An Invisible Child in a Hostile World by Pam Witzemann

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I am excited to have our very own Pam Witzemann guest blogging on Emerging from Broken this week! Pam was a frequent guest blogger here in 2011 and 2012 and she has always been a contributor in the conversations. Please welcome Pam;

An Invisible Child in a Hostile World by Pam Witzemann

Where there is substance abuse and children, there is child neglect and abuse.

I was born to parents who abused alcohol and from my birth I was an invisible child in a hostile world. Alcohol abuse is considered a disease but my life’s experience has taught me to view it as a symptom of underlying mental illness and psychological disorder. Though my parents have never seen a psychologist or psychiatrist and aren’t likely ever to do so, I am quite certain of their underlying psychological disorders. Alcohol was gasoline added to the flame of their mental illness that created the distorted and sometimes, dangerous environment of my childhood home.

There was a time when I hated my parents. I still hate the things they did to me and neglected to do for me; but I now view them as pitiable persons who choose the false safety of denial, rather than face the truth about themselves and the lives they’ve led. They are no longer a part of my life because in order to be in a relationship with them I would have to deny the truth about my life and continue in the denial that rules my family of origin. That is abusive to me and I refuse to allow them to abuse me any longer. In any event, the truths I share here are about my life and not really about my parents at all. I now choose when and where to share my personal history and what I share here is for the purpose of helping others who suffer as I have suffered and not about any kind of exposure or revenge.

I don’t think my parents ever saw me as an individual separate from themselves. I was simply an extension of them. I was their firstborn child and to them, a disappointing reflection of themselves. I only weighed four pounds and my mother brought me home wearing doll clothes and lying in a shoe box. My mother had many childish fantasies of a baby daughter who would change her life for the better and it didn’t seem likely that I would fulfill any of them. She says my dad was jealous of me and didn’t like her giving me the attention I constantly cried for.

 I nearly died when I was only a few weeks old.

They found me not breathing and assumed they had smothered me with too many blankets. Somehow, they managed to revive me and this became the first time out of three that I nearly died at the hands of my parents before the age of five.  

The use of alcohol as medicine and medical neglect were the reasons for the other instances of near death that I experienced as a child but the family narrative couched them in light-hearted tales of young parents who lacked experience. These narratives were created to deflect from the neglect and abuse that they weren’t able to hide from others. I suspect there are many other abuses that were never revealed. I believe this is also, when they first assigned me the role of family scapegoat. I was the source of a lot of trouble to them. I was so small and as time passed, I failed to thrive. I didn’t reflect a positive image of themselves back to them so, I became the sickly child who they fed hot-toddies (a mixture of bourbon, honey, & lemon) and I was kept mostly in bed.

My parents couldn’t see me as an individual with life and purpose of my own. I didn’t serve any good purpose for them. I was too imperfect and in response to the imperfection they perceived in me, my parents chose to make me as invisible as possible by keeping me locked away in my room, drunk and in bed. I remember most of my early childhood as being alone and suspended in dark space. At the time I didn’t know that this was wrong; I was taught to view this treatment as my parent’s way of caring for me and I simply accepted it as it was presented. I had nothing to compare it to and my invisible state became a core part of my self-image and later, a favored coping mechanism and protection against further abuse.

There were many times when I was older, that I sought refuge in a dark closet when my parent’s alcoholic rages reached a fevered pitch and even today when I am deeply saddened or feel threatened, I find myself isolating and seeking refuge in invisibility. I know now that when I do this I am dissociating from a painful reality in the most complete sense of dissociation, next only to death. This is the source of my most debilitating depressions when I seek refuge in the isolation of the complete abandonment I experienced during the earliest days of my childhood. If the environment I grew up in had been less hostile, I may not have sought this refuge but isolation and invisibility are much more pleasant than connectivity with abusive, alcoholic, psychologically disordered parents.

On one hand, I had a deep, painful yearning for them to notice me and actually, see me; but on the other hand, being seen was dangerous and likely to make me a target for verbal and emotional abuse.

Needless to say, growing up in bed didn’t teach me many social skills. I didn’t start school until I was seven and I was so small that people thought I was three or four. I didn’t know how to communicate with other children and they wanted to play with me like a doll. I didn’t like being treated this way but I also, had no idea that I should stop them. I didn’t like being treated as an object but in the same way that I accepted isolation as normal, I accepted my peers viewing me as a toy to play with as being acceptable. Later, as a teenager, when a child-predator told me he loved me and treated me like a sex-toy, I accepted that as normal too. After being with him for a few months, I lost all ownership of my person and had no way to protect myself from being abused by others.

No one saw me as a person and I didn’t either. I was an object, helpless in choosing my own purpose. I served the purposes of others without question. Mine was a painful, confusing existence and I sought invisibility in heavy drug use and nearly, lost my life. In fact, I wanted the complete invisibility of death. I yearned for it with every fiber of my being and at age 18 I made a serious attempt at fulfilling that desire. When doctors revived me I cried when finding myself still alive in a world of beings who viewed me as an object and whom I knew only as a threat to my well-being.

I find it amazing today, that I was able to pull myself out of this situation and become a more functional person. In fact, I know I didn’t do it all alone. Faith in God gave me a reason to become a whole person rather than an extension of my parents or the object of abuse that others saw as my purpose. Faith made my special purpose known to me and helped me set boundaries that allowed me to live more safely among others. Facing the truth about myself and my life, helped me rewire my thinking about myself and how I relate to others. Darlene and the commenters on Emerging from Broken helped me in this very important piece of my recovery from an abusive childhood. I found validation and self-acceptance here.

I am much closer to being the woman I was created to be than what my dark childhood promised. It has been a long struggle with many highs and lows. I am convinced that as long as I live, I will continue to struggle to become a better person because recovery from abuse is as much about the process of becoming as it is healing.

I know that none of my success would have been possible if I had given my parents the false honor they desire and continued to live in denial. It hurts to face the truth. It is not an easy path. There is a price to pay for embracing truth but it is the only way to heal and move forward into becoming. I am not sorry for paying the cost of embracing the truth about me and my life because life is so much better when engaged in, fully. I can’t engage in life when I spend most of my time hiding from life.

It is said, that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. When this is applied to the problem of healing from child abuse and breaking the cycle of abuse, it is perfectly true. It is impossible to heal when the wounding is denied and abuse in families will be passed down for generations when denied. In invisibility, I found a false refuge that became the debilitating depression that stole many months of my life. In truth, I found life through improved relationships with God, myself, and others. Neglect and abuse prevented me from developing the skills I needed to connect with others. Love and truth taught me how to connect with others safely.

I am so happy that aloneness is no longer my most natural and safest state of being. For the first time in my life, I have achieved some sense of safety in the world because I have learned healthier ways of keeping myself safe.

Pam Witzemann

Pam Witzemann is a long-time native of New Mexico. She is a writer, painter, landlord, wife, mother, grandmother, small-business co-owner, child-abuse survivor and overcomer. Emerging From Broken has played a big role in empowering her in her struggle to overcome the emotional damage caused by a childhood of abuse. She is an avid supporter of Darlene Ouimet’s work and is honored to share her story in support of that good work.

Please share your thoughts with all of us here on Emerging from Broken.

If you are interested in how Darlene discovered and uncovered the false messages that were holding her back, “Emerging from Broken ~ The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing” is available for download. Click on the book image in the upper right side bar.

Other articles written by Pam; The Healing Power of Righteous Anger https://emergingfrombroken.com/the-healing-power-of-righteous-anger-by-pam-witzemann/

How I learned to Self-Abuse https://emergingfrombroken.com/how-i-learned-to-self-abuse-by-pam-witzemann/

The Process of Forgiving Child Abusers https://emergingfrombroken.com/the-process-of-forgiving-child-abusers-by-pam-witzemann/

Profile of a Spiritual Abuser https://emergingfrombroken.com/profile-of-a-spiritual-abuser-by-pam-witzemann/

166 response to "An Invisible Child in a Hostile World by Pam Witzemann"

  1. By: Kaycee Posted: 23rd November 2014

    Joy, ((((Hugs)))) from a fellow scapegoat/escape artist. Yes we have allowed it, but we were groomed and conditioned to allow it. Seeing it for what it is means you are are halfway there. You are not alone. It’s okay to need people, and part of this is learning how to need and be needed by the right kind of people. You can do this and there is plenty of support here!

  2. By: Pam Posted: 23rd November 2014

    Joy, Yes, you do matter and if your family can’t recognize that then there is something very wrong in them. It wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t even realize I was the family scape-goat or that there was anything that wrong with the way they treated me. I’m sure it was truly, shocking for them when I stood up for myself and required respect. I think they still believe that eventually, I’ll knuckle under. I always did before…but not this time. It wasn’t easy to draw a line a walk away. I still had a couple of healthy relationships that remained but it’s still hard to lose your family of origin in one fell swoop. I’m not sorry though, for requiring them to stop abusing me and then removing myself when they scoffed at the idea. That action made me much stronger and much more sure of myself. That change in attitude is a major boundary in and of itself. Every year that passes, it gets a bit easier. I miss them but I’m happy and I know I wouldn’t feel this way if I were still being treated as a secondary person. It feels good to have come into my own. I know the same is possible for you, Joy.

    Love,
    Pam

  3. By: Joy Posted: 23rd November 2014

    Hello Pam,

    Thanks for responding to my post. I feel like this computer is my life line right now. At this time, I don’t have anyone around me who quite understands that I’m fighting for my life. I’ve been used as the family scapegoat for so long (and have allowed it) that I’m not so hopeful that they will want to see me in any other way. I pray that with therapy, I won’t be so desperate for their approval or validation. Because I’ve isolated myself, it’s a hard pill to swallow because I really have no one else at this point. I want to have a close relationship so badly but looks like I’ll have to wait until I can get a grip on my boundaries and how not to let others take advantage of me. I wish that I didn’t seem like such an easy target just because I’m so needy for love and support. This is the worst time to find out that people you thought really cared for you are not willing to go the last mile with you. Thankfully, I do have hope for the future so I can keep moving towards that. I will continue to use your site and others for encouragement and connection. Thanks again for acknowledging me because as you well know…I’M HERE, NOT INVISIBLE, and WE ALL MATTER!!

    Love,
    Joy

  4. By: Pam Posted: 23rd November 2014

    Joy, I connect with the term cacooning. When I feel threatened, that’s where I want to be too and I do allow myself some of that time. However, I used it differently that I used to. While I’m in my ‘safe’ mode, I use that time to connect with my inner self and sort out my feelings. When I’m that overwhelmed, it is usually because what happened in the present, triggered emotions from the past. Then I try to connect with the past experience, understand why I was triggered, what my flashback is trying to tell me, and then go back to the present injury. I’m also, working hard on allowing myself to feel what I feel, rather than stuffing it. Doing this has allowed me to shorten my depressions and periods of isolation.

    I hope your therapy works well for you, joy.:0)

    Love,
    Pam

  5. By: Joy Posted: 22nd November 2014

    Hello Pam,
    I relate so strongly to this post about invisibility. At one time, I gave this a name of “cocooning”. I used to escape into a world of nothingness where I’d hope to just disappear. Once in therapy after a particular episode that lasted a week (with little eating, etc.), I was told that this could lead to becoming catatonic. Of course, I’d heard of this word & seen depictions of such on t.v., so that didn’t quite seem like what I wanted. lol! Right now, I’m in crisis, so I am using invisibility as a tool again. Thankfully, I am close to getting proper treatment, so I’m just really using this mechanism to stay safe until I get there. I realize that is is not the most healthy thing to do, but I am afraid & this makes me feel most safe. I have never quite developed a whole sense of self at 40+ years of age and struggle to hold on to what little I have. The yearning to have the approval of my family of origin has led me to continue in this way for far too long. I have children of my own and am committed to getting better for them and myself. It’s so painful at times but I know that I can’t pass this misery on to them. I have to push through & learn how to love myself beyond what I’ve been told or have believed to be true. My biggest struggle is separating from my mother to stop the current abuse that is her invalidation and denial. I feel like I am dying because of this. Hopefully the therapy I am about to work through will be a starting point to getting better. I will give it my all…I do want to live, just not in pain like this…. Thank you for writing, it helps to not feel so alone.

  6. By: Pam Posted: 5th November 2014

    Ferocity Liza Jane, The three words that pop out of your comment to me are “More crazy making.” Being related to people who are out to get the best of you is crazy making. Such people are the true ‘crazies’ but they never go for help. Everyone around them does. The good thing I’ve learned here is that my ptsd doesn’t mean I’m crazy. It means I suffered some severe psychological wounds and when wounds are treated they can be healed. I agree that your sanity and well-being are more valuable than any amount of money. When it comes to emotional wounding avoidance of sociopathic relatives is the best medicine.

    Love,
    Pam

  7. By: Ferocity Liza Jane Posted: 4th November 2014

    Thank you for this article. Let’s congratulate ourselves and each other for facing all this as squarely as we can. My vicious sociopath of an older sister is trying to get me disinherited by both our parents. She is using my lack of contact with my family (except with my younger sister, who is being decent in this one area) as leverage to exclude me from a substantial estate. My sadistic sex-addict sociopath father, who always ignored what I mailed to him or wrote him, and even refused to look at my artwork when it was right in front of him, sent me a “nice” greeting card with the P.S. “It would be nice to hear from you. Time is short.” But whenever I did write him, he would ignore it and not reply. More crazy-making. Very long story of abuse. I am not going to communicate with him in response to such a dishonest message, even if it costs me 1/2 million dollars. My sanity is more important. The last time I saw him, Christmas 2008, was like hell on Earth. My psychotherapist confirms it took me months to get over it. My psychiatrist told me to stay away from him, and has prescribed medication for PTSD (it does help). This is serious. I refuse to prostitute myself, even though I need the money.

  8. By: Alaina Posted: 27th October 2014

    Thanks Pam, Alice and Hobie for your support! (Sorry I didn’t respond till now!) My mom will be in town from tomorrow till Sat. I’ll be glad come Sunday.

    Alice, I feel similarly about romantic relationships, but one day maybe I’ll be ready and meet someone who will fit well with me. I also wonder a bit about what I mean exactly when I think of my “unresolved needs.” It’s a bit vague. I think there are a few things. One has to do with fears around outpourings of emotion and all the grief I know I’m carrying, and difficulty letting people into my heart too close, probably for fear of abandonment or being controlled, having someone turn on me once I’ve developed an attachment, them using my attachment to them to facilitate their exploiting me, crossing boundaries, etc. Also if I become attached, wanting the person’s approval, which has been associated with love my whole life (i.e. be what the other person wants and you’ll be loved). Some of this stuff has made me “act crazy” in the past…. The issues seem to be around fears and control (interrelated of course)… I’m with you on friendship. It’s where I’m at at the moment. I have definitely attracted guys who want to protect me, though, but I know it’s not really about protection, it’s about possession. I do think you can love and feel protective of someone without it being possessive, where there’s still freedom, but a lot of times, I think it becomes about moulding me into someone else’s idea of what’s best or right for me. When I tend to come off as nervous and passive, maybe overly nice, it can definitely attract people to want to take over and direct my life, well-intentioned though people may, or may not, be, and that is definitely not what I want in my life. Often these people are, or at least seem, completely unconscious of what I know and can feel their actual motivations are with me. It can become a hassle when I try to exert boundaries (this is also true in friendships of this kind, too)—times I know these types would maybe accept the same boundaries in other people but because they’d already defined me in a certain way, based on their assumptions of who they think I am, they’ll try to trespass the boundaries with me. It’s annoying. Anyway, I don’t want to close my heart off from people but taking it easy, building things slowly, and trying to stay aware of myself and others as best I can is definitely crucial… I also feel a bit like when I tell myself it’s best for me to stay clear of romantic relationships because of all my issues, damage, unmet needs, etc., that underneath it I’m just finding another way of saying to myself I’m not good enough for other people, like it becomes something about needing to be more or better than I am, not being allowed to make a too big mistake, needing to reach some imagined ideal of a healthy person who has survived and overcome her past before I can allow myself whatever, and that it’s hiding the fear of what might happen if I just allowed myself to be me, a human being en route, which is all we ever really are…. Though I also know what you mean about needless suffering. I’m very tired of suffering.

  9. By: Alice Posted: 18th October 2014

    Alaina, good for you! Before I blocked my mom’s emails I would put them in a folder to remind me of the reasons I am NC with her.
    I also really appreciated reading your thoughts on needs in an adult relationship. I’ve somewhat given up hope that the right romantic relationship will ever materialize for me because I likely have too many unresolved needs still that I think probably aren’t compatible with a good relationship and I don’t want to be in the kind where those unresolved needs are too large a part of things. Because I’ve both been there and seen others deal with that and it just seems a lot of suffering for nothing. Sometimes I think it’s best for my emotional health that I just avoid romantic stuff altogether and stick to the safety of friendships.

    I also struggle with magnification of errors. I guess I felt under such scrutiny from my family. I was also very good at school so maybe that’s also part of why I can’t stand making mistakes as my only reliance source of validation came from performing well in that area. Today the reaction to mistakes is generalized I’d say. And the worst is I fear people know this about me so will take an extra effort to point them out to me – which of course feels terrible. I’m not having an easy time of things right now because the pain of all these behaviors seems to me to be heightened but I’m also hoping this presages change.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 19th October 2014

      Hi Everyone!!
      I just published a new article on the home page ~ this one is about Anger ~ a really hot topic in the healing world and often a controversial one too. You can read the new post here: “Is there such a thing as Justifiable Anger?” and I am looking forward to the discussion.
      hugs, Darlene

  10. By: Hobie Posted: 18th October 2014

    Alaina,

    Good job! You soothed yourself with a bubble bath, reminded yourself why you set a boundary, what it was, and you held onto it!

    My boundaries are still kinda fresh. They were tested recently, and after the initial shock, I held my ground and congratulated myself for it. YAY for both of us!

    Hobie

  11. By: Pam Posted: 17th October 2014

    Alaina, I’ve had some instances where family members tested the boundary I set. I know how you are feeling. I made the same choice you are making. It really hurts that they will try to go over, under, or around the boundary of respect I set but never acknowledge it. Every time that happens, it just proves to me that I made the right decision. I know if I back down, things will be worse than ever…

    Pam

  12. By: Alaina Posted: 17th October 2014

    Oh boy, I got an email from my mom tonight. She’s coming into town and would like to spend some time with me (gave me the dates and her cell phone number). My heart was racing instantly. I then went for a bubble bath 🙂 and vented (in my head) a response to her email. It has been about a year and a half since I last talked to her, and I told her then that the only way we’d have a relationship was if she fully acknowledged the truth of our relationship and what happened to me (which I’d laid out). That’s some audacity. Even though everyone is responsible for their own choices, the domino effect on my relationship to other family members certainly followed her decision. She knows the truth but sat back as my brother and dad cast me as the one who has it all wrong. It’s my “sad choice” of course, and that I don’t have a nephew and that her grandson doesn’t have an aunt has something to do with her, even if my brother of course is a grown-up who came to his own conclusions… still… she has a hand in this, a power she won’t use exactly because she doesn’t want to give up that power and that’s exactly what she’d have to do…. Anyway, I deleted the email, breathing easier, heartbeat returning to normal. It’s up to her to fix this situation, not me—I did my part already… and then some. I will not be calling her. I will not be seeing her. She has to live with the choices she has made. If she wants to change her mind, and acknowledge reality, she is free to do so, but I am not backing down. I fought too bloody hard for this.

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