Effects of therapy
The first contact with her mother: why
First contact with her father: important elements
What helped to bring about final reconciliation
Effects of therapy on Beth
At the end of 2 1/2 years of therapy, I had come to fully believe that
I had been impregnated by my father twice. I "remembered" that he had performed
a coat hanger abortion on me with the first pregnancy and that I performed
the second coat hanger abortion on myself. I also "recalled" that he had
inserted a curling iron, scissors and a meat fork inside of me, and other
"horrors." I came to believe this without a doubt and could "remember"
it happening detail by detail. I was told by my therapist that I had to
separate from my parents in order to break this cycle of "abuse" in my
family. Otherwise, my therapist said, I would be at risk to abuse my own
children some day when I became a mother. By the end of this 2 1/2 years
of therapy, I had so physically deteriorated that my weight was down to
87 pounds, unable to eat because of the emotional and mental battle that
was raging inside me. I was on medication and my mind was sinking deeper
and deeper into blackness. With my last bit of energy and in an effort
to begin to "get well," my middle sister, Lynette, and I renter a U-haul
and moved away from my parents in Springfield, MO to Oklahoma City, OK.
My youngest sister, Shara, went into hiding in Springfield, afraid that
my father would murder her. Both of my sisters had come to believe my "memories"
of abuse. We cut off all communication with my parents.
However, moving away from my parents also put me out of direct contact
with my therapist. This was the best thing that could have happened to
me, although I didn't realize it at the time. After four months of continual
phone contact with my therapist in Missouri, I was instructed by her to
try and find a new therapist to continue my "treatment." But, I decided,
I had participated in all the therapy I could handle and wanted a break
from the tormenting sessions that dwelt exclusively on abuse events. This
crucial decision was the beginning of my journey home. When you don't have
someone interpreting your parents' every move and word, you begin to think
on your own. After I left home, my father and mother were brought before
the southern Missouri state leadership of our church. My father's ministerial
credentials were taken from him because he was charged with molesting and
abusing me as a child. My mother was accused of participating in some of
the molestation by restraining me so my father could carry out his sadistic
Three months before these accusations were made, my father had lost
his job at our denominational world headquarters, but he never knew the
real reason why he was fired. Now, however, he began to realize what had
really been going on behind the scenes. My parents were told that they
were not to contact my two sisters or me. It was explained to them that
if they didn't sign a statement of guilt, their file would be turned over
to the district attorney's office and my father would be prosecuted to
the fullest extent of the law, and he would face seven years to life in
prison. My parents refused to admit guilt to our denominational leadership
for something they had not done.
All communication ceased between us. I fully believed that my parents
had committed these atrocities as much as they fully knew that they had
never done them. What changed my mind? What brought me to the truth?
On April 19, 1995 at 9:02 AM, a bomb went off in Oklahoma City. My mother,
a nurse like me, was working at the hospital that day in Springfield, MO.
As she went from patient to patient, she overheard TV reports about the
shocking devastation in Oklahoma City. A lot of horrible things happened
that day, but one good thing came out of it all.
My mom knew that two of her daughters were in Oklahoma City. She was
worried about my sister and me, knowing we worked in the vicinity of the
explosion. She also knew that she had been told that if she contacted her
children it could be used in a court of law against her as harassment.
But she decided, "There is no law against expressing love and concern for
my children. If they want to lock me up for trying to find out if my daughters
are alive, then let them." When worry overcame fear, she called. But I
was not home, so she left a message on the answering machine.
My sister and I were caught in the massive traffic on the interstate
that day. We missed the phone call, but it is a day I will never forget.
It was our first contact from home. You see, when I came home and listened
to my mom's voice, it was the most soothing and comforting thing that could
have happened. As I later learned, my mom had prayed for an opportunity
to be able to show her love for her daughters, and kept her mind and heart
open to any circumstances that would allow it. She didn't know if it would
happen in months, years or even maybe never, but she was looking and hoping.
With that thought in her heart, her words that day were ones of love and
concern. She stated that if we needed anything to let her know and that
they (my parents) were always there for us. She then hung up the phone.
I can remember listening to that message and hearing that "past" mom that
I had hidden away in my memory, and I thought of times when she would rock
me at night as a little girl or hold me when I was upset. For a brief moment,
good true memories crept into my thinking. I quickly shoved them back into
the "closet," though, as I felt I had to keep hatred toward them alive.
But, it was the next little step in my journey back home.
My youngest sister, who during this time had been living in hiding from
my parents in Springfield, MO, started making contact with my parents.
She was the first to go home. She called and told me that after having
a nine-hour talk with our parents, she was planning to move back home.
I felt so betrayed. I told her, "Shara, you and I will always be sisters
and in that context I will always love you. But, you have stabbed me in
the back and I feel betrayed." I hung up the phone and turned to my sister
Lynette and cried. I said, "Lyn, please don't ever do to me what Shara
has just done." I can remember lying in bed at night and hurting over being
Shara and I had very little conversation on the phone from then on.
I can remember thinking that if I proved to Shara that she was wrong, she
would come back and "join my side" again. I decided that the best way to
do this was to show my parents how much better off I was without them in
my life and Shara would perhaps see how cruel my parents were to me when
I was with them. After all, my parents were horrible monsters and only
mean things would come out of their mouths at me. In my desire to prove
Shara wrong and to show my parents I really didn't need or want them in
my life, I made another contact. In retrospect, it was actually another
giant step toward home. I called up my mom and asked her if she wanted
to go shopping with me. I told her that I would meet her halfway (in Tulsa,
OK) where my aunt and uncle lived, and we could shop together if she would
agree not to talk about "the situation." She agreed and off to the mall
we went!! So many important things happened in that one afternoon that
were so vital to my coming back home. I want to share them with you and
explain why it was so helpful to me.
The first contact with her mother: why successful
1. WE MET IN A NEUTRAL PLACE. By meeting in a neutral place there were
no emotional attachments to it. If I had met my mom at their home, it would
have been too emotionally threatening. If I left that day thinking good
and warm thought about her, I would have later chalked it up to having
been emotionally manipulated into feeling that way. It needed to be a place
that had no emotional components.
2. WE MET IN A PLACE OF ACTIVITY. By meeting in a place surrounded by
action and noise, the pressure was not there to talk. If we had met in
a favorite restaurant, it would have been difficult for me-too much eye
contact, too much quietness. It would have been very uncomfortable for
me to sit across a table staring at my mother and struggling to talk about
something. In fact, I probably would have gotten up and walked out because
of the sheer awkwardness that would have been present. However, at the
mall there was no pressure for conversation.
3. WE DISCUSSED NEUTRAL TOPICS. Since we are both nurses, we talked
about work and our frustrations and enjoyments about a career in nursing.
We talked about our dog, Ginger. I missed her dearly and my mother talked
about the newest crazy thing she had just done. We never talked about my
dad or what was occurring in our lives because of my belief in the sexual
abuse. By my mother keeping her agreement not to address the "situation,"
I soon came to realize that my parents would respect the boundaries that
I had placed and that they could be trusted. My mom and I laughed together
and for a few hours our relationship was just like what it had always been.
4. SHE ASKED MY PERMISSION TO DO THINGS. While at the mall, my mother
asked me if she could buy me a loofah sponge. I said, "yes," and she bought
it for me. I can remember standing at the counter and holding back tears
as she paid for it. You see, I knew my father was unemployed and I knew
that she didn't have money to be spending. Watching my mother's love in
action was something I thought about after we had parted ways. Also, when
my mother asked me if she could buy something for me, it left me with the
consequences of my decision. If I had said "no," I couldn't have walked
away thinking "See my mother doesn't even care about me. She never even
offered to do something for me." If I said "yes," I couldn't walk away
and say, "My mother feels guilty for what she did to me as a child, so
she is buying me gifts to make up for it." By her asking me, I couldn't
misinterpret her gift.
These basic elements in our meeting together for the first time made
such an impact on me. How could such an evil parent be loving and warm
toward an accusing daughter? I began to think for the first time that this
picture wasn't lining up. However, I didn't allow myself to dwell on those
thoughts for too long. You see, it would be too conflicting on the inside
to do so. It was easier to just ignore thoughts of love and affection for
or from my mom. Fortunately, this was a short-lived pattern. Although my
mom wondered what good the shopping trip had done, little did she know
that as I drove back to Oklahoma City I dwelt on every word said, every
twinkle in her eye and her smile. Her objective of showing LOVE had been
accomplished, but only I knew that. Since my experience with my mother
had gone so well, we kept in touch and I became more open to the idea of
seeing my father. A short time after the shopping visit, my mom began asking
me repeatedly if I would allow my father to see me. I repeatedly told her
"no." I explained to my mom that I would vomit if I saw my father. I still
believed that he was a monster of a human being. My mom, again, respected
my answer but continued to gently prod on. I finally agreed to see my dad.
It happened at my uncle and aunt's house in Tulsa, OK. I came down from
upstairs and walked into the kitchen. I was a nervous wreck! Out of the
corner of my eye, I saw my dad coming across the kitchen toward me. I closed
my eyes and was waiting for the impact of his fist. I thought he was going
to hit me, as I believed he was an evil man. Although he had never hit
me with his fist before, I had come to believe through therapy that this
was a common occurrence in my growing-up years.
First contact with her father: important elements
Beside me, I heard muffled sobbing. I opened my eyes and there next
to me stood my dad. I stood in disbelief. Why is he crying? He quietly
whispered through his tears, "Thanks for letting me see you. . . I thought
I had lost you forever. . . . I didn't think I would ever see you again
. . . Can I say your name?" I nodded my head quietly in a "yes" motion.
He began to say my name over and over. He explained "It just hurt too much
to say it before." You see, I was expecting an angry man to come at me
with accusations and tones of hatred. I expected that he would demand answers
and give me ultimatums or threats of permanent alienation. But he displayed
the exact opposite. He showed a heart of a real dad, full of love. I remember
standing at the kitchen counter that day. It was a tender moment that my
dad and I share to this day. It still brings tears to our eyes when we
talk about it together. But standing there that day, I was blown away in
my thinking. How could such an ugly monster be so caring, loving, broken
and tearful? I started to wonder if all those memories were true. After
all, this just wasn't lining up. Let me explain some things that began
to turn my thinking around that day.
1. MY FATHER AVOIDED ANY KIND OF ANGRY TONE OR HOSTILITY. Had my dad
told me that I was all wrong and that if I ever wanted to see him again,
I must apologize, I would have promptly gotten my keys and gone home. If
he had wanted to hash out all of my accusations and go over them, I also
would have left. But, by wanting nothing more than to see me and by not
bringing up a single detail of the wreckage of his life, I went away thinking
only of his tears and gratitude toward me for allowing him to see me.
2. MY FATHER LET HIS EMOTIONS SHOW THROUGH. This perhaps had the biggest
impact on me, for I had never seen my dad cry like he did that day. I learned
that my father did not let this devastating experience harden him. Instead,
it softened and broke his heart and that softness was what won mine.
3. WE WERE ONLY TOGETHER FOR A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME. Had my father and
I spent all day together, it would have been too emotionally overwhelming
for me. The short encounter allowed me to dwell on the details in a better
way. It also kept him from saying the wrong things! In other words, I didn't
have too much to remember from our meeting, and what I did have to remember
weren't the wrong kinds of things.
Remember (parents), the therapist suggests that you are monsters. Be
careful to do and act in whatever manner that keeps you from looking like
and acting like a monster or someone you are not!!! That doesn't mean it
is easy to do. If you were to ask my parents, they would tell you that
there were times when they wanted to come to Oklahoma City and barge into
my place. For they thought that if I would just see them, it would "snap
me out of it." But, this would have been the worst thing they could have
done. I would never have come home. I became a returner before I became
Over the next few months, we began to talk on the phone. The conversations
were neutral and short. Finally, I told my parents that I wanted to talk
with them. They came to Oklahoma City and came to my place for the first
time. My parents battled between themselves over whether or not they should
address my accusations with me. But, they decided to let me bring that
subject up when I was ready, and in my case it was the right thing to do.
I eventually brought up the subject, and when I did we had an eleven-hour
talk. We even went to a fast-food drive-thru so that we didn't have to
stop and make dinner. We talked the whole way there and the whole way back!!
It was in those 11 hours that I first heard the words "false memories."
Over time I came to understand what had happened to me. My parents did
a lot of the right things in that first discussion of the whole situation.
(Although if you were to ask my parents, they would say, "We had no idea
what we were doing. We felt like we were walking on thin ice not knowing
from one moment to the next if we might say the wrong thing and ruin the
progress made.") These are some of the things they said that really helped
What helped to bring about final reconciliation
ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS OUT OF MY PARENTS' MOUTHS WHEN I ANNOUNCED I WANTED
TO TALK ABOUT WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN OUR FAMILY WAS, "BETH, WE DON'T CARE
WHAT IT WAS THAT BROUGHT YOU TO BELIEVE THESE THINGS ABOUT US. What matters
most is that we have you." My parents continually reassured me that no
matter what I told them about my therapy sessions or the beliefs I once
held about them that they would always love me and want me in their lives.
As the conversation progressed, so did the feeling of guilt on my part.
It was their reassurance of love that kept me continuing the path back
home and not shutting the door for fear I would cause them to want to desert
MY PARENTS UNDERSTOOD WHAT HAD HAPPENED. By my parents' understanding what
happened to me even before I understood it, I found I wasn't shocking them
as I unfolded details of my therapy. They were already aware and familiar
with the therapy process. It made me not feel so stupid when I realized
I wasn't the only one who had had this kind of therapy.
MY PARENTS WERE NON-THREATENING. I never felt like "a big punishment" was
going to be given to me when I walked in the front door. They accepted
me just as I was, pieces and all. In time, my parents and I sat down and
talked about the whole ordeal. This included everything that my mom and
dad had been through. My sisters and I have talked, too. We have asked
my parents for their forgiveness and they willingly and quickly gave it.
My prayer to God shortly after we were reunited was, "God, pour so
much Elmer's glue over us that we won't ever be separated again!!" And
God has answered my prayer. My family and I love each other so much and
we're as close as before, but I'd say even closer because we've individually
and collectively survived this almost fatal nightmare.Yes, we are still
a normal family with our differences of opinion and personalities, but
we cherish our times together as never before, knowing we almost lost each
other. Family love is strong and resilient. Love prevails . . . It bears
all things, believes through all things, hopes through all things, endures
through all things. We now walk our life's journey TOGETHER.
(The above first appeared in the April 1998 FMS Foundation Newsletter
and is reproduced here with the Foundation's and the author's permission.)