The result of many misunderstandings.

It’s a shame that writing about past abuse has the power to hurt people in the present. I did not tell anyone in my family my plans to write about my home experience. The Spire is open to the public, my family reads it, some of their friends, colleagues, etc. Two days after posting The Letter No One Wrote My Mother, I have been told that feelings are hurt, and that relations are now strained. Out of courtesy to others, I shouldn’t write these things.

I was also told that my memories are inaccurate. That I am printing lies. That, if I’m so angry at my parents, we can wash our hands of each other.

This isn’t a tabloid.

It would be an outright lie to say that I haven’t worried about how my family would respond to that post and those that will follow, but I never thought of anyone specific, or imagined any specific outcome. The reason is a powerful one. The truth is, I’m not angry at my parents. I’m not writing these posts to hurt anyone. Yes, there was abuse, but there was also growth and change that made it possible for me to write what I am and will continue to write.

It is out of courtesy to others that I write these things.

Every family is complex, every relationship complicated. My childhood was no less so. I was an unusual thinker. My parents believed I had Autism until I was three. I still struggle with sensory integration and overstimulation. As a child, I often had difficulty separating reality from fiction, dreamed from experienced. My parents struggled to help me cope with the fact that cartoons would not talk to me. I used to turn my back and refuse to watch them when they wouldn’t come out and play. I believe this thinking stemmed from much more than my mother being a prankster who told me that my stuffed animals moved around when I wasn’t looking. (She also nailed my dad’s socks to the floor, sewed his underwear and pockets shut, and put plastic wrap under the toilet seat.) I can’t remember a day when I didn’t battle with sight, sound, smell and touch. The world was hyper-real, just like cartoons, so why wouldn’t they be able to come out and play?

But my heightened sensitivity does not make me an unreliable narrator. As an adult, I approach my memories with logic. I examine their context. I was often told that I was liar, a faker, or that I was making something of nothing. At times, that was true, but in the case of abuse, it wasn’t. Here’s why, and this is magnificently, critically important:

I can separate my false memories of abuse from my true memories of abuse because my parents stopped abusing me.

Did you catch that?

In fact, I can write about having been abused because my parents always made sure I had a therapist to talk to about abuse while I was being abused.

Here’s the thing about most abusers: they don’t hurt out of hate. They don’t hurt out of love. They hurt out of fear.

Parents who are abusers may truly love their victims. They may want to hurt them in the moment. The truth is, they probably don’t want to hurt anyone the rest of the time.

Now, there are exceptions to this. There exist many types of abusers. But what I am talking about here is parents who love their children and hurt them anyway because they don’t know what else to do.

That is absolutely inexcusable.

It is also 100% changeable.

Both of my parents learned how to heal their own fear in order to stop sharing it. As an adult, I have been able to heal my fear as well before turning into an abuser.

I have been able to do that because of their example.

I can offer you more truths: I deeply love my parents. While I do maintain a certain distance from them, that is because we disagree in some areas of life. That’s okay with me because it has meant that I can have a safe, healthy relationship with them while remaining true to myself. It used to be that the reactionary responses I got from my parents, such as the one I mentioned in the opening of this post, had far-reaching, negative results. In this case, I was able to be open about my reasons for owning my experiences in a public format–I will delve deeper into that as my series of posts on abuse evolve–but this confrontation had a positive, healing resolution. There now exists deeper understanding all around.

Other truths include that my mother and father stopped their abusive behaviors out of love. They wanted me to have a good life, to succeed. And while abuse doesn’t fall away in a snap, and some behaviors lingered, the result was safety and security where there had been none.

It took incredible courage to face their own demons. They had their own fear triggers to address. I have done some of this work on my own when I began having abusive impulses toward my children. I certainly wouldn’t have called my husband at the first impulse and said, “I need help,” if I hadn’t been shown by example that we have to intervene with ourselves on behalf of our children.

The bottom line is that I have a goal with this blog. I want to inspire. I want to reach even one person and encourage them to make a positive change. If I can do that by publicly owning the uglier parts of my experience, I will. I am not sorry for that. But I will own the beautiful parts, too. They are just as important.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

0 Discussion to this post

  1. I was wondering how your family felt about this very public sharing of your experiences. I hope and pray that they will ultimately respond positively and heal with you! Much love!!!

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    • So far, so good. It isn’t fully comfortable for me to share. However, it is critical for parents to realize that we are responsible for our children. We are their voices. If we don’t speak and act for them, no one will. Further, if we grew up abused and became parents, there is another host of issues to deal with. We have to advocate for ourselves and accept full responsibility for our actions, even if that means stepping away as parents for a time and facing the biggest, scariest monsters we can imagine.

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