Ordinary Evil: Memoir of a Buried Life
Letters to My Sisters
by Alethea Marina Nova (all rights reserved)
“You have no room in your mind or body for secrets”
~Former Miss America and incest survivor, Marilyn Van Derbur 1
In January of 1998 I made the decision to tell my three sisters about every one of my memories. This would be the second most difficult thing I would ever do.
The hardest would be to tell my mother.
There were no consequences in telling friends and acquaintances, but telling my family meant emotional trauma for all of us. I fluctuated between which anguish was worse, the truth, or the lie. I finally determined that I could no longer hold secrets and deception in my mind or in my body.
I felt that writing my sisters instead of telling them over the phone would provide the freedom to express myself openly, and it would give me a chance to edit and revise my words. I needed to be clearly understood without being hung up on, or interrupted, and without provoking my worst fear —being called a liar.
When I began writing to my sisters, one page soon grew into several, and before long it was practically a small book. I decided to call these writings “Letters to My Sisters.”
As I wrote the disclosure, I agonized over the fact that I might not be believed, but I was willing to risk losing my siblings in order to give a voice to the child in me, who had been silenced with a knife.
As I opened my heart to my sisters, not a page went by without the fear of death permeating the room. While writing the letters I could not walk down the hallway of my home, or sit with my back to it without fear, and every light in the house needed to be turned on. The hallway of my current home, had become the hallway of my childhood home. My father’s threat to take my life had pushed through time.
My bladder felt as if it was on fire and the hunger became excruciating.
I had given names to the two opposing aspects of myself, the part of me filled with fear, and my warrior side.
“Punkin” was the child in me, who wanted to conform to the family secrets. Punkin was told to keep quiet and behave herself. In my mind, Punkin was disheveled looking, with tousled hair, and always wearing a ragged red dress. Punkin was the abandoned and abused little girl who desired love from an emotionally unavailable mother. Punkin’s unkempt hair, and her red dress, were symbolic of having been in bed with her father.
The other aspect of me, was Athena -the guardian and the angry part of me who wanted to be heard. I had chosen the name Athena because according to Greek mythology, Athena was a warrior goddess and a protector. In my mind, Athena wore a white gown, had a crown of jewels intertwined with fresh flowers, and she symbolized strength. Athena carried a sword of truth and a magic shield to guard against lies.
Punkin was withdrawn and hung her head in shame. Punkin conformed to how her family wanted her to behave, which was to keep silent in order to be accepted, and Punkin dreaded confrontation.
Athena was not afraid of other people’s reactions, and was ready to speak the truth no matter what the consequences.
These two parts of my persona were not ‘different personalities,’ but merely opposing aspects of my unhealed pscyhe.
The letters to my sisters were not even finished, but merely typing them out triggered the terror of being killed.
Punkin pleaded with me, “Oh no, you’re telling! Please don’t tell.”
At one point I experienced a mental flash of my father behind me with a knife, but nothing would stop me. I was determined to not allow his threats to take back the major steps I had gained.
While Punkin cowered under my desk, Athena comforted her with the knowledge that defying the threats, and letting the secret out, would help continue our journey from victim into a grown, healed woman.
Now unafraid to confront the memories, things on the outside began to change as well.
One day after a grueling, yet liberating therapy session, I found myself rearranging the house. At first I didn’t realize that healing and rearranging furniture were related, but soon I saw the pattern. Changing my home and disposing useless items paralleled the act of continuing to expel the long-repressed negative emotions from my Subconscious mind. It was important that my home reflected my new state of mind.
Yet, the high school picture of my father, as well as the memorabilia in his honor, remained in my living room like a shrine. His police hat, coin collection, and the American flag that had been draped over his casket, were a daily reminder to my subconscious of the twisted loyalty I still held for my father.
One day I found myself in a therapy regression imagining that I was burning those things. Before this moment I had no conscious thoughts of anger about my father’s personal items.
Until the regression I had no awareness that these material items were hindering my growth. The desire to rid myself of the keepsakes stemmed from the child within me, and she was angry.
As soon as the therapy session ended, I honored that anger and gave away the flag and police hat. I sold the coin collection and gave the money to charity. The difference in my well-being was dramatic. A friend called that day, and without knowing what I had done, she commented that my voice sounded strong and confident.
I kept my father’s high school photo because, somewhere deep inside myself, I knew that the young man in the photo was carrying heavy emotional baggage from something that happened to him as a child, and that maybe he would have turned out differently, had he not been emotionally destroyed in some way as a child.
Six months following the first recall of incest with my father, Letters to My Sisters were now coming close to an end and it was time to actually consider sending them. Physical symptoms and the fear of losing my family hammered my body and mind, but it was important for me to speak, and for my family to hear me. It also became imperative that I be strong for other survivors of child sexual abuse—especially those who had blocked out their memories. The fear which accompanied the writing of the letters brought me the awareness that incest and child sexual abuse continue because too many children and adult survivors stay silent.
Writing the letters had been demanding and liberating at the same time, but putting them in the mail terrified Punkin. I needed to take her by the hand and gently comfort her. It was imperative that she understood no physical harm would come to her, and that even if my sisters cut me out of their life, it was better than living a lie.
One last minute change was made before I finished the letters. I decided to not disclose my memories to Madison. I knew how strongly she denied any family dysfunction, and she had always denied my father’s temper as well as his alcohol problem. I knew how much Madison loved our father, and she retained a close bond with my mother. Madison also held a deep-seated resentment of me, which I never understood, but had learned to live with since early childhood.
Madison’s hostility towards me might have easily sent her running to my mother about my memories. I was not yet strong enough to deal with that. My mother continued to hold power over me. The child in me still feared her as a parent and continued to crave my mother’s approval.
On a quiet spring evening, after many agonizing weeks of spilling my pain onto paper, I finally concluded Letters to My Sisters. I had finished them in spite of the program of fear my father had instilled in me.
I ended Letters to my Sisters with these words:
I love you. These letters have taken a long time to write and were painful for me. Please do not hate me; hate is so destructive. Although this is my truth, we are a family. Even though the truth is painful, it can only help. Secrets, denial, and pretending nothing is wrong will only force us to live a lie, and that helps no one. “The truth shall set you free” is such a pure and righteous statement. It can break a person from bondage. I have repeatedly weighed the possible outcome of telling, and truth is too important to me. This is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. You are in my heart and in my thoughts every day. Love, Alethea
The letters were forty-four pages long. I made five copies and placed three in envelopes. I addressed the two for Abigail and Kylie, but placed Madison’s copy safely in a drawer.
Two days passed before I felt ready to take Kylie and Abigail’s copies of the letters to the post office. Unresolved fear tried to push me back into denial —the place where keeping the secret meant being accepted. In denial there would be no ugly words or threats from my sisters. In denial I could continue a superficial relationship with my mother and a false relationship with all of them.
When I realized that without the truth I didn’t even have a real connection, or a true relationship with any of them, something opened up inside of me that pushed me to the other side of the fear. With no anxieties I walked to the post office. The possibility still existed that Kylie or Abigail might tell my mother, but my decision was driven by the freedom which had begun to stir inside.
While standing in line at the post office, I suddenly realized that my heart was beating rapidly. It seemed impossible because I felt completely at peace with my decision. One of my neighbors spotted me and came over to say hello. She remarked how happy I looked. I couldn’t believe she saw no fear in me because my heart was pounding so loudly I thought it might jump out of my chest and roll across the post office floor.
Clearly the rapid heartbeat was not due to any conscious anxiety; it was the child inside of me who was making my heart race. My inner child was aware of the repercussions. She was begging me not to tell the family, and I almost listened to her.
I looked at the postal agent, who was peering at me from behind his glasses. It was my turn to approach the counter. I needed to calm my heart rate with clear, conscious action, so I silently told the child in me, “it’s going to be okay,” and walked over and handed the postman the two carefully sealed envelopes.
After I paid the man, I watched him stamp the envelopes with postage and drop the letters into the mail hamper. As I watched the letters disappear into the bag and realized there was no turning back, I smiled and walked away.
In that moment the rapid heart beat magically disappeared.
During the period of waiting for a response from my sisters, even more profound changes were occurring. I grew tired of listening to my mother speak about my father as if he had been a Saint and our telephone conversations became strained. My inner child wanted a new mother. She needed a mother who would love and protect her, and who would allow her to cry out about being a victim of incest. The child within me needed a mother who would not ignore the pain. My carnal mother was incapable of this, so the new mother had to be me.
The revolution against my physical mother began with a phone conversation. As usual, we were discussing the flowers and the weather, and my inner child could no longer stand it. Even though my mother knew nothing about my memories, she knew I was in therapy. Kylie told her I had been sick for over four years, yet my mother never once acknowledged the illness or my suffering.
My mother knew my physical problems were extreme, but she never even mentioned the disease I had been diagnosed with, or asked about my psychotherapy. I simply could not comprehend why my mother never spoke to me about a physical illness that had plagued me for years, or why I needed psychoanalysis.
In fact, any time I mentioned therapy, she quickly changed the subject.
My deep desire to end the superficiality with my mother came when I relayed to her that I had been experiencing more social behavior, doing new things and making new friends. Instead of asking why, or how, this came about, and instead of hearing happiness in her voice, she said in a condescending tone, “Isn’t it nice that you’re beginning to get out into the world and meeting people?”
Anger welled up inside me because she believed it had somehow been my choice to be reclusive, develop an incapacitating disease, and to be psychologically dysfunctional for so many years. My mother’s disregard for why I had been so sick, and her refusal to acknowledge my illness, or the therapy, was devastating to Punkin.
The little girl in me felt like a worthless piece of shit.
After hanging up the phone, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Thoughts of hopelessness and suicide enveloped me. My mother’s power over me was incredible. Her lack of validation and total disregard for my physical and emotional well-being triggered the unresolved pain connected to her choice to not protect me from my father.
Although my hopelessness abated later that day, I continued to feel disconnected from the world and finally realized that I would have tell my mother about my memories.
If I did not, then I would always be a lie to myself and would forever betray my inner child.
The first of my two sisters to respond to my letters, was Kylie.
There was a moment of silence on the phone when I heard her voice. I was preparing to defend my memories. I needed to be ready to challenge any disbelief. My fears melted away when Kylie referred to Letters To My Sisters, as a book by asking, “read any good books lately?”
Her comment made me burst into laughter and my anxiety floated away.
Kylie told me she was not surprised about the incest, and that she had always known something was wrong with our family, but she just never quite knew what it was. She mentioned that she too had felt the creepiness of the hallway as well as the coldness that enveloped our childhood home. She told me that no matter what, she would always be there for me and although she didn’t know for sure what happened in that house, she supported my personal truth.
With gratitude for Kylie’s response, I took a deep breath and asked about Abigail. To my surprise Kylie said Abigail was handling the news pretty well. She was planning on calling me in a few days because it was all very hard for her, but Kylie said that Abigail believed me.
In the following days I encountered more opportunities to disclose the incest. I told the nurses at my doctor’s office, and cried as I told a close friend that I had not seen in months. I shared my childhood with the woman who was in charge of my volunteer work at the local animal shelter, and revealed my pain to the other students during my writing group.
Each time I told someone, my childhood had been brought up innocently and unintentionally. The truth usually came out because the person asked how I had been doing with the disease I had been suffering from.
I explained to people that the disease was created by my mind’s reaction to being silenced and sexually abused as a child. I expressed that many of my symptoms had disappeared by dealing with the incest and most people were relieved that I actually dared to bring up the subject of child sexual abuse. The conversation often gave them an opportunity to share their own childhood difficulties and suffering. Their experiences were usually different from my own, but occasionally, someone had also suffered the same kind of trauma of sexual abuse or rape, and nearly every person I spoke with said they personally knew someone who had been sexually violated as a child.
I did have one strange reaction. A neighbor said she was “shocked” that “this sort of thing” went on in real life, but my speaking out had enabled her to understand and accept the fact that people who outwardly appear “good” are sometimes sexually abusing their own children.
Telling friends and acquaintances about my childhood was becoming easier, but as I contemplated telling my mother about my memories, the unnatural hunger persisted. Eating more food, or changing my diet, was pointless because the hunger did not want food. At times it became so physically painful that I felt it would be better to just die. Sometimes the hunger caused me to lay on the floor crying. It felt like being tortured from within. Although the therapy continued to dissolve other physical symptoms, the hunger puzzled both my therapist and me.
Then, a year after the first recall of incest, I went under a regression for the hunger and a small revelation emerged. In the regression, my mind took me inside the tent at the campgrounds. Prior to this regression I had not remembered having any thoughts as my father shoved his penis inside my mouth. This time, unlike past regressions, I remembered my exact thoughts.
In my child’s mind, inside the tent that night, I pleaded with my father, “Why are you doing this to me? Why do you do this daddy?” It was a justifiable question, and my inner child deserved to know the answer. My therapist asked me how this incident was connected to the hunger. I immediately replied, “I hunger for love and protection.”
This was the first real breakthrough in uncovering the root cause of the hunger. The connection had finally been made. I needed emotional nourishment from my parents, and the protection that my mother had been unwilling to give. As a child I was never emotionally satisfied, so as an adult, the hunger was a physical form of emotional pain and emptiness.
By my next therapy session, my inner child was angry. I think she finally realized that she had been cheated. She deserved —and had a birthright— to be loved, cherished and protected by her parents. Instead, their betrayal left only confusion in her mind. Confusion between love and sexual abuse. My father had twisted my mind into thinking that incest was love. The little one inside of me was beginning to understand the betrayal.
During the next therapy regression, my mind went directly to my childhood home where I found myself sitting next to my father’s rented hospital bed. I knew his demise drew close. Back in time, I looked at his skeletal body and felt no compassion for a dying man. Strength, truth, and clarity finally allowed me to feel the anger for my father.
As a child, I had not allowed myself to truly be angry. Instead, I had carried deep-seated guilt because my father had suffered from cancer and died young. My self-condemnation stemmed from feeling as a child that his cancer was punishment for his crimes. In this age-regression, thirty years became a few seconds, and I allowed my inner child to truly express herself about my father’s cancer; and to do so without fear of repercussions.
This became an absolute necessity for my healing. Repressing the thoughts I had as a child had allowed me to survive as an adult, but now I needed to absolve myself from any emotional culpability and release myself from the guilt.
Expressing my true feelings brought further health and strength to my life.
Yet, the subsequent result of my ever-growing power meant that more memories were being dislodged from my unconscious.
I wept as I recalled the actual moments of leaving my body as a child and dissociating from the actions that my father perpetrated on my body. As a child I remained consciously in my body when I heard his footsteps approaching my bedroom door. I was still in my body when I pretended to be asleep and rolled on my stomach with the bed covers pulled over my head. But each time that my father came into my room, lowered the sheets on my bed, massaged by back, and pulled my pajama pants down…a soft cry of sorrow melted away into the mattress, unheard.
I floated out of my body and over the scene, leaving the emotional trauma below, in my physical body.
It became a relief for me when I later read that other victims of childhood trauma have remembered seeing themselves below as they floated on the ceiling, or found themselves in a corner watching their abuse from a distance.
My mind utilized its natural defense of fight or flight. I could not fight, I could not run, and my mother certainly wasn’t going to help me.
Even more devestating to me, was that I could not endure the emotional pain of my father treating me like a piece of toilet paper –just something to symbolically wipe his behind with -to relieve his need to ejaculate.
Anyone considering revealing their own secrets to someone in their family, should read my article series Voices From the Bedroom: Revealing the Deadly Secret Click Here
Chapter Six: Interrupting the Silence coming soon…
- Used with personal permission from Marylin Van Derbur
© 2016 Alethea Marina-Nova. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.