Before I tackle how I taught my children about healthy sexuality, I will write about what and how I learned. My frame of reference in childhood was warped, and that is where I will begin.
In childhood no one talked to me about my body. All I knew then was based on what happened to me, and what I witnessed around me. Both were damaging, though what I witnessed was probably more traumatic than what was done, or what I recall was done.
Many personal experience memories are still vague, while others have come back in vivid colour over the past fifteen to twenty years. To repeat them in graphic detail would be inappropriate and unproductive, but to be silent and avoid truth is no better, so I will be honest, but gentle and discreet.
I was born in La Batea, Zacatecas, Mexico, into a large Mennonite family. My family background was Old Colony Mennonite, also known as Russian Mennonites or Mexican Mennonites. When I was nine months old we moved to Chihuahua and started attending the ‘Kleine Gemeinde’, or ‘Small Congregation’ church, a more evangelical group that had split off of the more conservative group.
Memories of attending church are virtually non-existent, though I am told we attended regularly. The little I do recall of times at church, are pleasant and ‘happy’ memories.
At home things were very different. My father was a violent man, driven to succeed, but always falling short. A dreamer with big ideas, but no resources or focus to carry them out, he lived life on a short fuse.
Having more than a dozen children—sixteen by the time all was said and done—he was under a lot of financial pressure. Added to this was his own painful childhood, which he did not tell me much about until I was twenty-one. As if that wasn’t enough dysfunction, my father also sexually abused some of his daughters, myself included, to one degree or another, as well as at least one other cousin.
How much his rage was because of the past, and how much it was his own guilt, we will never know, but our childhood was riddled with death threats, violence and constant terror. Our home was not safe, in any way, and at a very young age I learned to ‘live in a bubble’, so to speak. It is difficult to explain but there is a mental/psychological ‘disconnect’ that happens when life is that harsh.
While my memories of sexual abuse are few and far between, memories of what I observed are much more graphic. Most of our family had been sexually abused by someone, whether uncles and aunts, a parent, or neighbours, and that resulted in serious sexual dysfunction between siblings in various degrees of incest and inappropriate behaviours. Where this impacted my life, I have freely forgiven and released siblings. We were children with a frame of reference so vile, so harsh, that this was all ‘normal’.
One of the most painful realities of sexual abuse is that children learn destructive behaviours and perceive them to be ‘normal’. But, because the topic is often not spoken of, other than a scolding or beating if caught, there is a sense of secrecy that leads children to believe that it is normal private behaviour, it is getting caught that is the problem. Especially since the adults who punish children, beating them to within an inch of their life, are often the perpetrators in the lives of those very children. And, when caught in the act, it didn’t matter if the child was the instigator or the victim. The punishment was severe either way.
That was the case in our home, and in many homes within the Old Colony culture and those who had broken away from that culture. How the sexual abuse and perversion took such deep root, I do not know, but it was rampant then, and in many communities it has not improved.
The hardest part in healing has been remembering, usually against my will, the horrific sexual abuse I witnessed as I saw groups of older teens use and abuse little children. On at least one occasion I followed a group of teens as they led some of my older siblings to a ‘secret place’ where I witnessed horrible things. For many years I questioned whether I had imagined it, dreamed it out of thin air, but this year I had the courage to ask several siblings.
Instantly, when I mentioned the ‘secret location’, the one sibling gasped, and before I could even describe what I thought I remembered, he repeated in graphic detail a vision that had haunted me for almost forty years. He had completely blocked it until I mentioned the place. We believe I was three years old when I witnessed this, or four at the most, since that family moved away from the community at that time.
With this as my framework for understanding sexuality, I was destined for pain and tragedy. The events that took place in the first few years of my life, brought deep shame on me, and set me up for further victimization later.
All of these things triggered nightmares and confusion. Eventually, when I could take it no more, I blocked those years completely so that I would not remember the details again until many years later.
The year I turned six, we moved to Canada…. A new world… a new future… a better life.
…To Be Continued….
© Trudy Metzger
Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series
God bless you for your courage to share this tragic part of your life and for doing it truthfully and sensitively.
I was born in Chihuaha, but grew up primarily in Canada. By the grace of God, my sister and I were spared such tragic events in our lives. But we do hear other stories about how rampant such abuse still is in the colonies today. May the Lord have mercy on the little children.
Thank you Peter for the encouragement and I am thankful that you and your sister were spared. I don’t know percentages, but I know there are too many victims so I rejoice when I hear of a healthy home in the culture. I know they exist.
As for our experience, I cannot say enough of the goodness of the grace of God. I spent hours talking to one of my siblings last night and we agreed that it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t go mental in the conditions we lived in. I thank God for redeeming our broken situation.
Thank you Trudy for writing. It takes great courage but it needs to be said.
Thank you for sharing your heart, Trudy. I ache for the little girl that was you, and for all the children who grew up in the same environment. You only have one childhood, one chance at innocence. I am thankful to have “met” you and look forward to reading the rest of your story. Bless you as you parent in the way you never experienced, with deep love, mother bear protection and patience.