I heard back from my mother on my birthday a little while ago. She wished me a happy birthday, in a brief text message. I was not happy. I have not replied. Continue reading Texts and family reunions
I wrote several poems today after a meditation walk I do to clear my head. Here are two of them:
Sobs shake me in the silence
of the labyrinth
the creak of wood floor
He’s not dead yet.
But neither am I.
all of us
strong and struggling
The single lesbian who
wheels a chair
The self critical
of a psychopath
on Father’s day
This is one of those father’s days when I’m feeling emotional. It isn’t always like this. I’ve been dating a new woman and am perhaps a bit more open hearted, or maybe it’s the Buddhist style meditation I’ve been doing. You connect with whatever feeling you are having, without getting too involved in what it is about, and then feel empathy and connection with all the other beings who are having that same emotion right now and try and send them (and yourself) support. An antidote to shame and isolation is connection, and knowing that we are not unique or alone. I get caught up in thinking I’m unique, but of course I’m not. There are unfortunately lots of people with a psychopath parent and a complicit other parent, and how I feel about all that, however it is, is completely normal. Even if I had a completely unique life circumstance, the feelings I have about it are not unique. Sadness, shame, anger, hopelessness, the feeling of not being understood, of being judged, or oppressed, or even isolated by having a unique tragedy, are all feelings that human beings have, and have often, around the world in this minute.
Even as survivors, we are not alone. There are a lot of us, today, grieving, raging, ignoring or being numb in response to father’s day. There are survivors who are going through the motions, and spending time with their abusers this day and pretending to honour them, because they do not yet have the strength, validation and support to do otherwise, or because their abuser still has economic or social power over them. And we are together in this too.
To my survivor sisters and brothers: We are together in this. You are understood. You are respected. We will outlive them all, and may we dance upon their graves, for we are alive and we have survived.
I am going to celebrate Mother’s day tomorrow, in honour of my inner mother – the part of myself that nurtures and cares for all of me, and in honour of Mother Earth. My two mothers, Mother Earth and my inner self-mother love, nurture, feed and protect me every day. To all my incest survivor peeps, may you all be the best mothers to yourselves that you can and may you feel that self-love nourish you.
Yesterday I did a ritual of blessing and letting go with one of my friends. We both practice the same religion but hadn’t done any ceremony together before. It was her idea to burn things we wanted to let go of before we go into the new year, and to eat a dinner of black eyed peas and greens ( a southern US prosperity blessing practice).
I burnt three things. The first was a shield I’d made of paper, early into my healing journey. At the time, I was living alone and having night fears and flashbacks almost nightly. At the time I called them monsters. Come evening time, it was like I was haunted by anxiety and the sense that something was stalking me over my shoulder. I would be afraid to look around or to focus much attention on it, for fear the ‘monster’ would come closer. Because most of my abuse happened at night in my bedroom, going to bed was particularly hard for me, and, although I didn’t know it, I was having memory fragments of the fear I experienced as a child and teen, waiting to see if my abuser would come down the hall to my bedroom and enter to abuse me or if he would pass my room by and go to bed. Since before he would abuse me he would usually use the bathroom across the hall from my room, I had come to associate bathrooms with bad things happening as well. However, I hadn’t had enough time and support to put all this together yet at that point, so all I knew was the fear.
I had created the shield with all of the sacred elements pictured on it, and posted it on my door as a warding to keep the monsters out. That, combined with some other ritual I did at the time, like writing down my fears in bed before sleeping, keeping a jar by my bed in case I was too scared to get up and go into the bathroom at night, and bringing a candle with me to bed so I didn’t have to walk across a dark bedroom, helped keep the monsters manageable until I could process more of the memory fragments. When I moved, that shield came down and didn’t go back up again in my new place, but I’ve kept if for the 20 some years since.
I burned it yesterday because there are no longer monsters waiting for me outside my bedroom door, and if fear fragments from my past emerge, I can name them and deal with them directly. I thanked the shield for protecting me and let that energy go.
The second thing I burned was a journal from 2003. At that time, I was living with a roommate who bullied me. She had been asked to leave the house, but in the two weeks before she would actually leave, I stayed with a friend because I no longer felt safe at home. This woman, I’ve realized recently, was very similar to both my father and my recent other partner, so it felt fitting to burn my account of freeing myself of her at the same time I am freeing my self of my ex. I do not have to be connected with people who enjoy hurting others.
Also in the journal at the time my father/abuser was in the hospital after a serious car accident, and while there he had been diagnosed with cancer, which they were treating. My family rallied around to nurse him back to help, which felt like such a betrayal, and lessened my ability to deal with the abusive roommate. I now have no contact with my family and have many more people in my life who know my story.
Flipping through the pages, I came across a description I wrote after waking at 5 am to cry over the fact that my girlfriend (now wife), who I had been with three years at this point, was losing her sex driving in menopause, something she thought was only temporary and I should be patient with. Ten years later, we’ve resolved this issue, although in a completely unexpected way, by me having additional partners, something that has completely transformed and blessed our relationship.
I wrote at the time about feeling politically alienated from the queer community, because as a survivor of misogynist violence, my needs are different, and the most important (only) gender issue for me is expanding power and equality for women for the purpose of protecting ourselves and children from misogynous sociopaths like my father. When people wish to do away with the concept of ‘woman’ completely, it feels like they are trying not to create equality, but to make women and our struggles invisible. This issue had come up for me that day in a queer poly group I have been dipping my toe into, that I was concerned would have a rigidly lockstep political stance on these issues. Instead of being silenced, I spoke out, and got reassurance that my perspective would not be shut down from one of the moderators. Afterward, I re-read yesterday on my blog a post where I had a wonderful comment exchange with Michelliana ( a woman of trans experience) about the conflict of trans needs and survivor needs. I realized how healing this simple, thoughtful, vulnerable exchange had been for me. All of these things have been ongoing issues in my life, and in the past ten years, all have transformed. It’s good to let that energy burn off and be released.
The last thing I have some mixed feelings about. I burned a bunch of nitrile gloves. As a Pagan, doing something so polluting was a dumb idea in sacred space (or anywhere) and I thought afterward that I could have just cut them to bits with scissors and put them in the garbage. The gloves had been purchased as safe sex supplies by an ex-girlfriend, and barely used. I had requested that she wear gloves, which provide a smoother surface and prevent fingernails and rough hands from irritating my skin, and so make it less likely that I’ll have a flare-up of the inflammatory skin condition I have around my vulva resulting from the assaults. She didn’t like the gloves that I preferred for this purpose and had bought her own, in a rough material and size so large it was wrinkly, causing more discomfort than the ungloved hand would have. They represented that selfishness and lack of empathy and caring that I don’t want to see again in a partner. This was the only thing I burned that was a true banishing, a releasing of something that disgusted me to see and which I was glad to see the back of. The smoke clung to me afterward, and today I find myself with a headache. I would like to find a way to think about that toxic smoke amid my relief to have them truly gone, to have her truly gone from inside me as well. Perhaps it is reminding me that getting rid of something toxic leaves a residue, and it’s best to avoid those things completely in future, and not rely on my strength to withstand and clean up the damage later. When we are very hungry, it is tempting to take the food that is offered, despite the toxins in contains. It is important to ensure I never get that hungry again.
I think today, I will focus on blessing myself, my life and the people I love, on nourishing myself. Going forward, I will pay attention to my hunger, and figure out a strategy for meeting my needs without accepting toxic people into my life or at least removing them immediately.
May your 2014 be blessed. As my friend Kate says, “Good and Healing Thoughts to You.”
Tonight is Christmas Eve. I am grateful to be spending it with my spouse and my dog, in a warm, safe house full of light and love. I am happy. I’d like to share some holiday coping tips and recommendations as I’ve learned them over the past 20+ years for myself and from other survivors of incest I know. May your winter and new year be blessed and full of love, peace and gentle healing.
The first recommendation is to stop spending holidays with your abusive or complicit family members. Make up an excuse if you have to. If you haven’t confronted them about the abuse or don’t plan to, then tell them you can’t make it this year and unplug your phone. Go on a road trip somewhere, anywhere if they live in your town. To paraphrase an old pop song, there are 50 ways to leave your abuser.
The step of putting yourself first, of expressing loyalty and demonstrating solidarity with the child inside you that was assaulted, by taking her needs seriously, is one of the most healing things you can do. I know it’s tempting to say to yourself that your abuser won’t be there, or will be easy to avoid and you’re an adult now, and that you can handle it. This is of course probably true, but it’s kind of like hanging out in a smoky bar or breathing exhaust fumes for hours, it’s not good for you and you’ll pay for it in toxic aftereffects.
I realize often survivors get manipulated by their families to be silent through financial or other types of blackmail, or through bribes. I encourage you to live simply if you have to, but get free of their control. It will give you space you never realized was there to heal.
I don’t have this but several of my survivor friends have triggers around specific holidays. I know that avoidance just reinforces triggers, but that has to be done under the survivors control and at her/his own pace. Reducing exposure can make space to gradually unpack and desensitize. If you are new to healing, then going on vacation (if you can afford it) to somewhere they don’t celebrate that particular holiday can be very restful. For example, Canadians don’t celebrate American thanksgiving and vice versa, Buddhist countries don’t celebrate Christmas, and even places that celebrate familiar holidays in unfamiliar ways might be enough of a difference to be a rest.
Create holiday rituals for yourself. When I first decided I was never going home for Christmas again, I started holding Winter Solstice candle-making parties for my friends. I bought wax and wicking (at a craft store) and used old candle ends for colour, and then melted the wax in jars in a water bath and spent an enjoyable time making candles with nice people, friends, sometimes other survivors.
Organize or attend ‘orphan Christmas’ or ‘orphan Thanksgiving’ parties or dinners or organize celebrations with your heart-family or family of choice – friends and other people who love you and have nothing to do with your abusers.
Cultivate friendships with people who are also estranged from their families or have difficult relationships with them, who won’t pressure you to ‘forgive for the holidays‘ .
Cultivate ways to state the situation succinctly. Some of my favourites are:
- “I spend [insert holiday here] at home.” or “I prefer to spend the holidays here with my spouse.”
- “I don’t have family to spend the holidays with.” (Strictly true, even if they are still alive. Real family doesn’t abuse you and protects you from abuse.) Generally people will think they are dead and not question you further.
- “My family doesn’t get together for the holidays.”
- “I am estranged from my family. I’m happy right here.” – With people you think may get it, or who you don’t care if they don’t, this is a good way to open your life to allies. I’ve often had people disclose difficult family relationships here, and then we all feel a lot more genuine. However, it does run the risk of someone saying something stupid. I had someone respond “Why, you seem like a nice person.” when I told them this. I told them I am a nice person…
- “I’d rather not talk about that.” or “Let’s talk about something else.” – Clear, to the point and avoids lying.
- “I lost my family in a tragedy. Let’s change the subject.” – Also true, and effective, if a bit heavy handed, but good for the clueless or insensitive.
If for some reason you really have to be around complicit family members or worse, your abuser, if at all possible sleep somewhere that is completely under your control, like a hotel room. You could claim allergies, erratic sleeping habits, or offer no excuse at all. It will make a difference to have a place where you can be an adult and can escape from any drama to. Your inner child will appreciate having a place to get away to where she/he/they are safe. In addition, bring a friend or spouse. Having a non-family member present will do a lot to shift abusive, intrusive or complicit behaviour and force your relatives to treat you like an adult. Make sure this is someone who knows about the abuse and is supportive, and is willing to leave or go for a walk with you if things get rough.
If the abuser is still potentially active, document any access he/she has to potential victims, and any abuse you witness. Report it to the child protection authorities, or if you can’t do that, report it to your therapist (with names and locations) who will have to report it to the authorities. Report even if you think nothing will be done. It provides a paper trail in case things are investigated later. You can report anonymously.
Prepare a list of safe conversation topics you can pull out to change the subject. Re-read this information on forgiveness and why it’s not necessary that you forgive your abuser or complicit relatives.
What are your holiday coping strategies? I’d love to hear them in the comments…
I went out to ‘Trouble with the curve’ tonight with my wife. This story of a relationship between a father and daughter and it’s impact on her life really touched me. Wierd eh? My father is a sociopath, Clint Eastwood’s character is crusty but quite beautiful actually.
There’s a scene where he beats a man into unconsciousness for pulling his daughter, then six years old, into a shed and touching her arm. It is obvious to us, and to him, that more would have happened if Eastwood’s character hadn’t found them. I just realized, that is what made me cry. To have a male relative that would defend me, who would beat the crap out of a child molester, is pretty potent stuff. Just seeing that, portrayed so compellingly by Eastwood’s character, must have opened up the grief. In my case, the molester was my father, so that kind of escape was impossible. My mom claimed once that if my grandfather, her father, had known, he’d have killed my father. I wish it were so.
I didn’t realize till now that that is what made me so sad. I walked out of the movie feeling sad and not knowing why. I felt a longing for the father figure in the movie, who in the end perfectly understood his daughter, who had finally gotten him to hear her about who she was and what she wanted.
My father may have groomed me, and I know my pre-rape self loved him, in such a pure, open hearted way that I don’t think I’ve experienced since, but I haven’t actually grieved the relationship with him on those terms for a long time.
Feeling that longing and sadness, I realize I have to listen to that part of myself who was manipulated into loving an evil person, but I don’t think that’s exactly who I’m grieving. It makes more sense to me, connects more emotionally, to miss the father I never had, the father who would have beaten my actual father to a bloody pulp for hurting a beautiful, pure-hearted kindergartener.
It’s wierd to have an emotional landscape that is so foreign, even to me, at times, so that I don’t even know why I am crying until the tears have run their course. I’m glad I’ve learned to let them flow anyhow, to trust that the truth will come after, perhaps much after. This is what it’s like to have experience in fragments, and to make those fragments whole.
I had my aunt visit recently, the one who was also assaulted by my father. When I visited her a couple of years ago, she was very accepting of what I had to say and even offered to put some pressure on my mom to write me a letter.
After visiting me she visited my mother, and you guessed it, went into denial. She wrote me a letter expressing her hope that my mother and brothers and I would all be one big happy family again. I just got it and I’m crying.
I know, I know that family members do this. That they go into and out of denial, and seldom are able to really handle how bad it is. However it really hurts. Why do I always have to be the strong one? Why can’t I have the steadfast warrior support I deserve?
Here is the response I wrote:
“Dear Aunt J
I really enjoyed your visit. Thank you so much for coming.
You know, I’ve learned a lot in my life in connection to what happened to me. One thing is that people have a very hard time holding in their hearts that it is as bad as it is. It hurts. It is an exceptional person who can do it, usually one who has had to face her own hard truths unflinchingly. I am able to do this for others, and I understand it is a rare gift. It feels better to pretend it is something that can be swept under the rug or that it’s not of much importance. That’s how I understand your letter. I forgive you for wanting it all to go away, and I understand the impulse to put gentle pressure on me to make nice with my mother, which demands that I pretend what she did wasn’t horrific in it’s own right, and give up my right to a confession and apology.
Here is why you should resist that impulse to condone and minimize, however. That impulse is what protects people like Graham. That impulse is what keeps people from calling the police and getting children to safety, or calling child protective services. That impulse to hide from the truth of a horrific situation is why he is not in jail right now, why he got away with raping a child, with aggravated sexual assault. That impulse is why I have chronic discomfort, every day from the vascular damage and scarring he inflicted on me, scarring and nerve damage that in part result from medical attention my mother could have gotten for me, but did not. If we do not stand up to insist on a world where children’s bodies are respected, and those who violate them are held accountable, who will? If we contribute to a climate that sweeps it under the rug as not important, then we are part of the problem.
It is important and healthy to face the truth. It is good for the soul, and our own personal integrity. It is good to be accountable for harm we have done to others and make amends. That is why I am requiring that my mother confess to me what she did, to make amends by confessing in writing. I have proof, in the form of the scars, that she did know, right after it happened. Those wounds were very severe, and not something a mother would not have noticed in a 5 or 6 year old child. She knew, and she covered it up, instead of going to the police or even a doctor. I got no stitches, no antibiotics, and as far as I can recall, no painkillers. I’m not sure if you tore when you gave birth, but I imagine it is like that. My doctor has given me some strategies to manage the pain and vascular problems I still have, but my body will never be the same. Those ongoing effects could have been prevented if I’d gotten stitched up and removed from Graham’s reach right away. Imagine a child going through that alone.
It is a small thing I am asking for. I am asking only that people face the reality of what happened as unflinchingly as they can. I survived it, I healed it. I deserve that small thing from people who love me, and I respect myself enough to insist on it. If it means I have no family, so be it.
I was so honoured that you and uncle T believed and supported me. It filled a deep place within me. Although I understand that denial is part of your own grieving process, and that it is difficult to stay connected to the truth of what happened in the face of my mother’s denial, it still hurts. I understand, and I forgive you, but I want to inspire you to do better.
Accepting the truth, even a horrific truth, unflinchingly, has its own gifts. It makes us stronger, and less able to be manipulated by others. I would not go back. I am proud of who I have become by overcoming, and wish that for my mother and older brother, and for you.
May you be blessed in all ways possible,
your niece. “
My wife nailed it. She said “there isn’t going to be a letter, she didn’t get what she wanted.”
According to my aunt, my mom has allegedly written a letter in response to the one I wrote her a few years ago. That letter I wrote 3 years ago is of course out of date, since it was written before I knew about the scars on my vulva which prove not only that I was raped as a small child, but that my mother had to have known about it at the time and didn’t get me medical or police attention for my wounds.
Surely if I’d been brought to a doctor they would have sewn me up, as they would a woman who had given birth and torn in the way I did. I clearly wasn’t sewn up, as I have flesh tags and two long ragged scars. Apparently, vulva wounds on children often heal without scars, so the fact that I do speaks to the severity and perhaps repeated nature of the injury. And if I had been brought to a doctor, my father would have been arrested for raping me. I suppose it’s remotely possible, people being the denying assholes they often are in the face of child abuse, that even with hard evidence in front of them the police or doctor would not have helped me, but somehow I doubt it, and I further doubt that my mom would have hidden it from me all this time if she’d actually tried to get me help. So therefore, she knew and did nothing, and as a result is dead to me.
My mom only told my aunt she’d written a letter to get herself off the hook with my aunt I think, and probably also as a bid to see me. My aunt told me she’d be leaning on my mom to get her to respond to me with the info I requested, so this is the counter move. My response was clear, no direct contact, only via letter. I told my aunt about the scars and that my mom didn’t know about them. It’s possible she passed that information along (which would be fine with me).
Anyhow, I’m going on vacation in a couple of weeks that is a spiritual pilgrimage for me so I was hoping I wouldn’t get a reply before that, so that I could avoid having to process it during my vacation. Status quo has been restored, no contact with my mother, who is dead to me anyhow. There’s nothing she could do now, short of disclosing a phenomenal amount of coercion she’s never mentioned before, to restore her to a living presence in my life now.
One of the temples I’ll be visiting on my trip is called the Hypogeum, it’s a womb-temple to the Goddess. It’s underground, painted in red ochre to resemble a womb and when discovered, contained seeds of grain and a beautiful statue of ‘the sleeping lady’ Goddess. Apparently the acoustics inside are amazing, and we’re going to sing in there. The Goddess is the mother I have now, far more enduring and reliable than my birth mother. It feels like I have shed her like a snakeskin, and only the flakes remain.
I was left a very thoughtful comment today in response to my post about why I’m not going to have children because my father is a sociopath.
In Balbrouchan’s comment, which you can read here, she brings up some good issues. The first is that socipathy isn’t 100% inheritable, since she and I are not sociopaths, and neither are her kids, even with first order relatives that were. She says:
“Since you are not, yourself, an antisocial psychopath, I would say your children, if you had felt like having any, would not have been at risk from inheriting it from their grandfather – since the fact that you don’t have that behavior, plainly shows that you have not inhedited it…”
She also says:
“But I think it’s very harsh to tell fellow incest survivors they have high risks of having sociopathic children. If the survivors themselves don’t exhibit “antisocial behavior with psychopathic tendencies”, and are not married to a psychopath, the risk on their children is pretty low, even with a first order relative who is a psychopath.”
Balbrouchan is right, it is harsh to say children of sociopaths are more likely to have sociopaths for children, and I wouldn’t have the gall to say it if it didn’t apply to me too, and if it wasn’t what I honestly believe. Given the magnitude of damage my father did in his lifetime, ‘pretty low’ chances are just too high for me.
More importantly, though, I think my post could be read as perpetrating the ‘survivors are more likely to be child molesters’ prejudice, and I’m not trying to do that here, at least partly because it actually doesn’t bear out. Child molesters will report being abused themselves at fairly high rates, but when they did studies that were structured to eliminated any benefits from claiming to be abused, and backed it up with a lie detector test, the self-reports of abuse by child molesters went down to the same rates as the general population. (I got this from Anna Salter’s book on predators )
She also brings up an issue common to many survivors with children, the fear of turning into the kinds of parents we survived and abusing them too.
“The good part is that, while I was very afraid of “turning pedophile” on my own children, it has not happened. Time and time again I have checked with myself if I had any sexual desire toward my children and I’ve found absolutely nothing, to my own relief – and to my deeper disgust of my own father. I have never had even nightmares of sexual contact with my children (and you know one can’t control one’s nightmares – at almost 40, I still have nightmares where I end up willingly f*ing my father). I don’t have sexual desires towards other children as well, so all’s good on this side.”
I too, had a big period where I watched myself carefully for child molester tendencies (also something a sociopath wouldn’t do) and have always been extremely careful of treating children correctly. As a survivor and a lesbian, I know the stereotypes and prejudices attached to both of those categories, and have always been scrupulous in avoiding even the perception of creepiness. I go so far as to not usually initiate physical contact with children. Whatever stray hostile feelings I’ve had toward children (barring noisy disruptive ones in quiet restaurants) I’ve always recognized as being truly directed against my own inner child and dealt with them as such.
I’ve done a lot of reading about sociopathy, and one common thread I’ve found is that researchers think it’s partly or mostly genetic. Once a child is born and they’re exhibiting empathy, they’re not going to be a sociopath. They may do bad things, but they won’t be an actual sociopath, because that’s about the ability to feel empathy.
Balbrouchan points summarizes the situation nicely here:
The article you’re citing states that “in children with psychopathic tendencies, antisocial behaviour was strongly inherited. In contrast, the antisocial behaviour of children who did not have psychopathic tendencies was mainly influenced by environmental factors”.
“If I understand well, if your child has no early-onset psychopathic tendencies, then all is well and provided you give a right environment, no antisocial tendencies will appear. On the contrary if he has early-onset psychopathic tendencies, then his antisocial behavior will be mostly inherited and you’re in big trouble.
Strictly speaking, this research paper doesn’t mean that psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies are inherited. It shows “antisocial behavior with psychopathic tendencies” is mainly inherited. That’s a different story altogether.”
I’m not sure I get, in this last paragraph, how it’s a different story. Seems the same to me. Maybe I’m missing something.
It’s the ‘early onset psychopathic tendencies’ that I’m wanting to prevent, since I believe that’s what my dad had. If I’m technically wrong to say that’s sociopathy, then fair enough (although I don’t really get it), but that’s what I mean. I also, even if my kids are fine, don’t want to be responsible for passing a greater risk for ‘early onset psychopathic tendencies’ on to my grandkids or great-grandkids either. We can be carriers of the gene without having the problem. It’s like people who know that epilepsy, schizophrenia or hemophilia run in their family thinking twice about passing the genes on (all of these while serious, are at least treatable, unlike psychopathy), except in my case, it’s not just my descendants who would bear the impact of my decision, but their victims as well.
My kid (or grandkid or great-grandkid) is more likely to be born with great difficulty feeling empathy, and once he or she is born and I figure that out, I’d better be on my A game to make sure I parent in a way that corrects and compensates for that. Even good parents screw things up, and making sure my potential empathy-impaired kid isn’t a monster is a huge responsibility. Even if he or she isn’t, she or he will still carry the gene I carry and one of his kids could be born to parents who aren’t equipped to teach remedial empathy and we end up with someone like my dad again. Adoption or childlessness area perfectly viable options, and one way I can help prevent people like my father from being born. I realize we’re talking eugenics here, which is usually a bad thing, but unlike the Nazis, I’m not forcing anyone to follow my example, and really, is trying to prevent the birth of people with early onset psychopathic tendencies that will predispose them to behaving monstrously such a bad thing?
From talking to my relatives, and observing my dad’s relatives reactions to him, I think that my father exhibited lack of empathy pretty young, and it does seem credible that he was born that way. I think there are child molesters who aren’t sociopaths, and vice versa. They’re not one and the same. Raping me was only a small fraction of the antisocial, ugly and violent things my dad did in his lifetime. He’s not one of those ‘compulsively fixated on kids sexually’ types as far as I can tell, he ‘just’ likes to hurt people and animals and in general get away with things, which is classic for a sociopath.
Anyhow, thanks to Balbrouchan for pointing out I might be perpetuating stereotypes against survivors, something I’d never want to do.
So I’ve been extra spacey lately since the news about the impending letter from my mom replying to the one I sent her three years ago. It’s not like I really notice the spaci-ness myself much, but my wife has noticed and pointed out a few things.
This morning I forgot to feed my beloved dog, and then when reminded, promptly forgot again until reminded a second time. My poor good doggy.
I’ve lost my favourite pair of glasses. No clue where they are. My wife can’t even find them and she’s usually very good at finding things I lose.
My wife tells me things and I forget them. What are they? I forget…
I ran a red light today because I got too distracted when my wife was trying to say something about what lane I was in.
I had a creepy dream where my father was my boyfriend and I was being all nice to him, behaving like his girlfriend. Creepy! The morning I went to the dentist too, as if being triggered wasn’t the last thing I needed before seeing the dentist.
What I did well was to let my wife know that I’m just going to be spacey over the next few days and there’s nothing I can really do about it. I’m not sure if that’s true. Perhaps if I really grounded or something I’d feel whatever feelings I’m dissociating from and then I wouldn’t need to dissociate. That’s what I’d have tried back when I was a therapist and I was working with a survivor who was dissociating, although it’s harder to do for oneself. I’d book an appointment with my therapist, but really, what is there to say? I saw my brother and it went well, and my mother’s going to send me a letter, but I haven’t gotten it yet. What’s to talk about?
When the letter comes, I’m going to give it to my wife to keep in her locker at work, so it’s not in the house. I don’t know why I want to do that, but it feels better somehow. It will help me avoid the temptation to open it before I have enough support. I’m likely to freak out afterward, so I need to make sure the timing is right.
On the up side I went to the dentist yesterday and had a filling. I’d avoided making an appointment for a couple of months, because I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but got up the courage. It was way in the back up near the gum and I was worried I’d be on my back with my mouth jammed open in pain for ages, with gunk going down my throat, something I figured would trigger me bad. I explained to the dental assistant that I was concerned I might be anxious with my mouth open for a long time, and that I thought it would help if I could close my mouth whenever I needed to. She said that would be fine, and pointed out that there was one point in the procedure where the glue wouldn’t stick if I closed my mouth and saliva got on it. I asked how long that was likely to be and said it would help if during that time she explained what was happening. It turned out to be no big thing, ten or fifteen minutes all together and the dentist was told I was anxious and distracted me by chatting about our vacations. She didn’t even have to freeze me, which worked great. Kind of an incentive to make sure I don’t get any more cavities though.
What do I think is at the root of my spaciness? Rage. Having contact with my stinking psychopath-enabling weak martyr of a hypocrite faux-feminist mother really fucking pisses me off. How DARE she want to have ‘a relationship’ with me? How can she really be this dense and want me to f’ing overlook that she didn’t help me at all when she knew that my vagina was ripped so bad I had two tears from one side of my vulva to the other!!!! Who the hell does she think I am? She hasn’t even admitted to the crime and I’m supposed to forget and forgive (ideally in that order)? I want to rip her apart with my bare hands, and I’m going to get words from her, words that will be full of bullshit as usual. I can’t even imagine what she would say that would be enough. If she goes on about how my letter hurts her or something I’m going to freaking blow up!
The parts of me that don’t want to pound her senseless with something heavy, are thinking that any information will be useful, and I don’t even have to respond to the letter, although, realistically I should or she’ll contact me again. However, I could wait three freaking years to respond just like she did and see how she likes it.
I may end up saying “I have now seen the scars on my vagina and vulva. You knew I was raped. I was too seriously injured for you not to have known. You have lied to me for the last time. No, I will never have a relationship with you. You can’t come back from this. You are dead to me. Go to hell. ”
Go to freaking hell, Mom!!
My older brother called me on the weekend and we got together to watch his kid play in a sporting event.
All in all it went well. He made an effort to connect, I brought my wife, and we were on his home turf in a way (watching his kid play) so he felt comfortable and we had an activity to distract us.
At the end we were chatting and he casually asked if our father had died yet, in the same ‘I don’t care about the evil bastard’ way I might have. It must have cost him something to ask. I liked that he asked in the way he did. I told him I’d thought he’d be the one to tell me, but that no-one had told me so he probably was alive. My aunt, at least would let me know. I filled him in a bit on what I knew about what the other family were doing, which I know he appreciates.
It was very human, if you know what I mean, we had a reasonable connection.
He’s still apparently a perfectionist, and demanding on his sons for achievement, which he comes by honestly, since my mom put an enormous amount of pressure on him. If I ever get close enough to him to point it out, I’ll make the comparison, as I know that that pressure was something he told me was harmful when he was younger. Or I’ll leave well enough alone. He’s not without insight into his own stuff and must already know.
He’s a doctor, and he told me that he thinks someone must have been making some of the medical info about our father up, that he couldn’t have survived all the things we’d heard he’d had (.4 blood alcohol, flail lung, flesh eating disease, liver cancer, plus a recurrence of cancer) in combination. This makes sense to me, but I can’t imagine why they would make it up? Maybe to make us feel sorry and visit him on his deathbed? I said it seemed unbelievable to me too, especially after I’d looked up the average survival rates for each of these and calculated he should statistically been dead several times over. I said if it’s true, then I’m going to live to 150, so that’s all right. He said he thought at some point he’d get a funeral invitation and find out that way.
I told him I think that since mom’s still married to our father, the cops would notify her since she’s next of kin. He said he hoped she wouldn’t inherit his debts, and I said I thought they had a legal separation, so maybe not. My brother said that our other brother would probably inherit everything then, which was only fair since he was the one still in contact with the old bastard and I agreed. My younger brother would give it all to mom anyhow.
It was good to have a conversation like this with no pretense. I also got to be kind, to support him in rooting for his son, and to speak briefly with my nephew.
I should find out what the rules are for death notification. If my mom is legally separated, do the RCMP notify her or one of his other relatives when he dies? If someone knows, I hope you’ll leave a comment here.
The spiritual thing about this was that on Saturday, after I visited with him, I ran into a friend and got talking for some reason about my mom, she asked if I was back in touch, and I said no, she was dead to me. She already knew about the scars, so she got it.
Then on the Sunday I went swimming in the ocean with some friends. It was kind of impromptu, so we didn’t have bathing suits with us. In Canada it is legal for women to go topless anywhere that men can, so we swam topless to keep most of our clothes dry. It felt like a purification, to be swimming in salt water against my bare skin, not feeling at all ashamed of my less than slender, less than young body on a public beach.
Then the next day I get the call from my aunt about my mom. Interesting how it all came together. It’s kind of like when you finally let go of an ex girlfriend and flirt with someone new, and they sense it and call you up. People sense when the connections are severed, I think, energetically. If so, that’s good, because the connection with my mom does feel severed – when I said she is dead to me, I meant it. I wonder how this will affect how I read her letter.
My mom’s sister (who I like) called me this weekend to let me know that my mom has finally written a reply to my letter sent almost three years ago with, apparently, answers to my questions. The catch is, she feels it’s too private to send by mail (?) and would like to know how I want receive it. She is, of course, fishing to see me in person, something my aunt suggested (ie: my mom bring the letter in person and I read it in front of her, ick!) which is not going to happen.
By making my aunt, who is awaiting major surgery right now, the intermediary, my mom is once again in fine form for putting her needs above others.
To spare my aunt, who is a very nice person and who has been good to me, I did not go into a rant about how seeing me in the person was out of question for a woman who had not provided medical (or police) attention to her five year old daughter (me) with a severely torn vagina from rape and then lied to my face about it for 20 years, saying she didn’t know I’d been abused.
Instead, I expressed regret to my aunt that she was in the middle of this and suggested (to my aunt) that she let my mom know that if regular mail didn’t work then registered mail, courier or giving it to my brother to give to me would work.
My aunt also relayed that my mom “loves me and wants to have a relationship with me again”. She clearly is buying the bullshit, which since I also bought it for awhile, I’m not going to hold against her.
I’d rather eat dirt, frankly, than ‘have a relationship’ with my mother again. I do not ‘have relationships’ with people who think so little of me. I wonder if my younger brother has cut her off, nurturing and caretaking-wise, and she’s shopping around.
The problem is, that if I see her in person, I’m pretty thoroughly conditioned to mother her – offer her sympathy, help and advice I later (or immediately) resent. My mom must know this, that I’m much more ‘reasonable’ when I see her in person, which is why she wants it. So not seeing her at all is by far the best option for me.
I really hadn’t expected my mom to write back after the first few months, although I reminded her last year when she hand delivered a note, that the only communication I wanted from her was a written reply to my letter. This does of course give me a little time to plan how to read the letter I haven’t received yet. I’m thinking the good old standby of opening and reading it at my therapists office.
I am assuming by now that she knows (via my aunt or uncle) that I know the vaginal tearing was far to extensive for her not to have known about it when it happened. She no doubt has a way to justify or ignore that for herself. We’ll see if she responds to that directly in the letter or not. I expect this might be a bit of a doozy. If she essentially bails and only provides me with some of the info I asked for like giving me a couple of anecdotes of when he was creepy to other women, and perhaps some info on the layout of the house we lived in, topped off with another ‘no I didn’t know he was abusing you’, that would almost be easiest to deal with. If she gives me any real information, it might give me nightmares or flashbacks, but I can handle it. Mostly I am decent now at deconstructing her mind games, but just to be sure, I’ll be opening it at my therapists office, and maybe storing it at a friends until I get a chance to read it.
I just finished bringing my father / abuser’s file to the attention of the RCMP in connection with some murders of young women that have been happening in and around my home town during the time my family has lived there. I used an online tip form, because it seemed a lot easier to write out what I know than to be interviewed on the phone. I hate talking on the phone. I gave them my real name.
I did it because my vulva has been hurting all day, and it needed to be done. I spent an hour or more writing out all the facts I know of, looked into my files to check dates and it does seem possible he is the one murdering these young women. Either way, I didn’t say anything that they can’t verify themselves. I didn’t give them the full time-line, although it does look like there is a murder within a year of events that would have been stressful to him (getting interviewed by the police about raping me, his wife leaving him etc…) The first murder happened about a year after we moved there.
I sure hope that either they don’t contact me or at least that it’s not a bad experience if they do. I’m stronger now than I was then. Tips aren’t supposed to be a case all sewn up, they’re just information that might fit into the case. I have done all I can do, now.
-Likely to be triggering –
As I’ve written about before, my father is a sociopath, a person without empathy or conscience. I don’t mean this merely as an insult, but as a literal fact. This means that he has no internal limits on his behaviour.
As a result I have to wonder what else he’s done besides rape me so severely as a young child that I have scars from the tearing that stretch from one side of my vulva to the other.
Here’s what I know for sure. He ‘got fresh’ with my aunt, when she was 15, so badly that she badly scarred his leg by kicking it bloody. This was before I was born.
My abuser would say sexual and insulting things to women (including his sister in law) when drinking and told me about talking to young prostitutes. He liked to dominate people and to torture-tickle us kids until we couldn’t breath. He ‘repaired bicycles’ for young kids in our neighbourhood in our basement, a place where I was abused. He also took my brother and his friends camping and hiking a lot. One of those friends is now a recluse and probably an alcoholic. My older brother has suspicions he was abused, which probably explains why he stays away from me. It’s likely I’m a trigger for him.
He likes thrills. Drinking driving. Dangerous driving, swerving around the road to scare my mother. He likes scaring people. He scared my uncle with a shotgun once when they went hunting together. My uncle wouldn’t go hunting with him again.
The last thing is that someone is murdering young first nations women in the area around the town where I grew up. This has been going on for decades, the entire time my family has lived there, and given the racism of the area, has taken activism on behalf of the first nations communities in order to be made public and given some attention from law enforcement. The young women are picked up hitchhiking apparently, and after being sexually assaulted and murdered, they are dumped by the side of the road.
My father’s job provided for frequent road trips to local communities. Now that my mother has left him, he has no-one to see his behaviour. Even when my mother was home, he secured his silence about injuring me, so I think some suspicious behavour wouldn’t have made her report anything to the police. She refused to speak to the police when they questioned her about my assaults, so she may have more to hide than my assaults. He may have made her feel like an accomplice, which of course she was in my case, by hiding what he did.
My father is a racist, and mysogynist. I’ve heard him say bigoted things about first nations people (and gays, and women and…)
I took the timeline of the murders and tried to match it up with what I know of his whereabouts. What I have, matches. However, all I have for certain is data on his hospitalization and recovery period. If I asked around I could probably get some exact dates on when my aunts were there looking after him, when his surgeries were. Going back into the past, my mom and brothers and I often went in the summers to our grandparents place, leaving him alone to work. I could theoretically get all that data, if I was willing to talk to my mother or get my brother to talk to me.
The house where my father now lives by himself has a ‘cold room’ in the basement, intended for storing vegetables and such. It’s built of concrete block with a solid, insulated door. We used to store garden vegetables in it, but would be an ideal place to hold someone captive.
I reported my father/abuser to the RCMP about twenty years ago. I’ve written a fictionalized version of the experience here. They didn’t even take my report seriously enough to put in a child protection investigation to protect my younger brother. It was back-burnered so deep it took seven years and a political pressure for them to investigate, and even then they found enough to charge him. So they have the information about him, but I don’t know if they’d connect it. Canada has a sort of sex offender database, but although I reported him, and the crown was prepared to lay charges, it didn’t go to trial and so he wasn’t convicted, and I’ve read in the news that the police don’t have access to the database to go ‘fishing’.
I don’t know that my father is this serial killer. The police think now that it’s not a serial killer at all, but a group of unrelated murders, or at least that’s what they’re saying publicly. All I know is that he lives in the right town to have access to all the sites, he’s a sociopath, and he’s capable of it.
So here’s my quandary. I could call the anonymous police tipline and tell them what I know. However, the things I know pretty much disclose who I am, and aren’t terribly concrete. I really don’t want to be invalidated or seen as the girl who cries wolf. You folks know how seriously sexual abuse survivors are taken by the police. Even if he dies of the cancer or drinking driving or whatever, his house could be a crime scene and could give the families some closure. If he dies or the house is sold, that evidence is likely gone.
On the other hand, my father is a sociopath, a rapist of children and possibly a murderer and could easily find out where I live. Sociopaths are like hornets, best to avoid disturbing them if you want to be safe. Perhaps this is why my mother won’t give me any information against him, and why she barricaded her door and slept next to it on the floor for at least a year after she left him. I’ve felt safer knowing that I’ve reported to the police, and if I am killed he’d be prime suspect #1 and he knows that, but I am still afraid of him of course.
What I could use is some advice or reassurance from someone who works in law enforcement on whether this is worth speaking to the police about, and how to go about it – tip line or just call them. I don’t live anywhere near the city where my father lives, so I don’t even know who to go to about this.
Any blog readers out there with input?
I used to know this woman, a survivor, who was a fitness trainer. She loved exercising so much it was actually contagious. She and I used to go dancing a lot. At the time, there was a song called “Free Your Mind” with an anti-prejudice message. The chorus, which was most of what we could really make out in a noisy nightclub, was “Free your, mind, and the rest will follow”.
My friend adapted it to “Free your ass, and the rest will follow”, meaning “be in your body and grounded and everything gets a lot better”. It has a lot of truth, and has stayed with me. When I moved to another town, she made me a dance tape as a goodbye gift and titled it “Free your ass and the rest will follow”. When I need to ground, shaking my butt or dancing helps a lot. It’s hard to be clenched up and anxious when your butt is relaxed. Try it.
So this morning, after writing about my internal debate over my mother and whether I have more than just the one main abuser (*I removed this post because I was getting homophobic comments on it), I went to a place I go to do do a walking meditation. During the meditation I came to this.
It doesn’t matter if there’s more abuse I don’t remember. What matters is, can I live my life as fully and joyously as I want to? It’s been my experience that by going out and living passionately, the stuff that gets in the way needs to be cleared comes up. If it doesn’t get in the way, it’s irrelevant at this point.
The only tricky thing is when my unconscious hides my limitations from me (like being unaware that I clench my hands or jaw in sleep until it does damage).
In my meditation walk, I suddenly had a flash that my new motto was “Free your vulva and the rest will follow”.
What this means to me is that I need to stop clenching my vulva, in order to improve my vulvadynia, the sensation in my vulva, and hence, my sex life. I also need to unclench my passion and creativity (symbolized by my vulva) in all the other ways that they’re locked up. So instead of whining about how unmotivated I am to do my singing, I need to press into the resistance instead of allowing it to smother me.
Now, I know from past experience that my resistance is extremely well developed, and battling on to create anyways is a central struggle of my life so I’m not going to promise great results here. However, just as focussing on keeping my hands, feet and neck warm has unexpectedly resulted in me being more grounded, I have a suspicion that keeping my vulva relaxed will have good, but as yet unknown effects. If it brings flashbacks, so be it. If I suddenly find myself singing or making love, so much the better.
As a pagan, I don’t celebrate the birth of a god/saint/martyr from another religion as such. However I grew up celebrating Christmas, and all of my family does. It is a time of year when we all pretend for a few days, and gift giving, albeit with strings attached is a big part of that.
This will be my third Christmas, I think, since I called my mother on her crap and she once again refused to rise to the occasion.
Last year my wife and I decided not to give gifts, but to donate to charity instead. This went over great with her family, but not at all well with mine. My family does not share my earth-loving materialism eschewing values. If you love someone you will spend more than you can afford on a gift you have carefully sleuthed out and think they will like.
I think part of it is that I don’t want their stinking gifts. And part of it is that I don’t want to put that kind of energy into a gift for people I’m mad at. Gifts were always bribes, to stay quiet, to comply. I can only give gifts to people I’m sure that is not the scene with, and even then, with difficulty. I don’t exactly know what my issue with giving gifts is, only that it makes me very uncomfortable and I dissociate around the concept. I can literally ‘forget’ to buy Christmas gifts, even with all the incessant sacharine hype for two months leading up to the day.
It’s funny, my mom has a bit of a gift thing too. She gives extravagant, luxury gifts, but can’t be counted on for what you actually need when you actually need it. The gifts are thoughtful, usually perfectly chosen, but off the mark. She would be quite happy buying me something gorgeous for Christmas, but she won’t return my letter and tell me what the layout of the basement in the first house we lived in was, or put in writing that she believes my father abused me.
Iwant the gift of courage from the people who love me. I want the gift of caring and loyalty and commitment. Keep your stinking ipods to yourselves.
My father once built me a doll castle. It was five feet tall, made of wood, with turrets, and six rooms. It had a bathtub with a working jacuzzi in it. The kitchen floor had miniaturized linoleum on it. The clothes closet had minature hangers in it. I can’t for the life of me imagine why he would have made me such a thing, or what it cost me. Maybe it was just an interesting challenge for him to create, or maybe it was grooming. I don’t know.
My mother once bought me a beautiful pink silk dress I couldn’t wear becasue I had no shoes, nylons or underwear that worked with it. And she didn’t buy me those things. Eventually I sorted out getting them for myself. It would have been less dramatic as a gift, but I would have rather had socks and underwear and a few t-shirts at the time, even though the dress was wonderful, I couldn’t wear it anywear I went. It was like I was some sort of doll to dress up.
My older brother freaks out when I buy him, or especially his kids, gifts. They’re never good enough and he rather impolitely tells me so. I’m not sure what his deal is, and he’s never told me.
I really rather wish we’d been raised Jewish. I hear that Chanukka gifts are small and few, and it’s not as big a deal. I wish I could play the witch card and just say I don’t participate in Christmas since it’s not my holiday, but no-one would buy that, and I don’t think it would even be the truth.
I always manage to get some sort of gift for my wife. She is always gracious about it, and even though she’s hard to shop for, she knows that and forgives me if I don’t get her something perfect. I like making her happy. It’s not really a gift if there’s all this baggage to it, anyhow, it’s an obligation.
I think too, I’m so fricking furious with my mom and older brother that I don’t want to be fake and give them gifts. If I could get by with bath beads or gourmet coffee or something I could do it, but they want the real deal, a gift chosen just for them with a lot of effort in it. I just don’t want to give them that. They don’t deserve it. I guess that’s the reason then. I don’t buy gifts for people who I am mad at. I don’t put out emotionally for people who aren’t loyal to me. It’s a boundary.
[Note: Since I first wrote this, this piece has gotten a lot of attention for being a really good way to explain to people in your life what it’s like to have PTSD and Complex PTSD in particular and why there aren’t any quick fixes. I hope it’s helpful for you and your loved ones.]
I’m writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) and the following excerpt is what I wrote today on it.
The novel this year is about sociopaths, a people making sense of a past including child abuse, disconnection with nature and people trying to do the right thing in the face of it. I don’t know exactly what shape the pieces will take yet. I didn’t know last year at this stage iether really, but I suspect it will be more complicated this year. Last year was a simple time-travelling love story.
This is an installment of my novel, in progress. More pieces here.
It’s like this.
Imagine you are a mother driving home from a family function with your nine year old daughter in the passenger seat. You have had one or two drinks but it was awhile ago and you decided you were okay to drive.
The night is rainy and you get into a serious car accident. You are thrown forward in your seat and injure your body where the steering wheel strikes you. Your daughter is killed. You are helpless, pinned inside the car, unable to reach her as she dies before your eyes, convulsing, screaming, blood coming from eyes and ears.
The experience is so overwhelming, emotionally that your brain can’t process it, can’t store it in the usual way. The information flows in to fast and too intensely to be properly filed in one place, all together. The sensation of the steering wheel and the pain in your abdomen gets put in one place, completely separated from the visual memory of your daughters face as she struggled and died. That memory is separate as well from the contempt in the voice of the rescue worker who asked if you had been drinking. That memory is separate from the lights of the semi high beams in your eyes which blinded you for a moment, contributing to the accident. The pain from your chest. The emotional pain of watching your daughter die. Your daughter’s last words.
Those snippets of memory, and hundreds of others from that night are stored in little boxes in your mind, with no connection to the other pieces. They don’t form a whole memory at all, and you have no ability to put them in the correct order or link them to one another. It is too painful and overwhelming when you try, so you don’t.
You receive medical attention but everyone drifts away from you after that and you move to a new place where no-one knows. You vaguely remember that your daughter died in a car accident, but don’t remember details. People think you are lucky not to remember any of it, and are relieved you have nothing to tell them. Knowing it happened at all is bad enough for them, and the uncomfortable look on their faces soon teaches you to not even go that far with them. You can’t tell anyone about what you do remember, because it feels like it was your fault. After awhile you seem to forget it happened at all.
Then one day you are riding the bus and someone pushes you hard, in your abdomen. Suddenly the memory fragment of the crushing sensation in your chest is triggered, which in turn has a connection to the box holding the emotional pain that you don’t know is from watching your daughter die. They both ‘fire’ in your mind simultaneously.
You feel the pain in your chest as if it was happening now, along with a loss so great and horrifying that you panic. There is no other information to explain what this is about. You freeze, ashamed, and people are well meaning but think you are crazy, or think you need a doctor. You think you are crazy too.
Later on, this type of thing happens again and again. Lights in your eyes trigger some part of the memory, or a particular phrase, or seeing a simulated car crash on tv, or seeing someone who looks like your daughter did, seeing a rescue worker in uniform, or being around your family members at the holidays, who carefully do not talk about what happened.
You feel anxious and fearful a lot of the time, but couldn’t say exactly why.
If you are lucky, you will be able to stand the sensation during the gift of memory that is a flashback long enough to put the pieces together a little and don’t try to numb it very often with drugs, or alcohol, food or work. You do remember that your daughter died, and you think that maybe this has something to do with it.
You find a therapist and tell her what you remember consciously, which isn’t much. Your daughter died. You were driving. The rest is a blank. One day you have a session after a particularly intense flashback. While telling her about it, in the safety of a non-judgmental relationship, you have another flashback that fits with the first and make the connection with what you already know. You realize that the lights in your eyes you’ve been having nightmares about are the headlights of the truck you saw that night. The next time you have a nightmare about them, you tell yourself this and it calms you down. The better you get at doing this, the less often you have these nightmares, and you gradually find you can look at headlights at night without feeling much panic. Eventually they are sometimes just headlights, unless you are having a particularly stirred up day.
One day, with a lot of support from your therapist, you get the courage to ask after the accident reports. You travel back to the town you lived, practicing deep breathing to keep from having panic attacks when you see familiar landmarks. The day you go to the station and get access to the report, you are terrified. Some of what is written is not exactly as you remember it, it is told from a different perspective. It reads like it happened to another person. When you read in the police station archives, that it said you’d indicated you’d had a drink at the party prior to driving, you become unable to read further and freeze. You run into the bathroom, find a stall and break into deep sobs in the police office. You hope no-one comes in and hears you, or worse, asks what is wrong.
However, the report helps because it gives you a framework to attach the snippets of sensation and memory that intrude into your consciousness or have been invited during therapy sessions. You find that they all fit at some place in the story, and you begin to have compassion for the woman who experienced this tragedy, that woman who doesn’t quite feel like yourself.
Now imagine that the situation is not a car accident, witnessed and documented by police, so you can check the validity of your memory fragments. Imagine that an incident equally horrifying or worse was perpetrated on you by a loved and trusted person while you were a child under their control. Imagine that there was no medical attention, even though you were seriously injured, and no one to help or tell. Imagine that it wasn’t a single traumatic incident’s worth of sensation fragments to piece together, but fifty, spread out over a decade or more. Imagine that as a result of the first couple of incidents, you had walked around in a self-protective haze for most of your childhood. Imagine that as a result, your brain didn’t bother to store the kind of information that provides context and meaning for these later traumas, but only the sensations of pain or horror. You are missing a large number of key pieces of several of the memories, meaning that without outside validation, you will likely never be able to explain or integrate them fully for yourself, make them whole and stop them from intruding into your life.
Imagine that your family members refuse to talk to you about what they remember of what happened, because it is too painful for them, or because they don’t want you to remember what happened, they blame you or they don’t want you to remember their part in condoning it. Imagine that they tell you that you are lying, making it all up, that you are crazy, either directly or indirectly. Or imagine that instead they say they believe you that this person hurt you, but don’t think it was a big deal and still spend christmas every year with the family member who hurt you. They expect you to do the same.
If you are lucky, you will divorce your family, get good therapy, and find some friends with similar experiences who understand and normalize what happened. If you are lucky you will have a spouse who becomes trained to hold you and calm you at night when you have nightmares, or if you have flashbacks during lovemaking, does not take it personally and learns not to touch you in ways that trigger the minefield of memory fragments. With luck and time, you connect the puzzle pieces you can, and develop what explanation you can for those you cannot connect. You learn, in the midst of the panic, to tell yourself, “this is abuse stuff” and that you are safe now, and most of the time that helps enough. If you are lucky and face it as square on, for as long as you can, then the memory fragments intrude less and less, and eventually they stop. You make peace with the mysteries you can’t solve, and protect yourself from further harm effectively.
You don’t tell most people about all this, as it upsets them and often they say stupid things that make it worse. They ask why you aren’t over it by now. They say “parents do the best they can with what they know at a time” or “forgiveness will set you free”. Their own experiences with minor wounds and misdeeds tell them that these are the truth, so they think it applies to you.
Friends you trust enough to tell how it really is are uncomfortable with the anger you have worked hard to feel and express, because turning it inside poisons you. They tell you that forgiving the sociopath who hurt you solely for his or her own enjoyment will magically make all the aftereffects disappear, forcing you to make the decision to tell them what naïve fools they are or just change the subject. Sometimes you want to ask them, “will forgiving the truck that hit you make the broken bones go away?”
If you are lucky, you will have some people in your life who never say these things, or you will soon have no friends at all. You learn not to tell most people things they can’t understand, which means that sometimes your behaviour is unexplainable.
Without being able to share the facts, it becomes impossible to explain in a compelling enough way to strangers, that unless they want to hold your hand, remind you to breathe, listen to you tell them the disjointed snippets of what you remember about being trapped and tortured in a small box, and comfort you afterward, all of which would actually healing, you simply cannot ride in an elevator today.
Some days you can do it with no more than some attention to deep relaxing breathing, and focusing on the elevator musak and the knowledge that you are safe and an adult. Doing this often enough will make things permanently better, but takes a lot of internal fortitude each time. However, you know from experience that if you do succumb to pressure and ride in the damn elevator (or whatever) when you’re not ready, you will pay by going numb for days, and spend days on high emotional alert and nights of nightmares. Because they don’t or won’t understand why you have needs they don’t, people find you rigid and odd. They have no idea how courageous you are.
Today was the first day alone I’ve had since I got back from my trip to see my relatives.
My house is a mess, something that if I don’t deal with soon, will probably put me at odds with my wife. I spent most of the day in bed reading, broken up but largely context-less bursts of sobbing. There is so much to integrate from my trip, and I feel utterly alien. It’s like I’m hiding my own emotional reality from myself unless it leaks out suddenly, as it did on the weekend in an unexpected burst of anger which I wasn’t that good at hiding and today in an unexpected burst of crying while reading a novel.
I hate it. It makes me wonder what I’ve got locked away so tight, since my own emotional reality sneaks up on me, like it’s coming from somewhere else. I mean, I was a therapist, so I know it makes sense I’d have grieving to do, and anger to express. It’s the fact that I don’t actually feel them, until they burst out suddenly and then just as suddenly are gone. Am I in some sort of shock? It’s not that I’m not capable of strong emotion sometimes, but I seem to need someone there to validate and protect me, even if it is only the Goddess in the form of a beautiful natural location, in order to truly feel.
What am I overwhelmed about? The trip went well.
1) I disclosed graphic details of the abuse: That I’d been injured in a rape at the age of 5 and that my mother must have known – to family – her own brother and sister. They’d believed me, shown me validation and respect for my strength, and apologized for not seeing and intervening. They totally got why I needed to ask questions about my mother and father, and answered them honestly and as fully as they could.
2) I got information about my father and mother. My mom’s high school yearbook, which my uncle had since he went to the same school, referred to her dating my father at the age of 15. My aunt said that her parents were strongly against sex before marriage, and that my mother was the golden girl, very obedient. She thought my father must have put huge pressure on her to have sex with him before marriage, and that her getting pregnant before marriage as she did was a huge deal. My uncle told me a story about going hunting with my father and my father firing a gun irresponsibly, scaring my uncle so he didn’t hunt with my father again. The way he told the story, I could see my father doing it on purpose, just for the risk and to freak out my uncle. He loved freaking people out. Very sociopathic.
3) I got triggered by two things at my paternal aunt’s house. One was a room I think I was abused in, which I’d dreamt about, but didn’t realize actually existed, a ‘secret room’ behind one of the bedrooms that used to be a storage area. The second was the type of attention her husband showed toward my cousin’s son, his grandson. He lit up when he saw him, but was a bit controlling with him, and the little boy moved away from him later in the meal. Nothing major, but he was just enough like my dad to creep me out, given the context.
4) I went to a couple of places I’d been to as a child, but didn’t have the liberty to wander and soak up impressions, to get a sense for whether I could remember how I thought or felt there. It was like I am so hungry for places that were familiar to me as a child, places I could recover lost parts of myself from.
I found a really good way to explain why survivors don’t want to ‘just forget it’. I told my mom’s brother’s wife, my aunt: “Because of how overwhelming it is when traumatic things happen, the brain doesn’t store the information properly. You get bits of memory floating around, ready to surface at any time. Like a feeling of terror, with no other information. To stop it, you have to allow yourself to feel whatever it is, and then sometimes you get more information to go with it and it can become a normal memory. So why would I want to forget a memory I worked so hard for?” Shortly after this she told me how much she admires my courage.
The problem is people don’t really get it unless you tell them everything. If they don’t know how bad it really is, they don’t get why things are important. I really respect my maternal aunts and uncle for hearing, and asking and being unflinching in looking at things. I offered a couple of times to change the subject, but they said they were comfortable with talking about it if I wanted to.
I think it’s the love that makes me cry. I’m not used to getting this kind of love and support and willingness from people, certainly not my family.
My aunt told me she was going to tell my mother she should confess, tell the truth about what she did. We both agreed it would be good for my mom to get it off her chest, and that she owed it to me. My aunt thinks she can get her to disclose. I think she can try, but I don’t really see it happening.
And then there’s this whole thing about whether my mom abused me. I’m afraid if I remember anything like that it will f up my sex life even worse than it already is. One of the great things about being a lesbian is that I don’t have sex with men, and don’t have to wade into the minefield of sensations that are too similar to the ones of the abuse.
And lastly there’s the whole sociopath thing. Even the small morsels of love I thought I might have had from my father, the connection of singing together and all that, was probably either grooming or his ego at having a talented daughter. He literally had no ability to connect or love anyone. I had no father. Someone f’ing saddled me with a sociopath father! and it’s fricking hereditary! I can’t have a child knowing he or she might be sociopathic, not that I was really planning to, but still. On the other hand it validates what happened to me. He just did what he wanted to, and liked to torture and dominate people.
My wife and I get into fights because I think she lets’ mean people get away with hurting her. It triggers me because I know you have to cut off people like that. Apparently I did the best thing you can do if you are involved with a sociopath in some way, just cut them off completely and permanently. As long as they have contact they will use it to meet their needs for stimulation and winning at the expense of others, to manipulate with pity and power. I cut him off effectively. Why did he give me his piano? Was it to manipulate my mother into thinking she could get restitution and repentance from him to mend her broken family to the way it was? I can’t think of another reason. He made trouble for me actually, because by giving it to me, he broke his separate promises to both of my brothers to leave it to them.
My mother should just cut him off, and wait for him to die, not count on getting a penny out of the house, and do whatever hands off legal shielding she can do to prevent herself from becoming accountable for his debts.
I hope in a few days I’ll feel better. The crying feels more like exhaustion that anything else, and the rage. It’s like I’m overwhelmed and just can’t take anymore.