Feminist Vitamins

I’ve been telling my friends that coming back from my week at camp I feel like I’ve had a megadose of ultra-strength feminist Mother Earth vitamins. It’s not like I”m any different, just more of myself, and I feel stronger and more resilient.

How important it is to be in a space where I can drink deep of the healing power of swimming in a lake, breathing in the moist scent of pine, cedar and soil, having a whole day, a whole week even with nothing to do but enjoy and visit with nice women. How critical it is as a survivor to be able to be frank.

There was a woman there who had just finished hearing about the sentencing of a man who had almost killed her.  I told her I appreciated how frank she was being about it, and we compared horrific life experience stories and betrayal byour mothers and families in a laughing and cynical way that was very refreshing.

I had a huge cry on the first day of the camp about the scars and the deeper level of reality of the rape of  me as a child. It was so good to let my sorrow go into the Earth, and to know that I was safe. For the rest of the camp I felt joyful and strong, which I often do when I’ve been able to let deep feelings flow. Intimacy with myself, in ceremony, lovemaking or sometimes solitude, often produces this type of crying release, but if I stop the flow to spare the sensibilities of others or feel I’ll be judged, it cuts me off from myself, and from my wife. I noticed a few other women crying, and made a point of connecting with each of them. All had something legitimately horrible they were grieving, but by releasing the feelings in safe space, like me, they all seemed to feel better. I invited them to be real with me, and was able to be real in turn, which meant I had women who knew and accepted where I was at sprinkled throughout the camp. I made a point of being a cheerleader for crying “go cryers, go cryers!”  in a playful way to point out that I’m a cryer too and it’s good to cry when you need to. People laughed. Crying when you needed to became a normal and good thing. Blessings.

On my last day at the lake I was swimming with a woman who I’d become friends with. I told her how healing it had been to swim naked, to allow the sacred lake to bless my body in a way that wouldn’t have felt the same in a swimsuit. I told her about the scars I’d recently discovered and she looked at me and said “isn’t it interesting how all sharing here seems to reach an understanding audience”. I won’t tell you what she disclosed to me then, but although she who was not to my knowledge a survivor, she also bore the scars of a betrayal by someone she loved and trusted.

Today on the phone I was talking with a good Pagan friend who knows I’m a survivor. I told her I’d recently had an exam that showed me some scar tissue I didn’t know about from when I was raped as a child. She said “scars where?” and I said “where do you think?”  A silence followed as she allowed that to sink in. We talked together about our murder fantasies of killing the men who had done the intolerable to us – her ex husband who is damaging her son’s spirit, and my father who had done the unthinkable to me. I said to her “you don’t have to pretend it’s not as bad as it is, I’m one of the few people who actually understands a good revenge and murder fantasy”.

Feminist vitamins. Sharing reality, building solidarity, becoming less alone. One capsule at a time.

The Bear

Photocredit: Buzz Hoffman
Photocredit: Buzz Hoffman

So I figure I’ve got grieving nailed down now. At the retreat this week I had several gut-shaking cries that were very cleansing. In a wierd way, I like grieving, it’s when the pain leaves my system and I feel peace.

So now I’m on to anger and rage. Like when I first started grieving, it tends to give me a hangover for a few days and leave me feeling vulnerable. It’s tied up in my ability to exercise hard, something I have problems doing because they bring up feelings that seem to intense for public spaces. Such a relief to be at the retreat where I could just duck off into a nice forest or drum when I had feelings to express!

Yesterday in therapy, my therapist asked me if there was a spirit or energy that went with my anger and I realized there is. The bear. A big brown mother bear with all my mass and bulk, strong forearms and claws. The bear can eviscerate my father with a few strokes of clawed arms, with all the weight of her large fur-covered body behind each stroke. In anger as/with the bear, I can express anger safely.

I’ve joined one of those exercise ‘boot camps’ with some friends. Normally I get triggered while exercising hard, but with my emotional backlog cleared at the camp I was able to just exercise without tears or getting bitchy or overwhelmed. I’m hoping that exercising with/as the bear will help me learn to be in my physicality again. Physically I am kind of a bear (without the fur) so it makes sense on that level as well as spiritually.

I also tried invoking the Goddess Artemis, Bear Goddess and Guardian of Virgins, but becamed overwhelmed with the energy and conflicting emotions connected to her. I should have realized that she and I would have some talking to do after seeing for myself the scope of the damage to my virgin self. I haven’t dipped into those feelings yet, but I suspect they are about the Goddess’ rage and my own at the magnitude of violence against girls, as well as hurt confusion at not being protected by Her. It is in a way lucky for me that Artemis and all the other Goddesses were not the Goddesses of my childhood. I think God/dess/es generally don’t protect us so much as empower us to support/heal and protect ourselves, which often seems woefully inadequate.

As a girl I believed somewhat in the standard vaguely Christian male God of my Anglican and United Church parents. This particular God has often been on the side of oppressors (sorry, but it’s true), so I now choose other deity forms that fit my values and experiences better. Do I want to support the God that has been used (perhaps against His will, perhaps not) to prop up abusers and the patriarchy for centuries? This God does not seem very interested in or effective at inspiring His supporters to love their neighbours as themselves and quite good at supporting men at being mysogynist power-trippers.  However, perhaps I am being unfair. Perhaps this God has just taken on the toughest cases: the bigots, the patriarchs, the mysogynists, the warmongers, the paedophiles and the racists, and is just taking awhile to influence and heal them. May it be so.

For my part, I see my own wounding and recovery as an unfortunately necessary passage, like childbirth, in order to create a woman’s voice and warrior that the Earth and humanity needs. It’s my job to do what I am guided to do to make the world a better place, and I know that my background and what I’ve learned helps me do that. Perhaps when I’m dead I’ll understand more about why this was necessary, but it will do as an explanation for now.

Calling the police

We’ve called 911 twice today.

Earlier tonight, I left my house to walk my dog up the street. I walked about half a block and saw a man walk toward me. I had a bad feeling about it and turned around and walked quickly back to the house and went inside. My wife and I left a couple of minutes later to walk the other dog together and that same man had entered our yard and was about 6 feet away on our front walk.

My wife confronted him and turned him around. Having a big dog with us helped. We watched him try and go into other yards, and he tried to come back into ours. She turned him around again, and I yelled at him to back off. Then she called the police. The man went down the sidewalk a ways and then came back. The police came fairly quickly, found the man was inebriated and sent him on his way.

We went inside and went to sleep.

It’s 3:30 in the morning. I wake to a woman screaming. “Get out of my house!” she says. He swears at her and calls her a “punk bitch” and I hear them yell. She is very afraid and panicky, from the sound of her voice. She says something about “you threw me up against the wall”. I wake up, I try to wake my wife up but she’s sound asleep.

I go upstairs and call 911 again. The officer on the line knows my name and asks for my birthdate. We’ve called before on other occasions. She has me stay on the line as the woman’s voice dies away and the man’s continues more faintly. I hear a crash. I stop hearing the woman’s voice. She asks me how long  I listened before I called. I tell her right away since it sounded so extreme. I think to myself “is she going to take this less seriously because it hasn’t happened for very long”. 

I tell her there is a woman fleeing a battering spouse that lives in the next building, and that a couple of weeks ago I saw her with a black eye and wondered if he’d found her. She notes this in the file. I don’t know if anyone else has called yet about this family. I feel like I might not be taken seriously, because I’ve called before. She has me stay on the line and listen for awhile as the man goes on. She tells me if they scream up again to call 911 again.

I’m sitting here at my computer, a few minutes later. I can’t get to sleep. I’m crying. Bad men still threaten women’s lives in the middle of the night, and in my neighbourhood I had to know about it regularly.  I hate this neighbourhood – how can I continue to live with this?!

I hear some car noises out front and wonder if that is the police driving up or the man driving away.

I’m still worried the police have me pegged as some sort of panicky neighbour, but really, if I was screaming loudly for an angry man to leave my house with panic in my voice, I’d want someone to help.  I’m worried that since this type of stuff happens so much, that people wouldn’t call.

How can I go back to sleep?  We’ve talked about soundproofing our bedroom a bit so I wouldn’t be wakened when drunk people scream on the streets sometimes. It’s Friday night and a certain amount of yelling just happens in a densely populated, low income area.

This house is what we could afford, and we’ve worked hard to make it nice. The garden, particularly is coming along.

A car flares to a start and I wonder if it is the man getting away. Has he hurt the woman?  Is it okay for me to have called?

I’d only called the police once in my life before I moved here, when a man was trying to break in next door at our old house, another ‘domestic dispute’. The man was trying to break down the door to get at the woman, who had moved to escape him. She eventually let him in, a few days later. Her landlord kicked her out because she kept allowing him around.

I’m hearing a little yelling again and some crashes or slamming doors or something. I call 911 again since the woman is yelling “get away from me”. Have I done the right thing?

The police dispatcher thinks the police officer has just pulled away, and is sending them back. The screaming of course stops now, and once again I second guess myself. Will the police think I am making this up?

I know you survivors out there are thinking – “she’s worried they think she’s making it up because she’s a survivor. Even when things are extreme, she’s worried they won’t take her seriously, because they didn’t.”

Yes, I make a point of calling when bad things are going on. I have to, in solidarity to that little girl, myself, that nobody called the police about.  Do I call unnecessarily? I don’t think so. This stuff needs to be stopped and we pay the police to do that.

I’m trying to do my best to keep my neighbourhood and family safe.  I can’t stand this happening all the time.

I don’t like laying in bed, listening to people screaming, wondering if I should call the police, if it’s bad enough to ask someone to come and make it stop.

This, as my friend Butterfly would say, is why you shouldn’t fuck kids. This is also why I am so pissed off at men. Men need to stop using their fists to get what they want. They need to stop hitting and raping women, or pimping them, something I also see in this neighbourhood from time to time, although less so than I used to. Men need to get together and stop one another from using violence against women and children to get their way. Unlike Andrea Dworkin, who wants a day’s truce, a single day where no women are raped by men, I want it to stop.

I haven’t heard sounds for about 10 minutes now, and there is a certain calm in the air that I think means whatever was going on is now over.

I realize I feel like a kid, hiding in a closet, listening to her parents fighting. I chose this picture because it is hopeful. I like to imagine this father and child opposing more than just one kind of war.

Reply

My brother sent me quite a long reply this morning. He’s concerned that I haven’t ‘moved on’ after all this time and might still be in victim mode. He fully expected I had scar tissue and has always believed me (he didn’t at first) so it’s no news to him, although he did say it matters to him. He wanted me to understand that I could choose to move beyond the abuse and release my abusers power over my life.

Non-survivors are pretty clueless aren’t they? Nobody ever tells someone with a physical injury that they just need to move on and forget the past so they can move forward if they point out they still have some pain or scars at time.

His responses are typical and don’t upset me much. I’m just happy he’s willing to talk about it.

I spent about an hour crafting a reply explaining about the cyclical nature of healing, the difference between dissociative memory and regular memory, the importance of integrating the pieces and the difference as I see it between being a victim and a survivor. And then took a page from Harriet Lerner the family systems therapist and decided to go minimal, warm and friendly. I thanked him for the thought he’d put into his response and said the following:

Thanks for the thought you put into responding to my email.

Don’t be concerned that I’m putting some energy into this right now. I’m well and happy and living a full and creative life, much like the survivor you describe and for many of the same reasons. Although bits of healing pop up from time to time and need looking after, in general this issue hasn’t gotten much attention in the past decade or so.

With [abuser’s name] cancer recurrence last summer, I believe that he is likely to die in the next while, and the death of a parent makes a person wants to revisit and tie up some loose ends, which I’ve been doing. I have some gyne issues I’m trying to resolve, so the more thorough exam was part of that, and gave me the opportunity to ask about something I hadn’t had the opportunity to ask about before this.

I’ll respond in a little more depth when I have the time to do it justice.

I feel so mature and clever, responding this way,  like I stepped around a big hole. The long self-justifying explanation was only feeding the pattern of him seeing me as a victim, as someone who wasn’t in charge of her life and living it responsibly. At some point we’ll have that discussion, it’s not yet the time.

Rage

Anger is not my strong suit. And since my body stores my anger, the only way to keep the anger in my body is to hold my body still.

Today, I am angry.

I got sidetracked into writing letters to relatives, which brings me more into my head than my body, but needs doing as well.

I guess it’s just enough to say I want to rend and destroy, stomp and tear and that my rage feels so big that I don’t know what to do with it all.

It’s good my father doesn’t live in my town or it would be so tempting to drive over and rip him apart with my bare hands.

That’s how mad I am.

Email I just sent my brother

Here’s the text of an email I just sent my brother. In my therapy session today, it came up that my father stole all my support from me by doing something so taboo, that I couldn’t talk about it or get support from anyone. We came up with the idea of telling my brothers and some key friends about the scar tissue so I could share the burden a bit. My older brother is kind of a good choice to start, since my relationship with him is already very distant, there isn’t much to lose if he doesn’t respond well.

My brother is a medical professional, which is why I’m being fairly direct about the gyne exam stuff. I’m assuming that part of it won’t phase him, although who am I to know what is appropriate for this kind of thing?

 

Dear [brother’s name]

I was hoping to talk to you in person, but we haven’t connected.

I’ve had some difficult news.

I’m finding I need to share this information, so it’s not just me holding it. I’m hoping that it matters to you as my brother that this happened to me. It’s awkward and odd to tell you this in an email, I know, but would also be awkward and odd on the phone too, and I figure email lets us both save some face if you don’t want to speak with me about it.

This matters, and I need to tell people who matter to me about it. You are welcome to share this information with [his wife’s name].

I had a gyne exam a few weeks ago. I wanted to have more time to ask questions, so I booked an appointment with a nurse practitioner. Because we had more time, she was able to have me sit up, see what she was doing in a mirror, and I was able to ask her opinion on whether or not I have scar tissue resulting from being sexually assaulted as a young child. It turns out that I have a some scars and flaps of tissue indicating that my vagina had torn significantly and had healed without being stitched up. I also have some vascular damage in the area. I was able to see the scars and damage clearly. The nurse practitioner’s opinion that this was very old damage and was consistent with damage from a childhood assault. I haven’t given birth or had anything happen as an adult that would account for any kind of scars or damage.

I’m absolutely furious. I remember the incident that caused this damage clearly, but given the nature of memory stored during trauma, it has been possible at times to be in denial about it. Having physical evidence is something I’m still adjusting to. It is helpful to have proof that I’ve been right in what I remember all along, but the reawakened anger at [abuser’s name] and grief for that little girl is at times overwhelming and I have very few people who know my history around me. I have a good therapist, but otherwise am quite isolated about this, as it’s not exactly a polite conversation topic.

I know you and I haven’t been close in a long time, but I wanted you to know about this, and hope you can understand why I didn’t want to be alone with these facts. It would be a comfort to me to hear from you and know that you understood and perhaps even shared my anger and horror that even [shithead abuser’s name] could do something so heinous. I’ll understand if that’s not something either you or [your wife] wish to do, but I thought I’d ask.

Aside from all this, in regular life I’m doing very well. My business is still thriving, [wife’s name] and the dogs are well, and we just had a very fun and social weekend here with friends. I’m still the resilient, strong and capable person I always am, so am not looking for any kind of big-brotherly rescue, just to begin to share the burden of terrible news in the hopes it will become lighter.

Love,

SwordDanceWarrior