Desperate Housewives, Gabrielle, and Me

Desperate Housewives made me think, last night.  Can life ever be the same after sexual abuse?  What can young Marisa expect now that the abuse has come to an end?  In her favour is the fact that she has been brave enough to speak out; brave enough to share her burden with her mother and begin the long process of “recovery.”  This in itself shows great strength which will hopefully stand her in good stead.

Often, when people realise that you have been abused, they cannot understand why you wouldn’t “just say no” or tell someone straight away.  Surely that’s the simple answer to a horrific situation?  Only, it’s not as simple as that.  What if your abuser has threatened you or your family?  What if it’s a person that your family trust?  Or even love?  Who will believe you over them?  And even if you realise that you need to speak out, what do you say?  How do you put it into words?

I’ve heard some people argue that we don’t need to see such things on TV, and they can’t understand why people read books by survivors.  Perhaps it can become a little gratuitous, but consider – nearly a quarter of young adults experience sexual abuse in childhood.  Look around you.  Even if you are not part of that statistic, how many of the people you know are?  How many of the young people you love are living this nightmare right now?  Would you know how to spot it?  Would you know how to help?  If these storylines help end the abuse for even one child, is it not worth it?

I know just how easy it is to hide what’s happening – to wear a smile like a sticker and act as though life is still hunkydory.  I know what it’s like to keep acting like a child – even when you are with family and have to be in the same room as the man who has stolen your childhood.  Bringing the abuse to an end means first, realising that what’s happening is wrong – properly realising, not just a gut feeling, and secondly, realising that you hold the power to bring it to an end.  It seems much easier to just pretend it isn’t happening, and it’s no wonder that more than 1 in 3 children don’t report it.  I was abused for 4 years but know that my family weren’t negligent in not realising what was happening.  How could they know?  I worked so hard to hide it.

I was just 11 when I finally told my dad what my grandad was doing.  I’d tried to tell my mum but just couldn’t make the words come out – it was her dad, why would she believe me?  I waited another 6 months and then I told my dad because, though I knew my grandad would never hurt me again, I also knew that if I didn’t speak out he would probably hurt my little sisters.  I couldn’t have lived with that.  I was a little girl – not even at high school – with the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Once I’d spoken out I just wanted it all to go away.  The general feeling in my family was not to report it and instead handle it internally (some uncles were even angry that they’d been told about it).  I was more than happy to go along with this – I was about to start high school, people would know my grandad and I didn’t want them to know all the sordid details, and I didn’t want to put my grandad in prison.  In fact, all I really wanted was for it all to stop.  I never wanted my grandad to lay a finger on me again and I wanted people to stop trying to talk to me about it.  If I didn’t talk about it, it would all go away, right?  I can still remember the last day I was ever alone with my grandad – the day it all ended, 20 years ago – with the same clarity that I can recall yesterday.

Even though we came to realise that his abuse had actually spanned decades and multiple family members, we still chose to keep it to ourselves.  I don’t judge my family for that – at that time it felt right.  At that time I believed it was what I wanted, but with the benefit of hindsight I wonder if I simply didn’t understand the process.  I wonder if part of me thought I’d be taken from my family and perhaps what I needed was someone to tell me that everything had to be dealt with properly, but that I would be ok.

Instead, I buried the jumble of thoughts and feelings down deep, figuring that when he died the jumble would disappear with him.  Of course, it didn’t and I ended up in counselling – something I thought would be pointless but which actually helped me more than I could have imagined.  My counsellor, Mae, will always have a special place in my heart as my guardian angel.

I suppose we can never know what life would have been if there had been no abuse, but once it has touched your life it casts a long shadow.  As time passes the shadow diminishes and days, weeks, maybe even months go by without it rearing it’s fearsome head, but it never disappears completely.  A memory can be triggered, out of the blue, by a sound, a touch, a smell.  It can colour how you perceive things – your innocence and trust have been taken and you can never really get them back.

In Desperate Housewives we see Gabrielle; a wife, a mother, a fiesty woman, and a survivor of childhood abuse.  Her life, though not as charmed and glossy as it may appear at first glance, is testament to her ability to move forward but look more closely and she is not without scars.  But those scars show strength, not weakness.  They show that however damaged you may once have felt, you can heal, you can live, you can smile again.


11 responses to “Desperate Housewives, Gabrielle, and Me

  1. What a terrible, terrible thing. I really have no words other than how amazing you are to have come through this. It makes me feel sad to my soul that things like this happen. You’re brave beyond belief. xxx

    • I don’t feel brave. Things happen and you have to deal with them to move forward. This situation is now “normal” for me and I couldn’t imagine my life without those memories in it. I sometimes wish it could have been different but then I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I’m happy with who I am. And as for my grandad, I am sickened by what he did, I can’t understand it, but I do also have good memories of him too. People are like onions – we have lots of layers and some may be rotten, perhaps even the core, but that is rarely the whole of who we are. Hating him would take more of my time and energy than simply letting him go.

  2. Your post moved me to tears, I have no words other than how much I admire you for sharing your story with us.
    I am sure the last thing you want is sympathy, but I think you deserve a huge hug for being so very brave.

    What an inspirational lady you are to anyone else who has had to experience such a terrible thing.


  3. A cousin of mine told on an uncle a few years ago, another cousin came forward, it split the family, I took the side of my cousins, my parents said ‘he never did it to our kids, they are making it all up’ they get upset with me because I refused to allow my children to be in their house when that uncle was visiting. I can’t understand why they support the accused and not the accusers. I suppose they feel it reflects on them.
    I hope that you receive the support you need to help you through this.

    • I was lucky – my family have never suggested it wasn’t true. A few uncles (I have many) initially felt that they would have preferred not to know, but they didn’t say I was lying. I suppose it’s just that once you know, you can’t unknow. As a family we may not have told the authorities, and some of my aunts and uncles chose not to tell their (older) children for many years (rightly or wrongly) but we all knew what had happened and he was never put in such a position of trust again. As an adult now I may have chosen differently but it was what got me through at the time.

      As for getting through it, I was deeply depressed for several years as I started uni but I did get treatment. I don’t talk about it often – it tends to be a conversation killer – but I do talk about it if relevant because it is this secrecy or lack of openess that makes it harder for current victims to speak out.

  4. You are so right when you say that people think it isn’t going on around them when in fact it is. Last year a group of friends and I were talking about child abuse. Three out of four of us there knew a child who was abused at school-age. Whilst this had never happened to me it did to 3 girls in my class at primary school by our teacher. As a group we had to confront our headmistress and tell her what had happened aged 10. Our teacher was sent to jail and the Headteacher was sacked because she had failed to do anything about him when previous children had approached her. I have no idea how those girls are today – I just hope that they have met a ‘Guardian Angel’ like you did.
    Thank you for sharing and opening our eyes to what goes on around us.

    • Thank you. If you’ve never experienced it, it just doesn’t figure in your daily life. It’s so sad. But thanks to you and your friends those 3 girls were saved and who knows how many others are safe because he was stopped before he got to them? And that makes you and your friends their guardian angel.

  5. Pingback: At last, a believable story on Desperate Housewives | The Children's Services Blog·

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