Survivor Stories – Elizabeth Wellner
- On December 23, 2015
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“An Inch Below Water”
I peered up through ribbons of light. I could see what I wanted my life to be but struggled to reach the surface. After being raped by my brother, I spent 33 years an inch He never showed me kindness. The early memories of my life overflow with acts of physical and emotional abuse. Pinching, tripping, hitting and cruel names like, ‘Bad Breath Beth’ would cut deeper and deeper every day. Even though the family photo albums say differently and he was clearly at every turn in my young life, I have no memory of him except when he was being brutal towards me.
My parents were of no help; then or now. Any objections I raised were met with an immediate dismissal from my mother who had two brothers, 12 and 13 years older than her. You think YOU have it bad… was the common lead-in to the trip down her memory lane as a convenience for ignoring my reality. Obviously, my protests were inconsequential in her eyes and warranted no further mention. My father is an only child, so his past never lent itself to any commentary out of experience for my nightmare. I was on my own.
As I grew up, the constant mind games, verbal stabs and degrading remarks became more and more prevalent. Attempts to distance myself from him by spending more time at school or out with friends proved successful to a point, but meant that a tidal wave of unbearable intensity when we were together. He never passed up an opportunity to humiliate and embarrass me.
The details of the sexual abuse and ultimate rape are inconsequential. It happened. I will give no value to the acts that happened so long ago by awarding them my valuable words. Describing it will not change what happened to me nor bring me solace in reliving those moments. I will continue to cling to the idea that asking ‘Why?’ is a waste of my time. The answers rarely come but one thing is clear: It can happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime. I am not special.
I have no relationship with my rapist and I never did. I view him as a stranger, seen from the far-bank of a roaring river that I have no desire to cross. The greatest pain has been the destructive denial by my parents. Ignoring his abuse when we were younger goes against everything a parent vows to do for their child: to protect them. Even after disclosing the sexual abuse at 30 years old, I was encouraged to see my rapist, wish him happy birthdays and extend season’s greetings for the next 15 years. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.
I can not pinpoint the exact detail that allowed me to begin healing and recovery, but sending a letter to my rapist to tell him his evil acts were now his property began to allow me to see through the waterfall of denial that my family seemed to be living behind. Likewise, sharing my frustrations and pain with my parents helped me to desperately grab a life preserver. With that, I began to save myself.
Many years have passed and I often lament for the years I simply tread water and could not begin to confront what was submerged for so long. Suddenly, I have to grieve for the loss of my feelings and the abandonment of my family. I must grieve for the past and grieve for the present, for the damages I now have to heal, for the time it takes, for the money it costs, for the relationships its ruined, the pleasure and happiness I’ve missed. I grieve the opportunities lost while I was too busy coping and simply surviving each day. I now realize that I was incapable of doing the extensive work to begin healing and recovering from incest for all that time. I now have the tools.
What works for me does not work for all. The only rainbow I can offer is to practice self-care. Take that bubble bath, watch your favorite movie or simply roll over in bed. If that is the biggest accomplishment of the day, stay with it. It can get better. I finally came to grips with the fact that suicide, alcohol, weight loss, weight gain, hospital stays, hours of sleeping, hours of losing sleep, self harming, rejecting affection and solitary confinement meant that he was winning. Likewise, leaning on people who said that I was wrong to not forgive him meant that they had their best interests at heart and not mine. Break those guidelines if they steer you in the direction that is not the best for you. Moving forward is hard and often seems impossible but isn’t any harder than what you’ve survived.
I will no longer make excuses for others and their behavior. I will no longer live in shame. I will no longer live in fear. Their crimes are NOT my responsibility. I have nothing to be ashamed of or to feel guilty about. All of that belongs to them from now on. The truth can never be heard an inch below water.