The Mother

800px-mafate_marla_solar_panel_dsc00633Today I threw the switch to turn on a 9 kW photovoltaic (solar) power array. I have done something good in the world. I am a proud mother.

Yesterday night I was thinking about my own mother, and what to do about the non-contact I’ve imposed on our relationship. [Spoiler: I like the end of this post the best, so if you get bogged down in me whining about my mother, just skip it.]

My mother was likely aware that my father was sexually abusing me throughout my childhood, and when she ‘officially’ found out when I was 18 declared right away that she believed me. However, she did not leave my father over it. The shame, grief and betrayal I have felt over that fact, that a major crime against her daughter (and really all women and children) wasn’t sufficient for my mother to be willing to endure the hardship of divorce or separation, has been persistent and heavy.

My mother is now separated from my father, which she clearly states was because he was a bad husband, not because he raped me. (Although surely, raping your children makes a man a bad husband?)

My mother is anxious, dependent and scattered. She relies heavily on my younger brother for all her decision making and loves to be waited upon. She connives to be fussed over using the same tactic as some men use when feigning helplessness in the face of laundry or a diaper. She provides steady pressure on me to be a close and affectionate daughter, to visit her, fuss over her, pamper her for mothers’ day etc… She is a paradox, a feminist activist who could not leave her own rapist husband, a woman who can run for city council but could not figure out how to stand on her own.

I cannot stomach it. A mother who condones the rape of her daughter by staying is no mother at all. I will not give her her maternal due. She birthed me and taught me, diapered me and (some of the time) fed me, but this one betrayal, it seems, cancels all those other debts.

However, I used to be a therapist, and know that it is pointless to cut off one’s relatives, for the issues they present will just show up in other ways. My father is a special case, I think. Only someone deep in denial or striving for some kind of misguided sainthood would associate willingly with a man who had raped her. One needs to draw the line somewhere.

Harriet Lerner, the author and family systems therapist, says two things I like. One is that the antidote to shame is being open about what one is ashamed of. I am starting to do that by letting more and more of my friends know that I am a survivor.

Bohr Atom Model - if the electron moves into a smaller orbit, electromagnetic energy is released. Conversely if the atom absorbs a lot of energy, the electron jumps to a larger orbit.
Bohr Atom Model - if the electron moves into a smaller orbit, electromagnetic energy is released. Conversely if the atom absorbs a lot of energy, the electron jumps to a larger orbit.

The second thing is that distance stores energy. When I am separate from my mother, I feel less anxious, and if I move closer to her, that anxiety stored in the distance will be released and I will feel it. The more anxiety there is, the more energy is released by even a small change in distance, such as moving from not talking at all to writing post cards on a regular basis. This is similar to the energy stored in the electron orbits of an atom, where enormous amounts of heat is released when an electon moves into a closer orbit around the central proton core.

I have decided to write her a letter or two. Lerner says that the way to change an intrenched pattern in a relationship is to state clearly who one is, without blaming,  firmly and while staying connected. I don’t know if I can do that. My relationship with my mother confuses me so much it is hard to know where and who I am around her, which is part of what I hate so much about being in her presence.  Perhaps I will tell her a bit about how my life was during those 14 years I had no family, between the time I ‘came out’ about the abuse and began healing and when she separated from my abuser. Perhaps that will be a way to start.

The Mother I replaced my fragile, weak mother with provided me a support I could not have lived without. When I was 19 and grieving for the theft of my innocence and family by my father, She was the Ocean I stood by witnessing my howls and holding the huge pain while I let it flow. Ocean was the mother I brought my art therapy clay sculptures of parts of the abuse to, for Her to dissolve and purify. Ocean was the place I could go home to, where I could lay and listen to the sound of my Mother’s heartbeat in the waves.

My real Mother was the spruce tree in my elementary school yard with a little hollow underneath where I could sit and look at her green, fragrant branches. Just seeing Her calmed me, allowed me to cope with the teasing from other kids for being teary-eyed, ‘easily’ upset, and different.

My Mother was the grove of poplars at the end of my street I would tell my day to by standing very still and gazing up at them on my way home from high school. I grieved for them when they were cut.

DSCF0619My real Mother was the tall deciduous and ancient trees on the campus of the university I attended,  which I could look up to and calm myself, feel heard and understood without saying a word. My mother was the Air between their branches and the roots of these aunties and mothers beneath my feet.

My Mother was the heart of the flowers I looked at every day for weeks one summer after a bad heart break, when I bicycled across town to the beach. I would walk down the stone stairway to the beach from the forest and see a large bed of flowers. Always, every day, one would be gazing it’s petalled face directly at me and I would feel comforted, that there was one being in the world that was looking for me, that saw me. I would walk to the beach and lay on my towel in the sun and let the heat soothe me, till I felt warm and comforted. I would then walk into the ocean and immerse myself, letting the salt water wash my father out of me, wash the psychic and emotional grime from my body and soul. Then I would dry myself in the sun for awhile and immerse myself again, purified by sun and salt and water, fire and earth and water and air.

My Mother now is the trees that surround my house and street. She is in the Crone waiting to accept and transform the dead and dying in the large compost bin I have in my yard. She is my grandmother’s piano, the labrynth-patterned rug I was married on in my living room. My Mother is always with me.

My Mother is my own strong Self who holds me when I face the worst of what happened to me, my self-mother in my therapy sessions who reminds me I am safe, and urges me to do the right thing, to speak truth, to be loyal to myself, to face the grief and pain and let it flow through me and from me.

This woman who insists she is my mother, is no longer my Mother.

She has been replaced.

[About SwordDanceWarrior]

Maiden

photo credit: Holl_and on Flickr
photo credit: Holl_and on Flickr

I’ve been following a blog called “Smelling God” – she’s a survivor who also seems to be taking a mystical approach to healing. It’s nice to see. Her god is probably not a regular dinner partner of any of mine, but that’s fine, with me anyhow.

Today I bought a small pot of mini daffodils on the way back home from an acupuncture appointment today. They are bright and the green of their leaves seems freshly minted.

The acupuncture is something I’ve meant to try for years. My wife was being very successfully treated for some nerve damage in her foot and I noticed that the clinic also does acupuncture for weight loss. The traditional Chinese medicine doctor looked at my tongue and took my pulses and told me I had excess ‘damp’, which apparently means I’m blocked up in the systems that process fluid and energetically. Since I started the treatment a little over a week ago, I’ve lost 15 pounds, which the doctor says is not unusual. More importantly, I feel less anxious and more energetic, and even my wife noticed I seem less stressed. My prayers for a reduction in anxiety seem to have been answered, and I’m experiencing a kind of springtime myself.

Photo credit: House n Baby on Flickr
Photo credit: House n Baby on Flickr

I had a dream last night where I was at a new job and trying to figure out what my duties were to be, and what the purpose of my new workplace was. In my dream I was taken to a supervisor who was arranging pots of spring flowers. She showed me the bulbs that were sprouting blooms, and pointed out how some were healthy and some were exposed as sickly when you sprayed them with a sharp burst of water from her spray bottle. Her task appeared to be to select the healthy ones and arrange them into potted arrangements.

I don’t know what the dream means exactly, but I’m willing to take a hint. Pay attention to Spring, Life and new growth. Embrace the hope of spring flowers and the Maiden goddess they represent.

A few weeks ago at that storytelling retreat, I made a sculpture on the theme of the Maiden, which turned out to be a welcome to Her that I hung outside my front door in welcome to Her. It seems She has arrived.

In more ancient times, I’m told the term ‘virgin’ meant a woman who had not yet given birth. I’m therefore a virgin, and will likely always be one. One of my favourite virgin goddesses, Artemis, is sometimes seen as a protectress of  children. I like to think She’s one of my allies in this journey.

Photo credit: Lush.i.ous
Photo credit: Lush.i.ous
Photo credit: CharlesFred on Flickr
Photo credit: CharlesFred on Flickr

A Signed Confession

Walking to a friend’s house today, it occurred to me what I want from my father before he dies. Even better, I think I can get it.

I want a signed confession. I want him to sign a paper, witnessed and legal, that says that he sexually abused his daughter.

Here’s why I think I can get it:

  • First of all, he’s dying, so a confession can’t hurt him.
  • Secondly, the statute of limitations for his abuse has long since passed, so a confession can’t hurt him.
  • Thirdly, he’s dying, so even if I sue his estate for money, I’d essentially be suing my mother, not him.
  • Fourthly, we can even put it in the care of a lawyer with me not getting it till he dies, if he wants to.
  • Lastly, there’s no one he’d care about knowing who hasn’t already known for years.

What good would it do me to have this paper?

Well, first and not actually most importantly, surprizingly enough, I’d have  a talisman against my own denial. If my father himself admits he did it, I never need to doubt myself again.

Secondly and more importantly, if I want to do activism around incest (and I think I do), I’d then be able to be described as “myname, incest survivor” as opposed to “myname, who alleges her father sexually abused her”, or even “sorry we can’t report on that since it hasn’t been proven in court that he did it” , which would make things a lot easier.

Lastly, it helps with the unquiet ghost thing somehow. He will have confessed, and can go into death at least being honest about that.

Now, I may be unrealistic here, but I figure, the idea came to me for a reason,  and I will try.

I’ll tell him “I want this from you so I can work to stop it happening to any other little girls. It doesn’t cost you anything. You owe me this.”

He was Bad.

I’ve been wracking my brains for weeks now, trying to ferret out what made my father do it. Was he a flawed man with some redeeming qualities who inexplicably got fixated on sexually abusing his daughter? Or was he a sociopath who merely pretended to be good sometimes, for appearances sake?

The first theory presents as evidence my ‘daddy’s’ behaviour:  playing guitar and singing “how much is that doggy in the window” for the sheer pleasure of his 4 year old daughter, reading stories to her, and recording fairy tales on tape, so when he wasn’t home I’d hear his voice telling me stories.

The second theory presents as evidence my father’s extreme dissociation while he raped me, his obliviousness to my screams and the physical injuries on my little body. His mysogyny, his disrespect for the boundaries and feelings of people around us, his cruelty to our two dogs.  As  further evidence, the fact that anyone in my family or friends of my mothers who knew him, believed without question when informed he’d abused me. It seemed to fit with their experience of him.

Why do I need to know? Because my four year old self wants me to explain. She loved her daddy. She loved him right up till the pain started, and after that she thought a monster had taken him over. She was energetically open and innocent. She needs to know.

I’ve been thinking about this in adult terms.

Wrong.

Today, driving home from therapy, allowing myself to grieve from that 4 year old place, it came to me.

“He was Bad.”

That’s all she needed. Yes. He was bad.  Somehow whether he meant it when he sang with me or read to me is suddenly irrelevant. ‘Bad’ is a concept that explains everything to a four year old, apparently. The explanation settles in, clicks somewhere and ties the monster and daddy together.  It seems to provide a reason, and relieves her of the burden of needing to find out if the monster swallowed her daddy.

He was, simply, Bad.

Do I need to say goodbye to a ‘bad man’? Maybe not.  Do I need a deathbed confrontation or to write ‘rapist’ in weed killer on his lawn? I won’t rule it out at this point, but at this moment, I feel peace.

Goodbye Letter

So it wasn’t just t-shirts that got me thinking the other night in my chocolate (and probably PMS) induced sleeplessness.

I’m behind in my correspondence.

It’s been years since I wrote dear old dad a letter, and him being (hopefully) close to his deathbed, perhaps it’s time to drop him a line.

I sent him a fathers day card a few years ago. I found one with a sappy saying “Thanks for a lifetime of happy memories”, crossed out the word “happy” and sent it to him, unsigned. I think he knows who sent it though. I’d planned to make it a yearly event (I figured if he gets to get away with raping me, then me sending him a nasty card once a year is certainly within my rights. ) However, like I said, I’m behind in my correspondence.

So let me rehearse my draft to him here.

Dear Dad (yes, I’m using the term, since well, he is my Da, and it’s what I called him last I spoke to him. The word ‘Dad’ just doesn’t have the same meaning for me as it does for other folks, I think. Then again, since a full 20% of all people in the US have been abused, my meaning might be more common than it appears.  )

So I hear you’re dying of cancer.

Good.

Hope it’s really really painful.

I wanted you to know some things before you die. First off,  the police MP have you in a database of sexual offenders, and have been watching you, so if you are thinking of getting in a bit more abuse before you go, know that they will pull you in and I’d be delighted to provide a character reference.

Secondly, you know all that Christian stuff about forgiveness you were taught? I didn’t buy it. As you may have heard, I’ve gone back to my Pagan Scottish roots, which make a lot more sense. I want you to go into your death knowing that I don’t forgive you for raping me and for insulting the honour of our family, and I never will. I won’t be laying flowers on your grave, and neither will anyone else.

However, I want to give you one thing, one secret, before you die. The only way to go into death clean is to feel remorse for the horrors you’ve done.  I suggest you get down to it right away. Our family doesn’t need a restless ghost.

I want you to think about your death, about your own soul, which you have dishonoured, and which surely must be a bleeding scrap by now. I know your father beat you, and I don’t know what else happened to set you up to believe that raping your daughter was an option, but I don’t care.  I know you think your drinking was an excuse. It’s not.

I assume you’re a sociopath, but who’s to know? I certainly have no sane fathers to compare you to. I remember when you found me on the highway, unconscious, after I was hit by that car, and you told me how you’d realized in that moment you loved me, with great surprize in your voice. Do you remember that? It actually makes sense, for a sociopath to be surprised at experiencing love, however briefly.

I told your mother you abused me before she died and she believed me.

Everyone believed me.

Right away.

They figured, yes, it was something you’d do.

Do you know that you are legendary for your selfishness? At my wedding, someone made a selfish, arrogant and self-centred statement and someone else said he was just like you. Go into your death knowing you are not forgiven, but you will be forgotten. You have done nothing of value.

I have lived my entire life trying to overcome the pain you inflicted on me, and I curse you for it.

I do not need to kill you. Mother Nature will do it for me. I would not dishonour myself by making myself a murderer. But know this. When you die, I will rejoice and I will claim your death as my victory. I declare victory over you now, for you will be dead soon, and I will be alive and happy.

I win.

Slogans for Survivor Pride Parades

Last night, I made the mistake of eating a bit too much chocolate before bed (it was worth it) and lay awake for awhile.

May We Outlive Them T-Shirt

My last post got me thinking about “Survivor Pride” and how I might incite it. “Incest Survivor Pride” has the wrong ring to it, I think, since I’m certainly not happy or proud that incest was inflicted upon me. I am, however, proud of how I’ve responded. People seem to get all sappy about veterans, how about “Incest Veteran Pride”.

Victor Frankl was a man who to me has ‘survivor cred’ about choosing a brave and resilient response to injustice, being a holocaust survivor who turned his experiences there into a theory and practice of choosing one’s response to suffering and making meaning of it.

He has some interesting quotes:

If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life – an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.Man’s Search for Meaning. An Introduction to Logotherapy, Boston: Beacon, ISBN (Okay, sexist title, but I’ve read it and I forgive him for it.)

What is to give light must endure the burning.

Everything can be taken away from a man [sic] but one thing: the last of the human freedom — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

There was also one I couldn’t find a direct quote for, but which has been paraphrased as: “even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps he found only two races of men to exist: decent and non-decent ones. These were to be found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups.”

I wasn’t thinking last night about meaningful, literary quotes, although, with the caveat of the sexism, I support all the above in relation to incest and sexual abuse.

Last night I was thinking about t-shirts. Cheap, popular and visible, gay people have used them to come out publicly and make statements for decades.

In my mind I designed a t-shirt with a circular medalion on it, kind of a coat of arms, with my tai chi sword crossed with a thumb-width stick. Above it the lettering would say.

Child Sexual Abuse
May We Outlive them All

and below it it would say

And Dance Upon Their Graves!

Other shirts would say:

i-survived

I’ve survived much worse than this. I can do anything!

This is a good day…
to dance on my abusers grave!

To suffer – is human…
To survive…. is a lot of damn work!

If you think I’m bloodthirsty – you should meet the bastard I survived! (this one needs work, I think…)

Where were you all when I was being tortured?

Your fear won’t protect them. Abused children need strong communities.

I went through hell as a child and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!

I only look underfunctioning when you make my obstacles invisible.

I survived incest in childhood. Where’s my trophy?

You get the idea – I’d welcome any others (or refinements on mine) in comments.

Coming Out

As a lesbian, I’m no stranger to coming out. Coming out is the antidote to shame when you’re a gay person, a way of demonstrating to one’s own soul that you love yourself just the way you are.  I live in Canada, where I can marry the person of my choice and no-one can fire me for being gay – unless they lie about it. (My hypercompetent wife was once suspiciously let go after she listed me as her spouse with human resources).

I can’t tell you enough how much easier it is to come out now that we can get married. I know now that if I walk into an emergency room with my wife, as happened last summer when she had an infected tooth, that if anyone has any problem with me being her next of kin, there’s nothing they can do about it. Anyone who denies me my wifely privileges is heading for a sure loss, both in court and in the court of public opinion, which is overwhelmingly in support of our rights here. I am blessed to be Canadian.

I was reading a post on a blog about mental illness  just now that talks about what the author describes as the ‘s-word’. The word stigma means “stain or reproach caused by dishonorable conduct” and is used to describe both how people (such as persons with a mental illness and their families) feel about themselves and how others feel about them.  It refers to an ancient practice of marking social outcasts with a mark, called a stigma. She prefers the much more accurate  “unnecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination”, a phrase borrowed from Barack Obama because ‘stigma’ implies the person did something to deserve a bad reputation.

I’ve always thought the word ‘homophobic person’ should be replaced by the term “political opponent”, “anti-gay person” or “bigot”.

People don’t discriminate against or kill gay people because they have an irrational fear of us after all. They discriminate because they know that allowing people to make their own sexual, relationship and moral choices, based on their own conscience, undermines the power of authoritarian institutions such as conservative churches and male-centric hierarchical families. If you have two women together, which one subsumes her career, life and identity to care for the other? If you have two men together, might they prove that men can have a relationship of equals and inspire straight women to demand their men do the same? My utopia is my opponents’ loss of structure and status.

I rather suspect that the reasons for the UBSD (unecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination) are similar to the reasons my opponents try to deny gay people our civil rights. If all incest survivors could talk openly about our truth, then “The Family” suffers an unfortunately deserved public relations breakdown.  All hierarchical relationships in or outside the home would be recognized as magnets for abusers. “Father knows Best” would be undermined irreparably.

So how do I, as an incest survivor, experience unnecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination?

It’s hard for me to think in those terms. Unlike the gay pride movement, there is no ‘incest survivor pride’ movement (yet) to help me separate myself in thought from the sea of social norms and prejudices. I have to feel my way, sometimes blindly,  to truth and clarity.

Perhaps the barriers, stereotypes and discrimination I fear can be revealed in these questions:

  • Would you hire me to care for your kids if you knew I was an incest survivor? Why or why not?
  • Would you expect me to be reliable and responsible at my job as a computer programmer, doctor or lawyer?
  • Who do you think is more likely to be violent? an incest survivor or a non-survivor?
  • Would you date an incest survivor? Marry one?
  • Do you think incest survivors should just get over it and shut up? It can’t be so bad – since children don’t remember much anyhow.
  • If we are discussing our families and whether we”ll be seeing them over Christmas/Solstice/Chanukka, is it permissible in polite company to say “I don’t see my father, he’s a child abuser.”? Or would a more dishonest or evasive answer always be preferred? If so, do survivors ever get to be honest about their lives and experiences in regular life? What do you think the impact is of never getting to tell the truth about one’s life?
  • My sister in law asked me what to tell her children about their grandfather. She has no cultural stories to guide her in this, because of the silence that surrounds incest, and no-one else to ask but me, since she can’t ask for advice from her friends, like she could about diaper rash or potty training. I said to tell them “He has something wrong with him that makes him hurt other people. We keep you away from him to keep you safe.” Why are there no fairy tales or cultural stories about parents protecting children from evil relatives?  Because as a culture we have not clearly decided to whom our loyalties lie. families are just as likely to turn a blind eye and permit funny uncles and abuser daddies access to children as not. My brother  and sister in law are fortunately sensible people but just in case I made it clear that if I learned that my father had access to the children I would call the police.
  • When my father dies, do I get to tell? If social acquaintances find out and say “I’m sorry”, is it permissible to say “Don’t be. I’m not.”  If not, do I have to pretend to reflect the presumed norm that people generally like their fathers, and render myself and my complicated grief, not for his death, but for my life, invisible at the time I need support the most?
  • Why is it that sex workers under the age of 18 are referred to as ‘prostitutes’ rather than ‘child sexual abuse victims’?  Does that mean that having sex with children okay as long as they appear to consent and you pay them or their owners for it? Why is the story of  ‘Lolita‘  not framed as a book about child sexual abuse instead of a titilating tale of male fantasy about a girl-child’s supposed seduction of an old man?
  • Why is it considered sexy or even acceptable to refer to one’s lover as ‘daddy’ and dress up as a little girl or boy for sexual purposes? Can you think of how that might be insulting and horrifying to those who actually had to have intercourse with their ‘daddies’? Most people don’t, apparently.  I know in my bones that sexualizing sex with children makes it that much easier for the evil ones and that much harder to speak up when you’ve actually experienced it. How do I speak up about this without the vulnerability that comes with disclosing my horrific past?
  • Does disclosing my past add to my credibilty on these topics, or destroy it?

As a lesbian I am in community, through my community newspapers and events, with lots of people whose sexuality lies outside the norm. Because we know what it’s like to be a minority, our community has a party line of being accepting of people whose sexual preferences are unusual that I think often goes too far.

There. I’ve said it.

I’ve been at public events where I’ve seen one human being lead a bound and gagged other around on a leash. I know straight people do this too, probably even more of them since there are more straight people in the first place. However,  I don’t have to be around them and I am not pressured into pretending to be their ally. I’m supposed to be proud of them for being ‘out’ when in fact all seeing them does is remind me, viscerally,  of being restrained, suffocated and raped. As an incest survivor and a good community member, I’m not allowed to tell them how their stupid and insensitive actions hurt me.

As an incest survivor, I’m absolutely certain that coercive sex or the appearance of coercive sex should never be accepted as sexy or positive. If you haven’t truly been coerced into sex, on fear of your life, over and over again, you’ve no f-ing business pretending it’s fun.

The same goes for calling your partner ‘daddy’ or dressing as a child for sexual purposes. To my mind, that’s advertizing for the enemy, feeding their rationalizations and those of people who look the other way.  However, to call these people on their crap, I first have to come out as an incest survivor, and endure the “oh, that’s why she’s so sensitive” looks or comments.

I lived through years of torture. I’ve done my time. My experience and authority on this subject should be accepted. If  a survivor of Abu Ghraib (the prison where US soldiers tortured and sexually assaulted Iraqi prisoners) objected to people framing prison interrogator/prisoner ‘scenes’ as sexy, he would be accorded much more respect.

So that’s why I, who am not the least afraid of letting people know I’m gay, find it hard to come out as a survivor. Those are some of the barriers that must be removed. Like suffragette Sarah Grimké, I want no special favours, only the right to be openly who I am without judgement or discrimination.  I am brave, I am smart, I am capable. I am socially and financially successful, resilient and strong.  I need to stand my own ground, in my own truth. I deserve to be respected for my strengths and the wisdom that I’ve earned, and accorded the right to be truthful about my life.

I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on the ground which God has designed us to occupy.
– Sarah Grimké, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women; Boston, 1838.

Trying to make it Normal

I spent the weekend with a bunch of friends and acquaintances at a storytelling retreat. At this same retreat last year was the first time I told people publicly that I intend to dance on my father’s grave. It was an incredibly important experience for me then, to speak of my loneliness being a high-functioning and therefore able-to -hide survivor of extreme abuse.  It was a kind of coming out, and like all coming out experiences, helped me connect with allies and support I would not have dreamed possible.

This year, I wanted to tell them how the project was coming along. I wanted to tell these kind, sympathetic women how six months after I told them how I was waiting for my father to die, I got news that he’d been in the hospital for months and had cancer again. I wanted to tell them how I’d been planning, preparing a rite of passage for myself, a brave act of victory and inspiration for others.

I ended up feeling more and more alone.

I am not brave. I am not a sword dance warrior waging glorious psychic battle with the patriarchy as embodied in its one evil representative in my life.

I am horribly exposed.

As I sit here, typing, gasping for breath amid sobs, from long habit permitting and encouraging myself to sob until it is all released, I feel like I have undermined all my efforts to be a success in this world, that people I know, know that I am damaged and not well socialized enough to keep my dirty secrets, fears and spiritual sorrows private in polite company.

Ice Wall II by Etolane
Ice Wall II by Etolane

I am pressed up against the wall of ice that is the silence around incest, trying  so hard not to beg, please, please let me be part of you in my whole self. Let me be a normal person with normal responses to a horrific tragedy. Let me speak  the truth of my life without making you look at me with discomfort.

Please let me be real.

My friend, who is also a brave warrior, suggests I scan and publish the art piece I made on the first night there, when it felt like I was a stream of hot lava running through a landscape meant to be watercolours and comedy, politeness and laughter.I willed myself to be truthful, to claim the right to be me in an intimate environment, knowing that successful art comes from rigorous truth. I avoided graphic details out of concern for virgin ears, and to keep the focus on my Quest. Other women could talk about the painful truths of their life, divorce, loves lost, abortions and miscarriages, loss of beloved parents, but my losses are too bizarrre to share, too evocative and raw.

As an act of courage, I ruthlessly returned to the art I wanted to make and share, the story of my quest to reclaim the right of women who have been raped to openly challenge their abusers and avenge their honour, if only in symbolic terms.  I wanted to see and hear women understand, but I don’t have any evidence they did.

On the last day, one woman, a therapist, self-confessed ‘not-a-survivor-herself’ but a therapist to many survivors over the years took exception to a phrase I used, as feminists often sadly feel the right to do.

I had used it to describe my conviction that I had been exposed, by listening to survivors I’d sat in support meetings with and in other contexts, to women who had experienced the full range of the horror of sexual abuse, from molestation to rape to ritual abuse. She said this had been disrespectful to survivors, since I couldn’t possibly have heard ‘everything’. My point had been that a thing I valued about myself was that when listening to a woman’s story, I listened for what she wanted to tell me, and didn’t get distracted by the drama of the horror. I knew of and accepted the fact of a very large range of abuse so didn’t need to attach energy to them if it wasn’t the main topic the survivor wanted to discuss.

When I tell someone about my experience, I don’t normally want them to get caught up in the dramatic and graphic details, but in the meaning I am trying to make of them, how they affect me now or even just to provide context for an everyday experience affected by my past.  I’d been really trying to say, probably, “Listen to my story, but don’t get caught up in pity or disgust. I have a richer story to tell about this if you don’t get caught up in the horror.”

Frankly, once I got over the hurt, if I have as yet, it seemed to me that this was like a white person telling a black person something they said might be disrespectful to black people. None of the other survivors I spoke to after my story seemed to have any issue with it, and I know for sure I would not have been offended had someone else said what I’d said. Perhaps it would have been offensive or disrespectful coming from someone ‘not-a-survivor-herself’, depending on the attitude that accompanied it. I’d be inclined to say that if you’re not a survivor yourself,  you can’t know.

When I was single and told lovers I was a survivor, it wasn’t because I wanted to get into it and kill the mood (although it unfortunately might have at times), but because, like a hip injury or an STD, they needed to know in order to understand why I might have some limits to the way I could have sex and it was a big deal that they be respected.

The neighbourhood where I live has a lot of lesbians living in it. This has the advantage of being a place where people are blessedly bored with the whole concept of lesbians. I can hold hands or go shopping for household items with my wife with no funny looks or awkwardness and interact with people without the gay thing getting in the way.

While I don’t want people to be bored with incest, which of course still needs to be aggressively stopped whenever and wherever it is noticed, I’d sure like it if my normal, everyday, Pagan rite of passage for the death of a mortal enemy could be viewed as a reasonable and expected thing for a survivor to do. I’d like it if survivors, like the wounded shamans of other cultures, were regarded with respect for their courage, resilience and earned wisdom. Christopher Reeves, the superman who bravely soldiered on after a spinal cord sports injury, is heralded as a hero, which may in fact be so, but where are our incest survivor comeback stories, from women who’ve sustained injuries as deep and debilitating and have triumphed?

As I tell my story, I tell myself that that is what I am creating that space for myself and others, a way of viewing survivors as heroic/heraic figures. May the all that I hold holy – earth, water and fire and air and the truth/life/sacred at the centre of all things –  bless me with the courage and support I need.