One Saturday afternoon my partner and I went to the local Chinese buffet for dinner. This trip would change my life forever. One may imagine that there was some catastrophic accident or a really bad case of food poisoning for me to describe this trip as life changing. Neither would be correct.
All that happened that day was a father and his two daughters were seated across from us. We did not speak, I am not even sure if this family even acknowledged our presence. There was something about the girls that caught my attention. They had brown eyes and dark hair like I did when I was little. They looked to be ages 3 and 5. The father was of thin build with similar dark hair and eyes. The father was very carefully preparing a plate of this youngest daughter while the older daughter carried her own plate. He was very attentive and involved with what his daughters were having for dinner.
This is a scene that is played out a million times a day but this particular day it struck a chord with me. In that moment, I saw myself as that little girl. I suddenly knew that the incest that I had spent 44 years thinking was my fault, was not. I could see in this little girl that physically there was nothing about her that could be considered sexually attractive to an adult man. I realized that there was nothing, absolutely nothing that she could have done to seduce, entice, provoke (whatever word you choose) a grown man. It also made me realize that both of these little girls were totally dependent on this big person for everything they needed. They were too little to provide food or safety for themselves. If he did not give them food they would be hungry. If he was not protective, they could have been hurt or they could have wandered off. When I was in therapy the first time I could say the incest was not my fault, but that doubt, that little voice of guilt, never let me really believe it. I didn’t really believe it deep down.
After watching this little girl I realized that there is nothing sexual about a three year old. I had always felt responsible because I thought I was complicit in the incest. I figured it was my fault because I seduced my father or I was such an evil child that this was my just punishment. In my mind I knew I was little when it happened but when I thought back it was with grown up thoughts about how I should have responded. It was as if I forgot that three years olds really don’t know very much. My “participation” in the incest made me guilty. It was what I believed my first time in therapy, during my hospitalization and in my second round of therapy. I lived my life and made choices based on my “participation”.
This was the reason why I tried so hard to please everyone. It was the reason why I needed to be perfect all the time. It was the reason that I thought of my self as a piece of shit. Seeing this little girl I remembered I was three when the incest started. Suddenly I realized at three I was a helpless as those little girls. I was dependent on the adults around me for everything. I was not a participant, I was a victim.
For the rest of the day, I walked around in a bit of a fog. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I spent most of the day having conversations in my head. I would say, ”the incest was not my fault” and then I would wait. I waited and waited but that little voice of guilt never sounded, and a small smile would spread across my face. I wanted so badly for it to be true. Could it be true, it was really not my fault?
I was amazed, it was the first time in my life I did not feel guilt. I told my therapist the following week and when I said it he looked puzzled. I explained that, yes, I have said that before but this time I really believe it. I’m sure he was thrilled that this big breakthrough came at the Chinese buffet and not during one of our sessions.
It was the beginning of many changes. A person makes such different choices when they do not choose because they feel so damaged or guilty. Recognizing that it was not my fault began a spiral effect. I eventually had to go back and reevaluate beliefs that were based on being guilty. If the belief that I was a participant was not true and in fact I was a victim, what else was different? Was it possible that I was really lovable, could I let myself feel good about who I was, could I finally let myself be angry about what happened? The answer is yes!