I had looked forward all week to the Mary Kay Cosmetics party my mother was hosting. Too little to wear make-up, I certainly wasn’t too small to be interested. I had looked at every picture in the Mary Kay catalog and dreamed of the day when I could get my hands on some of the tiny lipstick samples. I knew I was a scrawny-legged child, too ugly to be of interest to the fancy ladies who would be attending the party, but I was determined to do my best to fit it. Putting on my Sunday dress and buckling my black patent leather shoes, I watched through the window as the guests began to arrive.

One by one, elegant, flowery hats and high-heeled shoes came through my front door. Taking a deep breath of perfume filled the air, I looked up in wonder at the beautiful creatures I so longed to be a part of. Self-consciously I ran a hand over my chopped-off hair. How I hated the ugly dutch boy hairstyle my mother forced me to wear.

The guests were escorted to our fancy living room where the china teacups and lemon squares were waiting on the coffee table. As I stood in the doorway, I noticed an empty seat in the circle of chairs. Excitement and joy rose up in my heart. There were enough chairs for me to have a place. I eagerly sat down and watched as the Mary Kay books were handed out.

I did my best to remain quiet enjoying the conversation about the latest make-up samples; nodding and smiling as if I understood every word. The sharp clack of my mother’s heels drew my attention. She directed a dark scowl my way then turned toward the group with a broad smile. “You won’t believe what that child has done.” My mother held up a photograph album. “I just can’t get that child to keep her clothes on.” Handing the album to the group, my mother laughed. “Go ahead,” she said. “Pass it around.” The women looked confused. Several shifted in their seats and many passed the album without looking at it. Burning with shame, I stared at the floor while silent tears dripped down my face. The most beautiful and influential women in our community now knew what a dirty piece of trash I was.

Several months before, I had been sexually assaulted by two neighbors. Without anyone to turn to for help, I had begun compulsively removing my clothes whenever I stood in the front yard. My mother had chosen this opportunity to take a picture. It was this very picture she shared with the room.

When the photograph passed beneath my nose, my little five-year-old face stared back at me with a look of utter despair. I didn’t have to search in the closet for monsters when I was little. My monsters were hiding in plain sight.

Looking back, it’s amazing how wickedly brilliant a narcissist can be. My parent’s abuse was often done in public and not one person ever said a word against it. The stories of your childhood become interwoven with who you are and you don’t even recognize the events as abusive until much later. It took me decades to untie the complicated knots and to finally understand where the symptoms of CPTSD were coming from.

We must place the blame where it belongs; on our abusers and not on ourselves. They told us we deserved it. They told us we were bad. They used our innocence against us; of course, we believed them! We were little children, longing to be loved and accepted. Wanting the things that every child deserves.

When I turn on the light of truth, the big, unassailable monster that was my mother dwindles into a twisted, self-serving abuser who has no power over me anymore. The shame is not mine to carry, it is hers.

If your monsters are hiding in plain sight, turn on the light and see them for what they are. You deserve to be free. You deserve to be at peace. You deserve to be loved and the best place to start is choosing to love yourself.

 

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