The name of this particular survivor memoir is in reference to tiny people made out of toilet paper, who the author created, and made up personalities and lives for. These people became her friends, and a source of support, while she was living a childhood of horror, terror and physical abuse at the hands of her adoptive mother.
Going in, I recognize that to those who have not come from an abusive childhood this all seems rather silly, but I assure you, it is not. Having imaginary friends, altered senses of reality, and what some would call an inability to connect with real people is not really a sickness when you’re growing up as an abused child. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s what you have to do to survive.
That’s one of the things I really took away from Cherry’s book as I was reading it. The coping mechanisms might be different for all of us, but we all had our coping mechanisms. They were the things that kept us going, that helped us simply survive our childhood. While other children are learning about themselves, understanding their place in the world, and how to become adults in that world, the abuse survivors are doing just that, surviving. All of these discoveries about the outside world, our place in it, and how to navigate and succeed in it, must wait until later in our lives. Through the telling of her story, we can clearly see how Cherry goes from defenseless child, to doing what it takes to escape the abuse to then starting to learn about herself. Hard as it can be to see sometimes, I do feel like that is a fair representation of all survivor’s journey. We have to take the time to learn things that we should have learned as children, leaving us looking like quite the “mess” as adults, but not hopeless, just a little behind.
The other thing I took away was the feeling of belonging to someone else. To her abusive mother, Cherry wasn’t a person, she was a possession. I often talk about how the best thing parents can do to prevent their children from being abused is to be fully formed adults themselves, so that they can be parents, and not have codependent relationships with their own kids, but here we have an extreme example of how not being a fully formed adult herself turned “that woman” into an abuser. Her adopted daughter became a possession, something to control and make into something that existed for her own use. When you grow up as a pawn in someone other person’s game of life, is it any wonder that you don’t grow up with a sense of who you really are?
I’m very glad that Cherry decided to share her story with the world through this book. I hope that it helps other survivors to recognize the struggles we face as adults even after we’ve “escaped” the abuse, and that it also helps those who do not share this background to understand the very fundamental ways in which survivors are not a “mess” but just learning about themselves much later in life.
We can hope anyway. 😉
You can learn more at the website for the book http://www.toiletpaperpeople.com/