I am excited to have our very own Pam Witzemann guest blogging on Emerging from Broken this week! Pam was a frequent guest blogger here in 2011 and 2012 and she has always been a contributor in the conversations. Please welcome Pam;
An Invisible Child in a Hostile World by Pam Witzemann
Where there is substance abuse and children, there is child neglect and abuse.
I was born to parents who abused alcohol and from my birth I was an invisible child in a hostile world. Alcohol abuse is considered a disease but my life’s experience has taught me to view it as a symptom of underlying mental illness and psychological disorder. Though my parents have never seen a psychologist or psychiatrist and aren’t likely ever to do so, I am quite certain of their underlying psychological disorders. Alcohol was gasoline added to the flame of their mental illness that created the distorted and sometimes, dangerous environment of my childhood home.
There was a time when I hated my parents. I still hate the things they did to me and neglected to do for me; but I now view them as pitiable persons who choose the false safety of denial, rather than face the truth about themselves and the lives they’ve led. They are no longer a part of my life because in order to be in a relationship with them I would have to deny the truth about my life and continue in the denial that rules my family of origin. That is abusive to me and I refuse to allow them to abuse me any longer. In any event, the truths I share here are about my life and not really about my parents at all. I now choose when and where to share my personal history and what I share here is for the purpose of helping others who suffer as I have suffered and not about any kind of exposure or revenge.
I don’t think my parents ever saw me as an individual separate from themselves. I was simply an extension of them. I was their firstborn child and to them, a disappointing reflection of themselves. I only weighed four pounds and my mother brought me home wearing doll clothes and lying in a shoe box. My mother had many childish fantasies of a baby daughter who would change her life for the better and it didn’t seem likely that I would fulfill any of them. She says my dad was jealous of me and didn’t like her giving me the attention I constantly cried for.
I nearly died when I was only a few weeks old.
They found me not breathing and assumed they had smothered me with too many blankets. Somehow, they managed to revive me and this became the first time out of three that I nearly died at the hands of my parents before the age of five.
The use of alcohol as medicine and medical neglect were the reasons for the other instances of near death that I experienced as a child but the family narrative couched them in light-hearted tales of young parents who lacked experience. These narratives were created to deflect from the neglect and abuse that they weren’t able to hide from others. I suspect there are many other abuses that were never revealed. I believe this is also, when they first assigned me the role of family scapegoat. I was the source of a lot of trouble to them. I was so small and as time passed, I failed to thrive. I didn’t reflect a positive image of themselves back to them so, I became the sickly child who they fed hot-toddies (a mixture of bourbon, honey, & lemon) and I was kept mostly in bed.
My parents couldn’t see me as an individual with life and purpose of my own. I didn’t serve any good purpose for them. I was too imperfect and in response to the imperfection they perceived in me, my parents chose to make me as invisible as possible by keeping me locked away in my room, drunk and in bed. I remember most of my early childhood as being alone and suspended in dark space. At the time I didn’t know that this was wrong; I was taught to view this treatment as my parent’s way of caring for me and I simply accepted it as it was presented. I had nothing to compare it to and my invisible state became a core part of my self-image and later, a favored coping mechanism and protection against further abuse.
There were many times when I was older, that I sought refuge in a dark closet when my parent’s alcoholic rages reached a fevered pitch and even today when I am deeply saddened or feel threatened, I find myself isolating and seeking refuge in invisibility. I know now that when I do this I am dissociating from a painful reality in the most complete sense of dissociation, next only to death. This is the source of my most debilitating depressions when I seek refuge in the isolation of the complete abandonment I experienced during the earliest days of my childhood. If the environment I grew up in had been less hostile, I may not have sought this refuge but isolation and invisibility are much more pleasant than connectivity with abusive, alcoholic, psychologically disordered parents.
On one hand, I had a deep, painful yearning for them to notice me and actually, see me; but on the other hand, being seen was dangerous and likely to make me a target for verbal and emotional abuse.
Needless to say, growing up in bed didn’t teach me many social skills. I didn’t start school until I was seven and I was so small that people thought I was three or four. I didn’t know how to communicate with other children and they wanted to play with me like a doll. I didn’t like being treated this way but I also, had no idea that I should stop them. I didn’t like being treated as an object but in the same way that I accepted isolation as normal, I accepted my peers viewing me as a toy to play with as being acceptable. Later, as a teenager, when a child-predator told me he loved me and treated me like a sex-toy, I accepted that as normal too. After being with him for a few months, I lost all ownership of my person and had no way to protect myself from being abused by others.
No one saw me as a person and I didn’t either. I was an object, helpless in choosing my own purpose. I served the purposes of others without question. Mine was a painful, confusing existence and I sought invisibility in heavy drug use and nearly, lost my life. In fact, I wanted the complete invisibility of death. I yearned for it with every fiber of my being and at age 18 I made a serious attempt at fulfilling that desire. When doctors revived me I cried when finding myself still alive in a world of beings who viewed me as an object and whom I knew only as a threat to my well-being.
I find it amazing today, that I was able to pull myself out of this situation and become a more functional person. In fact, I know I didn’t do it all alone. Faith in God gave me a reason to become a whole person rather than an extension of my parents or the object of abuse that others saw as my purpose. Faith made my special purpose known to me and helped me set boundaries that allowed me to live more safely among others. Facing the truth about myself and my life, helped me rewire my thinking about myself and how I relate to others. Darlene and the commenters on Emerging from Broken helped me in this very important piece of my recovery from an abusive childhood. I found validation and self-acceptance here.
I am much closer to being the woman I was created to be than what my dark childhood promised. It has been a long struggle with many highs and lows. I am convinced that as long as I live, I will continue to struggle to become a better person because recovery from abuse is as much about the process of becoming as it is healing.
I know that none of my success would have been possible if I had given my parents the false honor they desire and continued to live in denial. It hurts to face the truth. It is not an easy path. There is a price to pay for embracing truth but it is the only way to heal and move forward into becoming. I am not sorry for paying the cost of embracing the truth about me and my life because life is so much better when engaged in, fully. I can’t engage in life when I spend most of my time hiding from life.
It is said, that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. When this is applied to the problem of healing from child abuse and breaking the cycle of abuse, it is perfectly true. It is impossible to heal when the wounding is denied and abuse in families will be passed down for generations when denied. In invisibility, I found a false refuge that became the debilitating depression that stole many months of my life. In truth, I found life through improved relationships with God, myself, and others. Neglect and abuse prevented me from developing the skills I needed to connect with others. Love and truth taught me how to connect with others safely.
I am so happy that aloneness is no longer my most natural and safest state of being. For the first time in my life, I have achieved some sense of safety in the world because I have learned healthier ways of keeping myself safe.
Pam Witzemann is a long-time native of New Mexico. She is a writer, painter, landlord, wife, mother, grandmother, small-business co-owner, child-abuse survivor and overcomer. Emerging From Broken has played a big role in empowering her in her struggle to overcome the emotional damage caused by a childhood of abuse. She is an avid supporter of Darlene Ouimet’s work and is honored to share her story in support of that good work.
Please share your thoughts with all of us here on Emerging from Broken.
If you are interested in how Darlene discovered and uncovered the false messages that were holding her back, “Emerging from Broken ~ The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing” is available for download. Click on the book image in the upper right side bar.
Other articles written by Pam; The Healing Power of Righteous Anger https://emergingfrombroken.com/the-healing-power-of-righteous-anger-by-pam-witzemann/
How I learned to Self-Abuse https://emergingfrombroken.com/how-i-learned-to-self-abuse-by-pam-witzemann/
The Process of Forgiving Child Abusers https://emergingfrombroken.com/the-process-of-forgiving-child-abusers-by-pam-witzemann/
Profile of a Spiritual Abuser https://emergingfrombroken.com/profile-of-a-spiritual-abuser-by-pam-witzemann/