Okay, deep, dark revelations time – my childhood was pretty dark much of the time. I know I’ve alluded to some things and outright stated others but to say it was a clusterfuck would be an understatement. My family was poor – I mean Mom sold blood for money poor. My parents were underage when I was born (16 & 17) and by the time they were 22 there were four kids. My father was an immature ass and bully for most of his life – at least as far as his family was concerned. We put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Only it really wasn’t funny.

I was battered and bruised physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually. For many years I believed that this was my fault; that I had done something or said something to bring this on me. Even most of my friends had no idea what went on in my house because who the hell wants to be the freak at that age. All I wanted to do was fit in and believe me that was already difficult enough without all of that shit being exposed. As a result of these experiences, I engaged in some very risky behaviors. I drank a lot! In fact, while in high school I had a few incidences of black out drunks and can’t remember anything. I was smart enough or scared enough not to try drugs more serious than the occasional joint but I took enough risks and chances to ensure that I could have easily become a statistic.

My parents had no clue how to handle me. Even my father, who was quick to beat the crap out of me should he feel the need, didn’t know how to stop me from going in the local bar. One night, after learning that I had been hanging out in the bar (I was about 15 at the time), he brought me back down to “prove” to me why it wasn’t safe. When we walked in my father was greeted by a number of patrons (including some who were rather criminal). When they learned I was his daughter they assured him they’d keep an eye out for me. So, I pointed out to my father that I was probably safer in that bar than anywhere else in the neighborhood. The fact that he accepted my statement and started playing darts rather than outing my true age to the bartender gives you a good idea how clueless he was as a parent.

Why am I bringing all this up? Simple, because one of the epiphanies I had at the 2016 Readers’ Studio is the fact that I was carrying the shame and guilt for events that were not mine to carry. I did nothing wrong. I was blameless in what was done to me. I was a child, powerless and defenseless. Even admitting that now is giving me palpitations. I preferred to take the blame on myself because it gave me the illusion of having some control, some power in this situation. What a load of crap! I was a child. I should have been protected by my parents not needed protection from them. Even as I write this I can feel rage flood through me at how bruised and beaten that poor little girl was. It took me a long time to realize that I was still that bruised, beaten, traumatized little girl.

Those experiences made me feel weak and made me determined never to feel that defenseless and weak again. Instead, I became aggressive – each offense resulted in a physical response. That often mean I got into fist fights with boys I knew. I eventually acquired the nickname “The Nutcracker” because I did not appreciate being groped by adolescent males. Believe me, taking punches from those boys was nowhere near as painful as taking them from my father. I probably would have continued down this path of aggressive, self-destructive behavior and binge drinking but I met my husband. I realize how amazingly lucky I was in meeting the hubby. I was 16 at the time and he was 24. He could have easily controlled and abused me – I was already primed for that kind of relationship. Instead, he defended me, protected me and made me question some of my more self-destructive behaviors. He encouraged me to do things for me not because of the expectations of others.

So here I am at 50 (facing 51) and I’ve finally been able to accept that none of that was my fault (well okay the binge drinking and aggressiveness but I’m giving myself a break because I had poorly developed coping skills). I don’t need to bear any of the shame or blame for those situations. I did not ask to be abused or molested. There was nothing inherently “wrong” with me that drew these types of people to me. Who knows, maybe my light was so bright that they felt jealous and had to dim it, tarnish it in some way. I cannot understand their motivations and no longer care. All I know is that I have shed myself of the blame and shame I carried for years. I feel lighter and more hopeful. I’m a survivor; I’m strong and resilient and I won’t let those experiences define or defeat me anymore.