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Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

Redefining Normal

Prompted by a conversation with a friend who was sharing some of her experiences when she worked with at-risk teens in a rural area of Georgia, I’ve realized more fully that our ability to live in denial is in many ways related to our individual sense of normal.

The hardest part of our work with these teens was trying to redefine their idea of normal, my friend explained. You can provide the education, the tools and resources, but we’re working to overcome a multi-generational value system and set of expectations.

For generations, my own family lived a rather warped version of normal and redefining ourselves and our legacy continues to be both glorious and harrowing. Some of us are further in our journey and some of us are still stagnating in a shallow pool of denial.

My grandmother, a victim of untold atrocities as a child, married a man who sexually abused eight children that we know of. Living with secrets, hers and her husband’s, defined a normal that served as a shroud for continued abuse and allowed it to weave its way through another two generations…my mother’s and mine.

There are so many organizations working to build awareness and stop the abuse that runs rampant through families. People that are diligently, tirelessly, striving to change our society’s normal, but every six hours a child in this country dies from abuse, and 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted before they reach 18. We still seem unable to redefine that normal.

I know reading and talking about child abuse and domestic violence isn’t how we’d all like to spend our time. The stories are ugly, the emotions volcanic, and it feels safer, easier, to turn our heads or look away. Perhaps if we can’t see it, it’ll never become our own normal. Yet we all know there is more strength in a line of people holding hands while facing a storm than there is when we try to stand alone. Redefining normal requires we all take part in the conversations.

One of my aunts believed all fathers molested their daughters. It wasn’t until she was 12-years-old and asked a friend if her father also molested his children that my aunt began to redefine her own normal.

It’s not only that we need to continue efforts to raise awareness, lobby our legislatures to impose harsher punishment for convicted abusers, but in addition to these important, vital initiatives, we need to create a comfort level where talking about abuse, eliminating cloaks of darkness where abusers thrive, is not an activity where voices collapse in whispers.

After a family blow out in which a sixth victim pointed her finger at my grandfather, he was forced to attend psychological counseling. His doctor eventually closed the file, labeled a pedophile cured and assured our family this would never happen again.

We still didn’t talk about it. My family’s not-so-unique ability to envelope ourselves in denial opened the door for at least two more children to be molested.  As insane as it sounds, we were unable to redefine our family’s normal until much later. Everyone was still seated at the table gorging on platefuls of shame and while we allowed denial to distend our souls like the bellies of Vikings feasting, he was free to satisfy his own hunger.

Conversations about what should and what should not be normal could have catapulted insanity from our lives. Developing a collective conscience requires the steady elimination of shame that surrounds each story of abuse and that requires talking, listening and more talking. We can help redefine normal for victims of domestic and sexual abuse by simply having conversations. If you have a story to tell, please do. Have the conversations at your dinner table, in your classrooms, with your friends and with your children. If you have minutes to spare, take the pledge at Violence UnSilenced.

My grandfather was not the only person who molested me when I was a child, but it was his betrayal that finally gave me a voice. Days before my grandfather decided it was time for my initiation I overheard my mother and her sister discussing something in soft voices. My aunt was upset, trembling and crying. I could feel her sadness and her rage and when I asked why, she sucked in enough air to balloon her bravery and she exhaled the words that my grandfather had molested all of his daughters while they were growing up. It was the first time she and my mom had mentioned their shared history to me or to each other. The conversation ended quickly. They weren’t ready to redefine their normal, but that exchange opened a door for me to walk through only a few days later when my grandfather decided I’d be the sixth little girl he’d enjoy. I knew I wasn’t alone and I knew my parents would believe me. I knew this didn’t have to be my normal.

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21 comments to Redefining Normal

  • Tricia – this is such a brave and heartfelt post. I am so sorry that you and your family have had to live with this.

    I used to work in a high risk teen program. One of the female students who bonded strongly with me asked me one day, after knowing her for about a year, if my husband had ever punched me in the face. I said “no.” She asked if he had ever hit me at all. I said “no.” She started crying and told me she had always hoped that there were marriages without abuse, but she had never known of one personally before…
    Pseudo´s last blog ..Happy Birthday G-Man My ComLuv Profile

  • Joaquim

    Tricia:

    I am glad you used your pen to once more denounce the ugly reality of family violence and child abuse… In the past, such writings provoked only a few remarks on this blog, and this time will not be any different.. let that response not diminish your intent and determination to continue the fight… I hope one day people will not retract anymore from their own misery of emotions and join the cause.

  • You are amazing! “normal” is so personal, I agree! I am so glad you are continuing to write and help stop the abuse — every little step helps! Keep up the wonderful work!
    Amy @ Six Flower Mom´s last blog ..Snug as a Bug! My ComLuv Profile

  • Tricia

    @Pseudo: That is an incredibly powerful example of redefining normal. It gives me goosebumps and I hope she was able to build her life carrying that new realization in her heart and to make it her own reality. Thank YOU for helping make that possible for someone else.

    @Joaquim: The responses don’t diminish my determination. I admit I do love comments, but even if people don’t feel comfortable to engage here publicly, I hope they do so in their minds and in the day-to-day practices of their lives.

    @Amy: Thanks so much. I do really believe each step a person takes is significant, and collectively it’s amazing how much ground we can cover.

  • my past relationships were filled with abuse. verbal and physical. recently, I was talking to my guy and found myself grateful for the love and care we have for each other and that he shows my two little girls. We are showing them a healthy normal that is far from what they could have been exposed to in other situations I found myself in. What you say here, is true, I am always trying to redefine normal, mainly because I still can have a knee jerk reaction to things that don’t mean what they used to mean. I love that you are writing about this.

  • Tricia

    @ this new place: It’s so powerful when we can see how our examples help define the lives of our children. I love that you’re able to give such a wonderful foundation to your girls. It’s the best gift of all.

  • donna

    I agree with Kim, you will not get many responses to this blog. I also agree that you cannot let it stop the powerful words that your pen and your heart write about. Regardless of the lack of response, you know that you are touching the lives of a lot of people. People just don’t know what to say and a lot of people are just not ready to talk about it. You help a lot of people with your powerful pen. I think that if it helps give just one person the courage to stop the abuse that makes it all worth it. Keep writing.
    Proud of you
    XOXOX

  • Tricia

    @ Donna: Thanks so much. I do agree and I do believe every voice touches someone and even when we speak out and feel like our voice is simply carrying on the wind, it eventually breezes by someone’s ear.
    XOXOXO right back at you :o )

  • This is a tough one to comment on! I was blessed with a good family and upbringing devoid of abuse. The worse I had to face was the normal teasing by smarty-pants older brothers.

    Found this for you from Stephen R. Covey:

    “Once you’ve found your own voice, the choice to expand your influence, to increase your contribution, is the choice to inspire others to find their voice. Inspire (from the Latin inspirare) means to breathe life into another. As we recognize, respect and create ways for others to give voice to all four parts of their nature–physically, mentally, emotionally/socially, spiritually–latent human genius, creativity, passion, talent and motivation are unleashed.”
    Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..Think Like a Black Belt – the self defense E-Book My ComLuv Profile

  • Tricia

    @Lori: I’m so glad you were blessed with an upbringing devoid of abuse. Sometimes it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the numbers and statistics and to forget there are actually “normal” families out there. I love the Covey quote, thanks for taking the time to include it here.

  • This is not my story but it is a poignant and important story to tell. I am both sorry you experienced this abuse and so pleased you are telling..

    I just think we need to talk so much more opening about life, issues and the good, the bad and the ugly. Reveal the truth…and breath life into others…

    Good voice here – nice shouting Thank you for your courage.
    Patricia´s last blog ..What Good are Fathers For? My ComLuv Profile

  • I’m so glad you can openly discuss this, and I’m so glad you were able to redefine your own “normal.”
    Vered – MomGrind´s last blog ..40+ Activities For Kids That Do Not Involve TV, Computer, Wii, Or Any Other Screen My ComLuv Profile

  • Thank you for sharing your story in this way…

    We fostered two children when I was a teenager. The older sister cried when she had to go to school, because she never knew if she could trust my mom to take care of her younger brother while she was away from him (her parents frequently abandoned them in search of drugs). Neither of them understood why my parents went to work on a regular basis, since if you go one day, why should you go back the next day?

    The young boy – at age three – showed us how to roll a joint using tissue. Then he would hide his “joint” in his sock or sleeve.

    Thankfully, all these years later, they are both well-adjusted young adults, each married and having a child of their own.

    They needed to redefine normal, which I hope we helped them today.
    RC – Rambling Along…´s last blog ..Celebrating today My ComLuv Profile

  • I found this blog after vered twittered abut this post. I am recently finding more about my family. Mainly seperations.
    I also feel like on a mission (and started blogging about it) – we can stop the vicious circle. The circle of parents hiding behind the excuse “I had a bad childhood” to recreate one once again for their own children. It makes me feel so angry.

  • Tricia

    @Patricia: I love what you said about needing to talk openly about life. It’s how we learn from failures and share successes and move forward.

    @Vered: Thanks so much for the comment and for the stumble and tweet. Big huge hug to you for the support. I really appreciate it.

    @RC: WOW! What a harrowing story. I’m relieved to know the ending is good, but those poor kids must have been through some terrible times, and I’m so glad your family was able to provide a stable environment for them. I just finished reading “Three Little Words-A Memoir”, which was written by a woman who spent several years in the foster care system and her experiences were heart wrenching.

    @Nurit: It sounds like you’re on a journey as well and what you say is so true. I look forward to learning more about the road you’re traveling and thanks so much for stopping by, and for your comment and support.

  • most of my female friends have been abused. according to the statistics, so have a lot of my male friends but no one ever talks about that.
    i watch my own love with our daughter and marvel at the real men who don’t respect boundaries because they’re supposed to but because there is no other way for them. i’m fortunate enough to know that not all men are sociopaths, pedophiles, abusive or just plain living the cycle passed down to them.
    i don’t know where i’m going with this. but i agree with the need to talk about it, confront it, give it a name. the secrets are the worst.

  • Tricia

    @Krista: The secrets really are the worst. I’m not sure why we don’t talk about the very realy fact that so many boys are sexually assulted. We’ve put a female face to survivors, but we rarely envision the face of a little boy. We need to.

  • Normal is a relative thing and it’s heartbreaking to think about what some people’s idea of normal must be. Thank you, Tricia for your story and your wisdom. Your strength will make a difference to those who are weaker.
    Smart Mouth Broad´s last blog ..ALL THINGS BLOG My ComLuv Profile

  • I kept thinking about this post and had to come back.
    It sounds to me like you are trying to understand how your family’s mind works and maybe forgive them?
    As Krista above says about the “cycle passed down to them” – this must be stopped. This is on my mind a lot lately. Why do parents hide behind their own crappy childhood as an excuse to give their own kids a crappy one too instead of doing it differently? This is really a chance for such people to heal, only when they treat others better, not the same or even worse.

  • Tricia

    @Nurit: It’s true that I’ve struggled over the years to understand certain things, to understand the power of denial and in may ways I still find myself searching for answers, but I’ve come to realize there are somethings for which I’ll never find the answers. Regardless of how many questions I ask or how I twist the finely-threaded needle, there are simply some things that I just have to accept and move on from there. My hope is that in sharing stories and starting conversations, we’ll help other people to see the power denial can have and how in fact when we face demons it’s so much more powerful and so much more liberating than when we hide. Thank you for coming back, and I’m quite sure much more of this story will end up here on Shout. It just seems to come in spurts. I hope you find the answers you’re looking for, or at least the sense of peace asking the questions may bring.

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