A Kitchen in Belfast

A Kitchen in Belfast, Northern Ireland

This is part 5 in s series on Childhood Sexual Abuse. I will refer to things from previous installments here, but nothing too major. As with all installments I’m trying to convey the wounds and symptoms of childhood sexual abuse as they permeate adulthood and cloud your judgment, if you don’t get help. 

If you were sexually molested as a child, your chances of entering into an adult abusive relationship are very high. I didn’t know this, because I didn’t know I was carrying any sort of trauma. I had no idea. I didn’t know my main pattern of relationships was to stay with people I didn’t especially like, but that I felt bonded to or felt I had obliged myself to them. It’s hard to explain. Abusive relationships are hard to explain. Especially the one you have with yourself.

I knew there was something wrong with my child’s father the exact moment I met him. Correction. The moment I saw his picture online. My suspicions were confirmed when I met him. The dances of denial I had to skate in the first few moments of his presence were the closest tango I ever had to ride. Something was wrong with him. 

It was hard to put my finger on it. There was a bit of sociopath, a bit of wrecked nerves and 100% zero eye contact. His body language was unlike anything I had ever experienced. There was a foreignness I couldn’t understand. No warmth. I feel like any normal person would have had a hyper awareness about this and they would have refused to engage any further with him. In the moment though, I was a frozen ball of adrenaline, trying to rationalize everything that was wrong. 

All I could think was, ‘Well girl, you came this far to meet him, you better just go through with it.’ If only I had the gumption, the boundaries and the absolute self love and ability to stand on that bridge leading out of the airport and into the parking lot for the rental car (I was paying for) and say to him, “Hey, you’re acting weird and that was a really weird hug and you seem kind of humorless and I don’t feel safe around that. So, nice to meet you. I’m going to go have fun with myself and I’m sure you’ll have a great time studying. Enjoy your life.” The idea that my entire life could be different based on those few sentences, is the mountain one has to climb when one ends up where I did 15 months later. 

I will never ever ever ever forget the elation of my first night in the shelter. It was huge old house with 3 floors and about 8 bedrooms. It was the first place I ever understood what the feeling of freedom was truly like. I had never felt freedom like the night I left him, I was flying. I had never been so happy in all my life. My girl and I could be together and snuggle and dance. And so, here we were, post elation, post gravity, post exclusive breastmilk diet, post 2008 election (which was my second night in the shelter), post 1998 peace agreement, post punk, Post-Thatcher, Belfast, Northern Ireland, in a brown kitchen with many cabinets and the ubiquitous electric kettle. The tea was free of course. 

The kitchen served its purpose well. We would gather and talk, fix meals and have tea together, with the other women and children in the shelter. I can’t remember what day it was, into what would be my three week stay there, I was feeding my baby girl some of her first solid food. It was kind of a moment. This was only about day two of mashed bananas. It was a rite of passage, as a mother, I was celebrating. I was trying not to think about the decimation of my life. The ecstasy of leaving him had worn off and the reality that I was in a place I used to horrifyingly refer to as a “battered women’s shelter,” had set in. 

Tiffany, a girl who was staying there at the same time I was, came to sit down with us. Over the last few days we became acquainted and had struck up great conversations. She was shy but funny, and once she opened up there was a load of creativity under her quiet personality. I had already established myself as the “Resident Therapist,” a defense mechanism in which I applied all the knowledge I’d used from self help books and Oprah and decided that I understood life better than anyone and could help others. Yes, I 100% was that bitch. It was along these lines that Tiffany and I had established our communication. 

Tiffany sat across from me and my babe and remarked how much she missed her own baby. She loved being around us because she got her baby fix. She was allowed to see her child once a week with supervision and began to share with me about why that was. 

Tiffany was a mother to 7 children. She was 24. At age 11 she was “softly kidnapped,” meaning this guy ingratiated himself with the family and took advantage of their inability or desire to care for her, so, she just ended up living with him. A hebephile, (someone who is attracted to children ages 11-14), ready to pick what was soon to be ripe. She had her first child with him at 13. She had managed to escape a few times and end up with boyfriends who also got her pregnant, so 2 of her children were from different fathers, one being the baby she could see with supervision. 

At one point, the man who took Tiffany at 11, was arrested and went to jail for a few years. He got out. Went back to her parents’ house and they GAVE her back to him. He had a steady job, so he could support all the children. This was how the parents saw it, and unfortunately, that was also how the state saw it for a long time. I have learned over the years, that parents are often the enablers of predators, to an alarming degree. 

As she spoke, there was a clear flat affect. She had long dark hair, pulled back in pony tail. Her pale skin was set off by her eyes and rosacea. She was kind. Tender. She was also wholly incapable of coping with the mountain of horror her life had already endured without serious professional long term help. I don’t think she comprehended that bottomless pit of despair provided to her by those who were supposed to protect her, all around. It was clear her body could feel it. 

As long as I live I will never forget Tiffany, pouring her story out to me. We talked about her dreams, how she wanted to go to college. She wanted to write. She wanted so badly to be a mother and to have a normal life, away from the people who had destroyed it. 

Back when I didn’t know the difference amongst all the ‘philes,’ out there, I asked Tiffany if she understood that she was the victim of a pedophile. She said, “Yeah, I do.” She said it slowly, as if she had to agree with me because she knew it was something that had been said to her before. It was a surrender sound, rather than one of comprehension. You could sense from her that her will had been cut. It was absolutely heartbreaking. Tiffany’s story was one of the worst things I had ever heard. It’s extremeness made it seem far away from my story. That was my rationalization. Tiffany and I were in the shelter for two “different” reasons, I told myself, ‘I got pregnant and had to stay in school. I couldn’t leave him then.’ 

Tiffany had given birth out of trauma. Seven times. Not one person around her stepped in for her. Finally, the state did the right thing. But what this woman needed was a relocation, child support, parenting support and a restraining order. And as small as Ireland is, I would say, since we were technically in the UK, it would be safest to relocate her to England. Give her a fighting chance. But I knew that would never happen. Even socialism isn’t that awesome.

At some point, another mother came down into the kitchen. This was her third or fourth time in a shelter with a second partner. She suffered horribly from fibromyalgia, (something I didn’t know, until much later, is a symptom of trauma). She was a mother too. She gave birth out of trauma. At the time, I refused to identify with these women. I was constantly looking for “the gulf” that separated me from them. I have since learned I am every bit them. Surely there are ways my privilege and, as it would turn out, sheer luck would “get me out” of my physical situation, but to think for one second I was “above” them in terms of how I ended up in the EXACT SAME PLACE we were all gathered, was just me being impossibly dense about my situation. 

There we were, a gathered trinity of trauma mamas. Trauma mamas. How many of us were there in the world? How many of us were in this house? How many of us had babies because of war, rape, abuse, lies, laws, ought to’s? How many of us never learned the autonomy of “No” effectively enough to prevent a human being from passing through our body from someone who abused us? I was a trauma mama just like them. Just like them. I gave birth out of trauma. 

I was the victim of a pedophile. I had to learn how to say it. I had to learn what it meant. Most of all I had to admit that it deeply affected my daily living. To the extent that this impacted my adult life and the meaningful relationships I formed, I am only now coming to terms with. I realize now that the moment the abused stopped, I began to form abusive relationships as early as the end of First Grade. I know for sure, if I had known certain things earlier, I could have spared myself so much pain and so much regret. I do not regret having my child – we can save that gem for another time. 

I regret not knowing what could have made me stronger. I regret not knowing that sexual abuse carves itself into your brain and you’ll keep going back to the place you have to solve over and over and over again through your personal relationships. I kept having to solve the day, at age 5, when I sat at the phone and called my babysitter back to tell him he could babysit me. The day I participated in my abuse. The day I gave myself to him. I did it because I didn’t want him to hate me. 

When I laid down on that hotel bed with the father of my child, all my mind kept saying was, “Just get it over with. You’ll forget all about it just like you did everything else. This will one day all be a memory. If you don’t, he might get mad and complain about how much money he had to spend in coming to meet you. Then he’ll hate you.” Those were my thoughts somewhere within the hours of my child being conceived. Just over a year later I was in a shelter. 

I watched Barack Obama get elected my second night in the shelter. I felt such optimism. I felt like there really was a new world waiting for my girl when we got back to the States. For whatever reason, under whatever grace or logic prevailing, my child’s father let us go. No strings attached, except that I allow visitation. 

I was able to go back to America and raise my girl without the threat of a total nightmare looming in her life. Back then, I thought that was all I had to do. I just had to give her the best option out of the horror I had already created. I gave her an unviable father. Another journey I would have to take in forgiving myself. 

Seems silly to regret things you can’t change, but the mind is a truthful thing and it will lay bare the things you really think, without judgment. I regret my child’s father. I am allowed to say it. A person I would have never spoken to had I had proper therapy, and been given an understanding that I actually had a backbone. But back then I had no idea that my brain wasn’t wired to do that. “It was written,” so to speak. The truth was, I had never forgotten what happened. My abuse was not in the past. It was not a memory from a long time ago. It had not faded into the distance. My body had not forgotten. It was right there with me. Continuing to carve its masterpiece out of the hell of my life. 

I would leave Ireland a plus one. I came to my second home to become a European. The whole point was to stay, study, become a Professor and live out my life amongst the great libraries of Europe, taking trains to cities and new realities. Something I will write more about, is the thief of sexual abuse. It takes things away from you, even things you can hold and touch. I had to leave Europe. I had to get as far away as I could from the threat of that man. I had to get closer to people who understood love and support and family. People who hugged and laughed and gave each other looks of admiration. 

I knew I had done the right thing by leaving. I have never questioned that. I had to keep my baby safe. I did not know I would have to unpack how I got into that situation. I did not know as I held my baby in my arms on the flight back home, that would have to excavate years of choices I made out of a default mechanism. I didn’t know she was a result of those thought patterns. I didn’t know my new reality was entirely at the mercy of my childhood. I only knew, as the plane began to speed down the runway for takeoff, that my heart was breaking. 

Tears began to run down my cheeks as the plane sped. The woman next me saw and asked if I was ok. I said, “I just had to leave an abusive relationship and it’s been really hard and I’m sorry, I don’t want to cry. I’m just overwhelmed. I never thought I’d be doing this.” She said, in a very strong Belfast accent, “You’re so strong. You’re amazing.” She grabbed my hand.

As the plane lifted off the Emerald Isle I could see it in my mind’s eye getting smaller and smaller. Further and further from my heart. I looked at the ceiling of the plane begging to be evaporated from having to feel any of this. It was too much magnitude. The place I birthed my child was not to be the place I raised her. My heart lurched as if having been pulled downward by a gravitational force from the place my womb grew the human I would mother. Ireland. I was gone. Away. Lifted. Recused. Given leave. Emigrated. My blood was in that soil. The blood of mothers. I had left it behind. A new wound within the old one. 

For all the mothers who are holding their trauma, who are trauma mamas, I am with you. You love your children and yet do not like the circumstances of their birth or the men you had them with. I feel your complex and nuanced pain and frustration. For all those who were not as lucky as I was, I feel for you deeply. Get help. I promise you, it makes so much of life so much better. I promise, when you do your work, better people come into your life. 

And to the women of Belfast, and one Gavin, who listened to me weep for the first time about my circumstances, you are fierce human beings. You face all the normal crap societies go through and then a history of war and a sometimes shaky existence on top of all of that and you still are the strongest bunch I’ve ever met. I am proud to know you and I’m even more proud to have shared time with you and your strength. Thank you for teaching me. Belfast made it through because of its women. Upon this I have no doubt.

Published by Carrah Quigley

Carrah Quigley is a speaker, writer and emerging thought leader. She has a Masters in Ecumenics from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and a BA in Religious Studies from University of Arizona. She is a secular theologian and solo mother. Her speaking topics include conflict resolution, secular spirituality, spiritual humanism, solo motherhood, the dark world of school shooters, sexual abuse, feminism and art.

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