Loss of Innocence – A Childhood of Loss
My world shattered when I was 4-years old. My parents separated and suddenly I didn’t get to see much of my father. That made me feel sad, abandoned, and confused – a loss of innocence. This was my first experience with loss.
As a result of my mother working, I began spending a lot of time at my maternal grandparents along with my 4 older cousins. My cousins loved to torment and tease me until I would cry, so I never felt very safe around them. They would tickle me until I wet my pants; then laugh at me and call me a baby. When they were in charge of watching over me, they would lock me in closets or the garage. I felt very alone and afraid. Despite what they did, I loved them all. I didn’t trust them, but I loved them. I guess that was my first issue with trust.
About this time, my grandmother (“Gram” as I used to call her), taught me the Lord’s Prayer. I used to say the prayer each night before I went to bed. She also made sure that each Sunday I went to Sunday school. I can’t remember if I accepted Christ at this time, but whenever I needed comfort, I would go to the Bible which my Gram gave to me.
Shortly after I started kindergarten, Mom and I moved back in with Dad. Mom had an inconsistent temper and I was never quite sure when it was going to blow. And Dad’s anger was also hard to gage. I knew certain things would make him angry like being late, not coming when called, or being disrespectful, but I wasn’t quite sure how he defined those.
I was helping Mom set the table one evening and she put down a large bowl of Spanish rice -- a food which I loved. I said, “That almost looks good enough to eat.” I meant it as a compliment, but Dad took it the wrong way. He beat the tar out of me. I had to sit on a pillow to eat my dinner that night. I was very confused and frightened, having no idea why I got beat for my comment.
Then there was the time I almost burned down the garage while playing with matches! As a punishment, Dad decided I needed to understand just how much burning would hurt. So he lit a match, blew it out, and burned each of my 10 fingers. I never played with matches again.
Even though I feared Dad, I also loved him. I loved spending quiet days helping him work on cars or in the yard. He always seemed to be working. When I was 7 we moved away from both sets of grandparents. I had always lived close enough to walk to either of their houses so this was a very uncertain time for me. I started the third grade in a new school and set about making new friends. But before I could finish the third grade, we moved again. Once again, I started a new school and started making new friends. This was the beginning of a pattern in my life. Always leaving, losing friends, and starting over. During the 12 years of school, I attended 10 different schools. In the seventh grade, I attended 3 schools in one year. I learned to blend in, be strong, and not need anyone. Perhaps I could have been “Little Miss Perfect.”
I also learned that I could choose to be different in each new school. Loss and leaving were familiar companions. If things got too difficult, it wouldn’t be long before we moved again. I learned I could pack away my emotions as well as my belongings.
Loss of Innocence – A Life-changing Tragedy
When I was 14, we were living in Europe. Mom and Dad frequently went out in the evenings and I would baby sit my brother. One night, I invited the boy next door to keep me company. Little did I know that the events of that night would change my life forever. I had no experience with boys and this guy, although only 15, was very smooth. In no time, we were making out. I started saying “no,” but he wasn’t listening. Next thing I knew, my virginity was taken from me. It was terrifying and violent, leaving me humiliated, afraid, and angry.
I felt so powerless and violated and yet ashamed that somehow it was my fault. I didn’t say a word to anyone. No one ever knew the truth about what had happened that night. I felt that my life as I knew it had ended. I no longer believed that sex was a precious gift meant only for my future husband. It wasn’t long after this happened that we returned to the U.S. Once again, I could reinvent myself in a new school.
From age 14 to 18 I had various affairs, some long term, some not. They were always with older guys who were not in my school. I found that sex was a way to control the relationship and I liked being in control. However, in school, I kept a low profile and everyone thought I was the little innocent virgin who didn’t drink, smoke, or have sex. Again, everyone thought I was “Little Miss perfect.”
Loss of Innocence – Growing Up Quickly
Because of my loss of innocence, I was in such a hurry to become a woman in a grownup’s world. At 18-years-old, I married a divorced man with a 3-year-old child. I wanted to live on my own where no one could tell me what to do. Boy was I mistaken. Life outside my family’s protection was hard. I had to get a full-time job, clean the house, do the laundry, care for my step child, and do all the cooking, dishes, etc. My husband didn’t do anything he considered woman’s work.
My new husband was so busy with sports, cars, and getting together with the guys, he had little time for me or his son. I was so lonely, angry, and resentful that before our two-year anniversary, I began having an affair with my husband’s best friend. It wasn’t long before it all got too complicated. So what did I do? I moved back in with my parents and immersed myself in the single life of parties, drinking, and drugs. Meanwhile, my soon to be ex-husband didn’t even seem to miss me. He just packed up our stuff, took our only car, forged my name on a loan, and moved to another state. I was really developing trust issues with men. I didn’t trust them and they couldn’t trust me.
For the next 30 years, I was a woman trying to make it in a world without God. From 1968 to 1977, I pursued love, fun, and money. I had two live-in affairs and a string of others. Men became a means to an end. Somewhere along this journey, I lost either the ability or the desire to love any of these men. I liked to stay on the move and moved at least 11 times. My life was so empty that I never wanted to stop long enough to think about it. I just kept trying to fill that big hole inside with fun, work, and meaningless affairs. I grew very tired of this life I had created for myself. It all seemed so pointless.
In December of 1977, I married a man who was as driven as me. Did I love him? No, but he had all the right qualifications. He had a law degree, a masters degree, and a CPA degree. He played the guitar masterfully, wrote beautiful poetry, had wonderful southern manners, and came from a rich well-established southern family. I thought I had struck gold. Shortly after our wedding, we moved from Oregon to North Carolina, leaving my old life behind. Once again I had to re-invent myself.
The first few years of our life together were an adjustment, but I came to love and admire him. I adored his two children (that he had from a previous marriage) and soon wanted some of my own. It was only after many attempts (including a tubal pregnancy that nearly killed me) that we discovered we couldn’t have children of our own. My heart ached for that lost child, but my husband didn’t want to adopt and at the time, there were no other options. Because of my husband’s work, our life became a series of cocktail parties, political events, country club dinners, black tie balls, charity dances, etc. The emptiness was overwhelming.
By 1989, the house was empty. My husband’s children had all grown up and moved on. My husband worked or traveled most of the time, so I spent my days working, watching television, and escaping into the fantasies of romance novels. These novels created so many unfulfilled sexual desires and unrealistic expectations about love. I felt unwanted, unloved, and unfulfilled. When my husband was out of town, I would go out drinking and dancing with my girl friends -- looking for love and having one-night stands. The day after, I would feel guilty and ashamed. How did I get here and how do I get out? I knew that there had to be something more.
Loss of Innocence – Looking for Love
In June of 1991 while my husband was on yet another European business trip, Mark, a young coworker, invited me to meet him and some of the others at a local sports bar. I accepted. That evening after several drinks, he told me how beautiful and desirable I was. All I could see was a character from my romance novels (young, tall, and handsome). He wanted me. That was the beginning of an affair that would put an end to my second marriage.
Mark and I started our own company that turned out to be successful within a few months. Doing drugs, drinking, and sex were a big part of our nighttime lives. Mark turned out to be an alcoholic, drug addict, and a physical and emotional abuser. I became more and more of an enabler, always successfully hiding the fact that my live-in lover was a drunk and abuser. The more he drank, the more abusive and manipulative he became. Our lives were out of control.
Finally, Mark was diagnosed with a serious illness. He was told to give up alcohol and fatty foods. He stubbornly refused the doctor’s orders. With each attack, his condition worsened. How could I leave him? He needed me. I felt trapped.
In March of 1996, my best friend and the only sister I ever knew (my brother’s wife) was in an auto accident and received a critical head injury. She would never be the same. Again, I felt that overwhelming sense of loss. As a result of the accident, I gained my brother’s three children, ages 9, 7, and 4. It was instant parenthood for the next several months. I was terrified.
This change in our lives gave Mark a sense of responsibility and it gave me a reason to say “No more.” He decided to quit drinking and began trying to convince me we should get married “for the kids’ sakes.” Finally, on July 4, 1996, we were married. I was afraid, but thought, “What do I have to lose? I can always get a divorce if it doesn’t work out.”
By 1998, I was filled with unforgiveness, resentment, and bitterness over what I believed were a set of unfair circumstances that had robbed me of my life. Here I was at 50 with no security, no savings, and, as I saw it, a very bleak future which created in me a deep, dark suffocating depression.
My young husband was dying from his illness because he was so self-centered he wouldn’t give up alcohol, bad foods, and illegal drugs until it was too late. This put me in the position of caretaker until I had nothing left to give. I kept asking myself, “Why am I staying in a marriage that is destructive and abusive, watching my life drain away?”
My brother used me as a substitute mother for his children and my parents always expected me to be there for them. They expected me to be the perfect daughter, the responsible one, available to meet their needs. Why did I keep giving without getting anything in return?