With Understanding Comes a Whole New Perspective

“You can’t change the past but, with understanding, you can sometimes draw the poison out of it.”~Carlo Gebler

 It never crossed my mind there could be a difference between knowing and understanding something.  Now that I understand that, the depression is lifting, the light seems brighter, brain fog is clearing; yes, there is a difference between knowing and understanding.

I spent 50 years knowing I had been abused sexually, emotionally, and physically as a child, and then, too, as an adult. I ruminated on the details, the perpetrators, the scenes, and the dialogue–data stored permanently in my mind. That’s what knowledge is.

So, one wonders, or at least I did, if I know all these things, no repressed memories to unearth, then why can’t I move on? I’ve confronted some offenders via letters and phone calls, and I even wrote a memoir. Certainly, those things should empower me, lessen or eliminate the symptoms (i.e., low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, PTSD) that a victim of childhood abuse and sexual assault endure.

So how does understanding differ from knowing? Knowing is processed in the mind–that place where all the data is stored to ruminate on. Understanding takes longer to process, and it occurs in the brain. It not only needs all that “knowing” data gathered from personal experiences and education, but it needs your interest to break down, conceptualize, and analyze what you know.

In writing my memoir, like so many memoirists, I tried to make sense of my experiences and to understand them. I don’t think many of us come out the other side “healed” or feeling dramatically different (other than it’s enormously helpful to find out we aren’t alone in our experiences). I believed that writing what I know would bring understanding. I was wrong. I needed to reach much deeper, beyond the who, what when and where, and focus on what I didn’t care about when I wrote or ruminated: the Why. Why did these people commit a heinous crime against a child?

Understanding doesn’t mean to condone or forgive. It means drawing some of the poison out of the pain. The light just might shine a little brighter.

His Presence is Real


Mill dust covers the worn leather boots

At the base of the curtain

That is my bedroom door.


Lying in my metal-frame bed

I see the ghostly outline

Of my stepfather

Through its worn, flowered fabric.



It is not my imagination—

The stench of whiskey and stale tobacco


Tells me his presence is real.



He watches me

Through the long, narrow space

Between the curtain and wall

And I watch him

Through slits Of my partially closed eyes…  



© 2016 mandy smith

(excerpt from memoir)



Keeping Secrets


Me at age 7

. . . Daddy walked toward me and sat on the back steps next to me without speaking. He was about to apologize. That was the way it always worked. Dizzy with the smells of him, beer and whiskey, sweat and wood shavings from the mill, I felt my cheeks burn. He pulled a candy bar from his shirt pocket and began removing the wrapper. The tears I’d fought to hold back began flowing. I listened to his raspy breathing and waited for his words. “There’s nobody out there that loves you like I do. You know that don’t you?” I nodded and slowly began eating the candy bar. It was what he expected. My insides curled up tight, and I struggled to swallow and stop the tears at the same time. “Do you understand?” Again, I nodded, but I didn’t understand. I kept my eyes fixed on my feet, now dwarfed by the dusty, steel-toed boots next to them. My right foot covered the left one protectively. “You’re not going to tell your mom about this, right?” His hand cupped my knee, and his thumb made a circle, the size of a dime, round and round. “You know how upset she’d be if she finds out you aren’t being good.” I swallowed hard, ashamed, and shook my head. I knew my being bad must be kept secret. Daddy took my small hand and held it in his. His touch was gentle, and my tears welled up again. “You love your daddy, don’t you?” he whispered. The candy in my mouth turned into a repulsive paste. I looked up at him, and again, I nodded…

[excerpt from memoir] 

A child sex abuser needs their victim to remain silent. (a) They don’t want to stop the abuse. (2) They don’t want to get in trouble.

A child victim wants to remain silent. (a) They don’t want to cause trouble. (b) They don’t want to break up the family. (c) They blame themselves for what is happening. (d) They don’t want the attention they get from the abuser to stop–especially if it’s the only form of affection they get.

This is what I know now.