Trigger warning: Rape; physical, mental, sexual abuse; suicide attempts; food deprivation
I was somewhere between 2 and 3 when my father began raping me. I don't remember exactly when because my brain has tried to let me forget as much as possible ever since. It has mostly failed.
I have nightmares most nights, more than 20 years later. I flinch at ordinary interactions between fathers and daughters. I have flashbacks and traumatic memories when I hear the word "daddy." I cannot express the vile things he taught me to do or the memories I have that make me physically sick to my stomach. I can't explain the way my gut roils when a perfectly innocent father calls his little girl "princess" or when he touches her in a way that is presumably, for other people, at a completely normal level of intimacy. When I see fathers interacting with their daughters, I see abuse, and I know that it can't be everywhere.
As if that wasn't enough, he also starved me. He would deny me food for the whole day and lie to my mother, saying I had eaten lunch. Most days, I ate one meal. I would resort to licking sugar or eating margarine when I was too hungry to cope. He also decided to break the fourth toes of my feet and scar my soles with a hot screwdriver.
This went on for more than two years until my mother finally realised what he was doing — to what extent, I don't know, because we don't speak about it. But she got me out of there. We moved to a house, away from him, and I never saw him again as a child. I thought I was finally safe. My grandmother moved in with us to help with my care. Life went on, and it was OK for a while. I saw Mum as my hero. She managed to get a restraining order on my father, but there was no evidence of any abuse that they believed, and he couldn't be prosecuted.
Then my mother began to abuse me.
She would come home drunk most nights, find an imaginary infraction, and beat me until I was screaming on the floor. Or she would manipulate me into doing whatever she wanted, to avoid beatings. She would scream at me, then hit me some more.
As a child, these beatings were unpredictable and baffling. I made no connection with her drunken state or her mood; as far as I was concerned, she could turn on me at any time, for any reason.
What made it worse was that half of the time, she was a great mother. We went on nature walks. We went places together, we got along well, and we played video games together. She supported me and, as far as I knew, loved me. But then she could go from happy to holding me on the floor and hitting me again and again within minutes, and as a result, I was always nervous, always trying to appease her before it began. My grandmother tried to step in, but she was old and frail and couldn't.
This went on for eight years. I was 13 when my grandmother was sent off to a nursing home. I railed against it; I cried and screamed and sobbed. I couldn't understand why my one protector was being sent away. I was convinced it would get worse — that I would end up in hospital.
And then one night my mother sat me down and simply said, "I know I've been a bit of a bad person to you. I'm not going to do that anymore."
She quit smoking, she stopped drinking as much, and she stopped beating me, seemingly overnight. I had no idea what was happening. I expected her to start again at any moment. I cowered when she raised her voice, I flinched when she moved too quickly, I had excuses ready whenever I did something wrong, just in case.
But she never hit me again.
When I was 14, everything caught up with me. I attempted suicide three times and failed spectacularly. Whether it was bad guesswork, loss of courage, or something else, I survived with nothing more than some self-harming scars and massive, crippling depression. I eventually dragged myself to a doctor and got some counseling, which helped me to come to terms with what my father had done, as well as my mother. And it gave me an idea as to why my mum behaved like she did.
I was 19 before I had the courage to ask about my mother's childhood, knowing I wouldn't like the answer.
She told me she had been raped as a teenager and abused throughout her teenage years. She told me that her mother — my grandmother — hadn't believed her, and had also been psychologically abusive, telling her she would never amount to anything. She told me how she had been forced into a marriage she didn't want and a child she didn't know what to do with to satisfy her family. My father had hit her and had been a drunk, and then she had to move in with one of her own abusers because she had nowhere else to go in order to keep me safe. She had struggled her whole life with depression and had turned to alcohol.
It made sudden sense to me. Her behaviour was inexcusable, but it was absolutely explainable.
I do not believe anyone is obligated to forgive an abuser; in fact, in most scenarios, I would be vehemently against it unless it makes you feel more able to heal or move on. Forgiveness is not the "right" thing to do, morally or socially. You are absolutely within your rights to hate the piece of shit who hurt you forever. There is no right way to be a survivor of abuse. There is no right way to live, to feel, to forgive, to think, to love, to hate, or to heal.
For me, I felt that I wouldn't be free unless I could move on, and to move on, I felt like I had to forgive at least one of them.
My father deserves nothing. He chose to sexually abuse, to rape, to starve, and to torture his child, seemingly with no regrets, as he has never chosen to contact me to apologise. He is a vile man and one I am glad to be rid of forever.
He lives in the same city as me. Once, I had to serve him at my job at the cinema. He doesn't seem to recognise me, but I would know him anywhere — his leering face and his breathy, hoarse voice are branded into my brain forever. I live with that reality and those memories and the nightmares. But I'm not broken by him. I'm happy now, and I have a loving relationship that he could never touch. I will never forgive him or forget what he did to me.
My mother, though, I chose to forgive. As much for me as anything else. I needed to be able to have a relationship with her. I believed that she was a good person, somewhere in there. And I hoped I was right.
She has never hurt me since the day she told me she would stop. That was 14 years ago. I forgave her for what she did because I gained an understanding of why the cycle was so hard to break for her. She had been caught in it for so long that she couldn't see the way out, but she grabbed for the nearest rope and hauled herself out of it anyway. I'm proud of her. She is the mother I deserved as a child, now. She is supportive and loving, and I couldn't ask for a better relationship with her. She has a partner and a handle on her depression and her drinking, and is in general happier than I have ever seen her.
That doesn't mean I've forgotten what she did to me; I still flinch when someone raises their hand too fast. But it does mean we've been able to move on to a point where I can trust her again, and for me, that was important.