye moment with my baby.

I felt like a MOTHER. My daughter gave me the strength and the grace to LOVE. She taught me the wonderment of the world, the innocence of a child’s life, and what unconditional actually means. She taught me that life can be beautiful, and that saying I LOVE YOU is a powerful and amazing thing to say and hear. Mostly, she taught me that I am a good human being, even when I never believed I actually was.

She taught me that its the parent’s choices and love that makes a child a loving person. It’s not the child’s choice.

When my daughter was 17, on a rainy August Sunday afternoon, the two of us sat in the living room of our home in the country. We sat in silence, watching the rain, each in our own thoughts. She broke the silence with a sentence I will never forget:

“Mom, I know you aren’t happy with dad. Whenever you are ready, we can leave.”

Relief, shock and sadness saturated my soul. My husband and I had been having very serious communication problems, and ongoing struggles for years. The tangles of self doubt along with the search for trust had finally strangled our happiness. I couldn’t trust him, or myself in a marriage that began too young.

I never realized that SHE saw it. I never knew that SHE felt it. I was prepared to stay with a man I couldn’t trust for the rest of my life if it weren’t for her. But FOR HER, I stayed. It was an ironic, twisted sign on the intersection of two paths, but both paths led to the same destination.

SHE led me.

In November, we packed up her bedroom, and a few mementos of my past 21 years, and her 17, and we left. Only two pickup trucks were filled with the life we left behind and the life we were beginning. 21 years is a lifetime of memories, but my life was just about to start.

She is now 24 years old. She is a University Graduate with a Psych Degree. She has been my inspiration her entire life. She changed me from a scared young mom who had no idea how to LOVE, into someone who is secure in the feeling of a sacred, unconditional love.

It is an interesting turn of life events, that she is now the age that I was when she was born, and she lives the life I wish I had known. I still would never change the way my life went — it has been tough, challenging and rewarding; with lessons along the way.The lessons that taught me about life and parenting.

The parallels of my lack of intuition at 17, and her comprehension of love and relationships, at the same age, still brings me to my knees. Is this what being a ‘good’ parent means? At 24, she has her OWN life. Not a marriage. Not a child. She owns her life. I still ponder ‘could-have-been’s and ‘what if’s but she taught me about moving forward. Now I look at her life and know that this is where she needs to be, and where I need to be.

I am now able to say my feelings out loud and not reel from a potential insult or slap. I can sleep at night, knowing that I am safely out of danger of demons and skeletons in my closet, or monsters under my bed. And I can look at her and know, that even though I taught her to do things like read, bake, and all the other things that mommies teach their children, SHE is my teacher.

She has taught me the true meaning of LOVE.