Episode 39: No One Said Anything
Child Abuse Survivor and Advocate
In this episode, host Lori Poland is joined by fellow child abuse survivor Marybeth Givens. Marybeth reflects on the abuse she endured as a child and the silence that often surrounds child abuse and neglect.
The Louder than Silence podcast is brought to you by The National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect (EndCAN).
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast Episode #39: No One Said Anything
Transcribed by Aiesha Hemeda
[Inspirational theme music plays]
>>Lori: Hello everybody and welcome to the Louder than Silence Podcast! My name is Lori Poland, I am the executive director for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. We are here today with Marybeth Givens, and I’m just really excited to be among another survivor whose clearly found a way to transcend and is doing good things in the world– she’s on the beautiful island of Oahu. I can’t wait to hear more about you Marybeth and have our listeners get to know you as well, so welcome!
>>Marybeth: Thank you Lori! I’m really happy to be here, I’m very honored and very proud to have been asked to the podcast, thank you.
>>Lori: Well, thank you, the feeling is really mutual. It takes a lot of strength and a lot of grit to move into using our voices and being able to speak openly about our experiences and why we thrive the way we do. You’re an example of that and I’d love for us to kind of start with your why and what brought you here. We invited you to talk with us and you said yes, so I ‘d love to have our listeners have a greater understanding of what was the reasoning behind your yes, what drives you to have the willingness to talk more openly and use your voice.
>>Marybeth: I would say that I got to a point in my life, that I didn’t want to be ashamed anymore and I wanted it too not be taboo. Even if it’s taboo, and other people don’t like it, or they feel uncomfortable, that’s fine. I’ll take it to another room– so to speak, but I’m not going to put a lid on it anymore.
>>Lori: Yeah, I think that’s beautiful! When we do that, for me at least it allowed people who have been survivors of abuse– I have found that when we get to that point of saying I’m not going to put a lid on this anymore there is some fear that comes with it right? It feels like there’s going to be consequences for us moving out of our own shame and guilt for something that didn’t happen by our own choosing right? Can you help our listeners have a better understanding of what that was like for you?
>>Marybeth: Yes! There are people that are very close to me in my life who love me, who don’t want this out there and they don’t believe it happened. Even as a child, I was asking questions. I was the black sheep of the family, so I was always asking questions as to why certain things were happening. Things got worse, so I would say that it put a– I’ve had to make a decision based on my heart and what’s going on in my soul. That decision is not– a lot of people don’t like that, and Like I said, a lot of people don’t believe it happened. It used to hurt me, but it doesn’t hurt me anymore, I understand it.
>>Lori: Help me understand that for you because that is– for me personally, that has been a new thing for me. There are people in my world that have begun to rewrite my story and my experience and shift it to almost as if it didn’t happen. I’ve been told this didn’t happen to you, and possibly the follow up line was you were too young to remember so therefore it didn’t happen, which I think is mind blowing to me. Like just because somebody is preverbal, just because they don’t have the verbal language to say this happened at this time. I have known so many survivors who do have verbal capacity who have completely blocked out or forgotten about their trauma or their experience, sometimes forever, or often times until later in life. So, if you don’t mind, what is that like for you? I feel you; I have goosebumps just like– there’s some release and love [laughs] that comes with knowing, thank you for saying those words, thank you for being in this with me.
>>Marybeth: Well, I don’t have a very good relationship with my mother right now. There are a lot of people in my life that I don’t speak to, in my family I should probably say or extended family, because they just don’t want to hear it. For me I am okay with that, does it bother me? Yes, do I cry about it? Yes, but it always comes back to that little girl who asked questions all the time and said to my parents why is this happening? A good example would be– I can tell my story later if you prefer, but getting the mixed signals from a parent whose supposed to be protecting you. They’re actually the one that is the dark hooded man hiding behind the pole on a dark street who you are scared to death of. So, to grow up so scared and to have parents, and teachers, and neighbors, and uncles and aunts, they would have all experienced this– this was a revelation of mind just a couple of years ago. For a long time, I never really thought about that dynamic about ever thinking that anybody else knew or why didn’t anybody step in. It reminds me of that wonderful song by– I can’t think of the country artist– Martina Mcbride, Concrete Angel. It talks about how she sings about a little girl who goes to school and she’s carrying this load, but she has no choice. The neighbors hears what’s happening, the teacher sees the bruises and she doesn’t say anything. In the middle of the night, a neighbor’s thinking, should I call the police? But they don’t, so everybody knew and that was a revelation for me just in the past couple of years. Everybody knew, but they didn’t say anything. Nobody said oh my god– I’m not talking about a child, there were five of us in a house and there was violence and yelling all the time. That was just part of it, and nobody said anything? My mother either goes between not remembering, or saying Marybeth you’re such an actress, you’ve always been such an actress. I really don’t know where you come up with this stuff.
>>Marybeth: So of course, she’s in her own space with her own issues, but I’m no longer going to live in that space anymore with her issues. I’m going to speak out and say hey, what’s up, this is what happened. It’s not that I’m okay with it one hundred percent, but I’m going to do the best I can to become the best person I can, to become happy because I take it with me everywhere I go. I’ve got to– that sack that’s on my back, I don’t know If I have to paint it pink, or rainbow, maybe rainbow because I live in Oahu, but I have to make something pretty out of it. The best way for me to do it is, I have to speak out and If I can help people, I have to do it. That’s what’s going to feed my soul.
>>Lori: Yeah, that’s so beautiful. I thank you for having the grace and the courage to do something like that. I think there are millions and millions of adult survivors out there that haven’t had the capacity and the strength to do that yet. That doesn’t make them weak, that doesn’t make you weak before you decided to do this, it doesn’t even speak anything to the survivor. Instead, I think a couple of things, one is that it’s a process. It’s a process that everybody has to go through for themselves, right? It’s almost like an infant; I couldn’t expect or have the criteria that an infant is going to be walking at three months old. It’s just not feasible and I have to be patient for that process to occur before they learn how to walk. I think it’s the same thing when we have this sensation of where the experience of the strength to differentiate ourselves from the experience of those who were the silent bystanders, or who were the denying family, or who were the minimizers, or the name callers. I think it’s mind blowing, you are one of so many survivors who I’ve spoken to who have shared that you’ve gotten called names for telling people your story and you were teased for being dramatic or creating– like you’re such a storyteller. Just so minimizing, which causes one to question ourselves like, did that really happen? Maybe I’m blowing it up, maybe I am wrong. It just creates this crazy making within our own minds.
>>Marybeth: Yeah, It’s really sad when you’re gaslighting a child. It’s one thing as an adult and you can say I have the tools, or I can walk away, but as we both know, in those circumstances, there is nowhere to go. There is nowhere to go, you deal with it and unfortunately you build up layers and layers, and within those layers are things like they love me, but they couldn’t love me if they did this. Even as a child, I think it’s pretty remarkable that you would go to your parents and say, “What’s up?” There’s something wrong here.
>>Lori: Right, why are we doing this?
>>Marybeth: Why are we doing this? I don’t understand you love me but yet, this is what’s happening to me. Unfortunately, like I said before, when I would bring up anything close to that, I was punished harshly for that. Yes, I was called names, I was ignored. That was another one of their punishments along with the abuse and what would be neglect, was we’re just going to ignore her. My parents on occasion would tell the other children not to play with me. So, I was completely alone, and when you’re completely alone as an eight, nine, ten– and this continued my whole life, even until adulthood when I went back to visit my parents. As we’re talking about my childhood, you’re completely alone and I found myself– I would mimic what my parents did. I had punched myself; I would slap myself; I would do things to myself– I was never a cutter. I think if I knew about cutting then I probably would have done it, but for some reason it just wasn’t my thing. I did whatever I could to hurt myself because I was such a bad person. I was such a bad kid and If I would have just keep my mouth shut and keep things within the house, my grandmother used to say don’t air your dirty laundry, and this laundry was very dirty. My mother being the Emily Post type mother she was where everything had to be perfect, and her kids had to look perfect. Yet this nonsense and violence was happening–
>>Lori: Behind the door
>>Marybeth: Behind the doors.
>>Lori: It’s amazing. It’s amazing and so beautiful that you’re sitting here with us, able to articulate what you’re saying. You know I really think that it speaks to possibilities, and that’s one of the things that I have been so adamant about with EndCAN. Not just focusing on the horrific because the stories are endless right? The tragedy, the way that as a society we rob children of their voices and experiences. We shame them because of our own guilt and shame. We put them down, we harm them, we do all of these things knowing that they’re going to grow up with all of these insecurities, and fears, and worries, and struggles. It leads to so many different things that will genuinely never go away, and here you are modeling that– well, it is my guess that it has not been an easy journey. Some days are easier than others and one moment you might be fine and then the next moment you might be triggered. I’m only assuming because I’m a survivor myself and that is how my world works. It’s possible, you are in a beautiful place, you seem so capable of using your voice. Even though you were told your entire life that that voice was wrong, it was inaccurate, it was all a lie, it was bad. So, talk to me about that, like how did you make it?
>>Marybeth: You deal. Like I said– I mean if we’re talking about my childhood, I ask questions, I would be punished. I’m sure to the listeners, without knowing my background you wouldn’t really know some of the punishments or some of the things that went down. So, if you want me to tell you that I could.
>>Marybeth: So, I’ll start off with that and we’ll come back to your question. Okay so I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family. My father was very determined to marry– his wife had to be Catholic, I don’t know why. He and my mother married at a fairly young age, as they did in the sixties. Because the Catholic church, they don’t believe in birth control in a traditional or medical sense. My mother had five children and was probably going to have more until the doctor said you can’t have any more children. Thank God she didn’t. My father drank until I was about, I’m guessing because I get different stories. When you go back and ask questions people don’t remember, might’ve been this, might’ve been that–
>>Lori: Presumption is everything too.
>>Marybeth: Your dad never drank, I never drank, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So, I think my dad probably stopped drinking when I was about eight or nine, and that’s when the abuse started. The reason being is that my father was a happy drunk. So, he would come home from work and if my mother felt that the kids were out of control or out of hand, my dad kind of just let her deal with it and he’d go to bed. When he stopped drinking, why he did I don’t know, but when he stopped drinking, that’s when the abuse started. He became very angry, actually I shouldn’t even say very angry, he had rage. That was rage that was inside of him, and it came out on us, and it came down on us, and it was hard. The punishments were not only harsh, but also very confusing to us. My father was, if we looked at him strangely, we were sent to our room or we had a harsh punishment. We used to get the belts, which was humiliating. He said go in my room and pull down your pants, which is incredibly humiliating for a child. So you’d be bending over his bed– we used to call it the big light, the overhead light, and waiting for him to show up and get his firemen’s belt because he was a volunteer fireman. So, a nice big, thick belt and I feel as though my mother, for a long time I thought my mother was innocent in all of this. As I got older, I realized she was a catalyst and an enabler, but more so a catalyst. She knew exactly what was going on, and she didn’t step in, that’s the enabling part. The catalyst part was my mother had emotional issues herself and couldn’t handle life in suburbia Pennsylvania. She would call my father crying and telling him that the children were doing this, or doing that, and he’d say send them to your room and I will deal with them when I get home. So, if you want to swing back to what your question was, I’d be happy to answer it.
>>Lori: Yeah, and my question was how did you make it? After having a life of historical abuse, and denial, and shame, and ridicule, and neglect it sounds like as well from what you’ve shared earlier. How do you feel like you’ve made it? What do you think was the support that caused you to choose to break the cycle to heal and to find your own voice? What did that look like for you?
>>Marybeth: How I made it was that you just continue to breathe. Like a plant that’s not watered or fed and seems to make its way through the concrete anyway despite every effort to get rid of that flower. It still blooms and for whatever reason, at that age you don’t have a choice. When I did get to a certain age, I was running away. Again, Marybeth is being a pain in the butt, she’s running away. I didn’t even really know why I was running away; this is before I realized that my father was mean and I hated him. I hated what he was doing, and so in a sense you really don’t survive. You don’t survive who you are. It’s almost as if something is holding you up, it’s not you. I think that a lot of children who go through something like what I went through and other situations, how did they answer that question? I would imagine it’d be very similar, which is I really don’t know, you just do.
>>Lori: Was there a point in your adulthood where you made the conscious decision to let go of the storyline that your family and your relatives had been saying, and claim your own storyline?
>>Marybeth: That I’m working on. That, for sure I’m working on. I think the point where I am, which I mentioned earlier, is just at the point where I’m accepting and processing the fact that others knew. I’m hoping that once I am able to process that, it will be another piece of the puzzle or another release so to speak. Another part of the process where I can tell myself a new story, but yes, I’m definitely on the way to that. So, I could say yes and no, but i’m working on it.
>>Lori: Yeah, I just want to pause right there. I think this might be a good place for us to transition a little bit. I want to pause right there and congratulate you for your capacity to recognize where you are in your process. I think I see all too often survivors desperately trying to get through to get to the end. Well as soon as I… then it will… I call that the graduation mentality where we are constantly and consistently looking towards some futuristic way of being. What I just heard you say is like you’re truly honoring exactly where you are and that this is a process for you. That is absolutely beautiful Marybeth.
>>Marybeth: Thank you.
>>Lori: I think that’s really profound.
>>Marybeth: It has to be a process for me Lori, that’s just me. That’s just me and my own makeup, I’m sensitive and an empath, probably by nature and by nurture. That’s how I feel.
>>Lori: That’s probably why you ask so many questions.
>>Lori: What was happening on the inside didn’t align with the environment that you were in, so you needed to have a greater understanding of that. When you’re in an environment of people who might not have as deep of a connection to their empathic side, or might not be empathic, there can be mixed messages.
>>Marybeth: Yes, which leads into my siblings– some of my siblings having the same type of feelings I had, and some of my siblings not remembering. Some of my siblings saying “oh come on Mar”– my oldest brother will say “I’m glad dad was hard on us”. My dad was not hard on us, he was like over the top unbelievable, and like I only gave you a snippet of some of the things that he did. My oldest brother actually saying, “I’m glad that dad beat us”, you’re glad that that happened? My oldest brother is also a raging alcoholic– I shouldn’t say raging, raging’s a bad word, I don’t even really like it. He’s a bad alcoholic, but that’s how his thought process is, and that’s how he self-medicates not even knowing that if he would just– “Richie this happened, oh my gosh it did, yeah put down the wine you don’t need it let’s talk about it”, but he won’t. I don’t think that we’ll ever get to that point because I have tried with him before and that’s another thing too Lori. I don’t really try with anybody else anymore, I tried for Marybeth. As far as dealing with the angst, as far as dealing with the anger, as far as dealing with the hurt, I do that for Marybeth. Getting it out, helping people, if I could help somebody else, if someone can learn from what I have to say, then I’ve done a great job.
>>Lori: Absolutely, and simply by modeling your own growth, your own self-awareness, that alone says so much to other people. It really just gives them something to look at, something to work towards so I think it’s beautiful. Marybeth I would love to continue to stay connected as you go through this journey and walk through your stages with you, if you’d be open to that. There is something really remarkable about what you’re embarking on. It is a journey in and of itself that I don’t think many people have captured. We wait until we’re out of it that we’re like, okay whew! That just happened [ laughs] and then we try to go back and like to encapsulate what we went through. I feel like, and again I have goosebumps , I feel like you’re in it and you’re gracious about that. I’m your cheerleader, I have the utmost respect for what you’re doing and if you’d be willing, I’m sure our listeners would love to hear your progress. There’s something profound about releasing where we’ve come from and claiming our own selves later in life.
>>Marybeth: Yes, and I Lori would love to keep in touch with you and your listeners. Absolutely. Anytime I’m happy to talk about it and I’m happy to answer any questions and be a human, who’s been through life. Life is difficult and we all have our own story, and this is my story, but if I could help someone else absolutely. This is my genre right now, I didn’t want to volunteer at the local vet, I love pets, but when I found EndCAN, I was like that’s it for me, right there. So yes, absolutely.
>>Lori: Well, I’m elated that you’re a volunteer with us, and that you’ve chosen to take action and that way. I can’t wait for our future, I can’t wait to meet more you’s, I can’t wait to watch where you go. I’m excited and I’m grateful, so thank you for being with us today on our podcast. Thank you for having a voice, thank you for being louder than silence, thank you for being you, thank you for being exactly where you are, and thank you for having grit.
>>Marybeth: I love that! I love that I have grit, I love that! Thank you, Lori, it was a pleasure meeting you. I look forward to seeing you and talking to you again, and your listeners and I just want to tell you that I’m just so thrilled to be a part of EndCAN, and that I’m able to speak up and speak loudly, because that’s Marybeth. That was little Marybeth, she wouldn’t be quiet, so why would anybody think that– they kept me quiet for a while, as long as she could. Then when she was out there on her own, she was like “oh hell no”, I’m talking. I’m going to keep talking, and they’re not going to like it.
>>Lori: Well, thank you, and we’ve got a place for your voice.
>>Marybeth: Oh good!
>>Lori: Well ladies and gentlemen, I am Lori Poland, I am the executive director for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. You’ve been listening to the Louder than Silence Podcast with Marybeth Givens today. You will hear from her again; you’ll definitely hear from me again. Join us, be a part of this, be a part of this with us. No matter where you are in your journey, it’s yours and there is a place for you. Thank you all and have a beautiful day, we’ll be in touch soon.
[Inspirational theme music plays]
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The Louder than Silence podcast is brought to you by EndCAN – The National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. All episodes are made possible by your support.