Love is not a prize

I am whole
I am holy
I was born from pain, raised in pain but I overcame

I deserve all the love this world can offer
I deserve a beautiful life
And I will live it

I told her of my fears
showed her all the things I was afraid
would scare her off
believing they would not
for I am whole
and now I am afraid
they will

Somewhere inside is the little girl
who knows, feels believes that
her story makes her damaged goods
Dirty and unwanted

Why do I tell people this truth
knowing it is only where I have come from
what I have fought to restore my sacred self
I show them the dragon, slain
with pride
but then fear they only smell the rotten meat long hauled away

I am still trying to win love with brave deeds
when love is not a prize
I am still trying to prove myself worthy
when I always was.

Coming Out as a Survivor Part 2 – Friends and Lovers

In my previous post on this topic, I covered coming out to yourself, your therapist and your support or therapy community. The final two really difficult steps are coming out to friends and lovers (level one and two) and coming out to or confronting your family. The family piece might come before the friend piece, so these are not necessarily the order in which they are done, but perhaps are the order of complexity and potential for pain.

Continue reading Coming Out as a Survivor Part 2 – Friends and Lovers

What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

#ds450 - Closet SpaceI’m trying to write a chapter on coming out as an incest or child sexual assault survivor for the book.

There are a lot of reasons to come out, and a lot of reasons not to. I’m not going to say one is always better than the other. You need to decide for yourself what you’re up for and what you need. What I believe is that the situation, persons involved, purpose and your own tolerance for social isolation all have bearing on when and to whom you should disclose you are an abuse survivor. Continue reading What I’ve learned about coming out as an incest survivor (part 1)

Rules of kvetching: applied to CSA survivors

The rules of kvetching. Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times
The rules of kvetching. Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

My neck has been particularly seized up since I found out about the appointment with the gynecologist. Coincidence? Not likely. Since the assault that caused the tearing in my vagina also caused a neck injury, the two are definitely linked.

I believe in the saying “trust in God(s) but tie your camel”, which means to consider both the practical and the mystical in life and cover both. So I did.

I went to both the chiropractor and massage therapist. The chiropractor assessed my neck and said my alignment was fine and that the issue was muscular. She referred me to the massage therapist and wrote down what muscles to work on. They both gave me exercises to do.

I also did a very powerful cleansing and healing ritual in my bath, praying for help from my matron and patron gods, in the journey of restoring the damage to my body from the abuse. I metaphorically let the gunk fall from me, and my body be whole.

And I told/tell myself that my emotional processing system is likely to be taking up a portion of my mental and physical space, even when I’m not aware of it, between now and the appointment, and of course afterwards, until I sort out what there is to do. This is completely normal.

I’ve been a lot more open about my injury in the past several months, which gives me a larger pool of people who I don’t have to ‘come out to’ about it when things get more intense in order to have some support. The isolation of having an injury that it freaks people out to discuss just makes things more difficult, so creating some pockets of awareness is part of my support system. However, it does come with risks. There is always the risk of people negatively stereotyping me because of my injuries and experiences and treating me like ‘damaged goods’ in one way or another. I’d prefer people see my considerable strengths instead.

I found this image and explanation online and thought it was an excellent resource when applied when survivors disclose or are going through PTSD related gunk. It’s called ‘how not to say the wrong thing’. The idea is that you draw a circle around the survivor/person with cancer/bereaved person etc… and then a circle around that that contains the the person who is next closest to the trauma (spouse, for example), then a circle around that that has the people next farthest out and so on till you get out to the level of coworkers and acquaintances. The authors called this circle the ‘kvetching order’. Everyone is allowed to both complain or vent but they can only do so to people in a larger circle than them. To people in a smaller circle than their own, they can only offer comfort, not advice, emotional venting or complaint. Comfort in, kvetching out. The person at the centre can kvetch to anyone about the issue. It is apparently called the ‘silk ring theory’.

So let’s see if I can imagine applying this to myself…

I’m in the centre – I had the sexual assault that ripped my vagina and healed badly, plus the strangulation injury that makes my neck vulnerable now. I’m the one with the scary appointments and needing to advocate for myself to try and assess the damage and fix what I can. I am at the top of kvetching order and theoretically can complain to anyone and accept support from everyone. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? In the circle around me is my wife. I don’t have any other partners, but if I did, she might be here. Around her is my close survivor friends, women and men who have experienced childhood sexual assault too, and get it but also might be triggered, and who I might share the more graphic details with because even though it might freak them out, they won’t judge me or say dumb things. Around that is maybe my Aunt and cousins, who know and are reasonably supportive, around that would be my non-survivor friends who know. Around that are nice people who care about me but don’t know the details. I would say that the perpetrator is always in the largest circle. Everyone can complain to him (survivor, her supporters, society at large), but he can’t complain to anyone.

Hmm… this is a lot different from a cancer diagnosis isn’t it? If I had cancer (Goddess forbid) my wife could put something out on Facebook about it for example, and everyone would know. Casseroles might arrive. People would still behave weirdly, and perhaps even blame me for the cancer if I was say, a smoker, but certainly it could be talked about. As a survivor, even accessing support about something heavy creates the risk of someone breaking the kvetching order and dumping their gunk/misconceptions/discrimination about child abuse survivors who disclose back on me.

The people who say dumb things to survivors are usually breaking the kvetching order now that I think about it. For my aunt to want me to take care of my mother’s feelings about my mother losing her idealized (and fictional) happy family is breaking the kvetching order. My mom has every right to complain to her therapist or friends, but not to me or my wife or my survivor friends. And my aunt has every right to complain about the impact the abuse has had on her family, but not to me or my wife.


I had an interesting experience having a massage today. I had a sore hip due to what my chiropractor says is a tight ‘IT band’. The massage therapist was doing various things to loosen this and I was asking her what might have caused it to get so tight.

Between the two of us we figured it is probably due to my sleeping position, which not coincidentally, is as different as possible from the one I was raped in. She asked if I was uncomfortable sleeping on my back and rather than lying I said calmly. “Yes, but not physically. Trauma. Emotional. But it’s a lot better now.” Typical stock survivor response, acknowledge the facts as calmly as possible, combined with reassuring the listener I’m not going to fall apart on them. However, I meant it. I *am* fine. She said that was good, and continued on.

Now some massage therapists get uncomfortable when you say things like this, but this one didn’t. A woman would know exactly what traumatic event would happen when a woman is on her back. There was not much more to be said.

Earlier in the session she’d been working on the back of my neck and I said, “oh, one thing I forgot. If you work on the front of my neck, please let me know first please.” She’d also accepted this well.

When it came time for her to work on the front of my neck she warned me and was gentle, asking what types of touch to avoid. She got it.

I asked her how my neck was. I’m curious. I have no idea how being strangled has affected my neck. She said something like it was very siezed up and tense. I said, well it makes sense, the soul and body are connected, and she agreed.

At the end of the session we agreed that my IT band and leg needed more work and so did my neck. I said, if we work on the neck it will need a session just for that, and I’ll probably cry. I’ll need to have my car nearby so I can go to it to calm down afterward. I told her I look after myself just fine, but that there is likely to be emotion connected to the tension. She was great. She told me that it happens all the time, that people often have feelings come up during or after sessions and she considers it an honour to help people clear. Her energy felt grounded and sincere.

On the way home in the car I sang my scar song about the abuse to clear some of the built up emotion from having my neck worked on. I had an inner child reaction which led to me going to bed curled up in a quilt for a few hours, after which I felt more clear.

I have booked a session for next weekend. I’m not sure if we’ll work on the neck or the leg.  I’m proud of how matter of fact I was, and how well the interaction went. Unexpected. I’m used to being more guarded with health care folks, so they don’t treat me funny.

I’m looking forward to having body work done in a context that allows me to release the feeling. Not looking forward to cleaning up the reaction afterward, but hopefully if I can release fairly fully it’ll be more relief than triggering. One can hope.

The picture I chose to go with this post is of baby birds, who were rescued after their nest was blown out of a tree by the photographer. At first I rejected the picture, as it is not the strength and confidence I felt today. However, the vulnerability of the birds and their long necks resonates with the vulnerability I feel in my own neck and this situation. There are some very intense, fragile and wounded sensations locked away in my neck tissue and this picture owns that. Telling the truth, being as vulnerable and strong as I actually am is a far stronger and more courageous place to be in. [the photographer took down the photo I had linked to.]

Gifts of Kindness – A Teacher Gives Survivor a Piece of Her Past

Photocredit: Miracle Moods

I ran into one of my elementary school teachers at a conference I was presenting at, and we reconnected. In a follow up email I fairly matter of factly told her I’d been abused by my father (she still works in the school system and the more people who know about him in this small town the better), in the context of saying she might already know as the police had talked to some of my teachers.

I got a very nice reply back from her at that time, and she told me a little of how I  had appeared at the time.

Just recently I got another email back from her saying she’d gone through her records and found some pictures of me when I was younger and wanted to send them to me.

I am in tears from her kindness. And not just light tears, I’m sobbing as I write this. I have so little kindness from people who know I’m a survivor that it means so much, and for her to give me something I can’t get on my own, information about my childhood, is so valuable and so very kind.

If there are anyone reading who is in a position to tell a survivor something about who they were or what they did as a child while all the abuse was going on, something normal from the life they may barely if all remember, I encourage you to do it. Their families likely do not hold those memories for them.

I am so very grateful.

Getting to Core

I just reread my last two posts (and found and fixed some typos).

Getting to certainty is important. When I read Tarot, I get myself calm and centred, and then reach down to my roots and dwell there. This helps me be grounded in my intuition and my connection to the Goddess. If I don’t do this, the cards are just cards, and nothing magical happens.

But when I connect deeply, I know with certainty. I can judge my emotional and spiritual health, no matter what is going on, by how deeply connected I feel. I am a tree with deep roots. I am a bird who rides the updrafts. I am the sunlight sinking into muscles and the green generators of plants. I am the water seeping into the porous soil, filling every tiny crevice and crack.

When I am connected, magic happens. A month or so ago I read a book about the science around psychic phenomenon. I’m not going to get into all the interesting double-blind, scientific evidence that certain kinds of extra-sensory perception exists, which was amazingly credible to a gal with a university education and a sharp analytical mind. This book validated something I have believed for a long time.

When I changed my first name, the name I chose fit me so well that even my mother agreed it was better. I chose it because it was a name I’d given as a child to several of my most precious stuffed animals and dolls in succession from early childhood. Then I looked it up in one of my mythology books and liked what it meant. It fit in a way that my birth name had not. I hadn’t intended to change my first name, only my last one, as a symbolic disowning of my father, but ended up changing both when I connected with this new name so deeply.

I have spent many times in the past twenty years connecting with myself as a child, talking to her, sending her love and the assurance that things will work out well in the end, that she will survive and that I love her. I have told my younger self this during flashbacks and when her fear and pain makes me afraid at night. I have done this for years.

As a child I had no-one, really. I drew my comfort from plants and my self-centred older brother, my books and my dolls and my teachers. I had few friends, a precarious social existence with my peers and a mother who was the complete slave of my father. I had a dear younger brother, who was also my bratty younger brother.

But I did feel connected, somehow. Connected with rocks, and trees and the stuffed animals and dolls. I named the most important and comforting of these, the ones that were an extension of my self,  with this name I now wear.

I believe that I felt then the love I’ve been sending to that self.  This kind of retro-time communication is one of the effects documented in the book I read. I believe that it actually, literally reached me in my most painful and terrifying moments and that’s why I’ve done so well for myself despite being alone and abused.  The Goddess used me to reach out to myself.

Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favourite authors, writes through a character named Umegat in the Curse of Challion that “The Gods are parsimonious”, meaning that they work through people rather than the flashy miracles most of the time. And yet the more open we are to the path we are led to, the more beautiful and right what flows through turns out to be. The lead character in the book, Cazaril finds his way to a place he’d lived as a boy after a horrible ordeal and betrayal in war, and is drawn by his own good character and at times reluctant willingness to be used by the Gods into ending a powerful curse.

Perhaps we survivors are suffering in the service of a greater goal, to end a powerful curse on the whole biosystem, a curse of domination and greed.

In the book, the curse can only be broken by someone who dies three times for his country. Cazaril turns out to die three times, once by intervening as a galley slave to save a younger slave from a likely lethal beating, which he incurs instead. The second time he performs an act of death magic to kill a villain who  is forcing a princess Cazaril has been entrusted to protect to marry him and intends to rape her. The spell itself is a prayer for justice and price of is one’s own death in addition to that of the guilty party, who must truly be guilty. When a Goddess by miracle seals the soul of the guilty man inside a tumour in Cazarils body, the death of the enemy is accomplished without Cazaril’s death but Cazaril is burdened with constant and physically painful haunting. The last death is when Cazaril is fatally stabbed by the villain’s even more evil brother, who pierces the tumour, and ends up paying the death magic price in Cazaril’s stead, freeing him of his brother’s soul as well.

The whole point of this convoluted tale is that all this was actually necessary. The Gods needed Cazaril to learn the skills of surrender that allowed them in the end to enter the world through him so they could correct what was causing the curse.  It was all a lesson in becoming empty and getting out of the way.  They really wanted to end the curse causing so much pain, but couldn’t do it without an agent in the land of form and matter.

As clumsily as I have paraphrased Bujold’s beautiful story, it inspires me. It makes me believe that the lessons of being a survivor are worth something that are worth the price paid.

When Cazaril experiences the miracle sealing his enemy’s soul inside him (with effects very reminiscent of being a trauma survivor, actually) he becomes a saint, and is recognized as such by a temple priest Umegat, also a saint, who has been holding the curse back from killing the king. Cazaril asks Umegat what the duties of a saint are.

Umegat says”

“You cannot outguess the gods. Hold to virtue—if you can identify it—and trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. And that the talents given to you are the talents you should place in the gods’ service. Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent to you. Not even your life.”

Then Cazaril says:

“If the gods are making this path for me, then where is my free will? No, it cannot be!”

Ah.” Umegat brightened at this thorny theological point. “I have had another thought on such fates, that denies neither gods nor men. Perhaps, instead of controlling every step, the gods have started a hundred or a thousand Cazarils and Umegats down this road. And only those arrive who choose to.”

“But am I the first to arrive, or the last?”

“Well,” said Umegat dryly, “I can promise you you’re not the first.”

So, taking Bujold’s lesson to heart, what does that mean in my quest to do the Goddess’ will in making the world a better place?

Hold to virtue, if you can identify it.

Trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. (hmmm… I  see a court case in my future.)

And the talents given you are the talents you should place in the gods’ service. (I see a squad of holy sword dancers outside a courthouse in northern Canada. I see speaking and writing and singing about this. )

Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent you. (I will have what I need.)

Happy Solstice

Today is the morning of the shortest day of the year.  A time when I usually clean up, simplify, tidy, pray.

I’m grateful for my blessings this year: learning to persevere, my friends.

I’m also grateful for something that happened recently.

In the place cleared by recognizing that I’d already lost my older brother, I found I have other relatives.

I talked to my aunt yesterday, my mom’s sister. She’s had therapy so is pretty real to talk to. We’d made a date (she’s in another time zone) to talk about my father as a young man and my mother and whatever context she could tell me.

She told me some useful things and gave me a lot of support.

Apparently I was right that my father acted out with other women – he’d ‘gotten fresh’ with my aunt (which I think means he made a pass that was more than verbal) and she’d had to kick him hard on the leg to get him off of her. After she told me this, I remembered, I’d seen the scar and heard the story from his perspective, which was mostly in the line that my mom’s crazy bitch sister had kicked him in the leg and left a scar. It’s a big scar, maybe 4 or 5 inches long, and pretty wide and red. I told my aunt “good for you” for giving it to him.

She told me she made a point of telling her sons to keep their kids away from my dad, and why. She confirmed the story I’d heard about my other aunt and my dad saying something awful to her too, but said I’d have to ask her directly for the details.

She explained a bit about their upbringing, and how they’d been raised to do whatever your husband wanted, and that their mom would be very angry at any show of disloyalty by her daughters to their husband. This tells me a bit about how my mom might have been cut off from support for leaving my dad. I also was able to explain to her what I wanted from my mom. My aunt and I agreed that my mom probably wouldn’t be able to face the enormity of what happened, that she’d be stuck in this workaholic avoidance for a long time. I told her I felt it was loving to not write her off, to believe she could do it, even though it was unlikely. I think she got it. She knows my mom better than I do.

She asked me essentially if I would ever heal, as if she thought I hadn’t, and I told her in one sense I already had, probably ten years ago. I gave her an example of a person getting in a car crash as the driver, where the passenger was killed. I said “would they think about it, on and off for the rest of their lives? probably. It’s not something you’d even want to forget, something that important. Would they still have feelings come up about it from time to time when they were reminded? Of course they will. What happened to me was many traumatic events like that, so there are more reminders and more feelings. However, essentially it’s as healed as it would ever be.  I think I’m getting better at explaining it.

She asked me about confronting my abuser. I told her I’d reported him to the police and how that had all gone down. I said I didn’t think I wanted to talk to him personally about it, because he’s so creepy I thought he might make it worse by telling me something more that I didn’t know. I told her about the scar tissue, and about planning to sword dance on his grave. She said she’d be happy to come and hold the circle for me when I did that, and so would her kids and my uncle and his family. This brings tears to my eyes even today.

So I seem to have lost a brother and gained some aunts and an uncle and some cousins. Not too bad, actually. I had dinner last night with my other brother, who is a good guy. He works in the alcohol industry and his job essentially requires him to be a party guy, so I worry a bit about his alcohol consumption, but he’s a stand up guy, and I avoid judging him as much as I can.

I had a birthday party this week, and eight people were able to make it, which is a miracle, really for December. We had a really nice time, just having dinner in a restaurant, but with lots of good food and talk. I felt connected.

Yesterday one of my friends gave me an drum lesson on the Irish hand drum (the Bodhran) which was fun and I did pretty well at. It seems like a good bardic instrument.

So today, I am grateful for my family and my friends.

Happy Solstice and Yule Everyone.

Blessed be.

Feminist Vitamins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The day before the pap

Yesterday I saw my therapist and we talked about the pap test appointment tomorrow. What’s different about this appointment is:

1) the medical professional will know I’m a survivor.
2) I’m planning to ask if I have scar tissue.
3) I’m planning to ask about all the wierd things I have going on with my vagina.

It feels incredibly vulnerable to do this this way, consciously, asking for the compassionate care I want, especially when I didn’t have any care that I remember for my vagina when I was assaulted as a child.

I have duly printed out my ‘survivor safety lecture’ pap test sheet and marked the appropriate boxes. I also have typed up all my questions, and the rationale behind them on a single sheet of paper so that if I can’t deal with asking verbally, I can just get her to read it.

At my therapists suggestion, I’m going to reserve the right not to go through with the exam if I don’t like the nurse or her responses, so the questions have a dual purpose. I get to see how she handles them. My therapist also offered me an emergency session on Thursday or Friday if I need one, an offer which brings tears to my eyes even now.

It was good to talk it over with my therapist, and more importantly cry it over, cry over the body of the 5 year old girl with the injured vagina, cry over the lifetime lack of anyone to ask questions about my injuries or to care about them. Cry about the shame and fear of judgement / condescension / freak out of a nurse or doctor knowing my history examining me.

So, I’m going to watch some nice, anethesizing tv or read my new book.

On the up side, I’m still meditating 8 minutes per day and still practising either singing or guitar daily. I also started a tai chi class with my wife yesterday. So in general, things are good.

Wish me luck.

Email to a survivors organization in my home town

I just sent this.

Hi there,

I’m sorry for doing this in an email, but wasn’t certain I could explain all this well over the phone. I hope you can forward this email to whomever in your organization it might concern. I’m originally from [home town] (born and raised) and am an incest survivor. My abuser, who was my father, is still living in [home town] and is likely to die within the next year from cancer. I’ve been in recovery for over 20 years and in general am very well, but since surviving and recovering has been such a big and spiritually significant part of my life, I know I will need to celebrate my abusers death in a way consistent with my culture and spirituality, as part of having closure with him.

Photocredit: "Crossed Swords" by Bott.Richard
Photocredit: "Crossed Swords" by Bott.Richard

I’m planning to dance a traditional Scottish sword dance that is performed on the death of a mortal enemy to celebrate the victory of having outlived him and banish him from my life. Since I’m fairly certain my father will be buried in [my hometown] I’m planning to do this at his gravesite there, with a bagpiper and supportive witnesses. I’m working with a counsellor here on this and will be bringing my partner and one or two friends with me, but wanted to make contact with your organisation, in case it would be possible to receive some support from you while I am up for the ceremony. I have investigated the legalities of performing this ceremony at my father’s gravesite, and it looks like there should be no barriers. Grieving rituals are not only expressly allowed under the provincial funerals act, they are protected and cannot be interrupted by law. The cemetery itself has a no disturbing the peace rule, but a graveside grieving ceremony conducted by a relative could hardly qualify. My family are supportive and will not object.

I plan to bring a friend who is a video artist to record this event in hopes that it might be meaningful to other survivors, and would like to extend an invitation to local survivors and their allies who might want to bear witness to what I believe will be a powerful and empowering ceremony.

Anyhow, if you agree it would be appropriate to talk further about this, I’d like to speak with one of your staff about this, and keep you posted on the plans that will begin once my abuser dies. If this type of support does not fall within your mandate, I understand. I would also be willing to cover the cost of the counsellors time. Knowing that there was a feminist counsellor with childhood sexual assault literacy available in [my hometown] to check in with in some way during my visit would be very helpful.

Photocredit: Zanastardust
Photocredit: Zanastardust


[My Real Name]

Obsessing about all the ways I’ve come out as an incest survivor, rather than sleeping, at 5:20 am

It’s 5:20 am and I can’t sleep.
I’m not one of those poor people who actually gets up at 5 am for work or the insane ones that get up at 5 am to do yoga or something.

My bedroom is hot, the comforter is too warm, my stomach is upset and I’m running over in my head all the people I’ve come out to in the last week or so. I’m having a cumulative sense of shame and fear about it, analyzing their reactions at the time and since, feeling afraid that my credibility has been damaged.

I really should get out more if I care so much what a few people think, some of whom I don’t even like. There’s nothing I can do about how others perceive me – I can only be a good, honest and reliable person and let the rest fall as it may. It’s hard to go out and be sociable when you feel crappy.

However, it’s important to me to be taken seriously. Having a history of being the scapegoat of my family has reinforced the necessity of making sure people don’t slot me into that role. I will not be blamed for having the normal effects of being assaulted. I feel like that has happened too much already.

At 5am what is it I’m worried about? I’m feeling less able to be honest on this blog, for fear someone I know will read. I have two non-cyber friends who have this URL, plus I my wife has occasionally read it when it’s left up on the screen. Since I’ve complained about her a bit, that’s kind of dodgy, but I let myself out of that one since she knows it’s anonymous and she’s really not that interested in my abuse stuff, so is unlikely to read much.

I think she’s worried I’ll fall apart. I did once, from her perspective, when we were living together in a shared house with some other people. We’d invited a new roommate to move in, someone I considered a friend. I knew she’d had problems controlling her anger and had been fired for yelling at colleagues on the job. I knew she had a violent fantasy life. I knew she had impulsivity around money and food. But I’d known her for years, she was a survivor, and I thought she’d be an ally in my home of 12 years. What was I thinking?

She moved in and left the living room filled with boxes and furniture for several weeks. She was bossy and cut me down. She started yelling at me and intimidating me when other people weren’t around. She was like living with my father again. I was terrified, I was triggered and because of that I couldn’t seem to access my amazon assertiveness or my brain to think of a way out of this.

For complicated reasons, one of my other housemates wanted me and my wife gone from the house, so I think she was secretly delighted I was so miserable. She would not consider kicking this woman out. I complained, again much more ineffectively than usual, at house meetings, but was not supported, perhaps because people interpreted my desperation and overreaction (I was triggered) as dishonesty or being high maintenance. My wife came home one day while this woman was in full swing standing over me and yelling at me, and took charge of making her stop. After that she believed me (why did she need to be shown?) but being my partner, was expected to be on my side anyway so didn’t have much influence.

It was right during the last time my father was seriously ill, about five years ago, and I was already at my wits end about that. It’s like all ability to be assertive, to stand up to this woman had been sucked out of me by that and I ended up living in fear, walking on eggshells. My housemates choosing this clearly belligerent and abusive woman over me knocked me flat with betrayal and shame.

I was ready to give in. I made a ‘date’ with the housemate who wanted me gone, to tell her we were moving out. She beat me to it, which surprised me a lot, by telling me first she was leaving. The balance of power in the house shifted with this, making it possible to force this woman out. The woman flatly refused to leave. Finally, my wife came to my defense, although she resented it deeply. Since the household was run as part of a coop, she told the woman that she and I would not be endorsing her for membership, which meant that she would be publicly embarrassed at the membership meeting by being an unwanted person who wouldn’t leave.

The woman left a couple of weeks later and during that time I went and stayed at the apartment of a friend of mine, another survivor. Because of our dog, and perhaps because she was mad at me, my wife stayed at home.

We were down two housemates and had worn out a third with all the fighting. It was really hard to find new ones, especially since we couldn’t honestly tell the new housemate that things were good at the house. We limped along for another year or so and then got our own place, which was much better.

With my father sick again (could he please DIE already and get it over with!) I’m back into feeling vulnerable and off-centre. I’m sure it scares her a bit too, waiting to see what will happen to me, needing me to hold it together since I earn a lot more than she does and we have a mortgage. I have held it together under a lot worse conditions, but I don’t know that I’m willing to pay that price again.

All I want is to be understood, to be validated by the fact that someone else sees me and doesn’t think I’m hopelessly damaged and embarrassing. I’m ashamed of things I know logically I shouldn’t be ashamed of.

When I told my chiropractor I had PTSD it went down like this:

Her: Something about not being in my body.
Me: Well I do tend toward dissociating a bit. I have PTSD and it’s part of it.
Her: (Concerned, awkward look) Do you take medication for that?
Me: {in my head: That’s a weird question. Surely other patients have had PTSD before, from car accidents or whatever. Is she trying to ask if I’m on psychiatric meds? Does that mean she thinks I’m really nuts? or does she just not know what PTSD is?} aloud: “No, I’ve never needed them.” [changes subject]

Here’s how the coming out at the work meeting went down as far as I can remember:

Me: [to guy with PTSD who runs a self-help CBT group for anxiety disorders] Do you know of any CBT programs specifically for PTSD?
Him: Well, there’s our website, have you seen it?
Me: Yes. I found it a bit high level, PTSD is a bit different from other anxiety disorders.
Him: Yes, I have PTSD, I know what you mean.
Me: Me too.
Stuff I don’t remember, with him saying his PTSD was from childhood abuse and me saying yeah, me too. Here’s where I imagine the ears perking up around the room with the people who are still drifting out.
Him: Are you looking for yourself or someone else?
Me: [Awkward] Well, I’m really well, but I’m getting to the point where I’d like to find some ways to help others and give back. [nobody think I’m defective please here!] Him: Mentioning something about how there is some stuff with PTSD and CBT and I could do a literature search.
Another woman: Has anxiety too, involves self in conversation.

Now around the table I know that two manage a mental illness (depression I think, including the woman with the anxiety) and one has a daughter with anxiety. All have disclosed these facts during meetings, so you’d think this would be a normal, basic conversation to have. The meetings are somewhat adversarial (non-profits competing for funding) so maybe it’s just that I think at least one of them would try and find a way to use it to discredit me if she could.

Here’s another one:
Me: [talking to friend with intense history of mental illness] I’ve been blogging about the stuff with my dad dying.
Her: [not knowing much about blogs, that’s interesting, you should give me the url and I’ll check it out] Me: (actually why did I say that, I don’t want to give her the URL) It’s helpful and supportive and I really like the writing I’m doing, like real essays and stories and song and poetry. [Changing topic] Later as we’re saying goodbye:
Her: About your blog, you could send me the url and I could look at a poem or something. I’m not a therapist but I could look at it as your friend. [Why did she say that “I’m not a therapist”? I’m the one that was a big part of nursing her through a serious breakdown where she had to be hospitalized and she’s warning me against being overly self-disclosing or needy? ]( I realize as I write this that she was probably just disconcerted by me shifting the role between us, since I’m usually the normal okay one.)
Me: That’s not what I’m looking for, I just want to be honest about my life.

Maybe I’m afraid I’ll fall apart again. Listing up all those reasons why my dad should have died by now from cancer, or flesh eating disease or alcoholism made me think, yes, he really is going to die this time. I know I’ve been saying it, but it sunk in a little more. I’ve got no updated information about his health, and it seems victimy to just be waiting helplessly for him to die, like waiting for an earthquake that is predicted to be ‘the big one’.

Now, the wise part of myself would say – what would she say?
You are a good person and people will either see that or they won’t. There’s nothing you can do about it, so turn it over to the Goddess. You are powerless over other people and what they think. Stay in your body, trust your inner knowing and things will be all right. This is a big time for you, you don’t have to achieve anything but keeping going and nurturing yourself through this and putting one foot in front of the other. Eat well. Take your vitamins. Do your work. Slow down a little on taking over the world. Just do one thing and complete it. Listen to a relaxation recording. This is just the anxiety talking.

Running out of steam

I seem to have run out of steam.

My therapist is out of town and I accidentally missed last weeks appointment so I have no-one to debrief the yucky images that came up last time I had sex. I find myself not even really remembering them, which I don’t know how I feel about. I do sometimes have intrusive images that aren’t related to actual abuse, like when I replay images from scary movies in my head involuntarily.

My wife just doesn’t get it. Does anyone have a relationship with a non-survivor they think actually gets it? Over time, I’ve trained her to hug me and stroke my hair when I cry, but I’d really like to feel understood and valued.

I pre-paid for a bunch of acupuncture treatments. I’ve got about 8 left. I’d like to have them use them to treat my anxiety, but I don’t know how to ask. I mean I don’t have any classic anxiety disorder symptoms, and I don’t want to get into the child sexual abuse stuff. I’m just not sure how to ask for what I want without feeling hopelessly embarrassed, especially given the language difficulty (The two acupuncturists/TCM doctors speak English less than fluently.).

I’m not practising the guitar, or singing. I slept in till noon today. I’ve been stress eating enough that I’ve gained a pound, which is no big deal, but still a bit disheartening.

I don’t think I’m actually depressed, just a little anxious and frayed. Worn out by all the intensity lately, which, as I write this I’m thinking is probably normal and fine.

I feel like I need to stop. Just stop and nourish myself till I feel full. Hopefully I’ll figure out how to do that.

The train has stopped.

Runaway train

This morning I went for an hour long massage.

Photocredit: Cindy47452 on Flickr
Photocredit: Cindy47452 on Flickr - or is my life like this? This looks much more appealing...
I really like my massage therapist. I don’t see her that often, but she’s this nice, smart woman and we have lively conversations while she unknots me.

Today she commented on my back, how profoundly solid and unmovable with tension it was. I seem to be in a ‘coming out’ frame of mind lately, and so I said in the plain calm and collected (I’m just fine) voice I use when telling most people anything about the abuse “I’ve been under some stress. I’m a child sexual assault survivor, and my abuser, who is a relative, is dying. I expect I’ll be on high alert for the next year.” I still can’t believe I said it. Sometimes I’m excessively honest when I’m stressed or tired.

She said “I’m sorry.” and I changed the topic, saying “I’m trying to just be matter of fact about it.” Later on in the massage she was working on my neck from the front and I was starting to feel uncomfortable. I could have numbed out, but instead I said “I’m starting to get triggered, could you tell me what you’re doing?”. She removed her hands and said “sorry”. I said “no problem, I just need to know why you’re doing that? She said something about fascia, which helped,  and did it a little more, but moved on.

I did the “I’m a perfectly capable person and am not going to get all needy on you” thing and immediately started a conversation about politics.

I just want to be able to tell the truth about my life.

Yesterday I was in a meeting – I have a client who is a mental health agency, and all the people at the table were representing mental health agencies. We were talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which looks to be pretty effective, actually, for anxiety and depression mainly. Anyhow, there were these two guys from an anxiety disorders organization. One of them I’d met before and knew he had PTSD like me. At the end of the meeting, I asked him collegially if he knew of a specific CBT program for PTSD, we ended up getting into a conversation about it, with some of the other people in the room listening in, and couple involved in the conversation. During the conversation I outed myself as having my PTSD from child sexual assault. You have to understand this is a business environment where it is fine to disclose you’ve had mental health stuff, and I knew the health status of several people in the room. It went over just fine, with the sense that I’d made some allies, but was a little stressful. Sometimes I just do these brave things without thinking about it, and then afterwards wonder ‘what the hell was that?’ However, it’s usually something that I can stand behind, in retrospect.

I seem to be busting out. Last night I had the ‘our marriage is in trouble’ talk with my wife, and it went better than I thought it would. There’s something about being married, that makes it safer to talk about how dire things really are, since we both know we are too committed to make any hasty decisions.  We came up with a plan to fix things – both with some ideas to work on our non-sex life, and to find some things that are fun to do together that she can do with her injured foot. We also agreed that going back to couples counselling might be a good thing.

This morning before the massage, we did one thing we’d agree to do to work back into having a more regular sex life. Part of the problem is she’s too tired to have sex at night (and doesn’t feel like it) and I’m too spacey to have sex in the morning (and don’t feel like it). When we were first together the hormones take care of such trivial matters, but after eight years, there aint no hormones left.

I found out something I didn’t know before, the real reason why I don’t have sex in the morning.

My abuse happened late at night. I tend to prefer to have sex then, and sleep better afterward. It’s a wierd thing like, “now that the sex is over, it’s safe to sleep”. It’s not quite as creepy as it sounds, and for the most part, when I have sex at night, I can keep stray abuse images out of my head and concentrate on the here and now.

However, whenever I have sex in the morning, if it’s at all intimate or intense I end up crying or near tears. For years I’ve thought of it as being that I’m kind of raw in the morning, but now I don’t think so. This morning, I couldn’t keep the flashbacky stuff out of my head, but the unwanted intrusive images were not of my abuser, but of someone else. A woman.  I’m pretty sure the person I thought it was did not abuse me (please Goddess, no…), but the images were ghastly and intrusive. I managed to fend them off finally after a bit of a silent struggle and my wife ended up holding me as I cried. I didn’t tell her.

It’s like morning is safe time. I always feel good in the morning, raw yes, open yes, but more because it’s safe to be open and raw that out of anything raw.  This likely accounted for the brick-back I brought into the massage therapist an hour later.

It’s really going to piss me off if I was abused by more than one person. I’m not even completely sure who these images referred to, I’m used to just batting away flashback stuff during sex, like horseflies. “Yes, yes, you’re trying to terrify me, let’s think about something else. What was I doing again? Sex, right. Back to that.” Sex must be so simple for non-survivors. I can’t imagine it.

I was trying to come up with a title for this post and what came to me was ‘runaway train’. It feels like things are just progressing in my life just slightly ahead of me, gaining speed. No wonder my body is trying to put on the brakes. I don’t want to lose positive momentum, but I don’t want to go any faster. I’ll have to think on how to do that.

Photocredit: Jeff McCrory
Photocredit: Jeff McCrory Is my life like this?


Photocredit: Ollie-G "A Leaf in Spring"
Photocredit: Ollie-G "A Leaf in Spring"

The last few days I’ve been lonely. Being sick with a sore throat and earache, and kind of tired, I’ve not been working much and have had lots of time to myself. I find myself logging in to my blog and looking at the posts of other survivors, looking eagerly for comments on my own blog.

I’m tired. Nothing’s wrong, but I’m sick and tired, I’ve got my period and I’ve got no mother. I never had a mother, but now I really don’t. It could be I never hear from her again.  I told her the truth, and she’s not a big fan of facing facts, at least not on a time scale less than glacial. I don’t regret sending her the letter, but I am a bit sad.

I’m thankful this weekend is Easter weekend. I don’t celebrate Easter, except in those areas that overlap with Eostre, the holiday Pagan’s celebrate on Spring Equinox, which are mostly the good bits about new life and bunnies and eggs and blessing children (and therefore, metaphorically, Spring Herself) with gifts of sweets.  This is good because I have the time off, without the commitments.

I’ve been hungry for time to myself, but time for myself feeling sick and tired isn’t really it. One thing I’ve noticed is that although I haven’t been working as much, my business hasn’t fallen apart. Perhaps I can have a soul-life and a work life at the same time.

I’ve been able to work in the garden a bit this week, weather permitting, which has been a blessing. We’ve put in a huge rasberry patch in the back yard, and some new grass for the dogs to pee on. They set to work right away, eating the new lawn, rolling on it, and other dogly stuff. Our big dog is getting a bit frustrated with having two mommies sick, and no-one to give him the abundant affection he so clearly deserves…

I’m taking a break from the acupuncture too, till I’m well again.

Part of being Pagan is having respect for the cycles of life, the waning moon as well as the waxing, fall as well as spring, winter as well as summer, compost as well as planting, menstruation as well as ovulation.

There is a tarot card, the Hermit, which to me is about big, barely visible things happening when nothing important seems to be happening.

So as a good religious Pagan, I need to cover myself metaphorically in leaf mould (or a nice soft blanket) even when the weather and my fear of losing momentum says grow, grow, grow, and allow a little fallow stage before I move on.

And maybe that’s okay. Like spring, where things grow in fits and starts, weather and frost permitting, I’m allowed to expand and unhide and then contract a little too.

One’s own nature

Photocredit: Ricmcarthur
Photocredit: Ricmcarthur - "Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures."~Henry Ward Beeche

I made music last night with a guitarist I’m now working with. We worked on some covers and one original song from each of us.

I brought my most successful song, a song with no survivor content, about euphemisms for the word vagina/vulva. I’ve performed it many times, and gotten a lot of approval for it, so it’s ‘safe’.

I don’t really have any others that I like that aren’t about being a survivor. One of the hardest things for me about being an artist/songwriter/writer (not by any stretch my whole identity or even my job), is that that topics that have my passion are the ones that are at least coloured by my experiences as a survivor.

I believe it’s important work, to say the things that need to be said about being a survivor, in ways that are passionate or beautiful enough to overcome people’s discomfort with the topic and help them understand. However, it’s not easy work, and it exposes me when I share it.

It’s a bit like being a vocalist.

When I was in music school (A college program, I dropped out after first year) I found every one of the other vocalists in the bathroom crying at least once. It’s because using the voice as an instrument is so personal. Playing another instrument can be emotional, but the voice is one’s body, and there’s no separation between the self and the music if you’re doing it right.

My throat is still sore and I’ve got a wicked ear ache, but I was able to sing a bit.

This guy I’m collaborating with is great. He’s a good guitarist and seems passionate about it.  I like the songs he writes. He’s married, and I met him and his wife through some lesbian friends, one of whom is his ex. Since he’s still on good terms with her and has met my wife, I’m pretty confident that he’s fine about the lesbian thing, which is nice to have nailed down.

However, it’s a bit of a reach to sing the vagina song with him, let alone songs about being an incest survivor. Perhaps the ‘anyway‘ song that doesn’t mention it overtly. I really am going to have to learn to play the guitar.

It was harder than usual to find a picture to go with this post. What I found was incomplete somehow. I think that’s because I don’t understand what’s going on well enough to have a metaphor for it yet. Perhaps I’ll add another picture later when I do.

Unhiding continued

So I didn’t go and make music this week. The sore throat won. However I did compile a bunch of lyrics and listen to a lot of songs that my musical colleague wants to do, and prepared a chart of an original song we’re going to work on together. I kept going. I also practiced my guitar, enough that the calluses on my fingers are starting to come back.

Photocredit: Martin LaBar on Flickr
(See the ant? I think of this picture as 'baby steps amid passion') Photocredit: Martin LaBar on Flickr

So, not leaping wildly out of the hiding space, but still moving. Baby steps.

I’m not long on persistence when it comes to things for me, particularly things I want desperately. I have no patience with suffering for long periods, holding on and hoping for things to get better, for people to change. All that has failed me spectacularly. It takes enormous faith, now to keep going when progress is slow or things get frustrating. The anxiety of waiting is a lot to bear.

So continuing with the baby steps in the face of obstacles is a good thing.

I still haven’t heard anything from my mother. Which is a good thing, I guess. I’m thinking, slowly, about what I’m called to do with my life, trying things on in my head like a new sweater, putting it on and checking it out in the mirror.

My wife is the best clothes shopping ally. She tells me when something makes my butt look good, or is too tight and doesn’t flatter me, even if I’ve fallen in love with the colour or fabric. She says if it doesn’t delight me, there’s no point buying it, even if it’s on sale. I almost always find something I feel, if not beautiful, at least respectable in when I go shopping with her. Without her, I almost never find anything for my atypically sized body.

I need a little support, a way to reinforce the small voice that knows the truth inside me. Sometimes writing will do it, rarely a friend will be able to get inside my strange and beautiful brain to hold a mirror to my ideas. Sometimes my wife will do it – she’s particularly good with business problems and telling me my work is valuable and worth every penny.

Encouragement is so important, being understood is so important and a little goes a long way. That’s one thing we miss out on as survivors when we ‘pass’ for non-survivors, the sense that someone knows and understands, that our reations and feelings are normal given the circumstances. It is only in community with one another that I understand this in my bones. I’m very grateful.

Small Steps
Small Steps

Going on living

Photocredit: mtsofan on flickr
Photocredit: mtsofan on flickr

As part of my ongoing quest to stop I’m starting gradually to getting back into both doing things I’m passionate about and letting others witness me doing them. Tonight, I’ll be meeting to jam for the first time with a friend of a friend who plays the guitar. We’ve been discussing material and will be putting together some jazz and folk numbers, perhaps to perform. This is probably a good thing to do this week, continue to unfurl the sprout and reach for the sun rather than focus on worrying about how my mother will react.

I realized why I have the fear my mother will kill herself ‘accidentally’ in a car accident driving while sleep deprived (she works two full time jobs)  in reaction to my letter. It’s happened before.

A few years ago I decided to send altered father’s day cards to my abuser, reminding him of how his actions had affected me. I’d read this thing that talked about how under partriarchy the consequences of actions all flow downhill – boss yells at worker, worker yells at wife, wife yells at older kid, older kid hits younger kid, younger kid teases dog. I decided to make the ball roll up hill. I bought and doctored up a couple of these fathers day cards and sent them off in intervals. I forget if I sent one or more than one, I know I intended to send them every few months. I have a few left somewhere. It helped me deal with all the mushy  mushy we love our dads stuff around father’s day, by formally acknowledging my remembrance of daddy is quite different.

Anyhow, later that year, on my birthday no less, I get a call telling me that dear old dad had drunk himself into a .4 blood alcohol reading (in the range that causes death) and driven his car into the wall.  The two family dogs were with him and one died. The other was found unharmed. My abuser was in intensive care with a flail lung. (50% mortality rate) Coincidence he did this on my birthday a few months after his wife left him and I started sending him regular reminders? I think not. He almost died before some idiot doctor dropped by, spotted the flail lung and put him in intensive care, saving his life. In ICU, he was diagnosed with liver cancer  and contracted a flesh eating disease  (that almost killed him as well. Then he had to quit drinking, a virtual impossibility, and find a liver donor (also hard for an old drunk) to get a transplant. All of this news was spread out over the next several months. I was a wreck, getting news every couple of weeks or so that he was on his deathbed. My wife wouldn’t let me go visit him – she thought I might be tempted to kill him. I wouldn’t have done it, although I might have yelled at  him a bit hoping it gave him a heart attack or something.  I went to the cancer centre for these relaxation groups for family members. Blessedly, they didn’t make you say anything so I didn’t have to say I wasn’t actually hoping he’d survive. Then my mother, who had left the bastard a few months prior, moves back in with him to nurse him through his transplant and I was afraid she was going back permanently. She didn’t and recruited my abusers’ sisters to take second shift. She noted that they went as a pair, so neither would be alone with him. The family really pulled together to save his life, which felt like a slap in the face.

What seems like divine intervention to me (Goddess only knows why) is the following:

  • Death rate from .4 blood alcohol – unknown but high
  • Death from serious car accident – unknown but high
  • Death from flail lung = 50% mortality
  • Death rate for Liver cancer over 5 years =94% mortality rate
  • Death rate from flesh eating bacteria = 73% mortality rate

Why are the Gods keeping this guy alive these past 5 or so years against all these odds? To give him more time to suffer (I approve) , give him more time to get to remorse (he’ll live forever…) or to give me time to prepare? I’ve been banking on at least the last one.

You can see now why I’m expecting him to die any time now. Particularly as he’s had a recurrence last summer and still smokes and drinks.

So anyways, tonight I’m going to sing. I’ve lost almost 20 lbs of camoflage so far and I’ve mailed a brave letter to my mother. One day soon I’m going to set up a sword dance lesson with the teacher I researched.

I can do this.

This is a song I wrote several years ago:

When the world is full of pain, and there’s no way you can stop it.
The truth’s a bitter shame, and the holy has been stolen.

When there’s no safe place to go and there is no-one safe to love
And you have to hide your face to survive.

Remember, there’s no reason to go on, but you must.
The world makes no damn sense but you go and live there anyway
When you remember, there’s no reason, maybe no hope and no reward, go on living, loving, hoping anyway.

I thought my courage to survive was all I’d ever need,
but the world I re-emerged to I could no longer believe.
When you’ve seen the very worst there is the greatest feat of all is to

Remember, there’s no reason to go on, but you do.
The world makes no damn sense, but you go and live there anyway.
When you remember there’s no reason, maybe no hope and no reward,
but go on living, loving, hoping anyway.

(Copyrighted material (C) 1991 All rights reserved. You can quote it but always credit the source.)

Photocredit: Ecstaticist on flickr
Photocredit: Ecstaticist on flickr