This is my journey back from fear and hopelessness, and how I went from feeling like a ghost, to realizing my voice and value.
I once hated my past. It had broken and twisted me, but now I appreciate all the beauty and redemption God has brought from each broken area.
Those words are from the introduction to CeeCee James' powerful memoir, Ghost No More, in which she details her life as an only child not valued by the parents who manipulate, abuse, and hold her hostage to their whims because of their insane selfishness and brokenness.
CeeCee's mother loves animals and values friends' company but isolates and torments her own daughter. Seemingly jealous of any attention her daughter receives from the people in their lives, even relatives, she compels her daughter to jump through hoop after emotional hoop in order to be rewarded with some attention from her, mostly negative. Usually she confines her daughter to a room or space out of her way, viciously uses the denial of food as punishment, and only welcomes the caresses of a little girl desperate for acknowledgement and love when she finds herself too ill to cope. The contrast between the mother's habitual neglect and CeeCee tender care of her ill mother is painful.
CeeCee's dad and mom are an unhealthy combination. Their own distrust of and disdain for each other fuels the mistreatment of their only child. Early on we read of the bizarre incident of the Easter candy, and how CeeCee's dad punishes her for sneaking it. Later we must witness her mother's response to a complaint by hitting her daughter across the jaw with a wooden spoon. As with many other cases of child abuse, the "discipline" that CeeCee's parents choose for her is always extreme and harsh without any loving effort to correct behavior. More heartbreaking still is the fact that often there is no behavior to correct, only an imaginary offence that seems concocted as an excuse for doing harm.
Despite the lack of love and respect in her life, CeeCee has a powerful awareness of God's presence. However, because she is consistently fed the idea of her worthlessness, her first prayers are for God to make her "a good girl".
"Please God, let me start over...I will be good this time. I will be a good girl."
This is always a horrific effect of child abuse: the child feels they are somehow to blame for how they are treated. They are punished merely for being human, and they suffer because of their parents' inhumanity.
When the mother finally leaves the father, she tells CeeCee it is her fault that she stayed with him so long. She also childishly tells CeeCee not to talk to her friends and demeans her little girl anytime others praise her or even acknowledge her. Or she ridicules her simply for breathing funny. The mother places inhumane pressure on CeeCee to not "shame" her, the definition of such shaming defined entirely by the woman's utter self-absorption. She smothers her pet kittens and emotionally starves her daughter, leaving others to offer her the phantom of a mother's care.
Each slapping and spanking is gut-wrenchingly painful in its cruelty, as is the mortification that CeeCee suffers as she grows older. Each fleeting, small kindness is painful, too, because the reader learns to recognize the patterns of eventual abandonment.
When people enter CeeCee's life with some understanding of what her familial life is like, recognizing her mother's nature despite the false persona she chooses to present, the reader feels relieved that CeeCee has encountered kindness. When CeeCee spends time in nature away from her mother, a weight is lifted momentarily, but as she grows older, the outdoors becomes just another form of isolation enforced by her mother.
There is a term, "throw-away children" that describes not what the children are but how their parents and others treat them and what misfortune finds them because of the lack of parental concern for their welfare. CeeCee suffers abuse not only at her mother's hands but also at the hands of others, particularly her grandfather. When her mother discovers it, her response is a self-centered one, and she only addresses her daughter's psychological scars when forced to do so by Child Protection Services.
Unfortunately, in all this CeeCee cannot turn to her father, because their relationship, reestablished in her teenage years, is made awkward by distance and the memory of past intimidation and neglect. But when she visits him during summer and holiday vacations there's at least more peace, more care and more food.
There are more glimmers of hope in this memoir as CeeCee is shielded from her mother and aided and encouraged by neighbors, her friend Sandy's family, and the school librarian who recognizes her gift with words. CeeCee also experiences unusual consolation in prayer, an embracing and calming warmth, during desperate moments when she fears for her mother's health or fearfully prays for protection from her mother.
As CeeCee develops into a young woman, we walk with her as she faces her demons. Part of that entails confronting her grandfather and refusing to let him harm her again. How she copes with the continuing abuse, derision and neglect of her mother, although not surprising, is heartbreaking. It is only after she is removed from that woman's poisoning influence and meets a young man who loves Jesus and loves her that she eventually stops harming herself and begins slowly healing while learning to value and love herself.
I am always amazed by the power of the human spirit when I read such testimonies as that of CeeCee James in Ghost No More. I am always awed by how God can sustain and bolster us in the bleakest and most disordered circumstances and environments, environments alien to His love and mercy. Love does not suppress our pain. It does not erase it. It does not blind us to its causes. But it can renew and strengthen us while bringing something achingly beautiful and startling clear from our experience, and by doing so gives us something enlightening to share with others who know little hope and hardly any comfort in confronting their own history or present circumstances. I think this is what CeeCee James has done with Ghost No More.
That is invaluable. That is realizing your voice and value.
May God bless her for it.