Am I blessed or cursed? Who knows the answer to this question? Certainly not me. My memories of childhood are ever present. Most unfortunately, they are not pleasant. However, my childhood made me what I am today. The abuse took what I might have been and changed me in the most fundamental ways.
Growing up Catholic and poor was an existence shared by many in upstate New York in the 50’s and 60’s. Growing up Catholic and in a Catholic orphanage was unbelievable to many of us. How do you explain the horrors that happened to us? I spent almost 10 years in that orphanage and experienced things that are unfathomable to most people even today.
When I went to junior high school, I weighed a mere 58 pounds. The food we were given as orphans was for the most part inedible. When we vomited it, we were forced to eat the regurgitated food. To this day, I can’t sit at the same table with people eating Spanish rice.
As an aspiring artist, I was told my art was stupid. As a retired adult, I make my living at it. As a student, I was badly beaten because I didn’t understand math. As an adult, I ran my own business successfully for 30 years. The abuse I suffered as a child rendered me unable to cope with most simple situations in life.
I was beaten, sexually abused, starved, humiliated, forbidden contact with siblings and told I was retarded and stupid so long that I believed it. I resented it, but ultimately believed it.
I am now 71 years old. As an adult I have made a successful life for myself. I have been married for 38 years to the same man. I have 2 children grown now and grandsons. All of them have never known anything but love from me and my husband. I have broken the cycle of abuse forever.
I opened 2 adult family homes here in Washington state and had them for 30 years. I retired about 5 years ago. Because of what happened to me as a child, I kept these 12 mentally disabled individuals from an institutional existence. I believe that I kept them from the same potential abuse that I suffered as a vulnerable person. Dedicating my life to helping others helped me in my own healing process. I felt all my working life that if I could save just one person from being abused, then I have done a good thing. I gave 30 years to many that needed rescue from the system. I have done the right thing.
I remember almost every single face of my abusers. I remember all the names of the nuns who abused me. I remember every instance of the abuse from being stripped naked in front of other children to be abused, to the rape by the maintenance man, to being sent to another home for retarded children run by the same nuns for saying I would tell my father what happened to me.
Is my memory of all of it a blessing or a curse? I don’t think I will ever really know the answer. But, because of them, children will be more safe. Perverts and child abusers will be revealed in courts of law. The old saying from the nuns “don’t bother to tell, nobody will believe you” will ultimately be told in a court of law. Now someone is listening.
Almost two-thirds of respondents to the landmark CDC Adverse Childhood Experiences Study reported surviving at least one ACE. People with six or more ACEs die nearly twenty years earlier (on average) than those without ACEs. You can help make sure this never happens to another child. Learn how by subscribing to our newsletter and supporting our work. Read about the ten categories of ACEs by following our blog. Do you know your ACE score? Take the ACE test here.
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Susanne Maloney Robertson
Susanne spent nearly ten years in St. Colman’s Home, a Catholic orphanage. Her only crime was being a poor child.