What not to say to survivors of childhood sexual assault…

Do you have a friend, relative or lover who survived childhood sexual assault? Here’s 6 of the top 10 things not to say or do.

1) Breaking the kvetching order  – Don’t expect the survivor to provide emotional support to you about your feelings about their trauma. Go to other people with that.  Support her or him, but refrain from offering advice or judgement.

2) Giving advice. If you haven’t survived childhood sexual abuse, really you’ve got nothing useful about this. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Keep your advice, particularly about forgiveness, moving on, or dealing with abusive or complicit relatives and parents to yourself. For more information on why this is so, please read this post on what it’s like to have PTSD and complex PTSD.

A related issue is platitudes. Phrases like “Parents do the best they can with what they know at the time.” “Mothers/fathers always put their children first.” “Family comes first.” for example, are often completely false in families containing abusers and can make your loved one feel like they are an alien from another planet.

The closest experience a non-survivor can get to what a survivor is going through are experiences of deep loss and grief. Think about how you felt when someone close to you died, or the biggest tragedy you have experienced or could imagine experiencing. That’s probably closest to the experience your loved one is having. If you’ve had one or more experiences of trauma  then you might also be able to relate. By trauma, I don’t mean just stressful events. Here’s what I mean by trauma:

direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity; or witnessing anevent that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threatof death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate(Criterion A1). The person’s response to the event must involve intense fear,helplessness, or horror (or in children, the response must involve disorganized or agitated behavior) (Criterion A2). (p. 463 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR; American PsychiatricAssociation [APA], 2000))

3) Investigating – It’s not your job to determine if your loved one is telling the truth about what happened to her or him. She or he is probably doing a good job doubting his/her own reality right now. Just stay out of grilling her him for details and trying to make sense of it. She/he will sort most of it out eventually, but based on how the memory works in cases of trauma, it’s not as straightforward a process as you might expect.

4) Not wanting to talk about it – Yes, child sexual assault is disturbing, but it’s a fact of your loved one’s reality, and part of her daily existence. She/he should be able to refer to it in conversation without a big ‘disturbance in the force’ or you changing the topic. It’s a big deal, but don’t make a big deal of it either.

5) Trying to fix it. – You can’t. The best you can do is to walk beside your loved one, to listen and to care.

6) Expecting it to be over quickly – grieving childhood sexual assault, particularly recurring assault, takes about 10 years from the time the person is actively healing. Think about people who have tragically lost one of their children to accident, illness or murder. Do you expect them to ever stop grieving? Yes, it may die down, but there will always be times when grief is active.

I am sure there are more of these – anyone got any others to add?

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.

What I learned about child sexual abuse and forgiveness.

Here’s what I have learned in 25 years of healing,  about the topic of forgiveness as relates to survivors of childhood sexual assault by a family member or other sexual predator.

1) People who rape kids are outside the range of what forgiveness cultural practices were designed for. People who haven’t survived childhood sexual abuse by a sociopath, caregiver or sexual predator, aren’t even remotely qualified to advise you about forgiveness. It doesn’t  matter if they are a clergy person, a yoga practitioner or kindly old lady, they just don’t have the chops. Remembering that will save you a lot of awkward discussions, where you try hard to make them understand, while awkwardly pretending to let them convince you a little so they’ll stop. Worse, you might let them make you feel guilty for not doing something clearly unreasonable. The best strategy is to just stare at them silently with a ‘suffering fools’ expression, until the awkward silence forces them to stop. It may make them realize that they have not walked in your shoes and are in no position to judge, but even if not, the social awkwardness will force them to change the subject. This is a favor to them, as it will prevent them from saying shockingly clueless and insensitive things they may be wise enough to regret later. [Here are some photos of the correct expression to use 1, 2, ]

Remember this: the forgiveness rules that might apply to people who hit you with a car, stole your money, or cheated on you with your best friend don’t even come close to applying to child sexual abuse.

Many non-survivors are so uncomfortable with the horror of what has happened to you (even if, like most of us, you only tell them the most tiny, sanitized smidgen of it), they want to tie it up and make it go away by making you shut up and make nice under cover of forgiveness. “La la  la la… we’re not listening, just forgive and shut up will you?”

Don’t let them.

Forgiveness is not a get-out of jail free card for the abuser, (or, unfortunately, you in your need to heal), and anyone who expects you to issue that card is not your ally, no matter how well meaning they are.

2) Acceptance is key. My favourite survivor-friendly definition of forgiveness is: “to give up all hope of a different past.” This type of forgiveness is the same last stage of the grieving process, acceptance. We accept that we were abused, accept all our feelings about it, and don’t try to pretend things were different than they were, even to ourself.

This type of forgiveness actually does make things better. People who don’t accept that the abuse happened or that it affected them, or that they have legitimate feelings about it, stay trapped in unsuccessful coping patterns. These can include getting or staying involved with people who hurt us, numbing out or controlling feelings with addictions among others. Grieving is the only thing I’ve found that actually makes a tragedy resolve itself into peace. This is a much more satisfying and productive kind of forgiveness for survivors, and it works much better at setting you free.

3) Be loyal to yourself. When abusers and complicit relatives ask you to forgive them, beware. This normally means “will you just shut up about it already” or “caretake me, I’m sorry already”. Know for yourself that this is what they are really saying.

You will know a real apology when (if) you feel one. Trust yourself. You don’t have to accept any apology with strings attached (or any apology at all). These strings will normally be: “I will say I’m sorry, and you will ‘go back to normal’ and behave as if nothing happened.” There is no way to go back to ‘normal’. There never was a normal, it was only a fantasy. Accepting this deal will be a raw deal.

And lastly –

Forgive yourself for loving the abuser if you did (or do). That love says more about you and the ways children work emotionally than it does about them. Forgive yourself for being a child and being unable to stop the abuse. Forgive yourself for being a teen or young adult and being unable to stop it. Childhood conditioning is tough to break. Forgive yourself for being a little eccentric compared to non-survivors. Forgive yourself for needing what you need and feeling what you feel. Forgive yourself for taking so long to heal, not remembering details you think you should, or continuing in confusing relationships with complicit family.

You deserve it.

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.

Hangover

Today was the first day alone I’ve had since I got back from my trip to see my relatives.

My house is a mess, something that if I don’t deal with soon, will probably put me at odds with my wife. I spent most of the day in bed reading, broken up but largely context-less bursts of sobbing. There is so much to integrate from my trip, and I feel utterly alien. It’s like I’m hiding my own emotional reality from myself unless it leaks out suddenly, as it did on the weekend in an unexpected burst of anger which I wasn’t that good at hiding and today in an unexpected burst of crying while reading a novel.

I hate it. It makes me wonder what I’ve got locked away so tight, since my own emotional reality sneaks up on me, like it’s coming from somewhere else. I mean, I was a therapist, so I know it makes sense I’d have grieving to do, and anger to express. It’s the fact that I don’t actually feel them, until they burst out suddenly and then just as suddenly are gone. Am I in some sort of shock? It’s not that I’m not capable of strong emotion sometimes, but I seem to need someone there to validate and protect me, even if it is only the Goddess in the form of a beautiful natural location, in order to truly feel.

I”m overwhelmed.

What am I overwhelmed about? The trip went well.

1) I disclosed graphic details of the abuse: That I’d been injured in a rape at the age of 5 and that my mother must have known – to family – her own brother and sister. They’d believed me, shown me validation and respect for my strength, and apologized for not seeing and intervening. They totally got why I needed to ask questions about my mother and father, and answered them honestly and as fully as they could.

2) I got information about my father and mother. My mom’s high school yearbook, which my uncle had since he went to the same school, referred to her dating my father at the age of 15. My aunt said that her parents were strongly against sex before marriage, and that my mother was the golden girl, very obedient. She thought my father must have put huge pressure on her to have sex with him before marriage, and that her getting pregnant before marriage as she did was a huge deal. My uncle told me a story about going hunting with my father and my father firing a gun irresponsibly, scaring my uncle so he didn’t hunt with my father again. The way he told the story, I could see my father doing it on purpose, just for the risk and to freak out my uncle. He loved freaking people out. Very sociopathic.

3) I got triggered by two things at my paternal aunt’s house. One was a room I think I was abused in, which I’d dreamt about, but didn’t realize actually existed, a ‘secret room’ behind one of the bedrooms that used to be a storage area. The second was the type of attention her husband showed toward my cousin’s son, his grandson. He lit up when he saw him, but was a bit controlling with him, and the little boy moved away from him later in the meal. Nothing major, but he was just enough like my dad to creep me out, given the context.

4) I went to a couple of places I’d been to as a child, but didn’t have the liberty to wander and soak up impressions, to get a sense for whether I could remember how I thought or felt there. It was like I am so hungry for places that were familiar to me as a child, places I could recover lost parts of myself from.

I found a really good way to explain why survivors don’t want to ‘just forget it’. I told my mom’s brother’s wife, my aunt: “Because of how overwhelming it is when traumatic things happen, the brain doesn’t store the information properly. You get bits of memory floating around, ready to surface at any time. Like a feeling of terror, with no other information. To stop it, you have to allow yourself to feel whatever it is, and then sometimes you get more information  to go with it and it can become a normal memory.  So why would I want to forget a memory I worked so hard for?”  Shortly after this she told me how much she admires my courage.

The problem is people don’t really get it unless you tell them everything. If they don’t know how bad it really is, they don’t get why things are important. I really respect my maternal aunts and uncle for hearing, and asking and being unflinching in looking at things. I offered a couple of times to change the subject, but they said they were comfortable with talking about it if I wanted to.

I think it’s the love that makes me cry. I’m not used to getting this kind of love and support and willingness from people, certainly not my family.

My aunt told me she was going to tell my mother she should confess, tell the truth about what she did. We both agreed it would be good for my mom to get it off her chest, and that she owed it to me. My aunt thinks she can get her to disclose. I think she can try, but I don’t really see it happening.

And then there’s this whole thing about whether my mom abused me. I’m afraid if I remember anything like that it will f up my sex life even worse than it already is. One of the great things about being a lesbian is that I don’t have sex with men, and don’t have to wade into the minefield of sensations that are too similar to the ones of the abuse.

And lastly there’s the whole sociopath thing. Even the small morsels of love I thought I might have had from my father, the connection of singing together and all that, was probably either grooming or his ego at having a talented daughter.  He literally had no ability to connect or love anyone. I had no father. Someone f’ing saddled me with a sociopath father! and it’s fricking hereditary!  I can’t have a child knowing he or she might be sociopathic, not that I was really planning to, but still. On the other hand it validates what happened to me. He just did what he wanted to, and liked to torture and dominate people.

My wife and I get into fights because I think she lets’ mean people get away with hurting her. It triggers me because I know you have to cut off people like that. Apparently I did the best thing you can do if you are involved with a sociopath in some way, just cut them off completely and permanently. As long as they have contact they will use it to meet their needs for stimulation and winning at the expense of others, to manipulate with pity and power. I cut him off effectively. Why did he give me his piano? Was it to manipulate my mother into thinking she could get restitution and repentance from him to mend her broken family to the way it was? I can’t think of another reason. He made trouble for me actually, because by giving it to me, he  broke his separate promises to both of my brothers to leave it to them.

My mother should just cut him off, and wait for him to die, not count on getting a penny out of the house, and do whatever hands off legal shielding she can do to prevent herself from becoming accountable for his debts.

I hope in a few days I’ll feel better. The crying feels more like exhaustion that anything else, and the rage. It’s like I’m overwhelmed and just can’t take anymore.

Visiting Family

Stag on Hillside Photocredit: Kev747 via Flickr

Well, I went back east for a week to visit my moms siblings, my dad / abuser’s sister and a bunch of cousins and second cousins. It went very well, and I got a lot of loving supportive connection and reconnection and lots of validating and useful information.

I’ve been researching sociopaths lately and am reading a good book on them by Martha Stout. I’m only partly through but it’s good. I am working on the assumption that my dad/abuser is a sociopath. I told my maternal aunts and uncle this, and they were receptive. My uncle looked up what a sociopath was on the internet and told me the next day that he agrees that my dad fits the profile. Very validating. I got to ask them all kinds of questions about my parents and they were very open to answering. I also explained about how I’d been injured in the rapes and how I now know that my mom would have had to have known.

This is now what I think happened.

I got raped and injured when I was little. Mom found out when she found the wounds. My father went into a big sob story about how it was because he’d been drinking so heavily and drinking hard liquor. (According to Stout, the ‘pity play’ is almost universally used by sociopaths, and a person who behaves badly toward you more than once or twice and tries to make you let them off the hook out of pity is likely to be a sociopath.) My mom forced herself to believe this and told him she’d leave/call the police/whatever if he ever drank the hard stuff again. He drank beer from then on. I remember this being a rule that he complied with that my mom had set, she told me she’d forbidden him to drink hard liquor. Since my dad was an incredibly sexist, arrogant, dominating patriarch, he would never have complied with a rule set by his wife for so long with a rule she set without a really compelling reason. Being a sociopath, he wouldn’t have done it out of guilt since they don’t have any. Also, it was the very same excuse he gave me in his letter he wrote me, that he didn’t remember abusing me but if he’d abused me it was because of the alcohol.

Now she feels so guilty she did this that she’s either blocked it out, or is unwilling to confess her guilt to me. I don’t think my mom is a sociopath, since she wouldn’t have stayed with my father if she didn’t fall for his bullshit, and I think she’s actually shown empathy, although she is very selfish.  She’s a workaholic, probably in part to keep herself from thinking about any of it, something I know from experience works very well. You can pretend you don’t even remember, although if you stop bailing constantly, that boat sinks instantly.

So I think this was her ‘deal with the devil’ to try and keep me safe while holding on to the status of being his wife, which I also learned was incredibly important to my grandmother. My mother had been groomed to be a rich guy’s trophy wife, and they thought they’d caught one, except my dad, although he’d been from a rich family, was never rich himself. Sociopaths are motivated differently (to say the least) from other people, and avoiding debt or providing for his family would never have been a big deal. My dad was motivated by exercising power over others and torturing people, so he didn’t need to be very rich to do that. His behaviour with money didn’t make much sense until I read that some sociopaths will just take the path of least resistance and sponge off of others. He worked just enough to maintain his status. My mom was a beauty queen, which also fits the profile, as sociopaths, since they don’t love anyone, tend to pick partners that iether support them financially or are high status in some way.

It’s all starting to make a lot more sense. I don’t need to worry about confronting him, because I won’t be able to affect him, he has no sincere connections with other people. I’m released from that. He’s probably also not interested in haunting me either. I was just a toy.  My father never loved me, which is good to know since it’s consistent with his behaviour, although I did do some grieving.

I had a neat pagan thing happen.

I was heading out to visit my father’s sister and was quite nervous, since they’re snobby and besides, they know I’ve disclosed the abuse. On the way out there, a stag leapt across the road in front of me, not close enough to be dangerous, but close enough to see him clearly. Stags are the symbol or embodiment of the God, the positive, brotherly, nature god of Wiccan belief and brother or consort to the Goddess. So it was this positive image of maleness,  who represents sacrificing that others may live like the meat animals or the grain that is cut for food, and not incidentally the polar opposite of my sociopath father, who blessed me on my journey to may father’s family. In a way it was like the really wonderful love and support I’d received from my mom’s older brother on my trip, who was very supportive and loving.

I got to swim in the lake I’d swum in as a child and spoke with my favourite cousin and met her kids. I found out a little  information, like what the age difference was between my father and his older sisters. My aunt was not someone I could ask abuse info from, but I may pump my cousin for info later, now that we’ve reconnected.

I went to all my grandparents graves and had a talk and a cry with them. I went to a florist and picked out flowers I thought each of them would like to put on their graves as offerings. It was good. My maternal aunt and uncle came with me to help me find the graves and then left me alone when I asked for some time to mourn privately. Since I hadn’t been at the funerals for any of them, it was important for me to do that.

My mom’s sister said their childhood was fine, with no abuse or neglect, although she doesn’t remember any of it (yikes). I didn’t point out what you will know is the obvious explanation of that. Perhaps some other time. She struggles a lot with compulsive/addictive behaviour, particularly to do  with food,  but there’s only so much you want to intrude on someone else’s process.  She was very welcoming and loving and willing to answer any of my questions. She even offered to talk to my mother and get some info from her on my behalf. Both my maternal aunts and uncles wanted me to make up with my mother at first, but once I explained I think they got it, and understand why I’m waiting for my mom to provide the info I asked for.

Anyways, it went very well, and I don’t seem to have much of an emotional hangover from it. I was very proud of how I handled everything, and felt so healthy. I didn’t even stress-eat. I brought my mp3 player and some noise cancelling headphones and listened to comforting music and relaxation meditations, which helped a lot too. I rented a car, and would sing pagan hymns or meaningful songs  to vent feelings and give myself strength.

Family Reunion

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.

Hand-delivered note from mom

I went out my front door and found the following note stuffed into my mailbox, hanging out. I recognized my mom’s handwriting at once. Here’s what it said:

“July 9, 2010

Hi [SDW] & [Wife],

A long time has passed. Maybe we could meet for “coffee” tea” soon.

Love Mom”

and then on a separate piece of hotel notepad paper (they were small, and printed with the hotel’s address and phone…).

“Just so you know, Joetta [her dog] died yesterday. I called B—- [the dog’s former owner], she came to see her. She developed Cancer that spread. She couldn’t walk. I had her checked at the xxxxx Vet Hospital. xxoo”

Why would she travel so far (to my town, a journey of perhaps 5 hours) to have her dog put down? Perhaps because the former owner of the dog lives here, or perhaps because my brother was here to offer emotional support. That seems more likely.

I’m relatively calm, but I had a sudden impulse just now to burn her notes. I spaced out a little, because when I went to find the notes to transcribe them here, I was surprised to discover I’d put them back in the mailbox. I instantly came in and wrote her a reply.

I’ve sealed the envelope now, but it reads roughly.

“Dear Mom,

I’m sorry Joetta died.

I’ve been waiting for a written reply from you to my letter. I would welcome a written response with some of the information I requested.

Sincerely,

SDW

PS: [my wife’s name] and I are doing well”

She’s having an emotional crisis and needs her mommy – me. Generally the safest way for me to be with her is ‘big sister/therapist’ since it meets her needs enough that she stays relatively calm. In fact I think she’d like me to be like this forever. She thought given the situation, the death of her dog, that I’d feel socially obligated to be nice to her and let bygones be bygones. I’ve let two Christmases and birthdays pass without contact, so she’s getting desperate perhaps. She was hoping I’d call her at her hotel and all would be forgiven. It creeps me out a little that she was here and I didn’t know, although my dog was barking quite a bit earlier today. Perhaps it was when I was out for breakfast, since I didn’t go by the mailbox on the way back. Yick.

I think my response sets the boundary I want to set: I’m not speaking to you unless it’s on my terms. Whether she abused me directly or not, she overlooked my father raping me so brutally that I had large tears on my vulva. When I remember that, I hold firm.  I expect I’ll have feelings later, and I’m going to leave my house in case she comes by again. Ick.

My brother

I’ve been getting rolfing sessions lately. I’ve had two. It’s a bodywork method that is about restoring the connective tissue to balance, to release physical stuff held in the body. It was most likely in no way designed for work with survivors, more like held tension or sports injuries, really. Anyhow, I thought “held things in the body, that’s me.” and figured it might be worth a shot.

So, of course it’s bringing gunk up. I had a session a couple of days ago where the person worked on my back and then then next day woke up feeling as if I’d been punched in the solar plexus, and felt like that most of the day. That evening my wife and I went to a kids movie, how to train your dragon. There was this scene in it where the kid is in a ring with a dragon he’s supposed to kill and he’s trying to tame it instead, and his dad freaks out and they rush in and this sets the dragon off and it’s attacking the kid, and his tame dragon comes to rescue him and they’re going to kill the tame dragon, and he is begging his dad not to kill the dragon.

At this point I got triggered. I’m finding myself getting more and more upset, and I walk out of the theatre and go to the bathroom. I get into a cry and then start sobbing. Then in my head I hear myself saying “don’t kill him, take (kill?) me instead”, and calling out my older brother’s name. I think he was who I was trying to protect, offering myself to my father to rape so he wouldn’t hurt my older brother. I guess he really does have something to feel guilty about after all, although of course I don’t hold him responsible.

In the days before cell phones bathrooms were a refuge where an emotional girl could go to cry. Even if someone came in they’d do their business and leave. But no. Not one but two women came in and had long loud conversations on the phone while I was busy trying not to cry too loud. I could have let myself go into it further, and gotten more information (I seem to get the information more clearly if I let myself go fully into the feelings), but then I’d have been sobbing loudly and someone would ask if I was okay, and I’d have to pull it together and tell them I was fine and just wanted to be left alone to finish crying. Honestly, ladies, just pee and leave, it’s not a phone booth, it’s a place to do private things, like eliminate wastes and cry when you’re too heartbroken to do it quietly a dark theatre and don’t want to shut down, not to have loud conversations with your boyfriend that you could have in the lobby or hallway or whatever.

So today I have some unfinished crying rattling around in my solar plexus that I really wish I’d been able to vent yesterday in one go. Much easier that way than having to work into it to release the rest, without as big a head of steam behind it.

Do I really think I offered my father to rape me to save my brother’s life? We’ll it’s not out of character, for him or for me, or out of scale with what I now realize happened. These damn post traumatic memories come in such tiny installments it’s hard to know for sure till I get the rest of it, if I ever do. I know though that my first memory of the rape that I now have proof happened, was not much more information wise than this, so I’ll have to leave it open and see what flows out.

My brother is a dickhead for blaming me for the fact that me disclosing abuse got him into therapy. He needed therapy because of what happened to him and in his home, not because of anything I did. It’s just more scapegoating, anything that happens is apparently my fault. He probably remembers all kinds of facts and details he’s withholding because he doesn’t want to get into it, information I need to be whole. Bastard! To think I loved him enough to stand in the way of him being abused, knowing my dad wanted my silence about the rapes more than he wanted to dominate my brother. Well, you’re on your own now, brother. You’re on your own. And so am I.

Persevererence & Change2Mind video

I did do my practice yesterday, and got a little farther into exercising my voice. I seem to do it best when my wife is around. She came home from an evening shift at work, and started practicing guitar, which gave me space to practice voice. I could hear her strumming in the other room and it felt safe to focus on what I was doing. Then she left to walk the dog and I noticed it was harder to concentrate. I’m learning a lot about this.

I just watched a video about overcoming bias against people with mental health problems. I started bawling when I saw a pair of people wearing shirts. One was a guy with a shirt that said “post traumatic stress disorder”. The woman next to him had a shirt that said “battle buddy” . What a great thing to do – makes me want to have some kind of walk where everyone is wearing a shirt saying “incest survivor” “childhood sexual assault survivor” “better half” “battle buddy” “support spouse” etc…  Here’s the video: http://www.bringchange2mind.org/

My grade 6 teacher was at a presentation I gave last week. I recognized a woman in the audience, but didn’t know who she was till I saw the sign-in sheet. I emailed her and she emailed me back, with a lovely description of what I’d been like as a 12 year old girl. She said she was glad I’d weathered the adolescence and early adulthood well, and I replied back that I’d had more to weather than most. I said she may have heard, since a few of my teachers were interviewed by the police, that I’d been rather seriously abused by my father. I said “I’m telling you this not to make a big deal of it, but I make a point of being open, as I think it helps prevent the silence in which child predators hide, and if that helps some kids, it’s worth any awkwardness.” and then I gave a few more chatty details about my life and ended thanking her for some things she’d said.

I hope that was okay. No real impact on my life if it makes her feel awkward, she’ll just not reply. I’m seeing my younger brother for dinner tonight. He’s the one I have the least gunk with, so it should be nice.

[Trigger warning to my ritual abuse survivor allies: If mentions of mainstream, benign Pagan/Wiccan spiritual practice are triggers for you, please go read something else now. ]

I went to a public Hallows ceremony a few days ago, organized by some folks I  don’t see any more, as one or two are unpleasant to say the least. An ex-roommate we had to kick out for raging at me was there, but I managed to avoid her successfully. I did see several nice people I actually missed though, and connected with some gals that might want to have a women’s circle, so that was good. It was nice to have my wife there.

Oh, the main thing about all that was, Hallows is a time when Wiccans think about our ancestors and make a ceremony of visiting them on the isle of the dead in trance to speak with them. We also  remember and recognize both loved ones who have died in the previous year and bless the babies born in the past year. It’s our new year. Blessing children at hallows/Samhain is where the practice of giving candy to children came from. It’s a way of blessing the new year through blessing the young ones. There was quite a long trance my grandmother was there when I got to the island. She led me to my other grandparents. I spent some time crying, telling them off, and then made them all promise they’d keep my father completely away from me after he dies, since they owe me for that. And then I asked for their blessings, which they each gave me.  They got why I was mad and didn’t take offence. Dead people are much more sensible about these things.

Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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