I recently posted a story for my kids about my quest to find happiness and recovery. I spoke of the dragons that haunt me. The red dragon represents my addiction, and the black dragon represents my past. I spoke of freeing the black dragon. I know that unchaining my past is essential to healing my spirit, but I did not have the first idea how I would go about doing so. Slowly, it came to me that I needed to speak about it, however uncomfortable it may make others in my life. It is a secret I choose to no longer carry.
When I was in rehab, I met a priest. I grew up in a Muslim country in a family that practiced no religion. I haven't really come across many priests in my life, and honestly, I had many preconceived notions that weren't necessarily positive. This priest was different. He was an Army chaplain during the Vietnam War, and he is in recovery. He suffers no fools and swears like the Army man he is. He is in his 80s but knows exactly what is going on with the generations below him. He embraces his gay congregants, champions birth control and is so full of gruff love that I wish I could introduce him to the world. He said many wise things while I was in rehab, but one that resonates deeply with me is, “A joy shared is a joy doubled, but a pain shared is a pain halved.” So I am writing and posting this to allow you all to cleave from me the pain I have carried far too long.
My childhood was rife with secrets and pain. My father, a sweet man whose intentions were good, was an alcoholic whose love of my mother and brother blinded him from doing what was necessary. My mother is and was mentally ill. Her erratic behavior was allowed to fester unchecked all my life. My older brother, born without his left hand, sick of heart and soul, molested me consistently for years.
My parents were born in England, moved to the states, became citizens and then moved to Saudi Arabia. Among their siblings, they were the most successful, and appearances to my mother were everything. In public, we behaved like the perfect family. We got good grades, and we did not air our dirty laundry in public. But behind closed doors, it was a nightmare of numbing proportions.
We traveled extensively throughout my youth, and I did the best I could by sneaking out of the hotel rooms I was forced to share with my brother and sleeping in hotel corridors. I threw myself into activities at school so that I could spend as little time as possible at home. I gloried first in my brother's departure for boarding school and then again when I went myself. It was the first time I truly felt safe. Later, when I was 17, my mother got it into her head that she didn't like how I was turning out and threatened to move me to another school. In utter desperation, I finally told her what my brother had been doing for years. But things didn’t get better. As often happens with victims of molestation and incest who speak out, I was treated like the pariah who had rocked the boat and ruined the family. I’ll never forget what my mother said: “Well, it isn't like he ever hit you.”
I rarely spoke of this but to a handful of friends and, of course, to Frank. I told them on the condition that they do nothing with the information. I was out of the house at this point and no longer in danger physically. I was deeply afraid of the consequences of speaking out. I was afraid I would lose my family, who, in reality, had abandoned me from the start. I was co-dependently loyal, afraid that this would hurt them, especially my father. Perhaps I can do this now because he has been gone for several years. I was also afraid that others would see me as tainted, damaged goods, unworthy.
I recently overheard another recovering alcoholic on the phone with a friend. She was asking her friend to act as a buffer when she went to dinner with her family because they were bringing with them a relative who had molested her when she was growing up. I thought to myself, “That is insane. Why would you agree to share a meal with someone who molested you?” It hit me a moment later, like a thundering waterfall in my head, that I had been doing things like that for years. I put my brother in my wedding and forced my husband to bear it stoically. How sick is that?
I am not writing this because I want pity. In fact, that would probably piss me off. I am not writing this because I want to inflict pain on my mother and my brother. I truly wish them no ill. My mother, I found out later in life, was molested by her own brother, and she did not have the resources or the compulsion to seek the help I have. I am simply tired of carrying this burden on my shoulders and choose to put it down now. I guess this is what breaking the cycle looks like. I don't have to hide from this anymore. When my children are older, I can speak to them about this openly and without shame.
I am exhausted now. Breaking chains is hard work. Thank you for halving my pain.