Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Free to Be Me - a re-birth of sorts

I am in love with this song Free to Be Me by Francesca Batistelli. It has a great beat, but also great words.

These lyrics really spoke to me -

"I got a couple dents in my fender

got a couple rips in my jeans

Try to fit the pieces together

But perfection is my enemy.

And on my own I'm so clumsy

But on Your shoulders I can see

I'm free to be me"

As survivors, most of us were not free to be anything other than what our abusers wanted us to be and/or made us be. We were "groomed." I hate that word. But it's a good description of what happens. Child grooming refers to "actions deliberately undertaken with the aim of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, in order to lower the child's inhibitions in preparation for sexual abuse."

First, abuse victims are groomed to accept the abuse. Then victims are groomed into the type of victim the abuser wants - whether that be someone that is feisty and fights back - or is silent and cries. Whether that means passivity or involvement. Some of us were expected to be perfect. The little lady (or gentleman) of the house. Many of us were expected to be slaves of sorts.

But grooming doesn't stop with the abuser's wishes. There are also the demands of the accomplices - usually the other parent-type. My mother expected me to "forgive and forget." To "put the past behind me." There was no working through issues. I was the all-controlling, perfectly fine, well-adjusted mini-adult. It was "put your game face on" every day with her.

Then there are the faces we wear with others to try to hide the abuse. The ones you wear with teachers, doctors, friends and others. The people who want you to hide the abuse because they are uncomfortable dealing with it or hearing about it.

When my parents divorced, I became many different people. Not in a DID type of way. But in a "different face for different place" sort of way. When with my dad, I was the surrogate wife. Not in a sexual way. But in a take care of the house, cook, clean, be the hostess at parties, type of manner. He expected me to take care of him. Plan the meals, cook the meals, clean up. When he found a girlfriend to do that stuff, I became the "show child." I was expected to be the best at everything so he could brag and show me off. Success was the name of the game.

At my mom's house I was her confidant. Her co-equal. I was expected to be the mother to my sister and fix all my mother's problems. I was also expected to perform wifely duties for her boyfriend (later husband).

My abuser wanted me to fight back in words. To argue with him. To debate. I know it made me wonder why I could hold my own in a verbal argument with him, but go silent when faced with his creepy roaming hands. I was also his conspirator. I was to team up with him in trying to get Mom to quit smoking. I was the one he laughed with when buying XXX rated items at stores. I was the one he held lingerie up to in stores so he could see how it would look on mom.

When I tried to talk to peers about things at home, I quickly learned that my way of life was not normal. So I had a different persona I wore outside the house. At school I was the nerd, the overachiever. At work, I was the overly responsible one. With peers, I was the party girl - the one who'd do anything once.

Then I went to college and joined a Christian movement. I went from one extreme to another and tried to be Little Miss Perfect. That didn't work so well either.

I dated a guy for several years in college. I thought he was Mr. Perfectly Goody-two-shoes. The kind of guy I was "supposed" to be with. I conformed to how I thought I was "supposed" to act. Problem is that I'd slip up and go wild sometimes. Or I'd slip up and talk about my home life. Those sorts of things didn't go over well with his June and Ward Cleaver family.

When we broke up, I found myself saying, "but I always...." or "but he wants me to ....." A good friend told me to quit being what I thought everyone else wanted me to be and have my own opinion.

Have an opinion? Me? About something other than an intellectual idea? See I was great at arguing and debating (hence my current career) so people thought I was really opinionated. They didn't see that choosing chocolate or vanilla was difficult for me. I didn't know what I wanted. I couldn't get away from the "what am I supposed to want" analysis.

I started small. Choosing to pull my hair up because I liked it that way, instead of leaving it long because he had liked it that way. Drinking diet coke because I preferred it instead of pepsi like my mom. Voting Republican instead of Democrat just because my family was liberal.

It's still hard. I catch myself indicating an opinion and back-tracking in the face of confrontation. In the courthouse, I'm the bulldog - will latch onto an opinion/position and go with it. But personally, you can trip me up with a simple "what do you want to do?"

I recognize most of the time when I'm struggling with things that don't matter. Like whether to wear the blue shirt or red shirt, choose chocolate or vanilla, drink coke or pepsi. It's the bigger choices I struggle with overanalyzing. I'm making progress though. I even act silly sometimes by dancing in the rain, singing loudly in my living room and other uniquely me things.

I'd encourage everyone to keep trying. Celebrate your freedom. Stay in your pajamas all day, dye your hair purple, dance around crazy, do something to make you, really you. Who are you? Be that person - even if just for a moment.

I'm still learning how to be Free to Be Me. My bumper is not only dented, but has fallen completely off a few times. My pants are not only ripped, but have been shredded and patched a hundred times over. Perfection (and a tendency to be a control freak) are my enemies. But I am free - and it's getting better.


Vague said...

very cool post thanks for sharing youve inspired us, we gonna blog about this too! :D

Secret Shadows said...

Very good and insightful post. It gives me much to think about. You are so right about the "grooming" process. Oprah has talked on her show about the stages of sexual abuse and how there is the beginning stage where the perpetrator "preps" his target, and how he gradually weaves his way in. It's so sick.

Kim said...

Excellent post.

Marj aka Thriver said...

This looks like a wonderful post for survivors. I promise I will read it all tomorrow for The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.

But, for now: I just wanted to let you know that I finally played that meme with the awards that you tagged me with. Thanks for drawing attention to the Free The Slaves! post and for tagging me, and for your patience, AND for just being you! (((((Enola)))))

Patricia Singleton said...

Enola, isn't it great when you no longer have to be perfect and have the freedom to just be yourself whoever that self happens to be today. I have learned to revel in being me, even on my onery days. I have learned to laugh and to cry and to feel whatever it means to be the me that I am still discovering. Life after abuse and recovery can be glorious if we don't get tired and give up too soon.

Marj aka Thriver said...

Okay, read all the way through the post this time. Was it worth the wait! Excellent!

This could have easily been an "Advocacy and Awareness" post for The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse, too. The information you reveal on parentification is awesome. I'm sure it wasn't easy to write. Thanks for your honesty and courage. I'm so impressed with your growing self-awareness and the wonderful "YOU" you are becoming!

healandforgive said...


This post resounded with me on many levels!

Thank you!


castorgirl said...

Excellent post. Thank you so much for sharing this.

I also experience that constant chameleon behaviour. Part of my denial is to say that I'm so good at being a chameleon that the symptoms I currently experience are just my suggestive mind adapting to what I've read from other survivors experiences.

Take care...