Updated: May 28
Healing has taken me down two distinct, yet intertwined paths. This is Part 1 of a two-part blog series. (Read Part 2 here)
What do you do when, as an adult, you experience nuclear-level, implodes what you thought was your reality, shakes-you-to-your-core kind of betrayal and shock? People talk about ACE’s (adverse childhood experiences) and I call what I went through an AAE (adverse adulthood experience).
In a nutshell, this is how it happened: soon after I turned 50, I found out that my father had sexually abused my daughter for years when she was a child. And my dad, well, my dad was who I had considered until then, one of the ‘good guys’. He was a war veteran, an entrepreneurial businessman who successfully ran his own company for decades, and good dad to me.
My mom was his second marriage (as he hers) so I grew up with a blended family of half brothers and sisters. Sure it got complex at times, but truth be told, I really felt like I had a pretty average, happy childhood. My memories are of my family going to the beach on weekends, taking long summer vacations, riding my bike through my neighborhood with my best friend, celebrating New Year's at my aunt’s house, and carving pumpkins at Halloween. I even have a funny story about how my dad, at my request, would put on a very specific shirt when he pulled out my loose tooth. I guess I was superstitious and somehow thought him wearing that shirt would make it less painful or scary. The point is, my dad didn’t like to see me troubled or hurt and would even do something as silly as put on that Hawaiian print shirt to make sure I was ok. My mom tells a story of when I was about three years old and my father spanked me. She said he felt so badly about doing it, he never did it again. My parents were also supportive and committed to my education, paying for me to attend college. I really am grateful for growing up feeling safe, loved, and cared for.
When I became an adult and lived on my own (which I did right out of college), we’d enjoy visits with each other and those became even more meaningful after I had children. They lived a few hundred miles away, but we’d see each other several times a year and especially during the holidays. My mom made homemade blankets that my kids loved and my parents would even watch the kids for a week or two during the summer so my husband and I could have some time together. They’d take them to the rodeo, shop for new books, and let them eat more ice cream than I would have ever allowed. It felt like the idyllic, quintessential grandparent/children scenario.
Little did I know that there was something nefarious going on that I had absolutely no idea about.
I was never inappropriately touched or molested by my dad and I don’t have any repressed memories. As I said, I grew up feeling safe, cared for, and was never abused. My father was a man whom my husband and I would sit around and enjoy talking politics, technology, and sports.
So how (in the #$%@) did this all happen? And why? How many times had he looked me in the eyes after violating my child? How many lies were told to me? Even after years of therapy for myself, these are the questions that still fill my head.
I think part of what makes this so painful is that I learned about the abuse after having lived a life of illusion for five decades. The world as I had known it, the father I thought I knew suddenly didn’t exist — or maybe more aptly put, the dad I knew covertly co-existed with this other person. It’s like that concept of parallel universes, and in my case, the two collided. I also like to describe it as feeling as though the Death Star took aim at my life, my heart, and shattered it to pieces. I cried deeply and often during those early months, and sometimes I can still find that initial piercing pain still buried deep within me.
I read this line in Thich Nhat Hahn’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” and it captured things perfectly: “Your concept or perception of reality is not reality.”
It may surprise (or even frustrate) you to read that I do not carry a lot of anger or hatred toward my dad. I think partly because I do not want to carry that kind of energy in my soul. And also perhaps if he were a different kind of father to me I might feel more hatred. I cannot speak for all abusers nor can I even speak for my dad, but I believe he carries pain and suffering — perhaps some unresolved issues from his own childhood. Just the mere fact that he saw death and destruction from fighting in a war could have left him traumatized. I really don’t know why he did what he did, but I do know that there is a part of him that is a kind and generous person. I know because I personally experienced this of him. I have come to a place where I carry two truths. One, I still love my dad. He was a good father to me and for that I am thankful. And two, I now know what he did and I cannot have a relationship with him (side note: he’s denied any wrongdoing).
My intention with this post is to share the complexities of healing, the complexities of incest, as well as how its impact goes beyond the survivor. Every family has their unique situation, history, and dynamics and there is not one prescribed path for healing. I can only share my story, my reality, and how it has impacted and continues to transform me.
Healing from a broken heart and betrayal is just one aspect of my journey. Reconciling the grief and betrayal is on-going process and something I imagine will continue to inform who I am for the rest of my life.
But let me be really really clear — I am grateful to be where I am today. I would not give up any of the pain I feel today to go back to living in the past — because today means my daughter’s truth has been set free and she does not walk alone. That is the other part of my healing journey you can read about in Part 2.