Eleanor Cowan


Fill in the blank: ‘Detaching from the abuser in my life feels like _____’


One early evening at the end of the second year in my support group for Parents of Sexually Abused Children, we were invited to participate in a new activity together. Our lead Social Worker, Aidan, also an artist and storyteller, suggested that we complete two unfinished sentences, each in our own words.

The first was, “Detaching from the abuser(s) in my life feels like _____.

The second was, “Once I let go, I found myself _____.

I’d like to share the responses I heard that evening with Lovefraud readers.

Aidan, also a former victim of physical predation both in her childhood and in her adult life, began:

“Finally detaching from my abuser dissolved tiny sharp shards of anxiety in my gut. My breathing changed from whisper-light to deeper. I went to bed smiling for the first time in my life. I awakened feeling well in the morning. I could lay back on my soft pillows for a few moments instead of leaping out of bed to ‘busy’ away from the usual rush of stressful thoughts.

“Once I let go, I found myself decluttering my home. First, my crammed bedroom closets. Next, I emptied the stuffed storage cupboards in the basement of things I hadn’t seen in years. At last, free space. ”

Next to Aidan, Ruth cradled her warm teacup. She became a lawyer after she was widowed, after she entrusted her son to her brother while she returned to law school. Her brother sexually abused her son, a youth who later hung himself in Ruth’s basement. Now working on behalf of trafficked teens, Ruth regularly attends our meetings.

“Detaching from the abuser of my son felt like only a toothpick of weight was lifted. The price of my brother’s predation was so high. After he was sentenced to jail, I followed behind the police van taking him to his prison gates in Ontario. I watched as the metal doors clanged shut behind him. Then I threw myself into my work helping youth whose innocent bodies provide pleasure for criminal consumers. Every time our team convicts a predator, I feel relief. That’s what helps me most of all.”

An amputee, Ruth often points out she’ll never get her missing leg back, but she has the best prosthesis available. “I’ll never get my son back, but I do the very best with my life that I possibly can.”

Next in the small circle came Lee, abused by an alcoholic parent, who struggled with food issues most of her life. When her two girls were molested by their older brother, Lee’s arthritis and diabetes symptoms soared. “Detaching at last from the predator of my daughters, my own son, felt like I’d been handed a diploma. I knew I’d earned this, and yet, when the welcome moment of release happened, it honestly felt like a tremendous personal gift. I kept saying to my kids, ‘I can’t believe it! I’m happy again! I’m happy!’ Once I seriously came to terms with my son’s pedophilia, I found myself looking up weight loss programs. I joined one that had a social component – not too many rules – just lots of support. I’ve made wonderful new friends. With my weight loss, my arthritis pain is reduced, and my diabetes is less acute.

That year Lee transformed her gourmet catering business into a vegetarian/vegan enterprise, more in keeping with her own eating goals.

Soon, it was my turn to complete the two unfinished lines. I used our leader’s prompts as a starting point, but answered in my own words:

“Realizing I was really and truly free from my abuser occurred in gusts of reality, bursts that erupted into consciousness. There’d be spontaneous joy as walked to my new home after work, or purchased pastry for the kids’ dessert, or realized I’d slept in peace through an entire unbroken night. Months earlier, someone had asked me how long it took me to get over my divorce. I’d replied, ‘A single weekend. Once I made my decision, the suffering ended.’ Those grinding years of demoralizing confusion and self-blame ended. The duration of years of submersion in disassociation, while living with a covert pedophile, hurt far more than the ending.

“Once I escaped, I found myself seeking more support – a group for adult children of alcoholics, one for adult children of parents who had committed suicide, another for victims of rape and mental abuse. I chose one in which I felt comfortable. I also found myself reading inspiring memoirs filled with powerful insights about reclaiming one’s life.

“Words like ‘forgiveness’ and ‘letting go’ felt irrelevant to me. Instead, vocabulary such as analysis and research and examination meant far more. I wanted to study a society that produced so many conscience-less predators, rapists, and pedophiles. What was wrong? What caused this horrible human aberration? Why the taboo of silence around such atrocity? I decided to add to my teaching credentials to become a certified life skills educator. Studying for a forever career cost a lot less than forever therapy, and put me in a position of responsibility, one I’d honor.”

All of us agreed, that evening, that we felt liberated now, free to live, to accomplish, to excel and thrive in an imperfect world.

Yes, we’d detached from our abusers, but far more important, we’d found our very valuable selves!

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