I wasn’t taught to be a treasure.
Far from it.
I was told by a disgruntled father that my conception was a mistake, caused by a mother desperate to keep him in an unhappy marriage. He used this guilt for years, put on a young and very vulnerable child to later excuse his sexual abuse, emotional blackmail and other types of manipulation of me for which he never took responsibility.
He told me the only reason he stayed in his unhappy marriage was to keep me from being driven insane by my mentally unstable mother. He told me that his expectation was that I grow up to be a psychologist, and that my mother was to be my first patient.
When I copied what he did and started writing fiction, he made a point to ridicule and find fault with everything I shared with him. I later realized, after becoming successfully published in local newspapers and a national magazine, that this might have been jealousy on his part. I found, as an adult, that critics were generally the first to cast doubt on those who actually do things, because the critic was afraid to try.
He told me that he was the only one I could ever trust. He told me that I had a horrible singing voice and I believed him for years. It turned out he was just wanting me to be quiet that day, and thought, apparently, that was the best way to shut me up.
When I was over-spoiled materially and over-complimented as a young child by my mother’s family, he told me that instead of being pretty that I was vain. When I performed in a play and asked him for his critique—he told me the one thing (that I’m not sure even happened) that he saw that I did wrong. He then assured me that he was the only one who saw it.
As a teenager, I tried repeated overdoses (of drugs that he himself abused) that freely lay around our home. Because I was a teenager, and suicidal behavior had to be dealt with, (even with parents eager to not have attention focused on them,) I was sent to a psychiatrist. En route to the doctor, my father confessed to me that he feared that my mother was trying to poison him.
Once I got to the doctor’s office, wanting to get it over with, I charmed the doctor and made up a story that made me seem like a normal girl who was just overreacting. Of course, I didn’t want to self destruct! In the car, on the way home, my father said to me, “Now that you’ve talked to the psychiatrist, do you still feel like your mother wants to poison you and me?”
I was too shocked by the way he’d turned his comments around to respond. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d say things, then insist that I’d said them, or do things and insist that it was because it was ‘what I wanted.’ He did his level best to prevent me from having the money for college, and then tried to sabotage my financial aide by having it sent to him and not paying the bill.
When I found out, and assumed responsibility for my fees, having the school money sent to me, he was furious. However, he was starting to realize that I was no longer the child terrified of his anger and incapable of asking questions. It was last time he tried to interfere in my education.
I would later confront him about many things. His response was that the sexual abuse was because I was ‘there,’ and that I was wrong to think I was special in any way. I was simply convenient. Or, he would blame his mother for her failings as a parent, expressing desires for warped things that no mother should provide. Or, he’d blame my mother for being an inadequate sexual partner. Things a parent should never share with a child.
These were some of the many justifications he used for his behavior. When, at 28, I had had enough and permanently distanced myself from him, I got a self-pitying letter from him (also signed by my mother who was easily manipulated by him) telling me that he planned to keep all the ‘abusive’ letters I had sent to him. That all he ever wanted to do was love me, and he was tired of trying to build a relationship with a brick wall.
By that time, I was pretty strong in some good ways. Therapy and reading several good books on healing from sexual and other types of abuse had helped me call an end to his brain screwing attempts. I finally knew when to call, if you’ll excuse the phrase, ‘bullshit.’
I took the letter and highlighted every attempt that I perceived to be an attempt to manipulate me. The letter hardly had a sentence that was not highlighted. I didn’t respond, because by that time I was worn out trying to deal with his warped vision of the world. I knew the worst thing I could do to him was to do nothing at all. Silence was both my best weapon, and the best thing I could do to protect myself.
Years after that, when I faced severe health and financial troubles, my paternal grandfather tried, in his sweet, but ineffectual way, to shame my father into helping me. My grandfather got a letter from my father that was later shared with me. The letter stated that I had made it clear that I didn’t want to be in my father or my mother’s life. My father stated that he and my mother always stood together against the world, and that they didn’t need anyone else. That they had moved past it. “It” being the defection of their only child from that world.
A family member just as selfish and unhealthy in his own way, self righteously called the letter ‘appaling.’ He then proceeded to kick me when I was down every way he could, mostly because I was getting financial help from my grandfather—money that the family member felt was rightfully his.
When asked about my allegations of abuse, my father said simply that I was ‘delusional.’ When I needed my birth certificate to get my driver’s license changed in South Carolina, he refused until my grandfather had to use threats of disinheriting him to get my father to comply.
One of the last things my grandfather said to me during our final visit together was that I was not, as I believed, a disappointment to him. That I had not, as I believed, failed him, because at the time, I could not work professionally, and struggled with severe health issues. But still, it didn’t really sink in.
When you grow up in an environment like I did, there are multiple challenges. When I really started trying to do better in life, work hard on healing and making better choices, I found that I still surrounded myself with people who, for whatever reason, re-victimized me.
It seemed that I had a very accurate radar to spot the dysfunctional souls who could use words and behavior to try to (or actually) control me. I met men who hearing my story, immediately tried to get sex or acted in other inappropriate ways with me. I met women who were basically ‘story whores’ who wanted to hear all the gory details and then gossip about them. I met few people who actually wanted to be a healing part of my life.
After decades of this, I made a quiet decision. I had truly had enough of re-victimization. But at the same time, I had had enough of my own bad attitude as well. I had seen my parents use faulty justifications about why the healthy world recoiled from them, and at times held them accountable. Why they were not well liked and barely tolerated in our town.
With my own behavior and lack of accountability, I was well on my way to a lifetime of the same sort of broken relationsihps. But finally, I realized that I had to take some personal responsibility. If I gave bad, I most likely would get bad. If I pushed people, good people, away, they might likely, after a time, stay pushed.
As part of a 12 step program for codependency, I learned a lot. But I also found myself in a group of people who seemed to find a sort of fraternity in their brokenness. After a point, they did not move on. Instead, they shamed people trying to move on. They told them that they were trying to act superior. The message was (or seemed to be) “Move on, get better, but don’t move on too much. Don’t get too much better. If you get healthy, don’t rub it in.”
I moved on—right out of that support group. I felt that I had learned what I could, gleaned what was left and now, for my own health had to separate myself. In the years that followed, I spent a lot of time alone. There were times that I honestly felt that I couldn’t stand other people. And while that might have been an okay place to be for a while, I finally realized that mostly—I just couldn’t stand myself.
I didn’t see myself as a treasure. I had had too many people manipulate, hurt, let me down. I was tired of telling my story and then have the hearers attempt to exploit me, or judge me. I recalled a woman saying (of telling our stories) that our life experience was our ‘pearls.’ That we were not to give them to others indiscriminately. At that time, I rejected that outright. But I realized over more time, that this was wisdom of the best sort.
My life was the only pearls I had. My story was a treasure, even though at times it was a quite painful one–both to hear and to tell. But there was still more that I didn’t get. That I…..that broken, rejected, messed up girl who had tried so hard to give up and check out of life—was a treasure as well.
No one had taught me that. I had been treated as a convenient person to use and abuse. I was expected to take it, keep those crimes secret, but never was I treated as a treasure. The few loving things I had heard in my life were attached to horrible manipulation meant to keep me close to an abusing party. Attempts to change that meant that I was ungrateful, or downright crazy. These were the messages that I received.
About 7 years ago, I had a huge ‘ah ha’ experience which led me to seek out the support group, and later other healing experiences, and things started changing. But very, very slowly. So slowly that I could only see the change from reading old journals, or even looking at old social media posts. My life improved.
I found the courage to try for and get employment as a professional again. For a long time, I second-guessed myself, asking for validation from my co-workers, bosses, etc. I would hear myself talking to clients, saying some very good things, and wonder who that person was.
I had yet to make the connection that I had good things to give. That my life experience, far from permanently breaking me into some unusable mess, had broken me in all the right places. It had put me where God could put together my broken pieces into something for His glory and to the use of His kingdom.
I experienced a renaissance, if you will, in that time, learning who I actually was. What I wanted and what I needed to shed. What I wanted to keep. Who I wanted to keep—and who no longer needed to be in my life. My need to be validated became less and less.
I embraced the fact that I was really an introvert, and that I preferred a few close people rather than the acclamation of many strangers. I began to catch the ugliness in my actions and thoughts that needed to be changed. Being a victim in the past, I didn’t want to victimize others. Simply said, very close to my mid-century point, I started to grow up.
Still, old habits die hard. This year, I decided, slowly, to stop setting myself up. I did this by firstly, doing a few things I really wanted to do, instead of waiting to do them with others. I did those things for me. Instead of saying, “Someday I will,” instead, I started putting a date on when I would do those things.
I also looked at my personal finances. I paid off some debts that I had let continue longer than they should. I learned that it was okay to say ‘no’ to something if I truly didn’t want to do it. I learned that it was okay to pull away from manipulative people who tried to keep me doing things that were good for them, but only obligation for me.
For the one or two downright hateful people in my life, I learned to stop trying. Just let go the hope of them ever being decent towards me. To simply pass them by without sticking my neck out in hope of teaching them a better way of acting. I just was tried of being slapped when I was trying to do the right thing. In short, I started to love, just a little, that battered girl within, who came so close, so many times to not making it.
This is the first time in I don’t know how many years that I’ve truly been wholeheartedly excited about Christmas. I’ve decorated and gone through the motions in years past, tried to force myself to express a happy attitude (when I didn’t feel that way–because it was expected). Was hardly aware that this was what I was doing–but the absence of feeling that way this year really points to where I’ve come from.
There was a time when I tried to make people around me do what I thought they should. In this last year, I have only looked at what I need myself. Ultimately—I am responsible only for me. If someone refuses to do something positive or good, they only let themselves down. I don’t have to jump on that train.
This year I didn’t try to get my neighbors or co-workers to be part of some Norman Rockwell Christmas complete with decorations and gift-giving. I gave to those I loved, and those I truly wanted to give to. When I gave a gift, I did it with a full heart. I made it fun. I even made a point of putting gifts under the tree for me, instead of waiting for gifts from others which likely would not come.
This year, I decorated my own office door, and enjoyed it. If others did, that was great. If they did not, well, that was on them. I took responsibility only for what was mine to take responsiblty for. My life only. How refreshing!
This year, I approach Christmas with a sense of hope. Maybe for the first time ever. In my 51st year, I’ve come a very long way from the financially spoiled but spiritually, emotionally and otherwise impoverished child I once was. Although that will always be part of my identity, it doesn’t have to be who I am today. Today, I know that I am a treasure. God has put together the broken pieces into something beautiful.
It has been a struggle to know that it is okay, not narcissistic to know that I am a treasure. My life is a patchwork quilt of experiences. Though I share my story in part here, I no longer do so indiscriminately with people one-to-one. If I do it now, I do it for the purpose of encouragement or education. If I find someone who wants to rend my ‘pearls’ under their feet or judge me, I step back. I’ve worked too hard on my life to step back into re-victimization.
This year, Christmas to me, is a celebration of hope. Celebration of those who have found their way into my tribe, who share part of my heart. Those are healthy people now, people who I am learning and who are learning me as we go. People who I don’t have to apologize to for telling the truth. People who are healthy enough to love and be loved.
I have discovered that even as I have found these human treasures that it is okay and (finally) safe to learn to be treasures for them.