From Reunion 4: From Shadow to Light: Stories of Hope and Healing from Survivors of Child Abuse – Part I
Children are abused and neglected every day, in every community—including yours. It’s hard to write about child abuse without sounding alarmist, but the truth is that the statistics reflect a reality that is deeply alarming. Every seven seconds in America, a child is born, and every ten seconds, a case of child abuse is reported. That figure represents six million children, nearly ten percent of the youth population under the age of 14. Four children die every day as a result of child abuse and neglect. More than three-quarters of those children are under the age of five and more than 40 percent of young victims won’t live to see their first birthdays. If you take anything away from reading this story, we hope it is this fact: 90 percent of abused children are victimized by someone they know. When it comes to sexual abuse, the statistics are equally staggering. Our imaginations strain to come to terms with the fact that the very people who are meant to care for their children commit such brutalities, so we do our best to keep this reality at a safe distance, and tell ourselves, “Not in my family, not among my friends, not in my community.”
But even these statistics don’t tell the whole story. Despite laws mandating the reporting of abuse, the signs of child abuse are often unknown to most community members, and child abuse and neglect are still often viewed as a “family matter.” Well-meaning citizens look the other way out of fear of “breaking up the family,” being wrong in their accusation, or facing some sort of retaliation by the abuser. Take society’s reluctance to take action and pair it with the abusers’ manipulative strategies to keep children quiet, and you have a powerful isolating force that keeps children in these damaging circumstances, where they feel afraid, ashamed and alone.
According to Irma Seilicovich, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of The Village Family Services, an organization that assists more than 3,000 at-risk children and families each year in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, “When you consider the effects of abuse on a child’s social, emotional and intellectual development, it’s clear that situations like this really have a tremendous lifetime impact. And no matter the circumstance, children blame themselves for what happens.”
Accepting that they are not to blame for the abuse is just one piece of the recovery process. The road from victim to survivor can be a long one, as it’s a complex process to unwind and resolve these layers of emotional trauma. Three courageous survivors have stepped forward to share their stories of abuse and recovery in order to help others understand the impact of abuse on a person’s life and provide inspiration and hope to people whose lives may in some ways mirror their own. Today, José shares his story.
By Stacey Morrison
José was born in Cuba and fled the Castro regime with his mother when he was three years old. His parents divorced shortly thereafter and José and his mother moved into a boarding house in Miami. There, she met Andy, the man who would become her next husband and José’s tormentor and abuser for the next six years. José suffered many broken bones and bruises and at times was even hospitalized from Andy’s brutal beatings. Despite many medical emergencies, José never got the help he needed during these painful childhood years. And while Andy left the family when José was 11, the consequences of his abuse left a mark on José forever. José shares his story.
Even before Andy and my mother married, Andy was physically abusive toward me. I was only five years old and Andy was physically imposing, six-foot-three and 250 pounds of muscle with a macho disposition. He was also an alcoholic. I never called him Papi or Dad; there was none of that. Besides, Andy never treated me like a son.
Andy would find any excuse to punish me when my mother wasn’t around. I was punched, kicked and thrown through walls. I had broken bones and bruises and cigarette burns. Doctors diagnosed the bruises as a rare blood disorder and concluded my bad posture was a form of scoliosis. And the cure for my repeated falls, tumbles and scabby knees? Orthopedic shoes.
Every beating came with a story. Andy would hurt me and then tell me exactly what to say to my mother: “You fell down the stairs,” “You tripped,” “You banged your head into the wall by accident.” My mom would come home from work and find me in a corner doing my homework, doing my best to stay out of the way and covered up so she wouldn’t see my injuries. When she’d noticed a bruise, I’d tell her the lie Andy expected and what had not happened. Andy always used the same threat: “If you tell your mother the truth, I’ll kill you and kill her as well.” I couldn’t help myself and knew I had no other choice than to protect my mom. She always believed the lies I told her, which Andy reiterated. Besides, Andy and my mom were lovebirds. I never saw them fight. I never saw him hit her. So, in my mind, telling her the truth would only ruin her life and this was a heavy burden for a young child to bear.
We moved to Seattle, Washington, when I was seven, and the abuse got worse. I often ended up in the hospital. After one horrible event, I spent six weeks in intensive care and nearly died.
That day, Andy had completely lost it on me. He threw me against wall, and through a couple of doors. Still wearing his construction boots from work, he kicked me over and over for about an hour—it felt like an eternity. Once he was done, Andy picked me up and drove me to school. There, I spiked a fever and became violently sick. I doubled over in pain at school and ended up in the fetal position. As it turned out, Andy had broken several of my ribs and pierced my small intestine during the beating. I was hemorrhaging internally. I was literally on my deathbed. The school called Andy, who picked me up. On the drive home he repeated his usual threats and told me the story I had to tell my mom. He told me to say I was playing football at school and a bunch of boys had tackled me, causing my injury.
No one bothered to notice that this sad, slight 8-year-old had never even thrown a football, much less played the game.
Later that night, Andy and my mom rushed me to the emergency room.
I vividly remember them standing by my side, crying. Neither Andy nor my mother spoke a word of English, so I had to translate what the doctors were saying. There I was, in intensive care with tubes being shoved up my nose and down into my intestine while being prepped for surgery, and I’m explaining to the adults that I needed surgery and the doctors said they’d do what they could to save my life. At that moment, I felt I was digging my own grave.
Nothing changed after that incident, but I began to realize how lucky I was to be alive. I still have the scar that runs from just under my heart down to my belly button from the life-saving surgery and once in awhile, I rub it and remember what I went through as a kid.
Today, looking back, what sticks out in my mind the most are the experiences that most kids take for granted, like learning to ride a bike. The day Andy tried to teach me, he got frustrated, picked me up and threw me through a basement window. After all these years, I still don’t know how to ride a bike and am terrified of falling.
When I was 11, my mother kicked Andy out of the house and divorced him. After that, I never saw him again. Even so, for many years, I felt that Andy was in the room with me, and in my nightmares when I slept. I lived in fear of running into him. As an adult,
I even searched for him, desperate to find him for reasons I can’t explain, but mainly to get closure. I never found him though.
I didn’t share anything about the trauma and abuse with anyone until I was 14 and confided in my friend Amalia, who remains my best friend today. Telling her my story helped me begin to heal, and I sought profes-sional help in college, where I began to process my feelings in therapy. Through therapy, I was able to accept the fact that the abuse wasn’t my fault, and that what Andy did to me was criminal. The fact that I survived the torture and can speak about it openly today is something I’m proud of even though I wouldn’t wish the pain I experienced on my worst enemy. After college, I started speaking out openly about what happened to me. As a successful businessman, with the support of my peers and colleagues, I became an advocate for child abuse prevention and awareness and joined Safe Horizon’s Board of Directors. Becoming involved in the cause helped me cope with my shame and insecurities. And advocating for survivors and victims of violence is an incredibly important part of my well-being and lifelong healing.
I didn’t confront my mother about Andy until I was 25, half a lifetime ago. When I did, she began repeat-ing the same lies I was forced to tell her years before. At first, she couldn’t accept the truth about what Andy did to me, and eventually, I was forced to give her an ultimatum. I told her she needed to accept the facts because I was telling the truth or she’d risk losing her only child forever. Eventually, she accepted it, even though she still lives with her demons and the guilt of not helping me when I needed her most. But just recently she disappointed me all over again as I overheard her telling a stranger about my perforated intestine and—to my shock and disbelief—she casually repeated the same story and same lies about the football injury at school that nearly killed me when I was eight. For me, at that moment, time stopped.
I was breathless and angry. Once again, I was that sweet kid who needed his mom’s support and protection, and felt powerless, desperate and devastated. I was invisible. I sat there in silence, feeling as helpless as I did 40 years ago. I haven’t confronted my mother about this conversation, but it reminded me how difficult it still is to deal with the consequences of my abuse. For my mother, the abuse is buried beneath layers of lies and feelings that are incredibly hard to deal with. While it’s clear that I will carry the burden of Andy’s abuse forever, I take comfort in knowing I continue to learn from these experiences and am helping others confront similar demons. It’s never easy, but sometimes it’s worse than the physical pain itself, especially when the truth is dismissed and the lies take over again.
Despite our ongoing issues, I’m lucky my mom was there for me as a mother, especially after Andy left. My mom always believed in me, wanted me to have a better life than she’d had and helped me focus on getting good grades, going to college and establishing myself as a successful marketer. Even while Andy was in our lives, she was unbelievably supportive of my desire to read, learn and excel. In her, I saw the possibilities for the future—and not the fear, insecurities and hurt that Andy beat into me.
Forty years ago when I was being tortured, places like Safe Horizon and Joyful Heart didn’t exist, and there was no place for boys like me to get help. Even today, it’s still hard to find support groups for boys. As a result, my mission as an advocate for victims and survivors of abuse is to talk to boys and men about my experiences, remind them that violence is never acceptable and has lifelong consequences and get them to realize that abuse and violence are NOT “women’s issues” and that they, as men, must to be part of the solution to this ongoing problem that affects millions of people today.
In my heart I forgave Andy long ago. For me, without forgiveness, there’s only anger and pain and no room to grow. Thanks to therapy, good friends like Amalia who listened when I needed it most and the lessons I’ve learned by working with survivors of violence, I continue to heal and cope with the realities of my childhood and the violence that too many people do not survive. I take each day as it comes, and always try to live in the present. I take pride in my accomplishments, my relationship with my partner of 25 years and the life we’ve built together. Above all, I’m grateful for the many gifts in my life and know how close I came to not having them at all. ❑
|Print article||This entry was posted by StaceyMorrison on July 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm, and is filed under Child Abuse and Neglect, Domestic Violence, Engaging Men, From Joyful Heart, Our Issues, Reunion Magazine, Sexual Assault, Survivor Stories. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|