Last week on the anniversary of my 6 year old daughters abuse disclosure she was diagnosed with PTSD.
It seems we are at the highest point of our crisis as a family, just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse we have a child literally beyond our control. I spend momentary periods crying on week ends when her behaviour reaches my breaking point as her mother. The despair and horror of her actions overwhelm me and my ability to respond in a nurturing manner results in me shutting down. She screams , she shouts, she hits and she yells ” I hate you” , spontaneously, without warning or notable triggers. She evolves into a monster I do not know, I am scared of and saddened by.
Upon meeting with our new child psychologist I have been advised to respond accordingly… to try to anticipate a fit or rage coming , note the hyper -activity that normally pre-ludes it and anitiate “grounding techniques” ( working with 4 of her senses.. what can you see that’s yellow, what can you feel in your hand, what can you smell, what can you hear outside?).This may diffuse the situation and bring her back to a rational responsive mode.
Then if the escalation follows, if I can tolerate it, place an industrial head set on my ears, take her in my arms and hold her in a tight hug to ride out the rage. While repeating over and over the words, ” I here, you are safe, you are not hurting me with noise”.
Signs of PTSD in children..
Regression to previous behaviour in younger years. Such as Screaming, thumb sucking , baby talk, rocking ect…
Crying for unknown reasons
Disassociation where they seem there but they are not listening and their eyes are not focused.
Constantly tired, especially in the mornings when awoken. Due to inability to fall asleep or stay asleep or restless sleep.
Unexplained and spontaneous reversion to regression “fits” .. hitting, spitting,screaming, verbal abuse.
irritable, angry, or aggressive behavior, including extreme temper tantrums
exaggerated startle response
problems with concentration
No one could have prepared me for the challenges ahead. A year on from when our 6 year old beautiful daughter Emily disclosed of her abuse at the hands of her grandfather and every day still seems like I am extracting a thorn from my skin with her.
Her rage and anger still very much defining her. The waves coming and going, ripping through our family causing distress, resentment and pain to us her parents and her siblings.
Her child psychologist saying her anger towards me mainly may be caused by the fact that she is struggling to disassociate me her mother ,from my parents , and my father who abused her. The news of this painful to take on, to acknowledge and move past. I know I do look a lot like my father, and this is obvious to her. I know this ,because I struggled with it so much in the early days after his suicide, to the extent that for weeks I could not look in a mirror and if I did I would feel a mix of utter rage and deep despair.
With her progress slow, and her in therapy every week for a year ,I knew it was time for a drastic change. Time to change therapists and practices. Something which seems fairly easy in most part I guess, but finding a practice that specialises in child abuse my first and biggest hurdle. List upon list deal with almost every thing else but very few deal with abuse. ADHD/ADD, Fears/Anxiety,Sadness/Depression,Behavioural difficulties, Autistic,spectrum disorders, Peculiar/concerning behaviours,Grief, the list goes on…specialists dealing with abuse seems rare.
With “Brave hearts” waiting list still months long and after 3 or so calls to the recommendations from my own therapist the hunt continues.
At least for now, just lately we have all been sleeping through the night. With my mind only taunting me once or twice a week, horrific dreams waking me intermittently. And with Emily finally settling at bedtime minus her regressive screaming and with making it through til dawn I do feel life is getting better, we are healing slowly and we are resting at least for which I am so grateful.
Although her predominant emotions of anger and sadness still reign and pump through her little veins causing unexplained fits of rage at any unforeseen moment in any day I am still positive I am still standing and I am still here as her mom, trying desperately to get her the help she needs for now and the future.
Its been 17 years on since we arrived together ,our family of three, in this country, Australia. This beautiful country with so many opportunities , we were eager to make our life a good one. We had left behind all of our extended family in South Africa , way past its apartheid days ,although still unstable and vulnerable. It was my home, my country of birth and one I had lived in all my life , all my 18 years. What lay before us now was a bright happy future, filled with dreams and hope. My mother and father and I had left behind my brother , aged 22 to take this journey and we were now only three.
Today should and would normally be a day I felt ecstasy towards. Today marked the day we got off that plane, my first flight ever and stepped onto the Western Australian sand. I always celebrated this day and viewed it with that same hope and brightness. Although this one, 17 years on, I don’t feel that same happiness, but rather an emptiness and abandonment. I feel as vulnerable as the country I loved and left behind in my past.
I came with them, my parents. We started this prominent adventure together. An 18 year old with her mother and father as Immigrants. But now I stand alone.My parents who brought me here, who gave me so much, who self sacrificed every thing for me to have a “better” life ,no longer stand with me.
A 35 year old woman, no longer a teenager. No longer free and passionately pursuing new dreams. Now I am a mother, a mother to three children, a wife, an employee, a “do it all“. At least my fear has diminished now ,no longer young and naive in this big new foreign land with my funny accent and cultural stand outs. At least I feel I actually do assimilate here, I feel that this is my new home now. I have not returned to South Africa in all these 17 years.
We came with heart ache here, we came alone just us three. Each day for the first year a constant struggle, with little money, both parents seeking employment, no house, no bank cards, no cars, no friends and no family. Despite all this, there was that constant fight, that constant hope that each day would get better.
My father would meet me at the bus stop every evening after college and while we walked home together , tears streaming down my youthful cheeks , he would turn to me and say ” look up, you see those clouds?, they are dark, but see behind them in the distance, there is always a silver lining.”.
He’s no longer here. He no longer lives here. In this place where he never became a citizen. This place that was always foreign to him. He left me you see, standing alone in this country staring at the sky , looking for that silver lining. He let go of my hand when he chose to take his life, he chose to walk away. After 17 years here together he decided to turn his back.
It’s much the same with my mother. She’s gone too. Gone to me, when she chose to neglect my children and she turned and placed her back to their abuse.
Now I stand here alone, no longer tied to any part of them or our past. A new surname, a new family, my family. Deep in the depths of my despair and sadness I will fight to celebrate still, celebrate my personal journey to this wonderful place, to Australia. A place where I met my beautiful husband and gave birth to three precious daughters. You see cause there is always silver lining no matter how dark the clouds, there is always some thing to be grateful for, and there is always hope.
Today would have been my mothers birthday.She would be 61.
I say would have because to me its like shes dead but she is not, rather she is very much alive and well I assume.. The last I heard from her she called 6 months after no contact.
6 months after we had reported my father -her husband for sexual abuse against our children-her grandchildren. She called and asked me if I still wanted to be in her Will, and if i wanted any thing of hers. I was shocked, frozen there, phone pressed against me numb ear. I had no response to this, what could I say. I was lost on this one. I wanted to tell her best she use her Will sooner rather than later as I no longer cared.
I responded and told her to give what ever she wanted to to my sister in law, my brothers wife, Amanda. I just did not care about HER or her THINGS.
She then proceeded and said “we should move forward”.
That’s when the anger kicked in for me. She said it like the last 6 months of hell had been a minor bump in the road of life, that we would all just move on now and forget it ever happened.
That was when I started to yell at her through the phone. That’s when I said it all.
I said ” I am angry with you, you did nothing to protect the girls, he abused them for 2 years and you did nothing, you let this happen to them.” She went quiet and then the denial began to flow from her evil lips. She said ” that’s not what the police said. She was referring to the time period my daughter had suffered at her husbands hands, of which the police informed me case details would not be disclosed to any one , even her. She had started down her usual path of manipulation once again, but I was wiser now, stronger now, and a protective mother, I would not be standing for her deception any longer. The truth was the police case did not have a time frame on it any way, they cannot determine that from a 5 year old. The two year period had only come out through their weekly therapy of which our 8 year old Ella had detailed.
It wasn’t the point any more. She was sick enough to start bringing up semantics , she was twisted enough in her mind to argue these points. Her denial had totally consumed her, she could no longer be rational or empathetic. She would protect him now, even though he was dead, even though my father had gone, even though he had committed suicide over this.
No one else mattered to her. I didn’t and nor did her granddaughters. they were merely pawns in her perverse game of life ,where the aim was to protect him at all costs.
At this point I knew this would be the last conversation I would ever have with her. This was what I knew and I was okay with that. I began over time to accept that and acknowledge that she was just as mentally unwell as him. Her state of denial made her toxic to me as her daughter and toxic to my family also and I knew then that she would and could no longer be a part of our lives.
The line was now drawn in the sand. It was dark and it was obvious and it was there before my feet forever.
My anger towards her in the beginning made me physically ill.
The thought of her carrying on with her life, being a teacher still, having a nice house, profiting from his death with his life insurance and selling his assets to make more was enough to make me want to graffiti her house with profanities.
I wanted the community to know the truth, I wanted them to see her lies for what they were. That no he wasn’t depressed and therefore took his life but he had in fact sexually assaulted two of his granddaughters for 2 years, fled from police when his own daughter, their mother reported his crime and then hung himself in bush land.This truth she was hiding, this truth she’d cover until her own death.
Where had that left us, a little family of five. In damage control, in crisis, in debt and in weekly therapy for a year. Our lives changed forever and in pieces while she stepped over her bump in the road and “moved forward”.
Being the mother of a sexually assaulted child was not some thing I had ever planned for. I felt so alone and out of my depth every day with her. The issues I had anticipated were not issues at all and so many more came into play which I had not thought of. How was I going to cope, I had no friends who had ever been through this, no special groups to join ,no daily advice. All I could do was research and try different strategies and speak to my psychologist and hers. I had never felt so out of control ,and treading water in the deep as I did now. So many aspects of her demeanor and personality had shifted and felt I didn’t even know my own daughter any more, or how the hell to help her. When I wasn’t emotion coaching her through a major tantrum I was crying alone somewhere in our house, the kitchen, the bedroom the bathroom. The tears were sudden and like an avalanche. Unabated and uncontrollable.
Most days I felt helpless and scared,like I’d say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing by her, when she needed me the most. I had no mother myself to confide in now either, no one to turn to and get advice any time of the day. I just had to cope, for her, I would cope I would be strong. I would fight for her.
I had struggled sometimes as a mother, but I had mothers groups, friends and family I could always turn to, now I had nothing, I was alone and I felt for the first time as a mother totally helpless.
So many parts of her life were affected now, so many aspects I had not foreseen at all. Social issues at school were just the minor beginning. She didn’t sleep. Came to me throughout the night crying because of night mares. I was exhausted.
Getting her to bed was a nightmare, she was 6 this was supposed to be easy. Firstly she would not want to go to bed, screamed and ran away from us, even with warnings to bed time, count downs and two choices of something along the way, she resisted at all costs, her psychologist said because she did not want to be still, to stop, to lie down, because then her thoughts of her abuse would come. She had become hyperactive between the hours of 5pm and 7pm every night. When we did get her to bed ,She cried most nights said she was angry because of what “pops had done to her”,we would talk, I would hold her, tell her she was brave, smart and beautiful and to think of things that made her happy, her favourite things in life.
Sometimes we would get paper and she would draw something that made her angry we would pin it to the wall and smash the basket ball against it over and over for her to vent. Mostly it was a picture of him, my own father, her abuser, and I hated him. I would leave. She would cry some more then end up asleep in our bed while we watched Tv. This was progression from the couch where she used to fall asleep first at least where we were watching Tv. Every night was hell, the tears , the anger the frustration as a mother and the exhaustion mixed into guilt a horrible concoction. Months went by like this.
Then came the constant clash with her older sisters, she could not tolerate them telling her to do any thing ,even something to keep her safe, she hated being controlled. Normal I was told by her therapist, after she had been controlled by an older person an abuser for two years.
Our discipline had to change too, I was advised to do attachment discipline, something so foreign to me, to give her the option of staying with her when she had reached her 3 and been sent to her room. I had to be there, I had to sit near her if she wanted to talk, even if I was angry.
She stopped watching movies or television at all, which was hard, for months she just walked away and started whining for something she wanted , even if I sat with her. She would not be still. Her therapist said it was classic symptom of abuse, she could not be still because then she would think about things. The same went for drawing or independent play, these things ceased altogether for about 10 months, she would not draw and would not play because nothing was “right” she felt flawed in any thing she tried to do. She had negative programmed thoughts about her capabilities now because of him, she felt guilt, blame and inferiority because of her abuse,she felt she could not do any thing right.
We bought a huge trampoline for her to vent her anger on, it helped. Some days she would just through herself against the net time and time again and yell.
Then came the eating issues, when after months of trying we did finally get her to sit and watch Tv she would whine for food, even if she had just had a large meal. She had the constant need to eat something . She would sit for ages picking at little bits of anything any snack because it gave her something to focus on. Emotional eating had started and food became our battle for hours at a time.She needed something to focus on even on the couch.
I felt like I was constantly guessing as to what had happened to her, where and when she had been abused. Questions haunted me on a daily basis. Had he abused her on a couch watching Tv ? I would never know the answers to these haunting questions as I navigated my way through this parenting hell, I was guessing , assuming and trying option after option just to get my daughter back. Trying to make her comfortable trying not to trigger trauma.
Her weekly psychologist appointments meant picking her up in and out of class times and dropping her back at school . With two other emotionally affected daughters one a tween and my own psychologist appoints, school runs and a house to run I was feeling overwhelmed. Each day felt like one foot firmly placed in-fornt of the other, each minute, each hour was my focus. Not days or weeks or months even, each day I would survive, for her.
Most days were a struggle. The shame because of what my father had done gripped me, who could I tell, most friends I could not. Telling even my closest friends was difficult, if I did the tears would stream and adrenaline would pulse through my veins causing me to shake again. Leaving the house was never easy, getting clothes on my frame, daunting. I had lost all ability to co-ordinate outfits, make-up not even an option because it was too hard. I felt haggard, exhausted, drained and not myself. Smiling was impossible when I did get out the door to take the kids to school. Tears coming and going in my eyes, blurring my daily vision and functions. My appetite was a roller coaster, my clothes loose and hanging, I had no desire to eat for weeks and weeks. Making food for my family was my biggest task of the day, I had lost the ability to plan meals and I could not shop. Think my brain had determined it’s basic need was to survive emotionally at this stage, and all other life routines would take a back seat. Washing mounted in the laundry, which was making mornings harder, but for the first time in my life it didn’t matter to me. My husband Michael had taken time off work initially to be there for us, for me , to help me function but he had to go back to work and some how I had to cope. Once again I felt alone, I had three little people under my broken wings and I felt isolated in my pain every day.
As weeks blurred into months and the shock of my horror story started to wain although guilt still haunted me. Why had I not seen any signs of my daughter abuse, what had I missed.I had sat at dinner tables, ate at barbecues weekend after weekend, I had sat there in the church pew Sunday after Sunday all next to my father, next to a man who was sexually assaulting my children and nothing was a red flag. How could that be possible, how could I, the one person closest to him besides my mother not have seen any thing. He must have been a Master of his evilness , I kept telling myself over and over.
My mind kept racing back to scenarios in the past with him and my observations of his interactions with my daughters. My brain kept making desperate attempts to piece together fragments, any clues.
There were a few…..he had groomed them, something in hindsight which was I had only really sighted. He had lollies jars in place from the moment we had arrived to live with my parents, there were jelly beans, there were chocolates, all there for his random disposal to the children, although our youngest Emily tended to receive more than the others , I often found him handing her one alone off to the side in the kitchen while the others were out playing. This type of grooming was incredibly hard to spot as this was their grandfather, what grandparent doesn’t like to spoil their grandchildren?
On one occasion I had walked into the kitchen and found Emily seated on the bench top crying, she had a small graze on her knee, just a scrape really. She held a lolly in her tiny fist and my father was there in the pantry. When I asked what had happened , he turned to me and said ” she fell over outside that’s why shes crying,” to which I replied ” but why does she need a lolly to make it better?” I hadn’t seen that he was creating an association for her between pain and reward. That’s what perpetrators do.
One morning I woke up and went to the kitchen to find Emily as I often did making tea with my father .She was sitting on the high bench top, she was smiling, her chubby 4 year old little legs swinging with delight, two cookies in each hand and a cup of tea beside her. She looked up to me and said ” I am Pop’s girlfriend.” I remember being shocked by her words, I turned to my father and then projected my words to both of them and said ” NO Emily you are not his girlfriend you are his granddaughter, he is your grandfather.” This sentence would go on to haunt me for a long long time , I just didn’t know it at the time.
She disclosed after a month or so in therapy after her abuse that that’s what he used to call her. I was sickened to my stomach when she told me this. Only a seriously sick individual would tell a small child such a horrific deranged lie. These words made me grateful that he was no longer here, that he had fled from police and that he had taken his life and that he was out of our lives now for ever. As time went by I would also come to realize, the morning ritual he had created with Emily ,where they went to the kitchen to make tea, where she sat on the bench top her tiny hand shaking as she placed her teaspoon of sugar into the tea cup, where she often had a cookie, was not a sweet innocent scene but rather a bloodcurdling routine he had started after he had abused her. Each morning while he had lived with my parents little Emily would wake and run to her grandparents bedroom and dive in between them in their bed, she loved to see her grandmother and grandfather. And this is where he would abuse her time and time again.Then he would take her downstairs to the kitchen, make her tea awash with sugar and a cookie to go with it.
The phrase ‘girlfriend’ and cups of tea are now banned from our house.
The hindsight I now had looking back on these kitchen scenes made me comprehend to my horror , why her tiny hand would always shake putting her sugar in her tea cup. Why had I not seen it, why had I not put the pieces together then, these questions and these images would torment my mind at night for months and months while I tried desperately to sleep but could not. They would be the reason my pillow would be drenched from my weeping at 3am in the dark as a broken mother. As a fragmented parent who wished she had read into these signs and followed her gut instinct to protect her daughter. I felt I had failed as a mother. I had let this happen.
There were signs with Ella I had also not understood at the time. We arrived inter-state when she was 6 years old and for the first year she would come home after school curl up in a fetal position on her bedroom floor and sob. I tried every thing to help her for months, when I asked her at the time what was wrong she would say ” I don’t know.”This strange behavior started when we were living with my parents when we had first arrived and Michael was trying to find a job. We had lived with them for 4 months , then moved into a rental property a fair way ,away yet her crying continued. Most afternoons would entail me holding her tightly in my arms sitting on her bedroom floor while she just cried it out.I had tried almost every thing I could think of, food straight away as she walked in the door, meeting with her teacher to determine of it was related to something happening at school, meeting with the school counselor, every thing. Still with no real answers.
Two years on I would discover, my father had been pursuing her in attempts to abuse her too. Her therapist said she was mostly likely crying because she was terrified every afternoon that we would see him. She never knew if she would or not.
The other sign with Ella was her bedtime routine. She had always struggled to settle at night, often cried for me growing up, from when she was a baby until she was 6 years old. So when we moved inter-state and the night time resistance continued, Michael my husband and I just thought it was just Ella being Ella. She would cry and cry for up to 2 or 3 hrs sometimes meaning bedtime at 7pm turned into 9pm and with school the next day she was always a nightmare in the morning as she was exhausted. When she was around 7 years old we had had enough and I took her to the doctor. He prescribed Melatonin and referred us to a child psychologist, Megan. And we went to see her weekly for months, we were desperate.
In hindsight we realized , her bedtime crying had escalated when we had lived with my parents and just continued even when we had moved out. She most likely had been terrified that he would come into her room and try to abuse her at night. The two years we had been living here were her worst. No wonder she wanted me to stay with her at night.
This knowledge would once again eat away at me as a mother, why had I not seen what she was going through, why had I not stayed with her. Why had she not told her therapist of her fear, what was holding her back, why had she never told me? I asked her months later if she ever felt close to telling either of us and she said “yes I felt close to telling Megan when we were making special plans to help me get to sleep at night”.
These warning signs I had missed. My intention with writing about these graphic painful signs of grooming is to create awareness for other parents. Just trust your instincts and act, don’t wait and dismiss them and then feel the guilt and horror I do looking back. I wish I had offended him, I wish I had offended any one that had stood between me and my daughters.