~~~ DEATH BY EGG LADLE ~~~
There are moments in your life that are defining, times that shape you for what is to come in life. I have decided to write about one of those defining moments from my childhood, in hopes that my story will help even one person.
The title of this story might sound a bit quirky. That would be me....Quirky. You will understand why I named it this as you read.
On April 7, 2006, Kathie Lee Gifford hosted the “Larry King Live Show” on CNN. The topic was sexual child abuse. I watched that night and knew it was time to tell my story.
I listened as several guests told of their childhood experiences of sexual abuse. Actresses Catherine Oxenburg, Alison Arngrim from “Little House on the Prairie” fame, and Joyce Meyer, Minister were the panelists that evening. Those ladies told their stories with such grace and courage.
Between interviews, video clips were played from Oprah Winfrey, Terri Hatcher of “Desperate Housewives,” actress Anne Heche, Goldie Hawn and more. Each of them had a unique story to tell. One of not being a victim, but of being a survivor.
It’s no longer the “dirty little secret” as it was in my day. Now, as women, many of us are able to speak out, say what happened and try to stop it from ever happening to another child. It is no longer a private family secret, but something we sadly see on the news each and every day. More sadly, the crime of sexual abuse against children seems to be getting worse. Or was it always there, only kept in the dark? Is the monster under the bed finally out in the open?
Before I begin telling my story, let me quote a line from the movie, “The Color Purple.” Sofia, played by Oprah Winfrey spoke so eloquently the words written by Alice Walker. “All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers. A girl child ain't safe in a family of men...” POWERFUL WORDS! Powerful and so true.
I was seven years old. It was 1957. My parents were divorcing and my life was upside down. A child that age has no concept of the dynamics surrounding divorce, nor do they know the emotions and conflicts that the adults around them face. All I knew was my daddy was gone. That’s all I knew.
I refuse to name my molester. He, as many of the men who were in my life at that time, is long gone. There would be no changing what happened by naming him, nor would it give me any comfort to do so. I forgave him many, many years ago. I’ll leave it that he was a family member.
It happened one day at our family home. There’s no use going into the gory details, but just to say it happened. Much of my childhood is a blank for me. I have no memory of the most of it, only small vignettes or mental snapshots here and there. What I do remember with clarity are my feelings in that time. Not the life I led, but how I felt. The emotions. There are some years that are a complete blank. This was not one of them.
I remember it in vivid, stark detail, as if it were yesterday. I remember laying there on the floor of my bedroom at the mercy of this person, naked, my heart pounding, terrified, undone, helpless. I remember sweat pouring off my body. I remember the coppery taste of fear in my mouth. I remember rolling my head back and forth on the floor, begging him to stop. I remember the room, the smells, the stark terror. I remember the pain of betrayal, the shattered trust in one of the ones who was supposed to protect me. I remember crying so hard I had the hiccups little children get. I remember every detail of it all too well. Sometimes I wish this were one of those blank spots in my memory. But it’s not. It is not for a reason.
When I was there in that moment, helpless and filled with fear, I was a victim. When I went to my mother later that day and told her in graphic detail what had happened, I was a victim. An egg ladle came up in her hand and hovered over my face. She went into a rage and screamed at me, “Don’t you ever say that about him again or I will kill you!” Yes, then I was a victim. A child. Innocence gone, betrayed by those who should have protected me. A victim.
Am I a victim now? Not in the least. I am a survivor. Did it shape my life from that day forward? Yes. It did and still does. I’d often wondered why I had so many blank spots from my childhood. After watching the show on CNN that night, I think I know. Those brave women gave me the answer to a lifelong question. It’s a basic, built in survival instinct. Many times I have to call my brother and ask him to tell me about those years. He fills in the blanks when I am writing of our childhood, reminding me of times, places, people. Sometimes I recall something, sometimes he literally tells the story for me.
There are mental health professionals who adhere to taking you back and revisiting childhood trauma. Bringing you back to that time and recovering your lost memories. Those people give me the willies. Why in God’s name would anyone want to go back to that, dig it all up, resurrect the dead?? I have a feeling more happened to me than I remember, but danged if I want to go drag it out and ask it to play nice. Whatever happened, whatever Boogie Man is back there can just stay where he is. I have no desire to remember. If the rest of those early years are lost in a black hole along with him, so be it.
I never told anyone after I told my mother that day. Not until years later. I turned it inside. The lesson my mother taught me that day was that you might be killed if you tried to tell anyone. Or at least that’s what my seven year old self understood. Death by egg ladle. How many times would you have to be flogged about the head and body by a flying egg ladle, clenched in your enraged mother’s hand to actually die? No one would believe me if my own mother didn‘t, so I kept it inside, only to take it out now and then when I was alone, to think of it, mull it over, try to make sense of it....It never did make sense.
My father never knew, my large extended family never knew until I told a sparse few of them decades later. Dad went to his grave never knowing. Mother went to hers with us never discussing it again. I was 23 years old when I tried to tell my equally young husband. Now I know he was as immature as I was and he didn’t “get it.” He wouldn’t hear me or couldn’t hear me that day, so again, I sent it back inside.
I told a few close female friends through the years and when my daughters were old enough, I told them. More like I warned them. My husband, after he’d “ripened” a bit with age, tried to discuss it with me, but to no avail. The subject was closed after I tried the first time. He always did say I was the most stubborn woman alive. He’s right. To this day, we’ve never talked about it. And never will.
I was in my late thirties when I finally told a close female family member. Eventually I told others. Most of them never knew and will never know who it was. Just that it was. I am just getting to the point in my life that I can talk openly about it. You don’t get much more open than this. Unless you’re invited to be on CNN.
I hear all the statistics about what a girl child will do later in life once sexually abused. All I will say is they are true for the most part. Seeking approval was my thing. Being crushed if I didn’t find that approval was another. If someone didn’t like me, I was destroyed. That passed with age. Now I know that not everyone will like me and that’s okay. I don’t particularly care for some people myself.
I don’t consider myself a statistic. I can only speak to what I know. All of my life, with the exception of on paper, I tended to internalize what pained me most. One of my daughters recently pointed that out to me. “Mom, you need to stop keeping it all in.” Well, after all these years, this old dog can’t seem to learn that trick. It came from the threat of the egg ladle and from my dads mantra of, “You keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about. Dry it up!” So, I dried it up before I got worse than what made me cry to begin with.
It didn’t matter if you were beaten black and blue and had blood and brains spurting out your ears. You’d better suck it up and not cry. God forbid, in my home once I went to live with my dad and step-mother, that I mention missing my mother. That would get you a beating to end all beatings. All while being told you would never be anything but a whore like your mother...whore like your mother...whore like your mother....No wonder why I kept it all inside. There was no support system. There was nothing.
There are times, to this day, that I will be under such emotional stress that my face feels as if it were carved from granite. I have to literally massage my face to make it relax. Keeping it all in. Steeling myself. Don’t show your emotions, Allison. Let everyone think you are happy. Peachy. Delirious with joy. Funny, witty, all that and a bag of chips, but don’t let them see what hurts. Keep that in or suffer the egg ladle or worse. When I do allow myself the luxury of falling apart, I fall apart completely and it takes forever to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Man, I hate when that happens.
One of my most profound “flaws” in life was trying to “fix” everyone else. I couldn’t fix myself, but I’d do anything to mend someone else’s hurts. It always killed me to see another person in emotional pain. Maybe that’s because my own was so overwhelming.
Self-esteem is another issue I have struggled with all my life...Or the lack thereof. I realize I’ve veered off the train track I was on in telling this story, but it all ties together in my mind. The child that lay on that cold floor being traumatized is still in me somewhere. She tells me now and then, when I don’t have her bound, gagged and stuffed into a corner, that I deserved what I got. She told me all my life what a worthless hunk of humanity I was.
That added to the death by egg ladle threat, my mother giving me up to my dad and his child bride, my step-mother, soon after the sexual abuse and a father who told me incessantly I was fat, ugly, uneducated, basically worthless, so no one would have me and a step-mother who resented the very air I breathed in her house, sealed the deal. Boy, that was a long sentence, but pretty well sums it up.
It took years...decades, to come to terms with that. It’s not something I will ever “get over,” but something I have learned to deal with and live with. What does not kill you only serves to make you stronger.
There are voices from your past. We all have them. Not the little voices that cause the men in little white coats to come find you, but the voices who cause you to remember, to re-live.
Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. I think this one is a common bond among childhood sexual abuse survivors. Somehow an immature, traumatized psyche gets in its head that this was somehow your fault. Not his, but yours. It certainly did mine. As I grew older in childhood, I was sure everyone could look at me and just know. I was sure that I had a big, flashing neon sign on my forehead, telling everyone of my shame. I was very sure this had only happened to me and no other girl child. God, I had to have been guilty of something!
That guilt morphed into feeling guilty and responsible for every wrong in my world. If Johnny stole Susie’s pencil in school, surely everyone thought I did it. I was the “bad girl” in the scheme of life. I’d done something wrong back when I was seven, so of course, everyone thought I stole the pencil. No one actually did, but let a situation similar to that happen and I would duck my head, slump down in my desk chair, hide my face and just knew everyone branded me guilty....Everyone was looking at Allison The Guilty Party. See how it works in the mind of a child? I thought I’d done something wrong when in fact, wrong was done to me.
My past caused me to be overly protective of my daughters in particular. Not that I’m foolish enough to believe this doesn’t happen to boys, but that I knew for sure it happened to girls. When an older, close male relative of ours became too touchy feely with myself and other female family members, I stopped allowing my girls to go to his house. That lasted almost twenty years, until he passed away. To insure they would not go through what I did, they were not allowed to have a relationship of any sort with him unless I was present.
I had my first “nervous breakdown” at age fifteen. For days, I was curled into a fetal position, crying and unable to stop. In fact, I was screaming for help, but no help was given. My father called his doctor and was told to give me what dad was taking for his nerves. He gave it to me and I managed to be so sedated that I set a skillet of grease on fire and try to carry it out of the house. I didn’t make it outside. Instead I dropped the flaming grease and fell down in it, causing horrible burns on my hands, arms and torso. That was the only reason I was taken to see the doctor.
Health care was scarce. I can understand to a degree. We weren’t wealthy. But I needed help desperately for my mental condition at that time. It was never addressed. I was told I would get over it. Or I’d better get over...Or I’d be given something to cry about.
For most of my adult life and to this day, I have been on anti-depressants. It took many years of trying to find the right one, but finally I was put on one that deals with depression and anxiety. For once, I leveled out. I was no longer having to steel myself, to suck it up, to handle it on my own.
I sought the advise of counseling in my church many times. It was a bandaid to place on a hemorrhaging wound. It helped at the time, but never got to the core issues. A few short years ago, I emailed an online friend who is a mental health professional. Bless her darling heart, she gave so much more to me than she will ever know. She allowed not only Allison to speak, to empty out all of the grief, but she allowed the little girl I once was to speak. She had been stuffed in that dark corner all too long.
For weeks, she advised me, listened to me and in the end, helped me come to terms with so much of my childhood and present. I will always be eternally grateful to her for her compassion and care. She will know when she reads this that she is the reason I am able to write my story.
Hurricane Katrina brought back the anxiety attacks and caused memories I had stuffed down so deep to resurface. That’s why they call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those things from your past come back to haunt you if they are not swiftly dealt with as soon as they rear their ugly heads. With time, they have subsided.
The little girl who was in a dark corner is now speaking out...loudly and with a voice that demands to be heard. The little girl who cringed in fear is now strong and willing to share her sadness, her sorrow, her pain with other little girls who live inside women who are reading this.
Forgiving him. I had to. It was a choice I made and one I could live with. Before he died, it was brought to his attention by another family member that I remembered. That it had damaged me. He planned to come to me, ask me for forgiveness, even though that same family member told him I’d already forgiven him. He needed to do this. Needed it desperately. Sadly, he left this earth before he could talk to me in person. It was left unspoken, but I know he meant to and that makes all the difference. It gives me peace to know that he knew in his final days, even though he didn’t get to hear it from my lips, that he was forgiven a thousand times over.
Forgiveness isn’t always for the perpetrator, but for the one doing the forgiving. Hanging onto it, letting a lack of forgiveness brew, will only make it worse. Like an infection, it spreads, contaminating your entire being and those around you. I can’t tell others what to do, but can only speak to what I felt I needed to do. Not forgiving him would have made me bitter, hard, unyielding. Forgiving gave me the strength to tell my story. Forgiving gave me peace. Forgiving let that wounded little girl finally heal.
I am a survivor. I survived childhood.
Allison Chambers Coxsey
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