I Didn't Matter

I've heard the stories dozens of times. "My father always yelled at me €¦My sister ignored me €¦My husband degrades me €¦My boss cruelly intimidates me." But today these stories of abuse jar the inner parts of my heart, my soul. I can't stop my tears. Could I be one of the statistics of verbal and emotional abuse rampant in our world?

Surely not me. I was raised in the rural Midwest to decent churchgoing folk. My father was town mayor and my mother was outgoing and humorous true pillars in our farming community. So what's the buried source of all my tears?

I'm a bit afraid to dig too much, but I know I must uncover my wounds to find true healing. After seeing a couple of counselors over the years, I am aware of my unhealthy upbringing. OK €¦let's be honest.

Under the stellar facade of my all-American family, lie mounds of dysfunctional trash. My mother suffered from decades of untreated mental illness and my German-proud father didn't know how to fix her. Neither did my two older brothers. Neither did I.

My earliest recollections of home revolve around my parents' arguing. I can still hear Dad's thunderous voice, "Take your tranquilizers" and my Mom's stern response, "I don't need those pills!" Most days Mom just slept while Dad worked and my brothers and I played with our friends. I didn't know it then, but Mom was depressed and struggling with bipolar syndrome.

During one of her manic episodes, Mom got up in the middle of the night and sloppily painted the laundry room a weird bright green. The next day my Dad brought home light blue paint so I could paint over Mom's disaster. Even at the age of 8, I quickly learned to cover up for Mom and gloss over the family secrets.

Most of the emotional abuse at home came from a lack of emotional care or affection. My mother was too ill to give from her own shriveled-up emotional reserves, and my dad was a workaholic who languished in silence and denial.

During one of Mom's verbal attacks when I was about 10, she screamed at me: "If we ever get a divorce, it will be your fault!" The "It's my fault" message still haunts my relationships today. One day Mom slapped me in the face for purposely breaking a Popsicle stick that she planned to save for a craft project. A stupid stick had more value than me!

To cope with my messed-up home life, I hung out during the summers and after school at my best friend's house. Jennie lived a few blocks away and was the only other girl my age in our small town. After school we'd sit and watch TV and munch on all kinds of junk food. By the time I was in 6th grade, I topped the scales at 215 pounds.

Naturally, I was taunted and teased by other kids for being too fat, too tall and too smart (I had to get all A's to feel some sense of significance). My brothers and their friends verbally ridiculed me about my size. At the public swimming pool they'd hurl mean names at me, including their favorite, "Battleship Bertha."

Yet with all my family's hurtful words and actions, Jennie's abuse scarred just as deeply. I've probably blocked out some of her attacks, but the ones I do remember include her punching me in the stomach, smashing my fingers back and running her brother's razor-sharp spurs across my wrists and arms.

Although Jennie would lock me in a cramped tool shed and shock me with an electric cattle prod, most of her abuse came through emotional terrorizing. If I didn't follow her orders, she'd threaten to end our friendship or never again let me play with her extensive Barbie collection or ride her family's horses. She promised to hurt me more if I ever told anyone about her harsh treatment.

Faced with the possibility of spending my free time at home where life wasn't much rosier, I knew my options were few. I endured Jennie's mind, body and soul lacerations. Looking back now I see that I had no safe place: Home, school and my best friend's house each brought their own degree of torture.

When we were 12, Jennie approached me sexually. After I refused to give in to her advances, she warned me, "If you ever say anything, I'll tell everyone you started it and that you're a homo!" I fully believed her threat and cowered in fear. By our teen years, Jennie left me alone physically, but her emotional and verbal shredding left wounds that are still healing.

By high school, I had lost 75 pounds and excelled in sports and academics. Yet no matter how I changed on the outside, I couldn't change my inside. I considered suicide. I don't know where I'd be today if I hadn't cried out to God when I was 17. I asked Him to either let me die or give me a new life. He chose the latter, and I'm grateful that He did.

The reclaiming of my childhood has been an arduous process of learning to forgive my offenders and learning that no matter what happened to me, I am absolutely loved and lovable. For so many years, my needs and feelings were discounted. The mind games, twisted words and cruel deeds from others seared my soul with: Your emotions don't matter. You don't matter. Shame, fear and mistrust choked my relationships and locked me in unhealthy communication patterns.

Now I'm seeing through the help of a wise counselor, safe caring friends and passages from the Bible that I am valuable and worthy of love and respect. My needs and feelings do matter. I matter!

One of my favorite descriptions of God comes from 2 Corinthians 1:3, "the Father of compassion and God of all comfort." The "God of all comfort" is gently healing my past, present and future with His unfailing compassion.

It's tempting to want a quick fix to end immediate pain, but sometimes we have to slow down and shift through the rubble of the past before we can uncover the treasures that lie ahead. I'm grateful because I no longer have to dig for the treasures on my own. And now I know that no matter what I face in life, I will always matter.

*Note: Last name withheld upon request.

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