“There’s no way I’m going to shut my mouth. I’m a battered child. And the whole bloody world is going to know about it. The same as they’re going to know about every other battered child. They’re not going to be able to shut us up. Just because they don’t want to hear about it.” – Sinead O’Connor
This is a follow up to my original post about the life and recent death of Sinead O’Connor. It’s also about child abuse.
Because what I learned in the aftermath of my original post about Sinead O’Connor is that when you speak your truth about being a survivor of child abuse, sometimes the person who comes at you with the greatest pushback can be a family member. And I learned that when a family member does this, it feels incredibly destabilizing.
In my original post last month about Sinead O’Connor, I wrote about how her singing Bob Marley’s song War on SNL and then ripping up the Pope picture in 1992 was probably the most courageous thing any Gen X has ever done. I wrote about how Sinead as a girl in Ireland had endured horrific physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her mother.
I also wrote about how for me personally, and for those of us from my generation who were survivors of child abuse, that Sinead had given voice to our experience. That she taught us how to make art from our wound. And to honor Sinead and her truth-telling, I simply stated that I was a survivor of child abuse. My statement about my own experience was not the central point of the piece.
Anyway, I found the experience of writing from the heart about Sinead and how her trajectory as an artist had inspired my own to be cathartic. And the words of support I received from many of you really buoyed my spirit.
But then a few days later I found myself in the company of a family member, and the subject of my post about Sinead came up and I asked this family member if they had read it. To which they replied in a derisive tone, “Yes until I got to the part where you made it sound like you got the crap beat out of you all the time.”
Was I stunned and hurt and heartsick, reader? Yes I was. Especially because the family member who said this to me wasn’t even around for my childhood.
“My name is Sinead O’Connor. I am an Irish woman.And I am an abused child. The only reason I ever opened my mouth to sing was so that I tell my story and have it heard.” – from Sinead’s open letter to 13 major American newspapers, 1992
My father is the one who had been physically abusive to me. And because of that, we have no communication today. I should say he probably feels terrible about what he did. And fwiw, I do love him. It’s complicated. Because in so many ways, he was a dutiful parent. And he introduced me to literature. My parents divorced when I was 5 and I ended up living with my father.
But I feel so strongly about the issue of child abuse, and specifically, the abuse I suffered at my father’s hands, that it is hard for me to imagine how I would benefit from having an active relationship with him. Also I know how profoundly damaged I am because of the abuse I suffered as a child. Even after years of therapy.
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Naturally I would rather not go into all the gory details. But just as an example, if you are ever near me irl and you look at my right eyebrow, you’ll see a big scar. Because when I was in the 7th grade, before school, my father, in a rage, chased me shouting and I ducked into the bathroom and locked the door. My father is a relatively big guy, 6’2 and 230 pounds. And so my father broke down the door and burst into the bathroom, and was immediately hitting me. And I tried to retreat by stepping into the bathtub, slipped and fell under his blows, and I ended up with a big gash over my right eye. And I had to go to the doctor and get stitches that morning. And then later that day at school when I showed up with a bandage over my right eye, I had to lie to my teachers and friends about what a klutz I was. And say that I had walked into a door. I had to make a joke about it. I had to sell the lie. And that is just one of hundreds if not thousands of such occurrences that I endured for as far back into my childhood as I can recall.
So let’s talk about Sinead. If you haven’t seen the recent documentary about her, Nothing Compares To You, I highly recommend it. I’ll play a little bit of the documentary for you now (if you haven’t yet, click on the podcast playing device above so you can hear Sinead.)
In the documentary, Sinead says, “My parents separated when I was quite young. And my mother was a very violent woman, not a healthy woman, mentally at all. She was physically and verbally and psychologically and spiritually and emotionally abusive.”
Then Sinead says, “My mother was a beast. And I was able to soothe her with my voice. I was able to use my voice to make the devil fall asleep.”
Then Sinead says, “My father was the type of man who didn’t want anyone talking about what had happened. And that’s what was wrong with me. It wasn’t ever talked about even in the family.”
If we skip ahead in the documentary, you can hear Sinead reading from the letter she sent to the Irish Times in 1993 (shortly after the SNL controversy). Let’s listen together, but also here is an excerpt of the letter Sinead wrote which was printed in The Irish Times:
And now I’m going play this live version of Sinead O’Connor singing her song This is to Mother You in 1997 (click on podcast playing device above to hear), where Sinead is so clearly healing herself by trying to heal others, and she looks to be exactly where she should be in the world, singing her heart out, and the lyrics to the song are below:
Sinead, later in life, said, “They tried to bury me. But they did not know I was a seed.”
Thank you thank you, Sinead. You never stopped telling your truth. And I won’t either.
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