When I was inpatient, routine family therapy sessions were part of the program. In one such session, my therapist and psychiatrist asked that only my wife attend, and this session ended up addressing the abuse – and what it led to.
Therapy in this facility was very gentle – thorough and focused, but done with extreme care and sensitivity. In therapy I had spoken of, reluctantly, the way in which I had been raised, but I hadn’t provided details. I had also exhibited tremendous fear and anxiety at being in this hospital, but I didn’t know why that was exactly; I just knew I was terrified. And most of all, I was convinced my wife was going to leave me.
So there we were, the four of us; two mental health care professionals, an emotionally devastated wife who had been through hell because of her husband’s mental illness, and me; paranoid, scared, recently-psychotic-but-stable-now, me. I don’t know how it happened, but in the course of this conversation, I finally spoke of the abuse in detail – detail I had never spoken of before.
I told them of the beatings my parents had routinely given me – the humiliating, excruciating pants down beatings with belts, wooden spoons, tree branches, coat hangers and paddles. I told them of the day my mother, to punish me, left me in a grocery store parking lot; I was very young but I don’t recall my exact age. She was gone long enough to drive home and put away the groceries before she came back and beat the hell out of me. I told them of the pinches, the slaps the glasses of water thrown in my face. I them of my father marching me home from a church picnic, the back of my neck held tightly in his hand; I was six or seven, and when I walked too slowly, he would shove me until I fell down. I told them I never felt as though what I wanted or needed mattered to my parents, TBCB (Too Bad Charlie Brown) was the response I got to any need I voiced as a child.
My wife was crying as I spoke – I don’t know how many tissues they handed her during the course of my unburdening. When I had finished, my therapist asked her how long she’d known about the abuse – her reply; “a long time, and just now.”
I had spoken of ‘spankings’ … even told her they’d been ‘hard spankings,’ but I hadn’t confessed to much else, no details. I didn’t want to remember, so I didn’t speak of these things.
I didn’t think myself unique, I thought every child was ‘disciplined’ as I was. I thought all children were subject to emotional disconnect from their parents — I thought all children feared their mother and father to the depths of their soul. I thought all families were like mine.
Until I met my wife that is – she let me know that spankings, especially hard spankings, weren’t OK, and not all children received them. She made me understand that children are delicate, and need tender care. She spoke of mutual respect between parent and child, never fear. I didn’t have much to contribute to a conversation that centered on parents treating children with respect and care.
So I understood her comment’ “a long time, and just now,” as did our team of professionals. And I guess I felt safe, because I went on and told them of the morning we left Janet, my developmentally retarded older sister, at a state hospital – forever. In my child’s mind, I thought my parents were doing this because she’d been bad, so bad not even a beating would be enough to punish her – and if they could leave her there, they could leave me there too. God knows I was bad – they always told me I was.
And there we were, in my Pit of Hell …
And then my therapist began to connect all the dots for me, and suddenly everything made sense. My fear of abandonment had a root cause, and my terror at being hospitalized [institutionalized] especially after my behavior had been so shocking was completely understandable, as was my belief that my wife would leave me. And my psychiatrist explained, and I finally accepted, that I was mentally ill now because I had been so horribly abused as a child.
It was like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders and I was finally able to heal.