Ask Polly: My Father Raped Me.

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Dear Polly,

I am a 33-year-old woman religiously following your column. I find myself looking for an answer to my problems in your other devotees’ challenges but it hasn’t happened. I guess it is to be expected since my situation is, if terrible and not as uncommon as one may think, very unspoken of. I was raped by my father from the age of 6 to the age of 11, so was my sister, and my brother was forced to see what my father was doing to her as well. It took me years to come out and talk about it. Like in many cases, I couldn’t bring myself to tell my story and felt guilty.

I’ve been in therapy for years now. I’ve tested every antidepressant there is on the planet. Nothing works. As of today, my sister and I have decided to press charges against my father; we’re still in the beginning of the process but authorities are confident he will be charged with rape. I really don’t know that this action will make me feel better but I know it is the right thing to do.

Growing up with that history is basically impossible, and to this day I still don’t know who I am. I’m trying to get through life the best way I can but it’s a hassle. Oddly enough, the thing that’s making me most depressed is not being able to be in a long-term relationship with a man. I am a good-looking, accomplished women, smart and funny, but every relationship fails. I don’t have a problem meeting men; in fact, they’re always very eager to be with me at first. But they like the version I give them, the cheery, interesting woman I led them to believe I am. Up to the point where I guess they realize I’m not as together as they think, far from it. This happens even if I don’t tell them what happened to me (I’ve tried both). I guess they just figure there is something wrong with me. The problem is not sexual, if you were wondering.

The problem is that I want it too much. I want to be loved and for the other person to save me, take care of me, carry me. I know I’m asking too much, but I can’t help myself. I am obsessed with getting married and having kids to start a family of my own, the right one. I know there are other things I need to work on but I feel like the only way for me to feel whole is to have someone who loves me.

Today I have come to the conclusion that it will never happen to me. Because my father destroyed me I will never be happy, I will always be lonely, depressed, and sad. It’s an awful conclusion, but it is the only one I see. I have lost all hope, and I don’t see the point in living anymore.

Please help.

Alone

Dear Alone,

Honestly, your letter makes me feel hopeless, too. I don’t know how to help. You already have a therapist and you already know all about rape and PTSD and depression and you’ve already tried all of the antidepressants. What can I possibly write that will improve anything for you?

I’m so sorry for what you’ve endured. I feel sick over it. Your father made it so that you essentially couldn’t stay conscious and still survive. He made it too painful for you to exist. He erased you. It makes me so furious and so sad to think about that. It makes me want to think about anything else but that.

You want to run away. Why wouldn’t you? Who wouldn’t choose not to think about this, not to face this? This one injury is like a bomb that exploded at the center of you and flattened everything. Nothing can exist around you.

And yet, here you are. Sitting down on the ground in the middle of the smoke and the ashes, asking for love. All you want is to be loved.

You are almost out of hope. You are sure that no one will ever love you. And yet, you still want love.

You feel stupid for this. You feel guilty for feeling these things, and you’re sure that it’s the wrong path. You should be strong, you think. You shouldn’t want someone to carry you. You should give up and stop scaring people away. You should purge your history. You should empty yourself of bad things and fill yourself with good things. You should know who you are. You should try harder. You should stand on your own two feet instead of being carried. You should rise from the ashes, triumphantly, like people do in the movies. Someday, you’re sure, you have to cross that off your list — RISE TRIUMPHANTLY FROM THIS WRECKAGE, ALL BY MYSELF — but first you have to do everything else. You have an endless list of things you have to fix, and you have to start now. Why aren’t you starting? Why can’t you just stand up and walk?

I don’t know much about what you have been through, but I do know how that feels. You try so hard. You try to be interesting and cheerful, but your eyes still say, “Can you carry me?” I used to be like that. I used to want love more than anything else. And I had no excuse to want love so much. I had no excuse to want to be carried. My pain never came close to your pain. My darkness wasn’t in the same universe as your darkness. But I wanted love more than anything else.

Right now, I don’t want to tell you what to do next, how to fight harder, how to rise above all of the shit and seize the day. I just want to say: Your desire for love is beautiful. This moment of sitting down on the ground and wanting someone else to carry you is scary and dark and ugly and terrible and sad and heartbreaking, and it is also beautiful.

Your desire for love is like some small remaining ray of light that survived, deep inside you, after every other light was snuffed out. This light is your strength. It is a miracle that this tiny burst of desire still flickers inside you.

This light is the best part of you, and the strongest part of you. You are right to believe in this more than anything else. You want to be loved — this is your soul. THIS IS WHO YOU ARE. It is still giving off sparks. It says, “Carry me.” It says, “Love me.”

Stay where you are and bask in the light of this tiny spark. Look at how gorgeous your need is. Everything around you is dark, but your need is a white-hot light.

This light says you also want to give love, even though you can’t feel that part as well yet. This light says you want to help other people find their way. You can’t tell that yet. You don’t know that in your heart yet. This spark wants you to create things that express your hunger for love. This is the divine, to you: the image of someone who comes to save someone else. The picture of someone who is helpless, and someone else who carries them. This is what you believe in.

This may sound crazy, but I believe that you’ll carry someone who can’t walk someday. You’ll walk right into the smoke and ashes and pick someone up and carry them. You are the one who loves someone who wants nothing more than to be loved. This is who you are.

And you will be loved, too. You will be deeply loved.

I know that it sounds like I’m speaking in some kind of bullshit fairy-tale mumbo jumbo. But I just want you to start with your longing. I want you to keep your longing safe from criticism, safe from shame. Some people give up hope that they’ll ever find love, and that’s good for some people. Maybe their desire for love was masking a stronger desire to create something, or to love themselves, or to stop putting off chasing their wildest dreams. They have other priorities beyond love, ones that were obscured by their obsession with love. But I think your soul simply wants love.

Maybe you only need to understand this one thing about yourself. Maybe you don’t need to know more about anything else right now.

You have to sit down on the ground, instead of trying to stand. And you have to love yourself FOR WANTING LOVE. You have to love what you once thought was weak. You have to be this sad, lonely, hopeful, broken person, and you have to see that her hope is beautiful. You have to try to do this every day, every minute.

This is where you start. You start where you are, and you love yourself, in all of your bottomless need, in all of your hopelessness, in all of your longing.

The subject line of your letter was MY LAST HOPE, as if either love is your last hope or I am your last hope. But like the men who run away, I’m afraid of being your last hope. Not because you’re a scary monster whose needs are too much for me, but because looking at you is like looking in the mirror. I don’t want to admit how needy I once was or how needy I still am, or how afraid I am of carrying someone else instead of being carried. Sometimes I’m an openhearted person, but just like everyone else, sometimes I’m a robot who can’t feel her own feelings. When I read your letter, I wondered how I could possibly live up to being your last hope.

Feeling overwhelmed by someone who needs you forces you to face all of your own needs. But every rare once in a while, you’ll find someone who says,”I can help. Even though your needs remind me of my own needs, I won’t run away. Even though your darkness reminds me of the terrible darkness in the world, I won’t turn my back on you.”

Because some people know that we are all each other’s last hope. When we are brave enough to admit that we’re needy, that we want to be carried, that’s the moment when we’re brave enough to love, to be someone ELSE’S last hope, to do the carrying.

Imagine for a minute that you want love because there is endless love inside of you. Think of how incredible that is, that you could hold that inside of you as your own father tried keep you in the dark for years. You are stronger than almost anyone. Don’t tell me I don’t know how weak and messed up you are. I always felt like no one who said I was good could possibly know how damaged and doomed I was. I spent years just building things and then knocking them down. I spent years criticizing people who took risks I would never dare to take. I spent years hating other people because I didn’t know where to put all of the love I had to give. I needed love more than anything else and I didn’t even see how much love I had, almost too much to bear.

I started writing this column almost by accident. Now when I don’t do it with all of my heart, I feel like I’m going to explode. I start to hiss and stutter and break down. I am not so special or so talented; that’s not the point. The point is, I know that this is the best use of my time and effort. This is where I can put my (sometimes limited, sometimes dim, sometimes flickering) light.

And when I feel hopeless, that’s when my light burns the brightest. I have to try my hardest. I have to shut everything else out and try. Trying, for me, usually means giving up first. Trying very hard and wanting something a lot means sitting down on the ground and saying, I CAN’T DO THIS. I NEED HELP.

We are needy and we are needed so badly. YOU are needed. You can stop hiding. You can ask openly to be carried, by very close friends and even by potential partners. Everyone says this is not what you should ever do, but this is part of who you are, and it’s not something you should feel ashamed of, because it’s right there next to your greatest strength, your miraculous, resilient ability to hold out hope. I don’t think you’ll accept love from someone who is abusive or badly broken. So own who you are. Say, “I am someone who needs a lot of love.” Don’t say, “I need more love than anyone could ever give,” because you can give that much love yourself. Say, “I am someone who scares people away”; don’t say, “And I always will.” You will be afraid of needy people someday, but you won’t run away. You will feel that you’re in the right place.

Your life will be full, Alone. You will carry yourself and you will be carried and you will carry someone else. You will be loved and you will love. You know that love lies at the center of everything for you. Don’t turn your back on that. You are your last hope. You are the brightest light for miles and miles, bright enough to lead countless doomed ships to shore.

Polly

Order the new Ask Polly book, How To Be A Person in the World, here. Got a question for Polly? Email askpolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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