‘Til the hurting stops

Published 10:19 pm Saturday, April 25, 2009

She is much older than her 28 years.

Trouble has a way of tugging away at the years and she has had trouble enough.

Emotion chokes Ivy’s words. The tears that spill from her eyes run unashamedly down her face. She makes little or no attempt to wipe them away.

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Each tear that she sheds, somehow, lightens the burden that she has shouldered for most of those 28 years.

Ivy’s story is one of abuse – physical, mental, emotional and sexual. Hers is the story of trying to fix things for herself and for others. Hers is now a story of hope.

“I don’t think that I’ve gone through what I have just to go through it,” she said. “God says, ‘I comfort you, so you can comfort others.’ He took control of my life – gave me comfort. Now, maybe I can do that for someone else. Hurting people hurt people. Nobody knows that better than me.”

Ivy walked into the Pike Regional Advocacy Center in Troy unannounced. She came offering to do what she can to help others who are in the dark place from which she has, at last, emerged.

“Ivy’s story is so important because it’s the story of what can happen, and does happen, when victims of child abuse don’t get help and have to carry the burden alone and have no one to help them and protect them,” said Mona Watson, CAC director. “Her story is one that should never have to be told. Ivy dropped out of heaven and she’s here to help stop the hurting of child abuse.”

Ivy’s story begins like many stories of child abuse. With a father and mother who let alcohol and drugs take control of their lives.

“There were four of us,” Ivy said. “My two older brothers and I were like doorsteps. Our sister was two years younger than me. I don’t ever remember us laughing and playing. We were always afraid of doing something that would set our parents off. If one of us messed up, we all suffered.”

Their mother was the most abusive. She beat them with whatever was “handy.”

“It might be an extension cord or a cane pole,” Ivy said. “My older brother would try to divert the attention away from us by kicking and hitting at her and he would take most of the beating. I can remember Mama beating him until he would bleed all over the place.”

Looking back, Ivy now understands that “hurting people hurt people” and her mother was hurting.

One of her most vivid and horrid memories Ivey has is of her dad tying her mother to the post of the clothes line and beating her with his hands.

“He made us sit on steps and watch,” she said. “I put my head down because I didn’t want to look but my brother told me to hold my head up or it would be worse.”

The family lived in a two-room shack with an outhouse and no running water.

“We had to bathe in a tub outside and all of us bathed in the same water,” Ivy said. “It didn’t matter how cold it was, we had to bathe. One time it was freezing cold and Mama kept telling me to wash but I couldn’t. I was so cold. I got out and went in the house.”

Ivy’s mother put a pot of water on the wood stove to boil. Then she told Ivy to lie on the kitchen table.

“She poured the boiling water on my head and my face,” Ivy said. “I screamed it hurt so bad. I didn’t know Jesus or God at the time but I prayed.”

When her mother saw how badly Ivy was burned, she picked her up and hugged her.

“It was almost worth the pain to have my mama hug me,” Ivy said. “She said she was sorry and for me to go outside and play. She was hurting and she hurt me.”

Ivy’s dad worked at the cotton mill and would often come home drunk.

“One night, he came home – I guess I was four, close to five — and he came to the bed where I was sleeping with my sister and he started to touch me,” Ivy said. “I started to cry because it hurt so bad but he told me that it was what big girls do.”

That was the beginning of three years of sexual abuse by her father.

“We all slept in the same room. Mama had to know,” Ivy said.

When she would hear her father coming in the dark, Ivy would “shhhh” her sister and hide her under the bed.

“I didn’t want him to hurt her like he hurt me,” she said. “I finally got up the courage to tell my mama but she said, ‘Just don’t tell nobody.’”

Ivy held that secret until she could hold it no longer.

“I was afraid to go to school because I thought that ‘he’ might come home and hurt my sister, too,” she said. “My granddaddy was a Baptist preacher. I couldn’t tell him but I think he knew because he would take my little sister to their house. When she was there, I thought she was safe.”

Her fear for her sister and the pain that she was suffering gave Ivy the courage to tell her second-grade teacher.

“I prayed and the answer came, ‘Tell her. She’ll fix it,’ and she did,” Ivy said. “She told me, ‘You’ll not go home today.’ I thought, though, that I was going to be in trouble. That a storm was coming and it was going to be huge.”

But there was quietness. Like before and after a storm. Ivy and her brothers and sisters did not go home that day. Instead, they were taken to the Baptist Children’s Home in Troy.

“I was sad because I had torn my family apart but that was the first time that I felt just a little bit safe,” Ivy said. “But I was still afraid for my sister. For a long time, I couldn’t sleep at night. I was afraid that somebody would bother her. I would sit in a chair and watch her sleep.”

Although unfounded, the fears that she had at home followed Ivy to the Children’s Home.

“Probably because of the trauma of being in a strange place, my sister started to wet the bed,” Ivy said. “I was so afraid that she would be whipped that I would get her up and put dry pajamas on her and put her in my bed. Then, I would get in the wet bed. If anybody was going to be beaten, I wanted it to be me.” Before long, Ivy’s house parents, Pat and Zoie Newby, became the kind and loving parents she had never had.

“For the first time in my life, I knew what it was to not be afraid and to be able to play and laugh,” Ivy said. “I could even sleep at night.”

Even though, Ivy was safe and loved, she didn’t receive any counseling to help her overcome the abuse she had suffered for so long.

Then, three years after Ivy and her siblings arrived at the Children’s Home, “they gave us back.”

Her parents were divorced and her mother had “straightened up” and wanted her children back.

“I begged them not to make me go,” Ivy said. “I thought my life was being destroyed all over again. I was angry and bitter.”

Back at home, Ivy started to “spiral out of control.” At age 12 she started drinking and engaging in other risky behavior. By 14 she was pregnant.

“When I saw my baby boy, I was terrified,” she said. “I wanted to pick him up and love him but I couldn’t. I was so afraid that I would hurt him like I had been hurt. I gave him over to his daddy’s mother.”

In less than two years, she gave birth to another boy with the same daddy. “But I couldn’t give him up,” she said. “I pushed him off on my mother even knowing what she had done to me.”

Another pregnancy brought a little girl into Ivy’s life.

“She became me and I had to keep her safe,” Ivy said. “Having to protect her kept the focus off me.”

But Ivy’s dysfunctional life didn’t stop. Another baby and a failed marriage brought her to the realization that she needed help.

“I prayed,” she said. “I was tired of feeling the way I did, of not trusting anybody, of being in a cage, of being hurt, of no one loving me. I was in such a lonely place.” The guidance of a pastor, the love of a good husband and God’s control of her life showed Ivy that “it’s okay to be me.”

“I learned that my past doesn’t have to define my future,” she said. “I’ve learned to forgive my parents, to forgive myself. There’s freedom in forgiveness. For the first time in my life, I feel free from my past and look with hope to the future.”