Please help me welcome author and fellow cohost of #SexAbuseChat, Bobbi Parish to the blog as she shares her experience with sexual abuse and how this fly away girl overcame.
When I was a little girl I used to draw. A lot. My sister and I had bunk beds. The lower one was mine. On the underside of my sister’s bunk were flattened cardboard boxes, bisected by the wooden slats that kept her bed from crashing down onto me. That cardboard was my primary canvas. I drew vivid, colorful pictures of beautiful things: flowers, trees, rivers, mountains, and a huge yellow sun. On the nights my father visited to prove his love for me, his “special girl”, I flew up into those beautiful places and played until it was safe to return to my body. Those pictures saved me on what I called my Fly Away Nights.
The visits started when I was three and continued for eight years. At first he wasn’t abusive or even unkind. He held and cuddled me, telling me how much he loved me and how special I was. I soaked up his affection. We were very poor, but he managed to find the means to buy and bring me small gifts. Over time I began to believe I truly was special. It felt so good. I looked forward to his periodic visits those first few years.
After I had grown to love his visits they began to turn in a different direction. Cuddles turned to touches and holding me turned into restraining me. But his words stayed the same. He loved me. I was special. This was how daddies showed the best little girls their love.
I was so confused. I wanted the love and attention. I wanted to be special. But I didn’t like the new touching. My mind couldn’t process the incongruence of those visits from my father. I had been groomed to love his attention and to crave pleasing him by behaving like the special girl he wanted. But it didn’t feel the same now. My mind couldn’t comprehend that my father, who existed to love and protect me, would mean to hurt me. The fault, I concluded in my child’s logic, must be mine: I was a bad girl because I didn’t appreciate his way of loving me.
I began to draw the pictures on the underside of my sister’s bunk so I would have something pretty to look at during my father’s visits. If I could concentrate on those I might be able to be the good girl he wanted me to be. Maybe then I could be happy when he showed me how much he loved me.
My mind was smart and strong, though. It went beyond being distracted by the pictures. It carried me away from my body up into them. Dissociated from my body I could enjoy the freedom and beauty of the world I had created in crayon. My Fly Away Nights were born.
My mind created a figment of me and left her there in my place. She was very compliant and always endured whatever my father wanted to do. I flew away but she remained there to keep up the ruse that I was present and enjoying his attentions.
Over time my father’s behavior became more invasive, less gentle and more forceful. It was no longer possible for me to return to my body and continue on with my life like nothing had happened. The pain and other evidence was too strong and too present to ignore. It became harder and harder to reconcile my belief that my father loved me with the aftereffects of what he had done while I was inside my pictures. My confusion grew into distress. I became overwhelmed with guilt, confident that I was a bad girl, unappreciative of my loving father’s attention.
My mind once again intervened. The Fly Away Nights began extending into Fly Away Days. My brain tucked that confused and desperate little girl wracked with self-loathing deep inside itself for days at a time, however long it took for my body to recover from my father’s visits. In her place my mind put the compliant, willing child who I called The Fly Away Girl. Her sole purpose was to please…and endure. She was a smashing success at both.
Even with The Fly Away Girl’s help I grew more confused and anguished with every episode of abuse. If my father loved me why did he hurt me? Was that the price I had to pay for being special? My family’s Catholicism sent me to parochial school for all of the years of my abuse. I remember sneaking into the school’s chapel and begging God to either stop my father from physically hurting me or to make me stronger so I wouldn’t be upset by it. When God didn’t answer my prayers that year, or the next, I decided, with my child’s understanding, that this meant I wasn’t worth being saved. God hated me because I was a truly horrible little girl.
Toward the end of my eleventh year my prayer was finally answered. The abuse stopped. But it didn’t bring me relief. There would be no respite from the pain for me. The nightly visits did end, but so did all of my father’s loving behavior. I was no longer his special girl. Instead, I became invisible to him.
It was the most horrible slap in the face. I had done all he asked for years. I had endured so much. But in the end it earned me nothing. Like a water spigot he turned off his love for me. I didn’t understand at the time that his love was horrifically perverted. The only thing I knew was that I had lost the love of someone I had worked so very hard to earn.
From my father I learned that love involves pain, that sex can purchase approval and affection, and that I deserved to be treated badly because I was, at my very core, bad. These lessons controlled and haunted me for decades. They ordered my life and resulted in significant struggles with mental illness including multiple psychiatric hospitalizations and a suicide attempt, my willingly entering into and enduring abusive relationships, and a self-loathing that undermined every good thing I tried to accomplish.
Now, as I approach fifty years old, I am finally finding a healthy footing in this world. I have learned how to challenge the lessons my father taught me and loosen their hold over my mind and heart. It has been a long journey and there are still many miles and battles ahead of me. But memories from the years of my Fly Away Nights no longer inhabit my every moment. Instead, they are in my rear view mirror, right where they belong.
About the Author:
I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest and consider Portland, Oregon my hometown. I am an artist, a wanderer, an author, an explorer, an ordained minister and a therapist. As the single mother of a special needs child I wear all of those hats, and even a few more, on a daily basis as my son and I navigate our way through this world.