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Whisper of a Soul

Whisper of a Soul

How did I manage to survive unspeakable abuse?


With a sense of trepidation and fear, my heart beating rapidly, I pressed my ear to the door to check if the coast was clear. Cautiously turning the doorknob, I peeped out from the corner of my eye. Surmising that no one was around, I made a mad dash to bathroom, the nearest point of refuge, only a few feet away. Safely reaching my first destination, I allowed myself to breathe again, relieved that I had escaped my bedroom-turned-prison cell unscathed.

Knowing that there was only one way to end the silent treatment I had endured for almost three days now and my tears all spent, I decided to forge ahead on my dreaded mission, aware that only groveling before my 'warden' would grant me a reprieve and release me from confinement. While resuming the role of an unloved and mistreated 'Cinderella' in my family wasn't exactly the life I longed for, it far exceeded remaining in lockup without permission to see or speak to anyone.

If all of this sounds a little fantastical, know that this was no fairytale. My warden was none other than my mother, who had designed a system of oppressive, nonsensical 'rules' for me, who gave me looks which frightened me into silence, and who controlled many of my waking hours. Unfortunately I was not Cinderella but a confused little girl who didn't understand why she was being picked on (even young children have an instinctive sense of right/wrong and fair/unfair) and why her own mother hated her and reveled in her daughter's misery.

I'll never forget the one and only birthday party I had as a child (a party shared with my younger sibling), during which I suddenly found myself on silent treatment. My mother's glaring eyes burned a hole in my heart as she played hostess to my friends, while her ice-cold gaze sent shivers down my back, letting me know where things really stood. I was forbidden to laugh out loud with the family at the table, made fun of when I cried, and mocked in public. For years I had to ask for permission to go to the bathroom and was not allowed out of bed some mornings, even though I was wide awake and everyone else was out and about. And when my siblings were outside playing, I was inside finishing a lengthy list of chores.

I remember putting on a brave face to the world while I cried so hard in private that I thought I was going blind. I remember my dog as the one living creature I could share my deepest despair without fear of rejection. Unable to make sense of what was going on around me drove me to near insanity; not understanding what I had done wrong yet knowing that I was despised crushed my spirit. The fact that I wasn't listened to and had no choice in most matters was unbearable.

Since my attempts at protestation had long fallen on deaf ears, I learned to suffer in silence and assumed the role imposed upon me to perfection. To outsiders, I was the sole, happy-go-lucky daughter in my family, a top student with many friends. In reality, I was lonely in my misery yet bound by a pact of silence – partly because I didn't know any better and partly because I sensed that confiding in someone would only make matters worse. So I accepted my fate and found a way to function, never knowing when the next blow would come and when I would once again be banished from my mother's kingdom, future unknown.

Decades later, after years of treatment for a series of anxiety disorders which began during my teens, I now understand that I was the victim of a disturbed parent who emotionally abused me instead of giving me the love and attention children pine for and need for healthy development. I also understand that I had blocked out a series of painful, traumatic experiences, only to be triggered later in life by random events which 'freaked me out,' even though no one around me seemed fazed at all. With the help of an experienced, devoted therapist and tools such as ego state therapy, I slowly began to piece together, process, and integrate my present-day experiences with my troubled past, allowing me to finally begin the corrective work of healing.

When asked today what kept me going all those years, how I managed to survive the unspeakable, and why I didn't end up taking my life even though I had planned my escape from this world many times over, I answer as follows:

As I lay crying on my bed all those years ago, praying to God that He take me away from the nightmare of my existence, a faint flicker stirred from within the depths of my being – the hint of a small, almost infinitesimal part of myself that wasn't ready yet to call it quits. In spite of my self-loathing, some part of me knew that something wasn't right, that I was meant for more than this, that I was not living my destiny, and that my true self had never been given the chance to blossom and grow.

Somewhere, in the very pit of my being, was the spark of a neshama, the whisper of a soul desperate to be heard, to be loved, to be given wings, to take flight and to soar like it was intended to.

While there is no end to the debt of gratitude I owe to the friends, family, and health professionals who have been my stability on this rocky journey, I believe it was perhaps this miniscule, barely distinguishable flicker of a soul which ultimately saved my life and gave me a reason to carry on. Today, as I continue to search for meaning and my place in this world, I thank God each morning for the soul He returns to me when I awake.

Life is still far from perfect, with challenges arising on a regular basis. However with each passing moment, as I continue to heal old wounds, forge healthy relationships, and discover the 'real' me, the whisper of my soul gets louder and louder, and I know I am on the road to liberation.

January 12, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 44

(36) susan, March 17, 2013 7:04 PM

i am abused by my parents, too

my parents are both so mentally and verbally abusive and not nurturing or loving that i also ended up with severe and extreme panic disorder and anxiety attacks. they simply think i'm insane and keep trying to put me on more drugs and get me locked up, which not one doctor agrees with. my parents have no clue that they are the cause of so much of my problems, my house feels like a war zone, i never know what someone will say or do, i am stressed out all the time. and of course, they're really nice to almost everyone outside of the house and no one would believe me. in the meantime, i'm 25 years old and, due to the extreme symptoms of anxiety, unable to leave. my parents think i'm crazy an that i have "issues," because that's easier to believe than to understand how much their cruelty affects me, but i feel more like an abused wife without more than a college degree and no money to my name and no friends left and no relatives who weren't told by my parents that i'm simply a jerk or lazy or insane and now i have an inability to work or do much out of the home because of the anxiety from the abuse, so far a never ending cycle. i managed fine in graduate school, got sick and came home without finishing, and now it's a few years later, and i am physically suffering so much because of this mental abuse. it really takes a toll on the body. every time i go to psychiatrists or psychologists my parents become worse to me. they keep trying to control me and will not be happy until someone tells them that i'm insane and that i should be locked up without my parents having to pay for it. my parents don't understand that if they laid off of me for a bit, i could back to myself. they haven't left me alone for years. i cannot even describe the mental and verbal abuse and what is causes me. it's been vicious. i don't know what to do any more.

diabe, March 18, 2013 1:55 PM

Don't lose hope

I grew up mostly alone abandoned by my parents but a very old greatgrandna took care of me. But what does a 70 plus year old woman teach to a toddler? She was very religious and kind but I still felt all alone and no one to talk to. I resolved earlier on not to be angry with my parents or be bitter t them. I always talk to the God of the Universe and believed that he will take care of me. And rightly so, he did. He's very real to me even up to this time. I'm now 45 and counsel depressed people in the hospital.

susan, March 18, 2013 5:37 PM

i won't lose hope

it's beautiful that you have used your pain in order to help others. i hope i can one day do the same. of course, i hope one day, there will be no pain.

(35) Anonymous, February 26, 2013 6:51 PM

chazak ve'ematz!

I'm so incredibly sorry that you had to endure what you did -- but so glad you persevered. You have much to give the world. We are lucky you are in it.

(34) Esther Shayna, January 21, 2013 7:54 PM

Tefillah helped me in later years

As a child I suffered both emotional and verbal abuse at home. It went on for years and I always kept on telling myself that I did not deserve this and that this too, would one day end. Love was given to me as a little piece of pie thrown at the dog underneath the table, mostly to manipulate me. I went on to become who I am today, a quite successful person. I also was able to make mends with one of the people involved, the one who started the cycle, my Mother. I had the privilege of taking care of her when she was very ill and dying. But then upon meeting people who did care for me, who did express love to me, a thought came creeping up constantly regarding childhood and adolescence: "Nadie te queria", nobody loved you. But in Spanish this also meant, nobody wanted to me, which is a more active form of rejection and abuse. The mantra that nobody wanted/loved me stayed with me for years...and then in 2011 I was at the Kotel and all the time in Israel I would spend hours at the Kotel davening for my family, friends, myself. Upon returning to the States I realized that the obsessive thougths were no longer with me. The author of this article is in Jerusalem, the Holiest place in the world, the universe. There is no coincidence in this to merit to live in Jerusalem after all she went through. I merited healing through my Tefillah and Tehillim, and true that I did go to therapy years before; we must seek professional help when in need. I am thankful for my healing, at the Kotel, a Gift given to me although this was not what I davened for. It told me that when we are at our lowest, at our most vulnerable and in pain, there is One Above, Who knows, Who loves us and Who is our Healer. Last night I davened for the author of this article, that she is able to find a measure of solace and healing and know that all along, she was never alone and was being protected notwithstanding the misery around her. Thank you for letting me share.

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