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 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.
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 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.
Don’t panic, it’s not MY family, it’s my wife’s. However, in the wake of my mother’s stalker-like note, I’m a bit twitchy about family. I normally like my wife’s family, they’re religious (in that gay-hating, women oppressing way, not the good way) but we stay away from that and they don’t tell us we’re going to hell or anything. They’re actually quite nice people, and there is a small but friendly non-religious contingent as well so it’s not too bad for a couple of lesbians all in all.
However this year is a milestone birthday for my wife’s mom, and everyone will be there I’m guessing, including one set of relatives I got my therapist to call social services about. I’m afraid of seeing them and probably discovering they’re still abusing and neglecting my neices and nephews and nothing has been done. Although, the Goddess works in mysterious ways, perhaps I’ll find out their kids have been removed to foster homes and they’re too ashamed to show up. One can hope. The only good thing is that their kids getting older and are leaving home, but they’re so badly injured psychologically. There are reports from other relatives that the kids steal from family when they visit, which is a sign of neglect to me, and also absorbing the values of their sociopath father. They’re skinny, needy and haunted when I seen them. I wonder if I was like that. It’s a bit triggering to say the least. I suppose I should be a good survivor aunt and take notes to pass on to social services, and try and find out where they’re living now, but my inner child wants to stay the hell away from all of them. I actually think I ‘passed’ for normal quite a bit better than they do (I’ve been told I had a kind of quiet dignity, and a flair for the dramatic at times), which makes me really fear for what is happening to them.
It’s also getting close to my visit to my aunts and uncles out east. I leave next week. I”m looking forward to the trip, but frankly this is all a bit too much family at once for me. I’ve been working and packing non-stop to get ready for all this, so I’ve been overwhelmed. I’m one of those highly sensitive people who gets overwhelmed if I do too much or have too much stimulation because I process it all so deeply. It makes me a good writer, and gives me a rich inner life, which I wouldn’t give up for the world, but it also makes me exhausted by interpersonal conflict. I work for myself, alone most of the time, for that reason. When I see people I’m happy to see them, and I’m not a total hermit, but I like my space.
The wife and I will be staying at a hotel rather than with relatives, which should hopefully help, and we’re bringing our dog, which I anticipate will need a lot of long walks during the day.
Wish me luck.
Ah, that stuff they I read about family systems work is right. When you try and change a long-standing pattern, people freak out on you to try and get you to change back. The deal is that you’re supposed to respond in a low key manner.
I wrote the follow-up email to my older brother, where as promised I responded in more depth. Probably not a mistake, but man did it piss him off. My first email had been textbook family systems, my second one, less so.
I told him his behaviour was condescending toward me, and essentially he didn’t know what he was talking about. I said that his fancy story of the woman he knew who’d just decided to be ‘over it’, was a case of her succumbing to peer pressure. And I called him on being incorrect when he said he’d ‘always’ believed me. (He once accused me of being delusional “I know *you* believe you were abused…” he’d said in that patronizing lets be nice to the crazy person or imbecile tone. He was in med school and must have got it from somewhere)
Now, I did word it very carefully, and kept it brief, but essentially I shifted myself out of “messed up younger sister willng to put up with condescension and arrogance and let you get away with crap” to “knowledgable adult who calls you on your crap” This is a big change.
His email back to me was vicious. Poor fellow must be freaking out. He accused me of all kinds of things, like making a dig at him in my speech at the wedding (he’s dreaming it) or buying a gift for his teenage son that was too young for him (I liked it, and I’m a lot older than his son, and besides, who criticizes a gift?). He’s been holding all sorts of stuff against me, although I think the main thing is that it scares him I’m switching roles and he’s mad at me for disclosing in the first place, instead of being mad at my father.
Anyhow, I replied and told him I was his sister and he’d either have to work out his issues with me or project them on to other relationships, and if and when he was ready to talk further I would. I also responded to all of his accusations, explaining some of the misunderstandings he’d had without backing down. As far as family systems correct responses go, I’d give it a C, since I did sink to his level a bit, and really you’re supposed to respond in a light, friendly and firm way, without muckraking. I did edit out some of the worst bits and was certainly warmer than he was.
The thing is, he’s behaving a lot like my dad. I wonder if he realizes? It’s that alcoholic selfishness, everything is never one’s own fault, getting angry when being held accountable. I don’t know if he’s a drinker, but he’s sure behaving like one. Someone at my wedding told me she thought my older brother was selfish and arrogant in the same way my dad is (she was a friend of the family and knew my dad. I defended him at the time (she’s a friend of my mother, and what my mom sees as selfish isn’t really), but now I see her point. )
This was just in email, thank goodness, but I was so angry I pounded my hands on the table and cried. What a dickhead my brother can be. I have this place where I remember him as a really nice guy, and I hold on to it, but honestly, he’s not showing it to me, not in several years.
My therapy session today was unexpectedly intense yesterday.
I’ve been giving myself a hard time lately about not being able to persevere.
In general, particularly with certain things like learning physical skills, if I meet resistance or difficulty, I have a lot of trouble continuing on in spite of it (except in certain thing, or things I know I can succeed at). Part of me thought that it is because I have a high IQ and there are lots of things that come easy to me, so I didn’t get any practice working through frustration. I also experience a lot of fatigue, and end up not being rested by even a 10 hour night’s sleep, which could be any number of physical things.
This isn’t entirely the story, I figured out today.
It IS that I didn’t have experience working through frustration, but not that I didn’t try as a kid, but that I was never allowed to win or see progress. My father was a perfectionist about other people’s work, and enjoyed setting impossible tasks for us kids. Actually, he just enjoyed dominating people, kids, his wife, whoever he could, forcing people to try and fail to do things that were hard, frustrating or impossible with fear and intimidation. He always had to win, even if you were right and he was wrong. The penalty for not submitting was always the same for me – getting abused. For the others I’m not sure what he used.
So no wonder I give up when things get hard, I’d been conditioned to do it.
Today in my therapy session, we worked with this. My therapist got me to find/remember a body posture that was expressive of being frustrated, overwhelmed and submitting because there was no way to win. I remembered being pinned down and helpless, and letting my arms release in submission. Then she asked me to find a posture and words that were the opposite or antidote to that.
I ended up standing up in martial arts warding position, telling him to back off. I told him no, cursed him out and in general felt like an angry adult amazon.
Then I had an intuition that there was something more going on. I looked for the energy level this was playing out on and let my therapist know that I was going to ‘try an energy thing’. She knows I’m Pagan and is supportive, thank Goddess.
The following is a Pagan thing. I visualize unhealthy (and sometimes healthy) connections to people as energetic cords. The cords are iether made up of my energy and run from me to the other person, like when I desperately want to convince someone of something or change them, or they are someone else’s energy and run from the other person to me, when that person wants to connect with or control me.
Good cords, in my belief system, form the energetic manifestation of intimacy between people and connection to the Earth. For instance, I always want to have a cord between me and the Earth, since that keeps me grounded, but would experience an energy drain trying to keep a cord between me and anyone else, and might be drained by someone maintaining a stale cord connected to me. Mothers, I’m told, appropriately have a cord between themselves and their infant till the child is up to a year old. However, in all other cases, cords are meant to be temporary connections, not enduring ones, and the approved method of psychic hygeine among witches who experience things this way is to get rid of all stale cords when you notice them. Stale cords are energetically draining, which might account for the fatigue. Whenever I remember this and de-cord, I feel a lot better.
To eject someone else’s cord is actually pretty easy with practice. It’s like taking hold of a carrot and pulling it out from the energetic soil of one’s body, and then making oneself inhospitable to it or sealing oneself up so it doesn’t take root again. Generally cords attach or extrude at the chakras. To pull in one’s own cord, I have to detach myself energetically from trying to change or influence the other person, or let go of keeping a connection with someone energetically after a moment of legitimate connection (positive or negative) has passed, then call that energy back to me. I find the biggest key to de-cording is to figure out which way the cord is running because it’s hard to detach if you don’t know which end is the one with the ‘plug’.
Today I discovered cords going both ways between me and my dad.
A cord stemming from me and attached to my father was me wanting his approval, probably because as a child not showing up on his negative radar was necessary for survival, and his criticism was a precursor to being abused. I had internalized his expectations, his definitions of the right way to be, in order to not stick out. It was weird to discover I’d actually wanted his approval – that he’d set some standards I’d internalized about who I was to be. Combined with pressure from my mom to be high achieving no matter what was going on and I’m set up to have some pretty unrealistic self expectations. When expectations are too high or criticism too pervasive, now (and then) I just give up, since it was ineffective to fight him, and much safer to submit. He himself was a real failure on just about every scale you could measure a man. All he really had was class privilege and gender privilege that he used to oppress his family. Once I realized that, I rejected his right to define who I am and pulled in that cord from my heart.
Another cord was his energy, running from him to me. He wanted my silence. His cord stretched from him to my sore tight throat. I told him I would not be silent for him, that I will tell anyone I want about what he did to me, that I will not keep his secrets. The cord disconnected from me and returned to him. My throat felt a lot better.
The last cord I felt at my forehead. To me, that area is associated with connecting psychically with the ancestors, spirits of the dead and other extra-sensory and psychic perceptions. That gave me the clue I needed to figure out, it was me reaching out psychically for his death, and when I realized that, it felt true. I had been unconsciously reaching out so that I would know when he died, like some part of me is listening intently for that to happen. People often ‘just know’ when someone close to them dies. I don’t want to be connected to him in this way. It must have been draining me to do so. I decided I would let go of listening for him to die, and instead ask my younger brother (who I’m still talking to) to call me immediately if he hears anything about my dad dying.
In all of these things I feel a lot of relief, and had more energy after the session. Could this have been part of the source of my fatigue?
Perhaps. I’m a firm believer of the “trust in God but tie your camel” philosophy. I’ve also started taking an iron supplement, looked into allergy resistant bedding and bought a book on meditation which I did this morning for 8 minutes. It actually helped, I felt a bit calmer and less scattered.