It’s hard. That moment you look around and realise the family who surrounded your existence during childhood, are actually not the people who bring you joy, connection or comfort anymore…
The fear is real.
The isolation is cold.
And the question lingers… ‘What should I do?’
It is no surprise to anyone when I share my story of childhood trauma and they ask, ‘So, your mum… your dad… do you still see them?’ and my reply is always honest and raw, ‘I chose to step away’.
Yes, it was gut-wrenchingly painful.
Yes, I definitely cried a tonne.
Yes, I wished it was different…
But I cannot control their actions, their motivations or the way they chose to parent, so it was better for me, for my heart, for my mental wellbeing, for my happiness and for my healing to step away.
After removing the unhealthy relationships from my life and the painful, manipulative and controlling dynamic that existed when we were ‘together’, I have found more peace and self-esteem than I would have if I kept the relationships alive.
The kind of trauma that I endured was one that could have been stopped, intervened with sooner or just simply validated and acknowledged...
Basically… I could have been spared, saved or even believed at a younger age, but I wasn’t.
I wasn’t protected.
I wasn’t spared.
I wasn’t even supported as an adult when I spoke up about it again.
So that was my grand awakening and one of the hardest times in my life - being a new parent myself, being flooded with memories of sexual abuse from my childhood and having my parents abandon their support once again while I tried to seek help for what happened to me.
I couldn’t imagine not being there for my baby when she needed me… How could my parents??
This bone chilling realisation was a deathly poison that began my withdrawal from my family.
So many of us who experience childhood sexual abuse are made to feel completely responsible for the family break up that occurs when we speak out against the evil we suffered. And so many of us have to come to the complete conclusion that we must walk away from our unbelieving families… alone.
Bluntly put… This sucks dogs balls!
This post is for all of you out there who understand this process (for similar or any other reason) and how much it sucks… May you know your strength, your wisdom and your utmost courage! And ultimately, know you’re not alone.
1. Time heals all wounds… sort of!
Time and acceptance are absolute friends to me in this particular case because it has allowed me to heal. Heal the lies, heal the hurt and heal the absence of parents in my life. The more time that has passed and the deeper the level of acceptance that I could grow, the easier it has become to live without my parents in our journey through life.
Someone once made the comment, ‘It’s like you’re an orphan.’ And yes, that is exactly how it feels. But, I am more than OK because I made this empowered choice.
Time allowed me the patience to stop wishing for what I didn’t have and open my eyes to all the beautiful things I actually do! Even with the traumatic memories of your past, when you begin the gratitude attitude, you discover how enriched your life is. A little saying that sticks with me and I find helpful in keeping me on track with this is:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
(Notice I cut the God bit out… FYI - I am not religious!)
2. Speaking up for yourself is a good thing… or is it?
Of course it absolutely is!! When you notice that it’s definitely time to do the polite side step away from a toxic relationship, it can feel earth shatteringly FUCKED UP! Seriously. And this alone can stop you from speaking up and creating space to figure out what you need from it. When dynamics are so controlling and manipulative, the very thought of living without it can seem terrifying. So often, people submissively dismiss their own needs in support of another’s. This was my experience with my parents. Not. Healthy. Jan.
Not only does it perpetuate the negative cycle of abuse and power, it silences your needs and represses your self worth.
So even if it feels wrong and against your personality to speak up for yourself, it’s probably the exact time for you to do so!
I try to remember that discomfort doesn’t equal wrong.
3. When walking isn’t an option…
Sometimes dynamics are so imbalanced that a friendly and amicable departure just isn’t going to cut it.
That’s when you RUN!
Don’t look back and get the hells outta there!!
I have done this exact thing in a workplace before.
The context a little different from that of a family, but I treat my professional life with the same respectful and considerate boundaries that I would in my personal life. So when a principal cornered me in a domineering, overbearing, confrontational and oppressive manner… alone... I did what my pounding heart told me to do.
I had poured my heart and soul into a class filled with beautiful children, nurtured them through a traumatic experience and gifted them all my love and understanding. So... to be disrespected with such a cruel and dictatorial authoritarian demeanor, I instantly packed up my belongings and raced my tooshie outta there!
Yes. I was shaking.
Yes. It felt wrong. (Because of my history)
Yes. Hot tears stained my face.
But I held my head high knowing it was right to stand up for myself. I knew it was best for me to say, ‘Enough! This is NOT OK!’ I knew it was right to validate what I was feeling and to flee to safety.
This dynamic was wrong and in the moment, I felt shut down, powerless… So, running away from the relationship was exactly my option.
It’s OK if it’s yours too. Get your sneakers on and leave a dust trail!
4. When blood isn’t thicker...
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’? It’s meant to highlight the permanent and unwavering bonds that link family members and the fact that these links are so strong that you should value them above all others.
Sadly, due to my family background… I’m not a huge fan of that! And, I am forced to tense up a little when I hear people advise others with this message.
I know that there are many beautiful families out there who thrive, enjoy strong, healthy, supportive and unbreakable bonds, who catch up almost daily and who love each other unconditionally… just brilliant! Yes! Fabulous!!
That situation, unfortunately, is not my story. And that’s OK too.
As a little family unit, we have had to cut ties with most of our relatives. Not an easy decision to come to and certainly not one we came to quickly. But, so important that we did.
I value myself (and my family unit) way too much to spend time in a dynamic where I was not believed, not validated and made to feel like I had done ‘something wrong’. I was not comfortable anymore pretending that it was OK for us to all be in family gatherings where my abuser was in attendance, acting like nothing had happened… If my parents and siblings were not going to stand up for me, then expelling them from my presence was the only way forward for me...
If your relatives, and by relatives I mean your mum, your dad, your sister, your aunty, your grandparents… don’t bring joy and compliment your short existence on this planet, then they’re not the right people for you to be spending your energy on.
And more importantly... If you’ve found yourself in a situation like mine, let me validate you by saying… There is no way that you ever have to endure the presence of your abuser again!
Say NO to family functions where you know your abuser is going to be welcomed. This toxic environment is not a zone you should ever feel obliged to place yourself in.
Don’t let the blood is thicker rule, rule you anymore.
5. When ‘Expelliarmus’ doesn’t do the trick!
Have you ever tried to find your voice and made the firm, resoundingly clear ‘NO!’ an action towards an unhealthy, unwanted relationship but the other party isn’t hearing your wishes?
This. Is. Infuriatingly. Confusing. And. Difficult.
The manipulative, controlling spell that you have endured is finally broken by your courageous war cry, but the other person is extremely clever at pulling you back under their charm.
Be true to yourself.
Stand firm in Mountain Pose (yoga goers), ground your feet and breathe into your inner warrior to keep yourself from wavering. Share your situation with your trusted support network and let them be your sounding board when you’re confused.
Expel toxic energy… You’re so worth it!
6. Find your peoples!
Even though you know it’s for the best, it can feel completely isolating when you’ve cut family ties. This has been a true challenge for me, my hubby and our nine year old. We all wanted a big family (due to the severe sexual abuse violence I endured as a child we cannot have any more children) and we took a long time to grieve this reality. Not only were we forced to cut ties with our unbelieving and invalidating family members, we were hit with the situation of not being able to grow our own little family further. Another loss for our daughter to cope with too. So, as time has passed, we’ve been able to accept and nourish what we have. We’ve learned that what we have is exceptional and we are indeed so blessed to have it!
We also have some gorgeous individuals who bring so much joy, connection, love, warmth, fun and ‘family’ to our lives.
We may not have much extended family in our lives BUT we do have each other… unconditionally and always. (And three is a triangle - the STRONGEST shape ever!)
Jeremy and I may not have parents in our lives BUT we are in the most respectful, loving and supportive relationship that we both fiercely treasure.
Our daughter may not have grandparents that she sees BUT she has three incredible aunties, a protective uncle, a dear step-Noni who delights in snail mail contact and four immediate cousins who bring warmth and connection to her life everyday.
We may not have a huge network of support BUT the people who are in our lives, understand us, validate us and most of all, accept and love us the way we are.
We are so richly blessed.
Find your peeps cos I bet they’re there for you too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Naomi Hunter is a primary school teacher, a yoga instructor and the author of four children’s books, including ABIA nominated A Secret Safe to Tell and Even Mummy Cries. She is a passionate advocate for child safety and draws on her many childhood experiences, including sexual abuse, mental health issues, experiences with an eating disorder and living in a stressful and often violent home to positively impact children and their families through her writing.
Naomi is honest in her delivery, nurturing in her manner and passionate in her quest for empowered children across the world.