(The following is the 19th in a series of posts related to my re-reading of Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayal and Unconditional Love, by Marilyn Van Derbur.)
Following are some final words from Chapter 2 that particularly resonated with me in one way or another.
I knew I had to win respect—big time. It would be a motivation that would rule my life.
I developed a life-time habit of staying busy, very busy.
These words resonated for me with my middle school and high school years, during almost the entirely of which I would keep myself very busy with various extracurricular activities (baseball, soccer, church basketball, debate team, school paper, etc.) and obsessive studying (I recall, in middle school, trying to take down everything the teachers would say, verbatim, then memorizing word-for-word as a part of my homework. I believe one of the main reasons I did these things was to find validation in my school grades in and of themselves; in the respect such grades seemed, at least, to earn from my teachers; and in the acceptance into elite universities (Harvard, Yale, Williams, Stanford) which my grades and extracurriculars would earn me, providing me with yet more external validation.
Not that I believe that such external validation is necessarily lacking in value; however, when external validation is pursued obsessively in order, consciously or subconsciously, to serve double duty, substituting for the more central, internal validation and sense of self-worth that will, ideally, be nurtured in abundance through, in significant part, positive, healthy relationships with one’s parents (and that is substantially threatened when one is sexually abused by one parent while not being adequately protected by the other), the continuing obsessive desire for external validation, can pose an impediment to any possibility of a child sexual abuse survivor being eventually able to heal from the effects of their abuse.
If I had not met Larry as a young teenager, I do not believe I would have survived the long-term effects of 13 years of incest.
Ms. Van Derbur is here referring to meeting Larry Atler, a senior at her high school when she was a sophomore, who would become her husband, life partner, and a pillar of support.
This sentence resonated with me not because I could identify with it but because I couldn’t. Although I did have a handful of dates during my middle school and high school years (I attended an all-boys prep school and the dates were with girls from public schools or all-girls private schools), my first romantic-sexual relationship possessing any degree of seriousness didn’t develop until I was in my mid-twenties, and I’ve yet to find a longtime life partner as Ms. Van Derbur did in Larry Atler.
Nonetheless, despite what could be seen as this lack, I believe that I’ve still managed to achieve a substantial amount of healing, and I believe Ms. Van Derbur would agree that, although meeting her life-partner-to-be as a young teenager would prove to be essential for her surviving the effects of childhood sexual abuse in her own particular case, the finding of such a long-term life partner is by no means essential for substantial healing to occur, and that, even in the absence of such a partner, healing can be amply nurtured and sustained by a network of supportive friends as well as by various non-permanent intimate relationships of a romantic and/or sexual nature which, in one way or another, provide various incentives and opportunities for healing.
(Chapter 2 also features the entrance into Ms. Van Derbur’s life of D.D. Harvey, who became the youth minister of Denver’s Montview Presbyterian Church, Ms. Van Derbur’s family’s church, when Ms. Van Derbur was 15. D.D. Harvey would also play a crucial role in Ms. Van Derbur’s healing.)
The only person [between Ms. Van Derbur’s mother and father] who, on rare occasions, ‘heard me’ as I grew from a teenager into an adult, was my father.
Ms. Van Derbur’s complimenting her father’s superior openness to listening to her true needs and desires—in comparison with her mother, for whom such openness seemed non-existent—illustrates the complexity of the relationship a child can have with a parent who sexually abuses them. The relationship can, in other words, possess some decidedly positive aspects, which, in turn, can make it all the more difficult for an adult survivor of such abuse to come to terms with whatever devastation the abuse may have caused in their life.