I am open, and I am willing

Hey folks. I know I haven’t been writing here much lately. I’m working on my book a bit, it’s coming along nicely, actually. I got a bit of a boost from a reader here who commented with support for my writing (thanks!) and got going on it. Also, I haven’t had anything sworddancerly to report. I haven’t heard from any of my biological family, I’ve not been triggered by anything and life is going pretty well. Mostly I’m just busy at work.

I’ve also started working out with a personal trainer. For folks that can afford it, I recommend it. I would say overall it’s cheaper than joining a gym, because there’s no way I’d go regularly to a gym. Too many thin, fit people there, it’s off-putting. And the music is loud, and… well you get the picture. My trainer brings us to a gym that’s only for trainers, so the only people there are out of shape, older people like me, and their trainers. My wife and I go together.

On the survivor front, I made it really clear to the trainer that I was a “no pain, no pain” kind of gal and not a “no pain, no gain” gal, and that one of my main motivations for working with a trainer was to avoid injury or being too sore or exhausted to work at my main job. I just wanted to learn to have fun moving my body, and do things that made me feel strong and powerful. I like working with the trainer because I can ask questions right away like: “am I doing this right?” or “my knee hurts when I do that, is there another way to do it?”.

I'm guessing Xena would know how to dance on a sociopath's grave....Photocredit: Unknown.

I’m having a lot more fun than I thought I would. I really like the free weights and feeling all strong lifting them. I’ve got a big body (tall and big boned, not just curvy) so I do have quite a bit of power and it’s nice to feel it. I’m actually bigger than your average guy, which is kind of nice to realize if I’m walking on a street at night. I’m aiming to be a big strong sword-dancing amazon. I’m getting what are starting to look like fit-looking muscle bulges on my arms too. Okay, I’m starting to fit the lesbian stereotype, and that’s fine. If I end up looking like Xena or Wonder Woman, that’s just fine with me. (Actually, I do look quite a lot like Xena already…)

My wife is having some challenges lately to do with her work, and is pretty depressed. As per normal, she won’t let me do anything to help, so I’m kind of stuck here waiting for her to figure it out. Depressed people aren’t very creative in thinking about solutions to their own problems or seeing options, which is frustrating to be around. She’s also got chronic pain and what I think is sleep apnea. None of which she’ll do a lot about. I know, it’s hard when you’re depressed to do anything. I think back to when I was depressed in my early healing, though, and know that I fought pretty persistently through it, sneaking around my limitations. Okay, I didn’t have energy to do anything, I’d work on getting enough rest. Okay, I was crying all the time, I’d give myself permission to cry as much as I wanted till it cleared. Okay, I was low energy all the time, I’d make sure I at least took my vitamins.

I’m not one of those perky pollyanna types, really I’m not. I think I’m pretty honest about calling it as I see it when there is a bad situation going on.

Speaking of bad situations, my country is going to hell in a handbasket and I’m really worried about it. We’ve elected a prime-minister (our national head of government) who is evil. George Bush-calibre evil. He’s on record as wanting to dismantle our universal health care system and social safety net. He squeaked in the last two times with a minority government, which means he can’t do much that would really annoy the other two parties elected, but now he’s got a majority, which means he can really do anything he wants. This is one guy I’d like to dance a sword dance for (or on).

This guy is anti-marriage equality, anti-women, and a right-wing religious nutball with creepy eyes. Someone put a video on youtube of him speaking, comparing his manner and words to Emperor Palpatine (who later is the evil emperor, Darth Vader’s boss) from Star Wars, and the comparison is apt. I like to refer to him as ‘Voldemort’. He thinks global warming is a hoax, sent our citizens to for ‘enhanced questioning” in other countries by less torture-averse allies of the US and has taken down pictures of all the past Canadian leaders and replaced them with multiple copies of his own face.  I just can’t believe that the good, decent, let’s take care of each other citizens of Canada elected this creep. He seems to have a lot of money behind him, and used it to saturate the airwaves with ads, particularly attack ads on the other parties. He’s sneaky and Machiavellian, and is right now dismantling all the government accountability and freedom of information services so that when he really gets going doing evil, it will be hard to find out before it’s too late.

It’s kind of like the ‘abuser always win’ problem with survivors. Justice for us (well me) has been so sparse it’s easy to get hopeless. My religious Pagan self says, it’s part of the Goddess’ plan perhaps, and sometimes a loss is the way to a greater gain. Our most progressive party in Canada also won a lot of seats in the last election and is now official opposition, but with a right wing majority in parliament, all they can really do is complain.

The nutballs within the Christian faith (don’t worry, we all have our nutballs, I’m not being anti-Christian here) are going on about how we are in a time of tribulation and the world is going to end and such. I have to say it seems like a time of tribulation to me too, but they’re causing it. A lot of them are against doing anything for the environment because they want to get the end of the world  over with. I say to them, “Don’t you want to hedge your bets?”. It seems like doing evil (destroying the environment and making species extinct and people starve to death  and such…) in the name of religion is still evil. Just saying.

So I’ve been doing a lot of praying lately. My God(dess) is more of an ’empower the people and you sort it out’ kind of god, which isn’t nearly as comforting as a “don’t you worry your pretty head, I’ve got it all in hand” kind of god. The Earth, Gaia, a living and most likely sentient organism, has an complexity and intelligence that is vast and beyond me. She makes this planet function so incredibly beautifully, and it breaks my heart to know that she is wounded by our actions.  I can only hope that each of our hope, goodness and willingness to take right action in the world on Her behalf will be enough to overcome and heal this cancer of greed the way the way a healthy body routinely dispatches cancer cells before they get out of hand. May the less literal soul of Canada do the same.

Photocredit: unknown

As children’s author Dr. Seuss would say “unless people like you care a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”. The only generally agreed upon moral rule of Neo-Paganism is “an it harm none, do as thou wilt” , which means: As long as it harms no-one or nothing, do as you will. The quality of ‘will’ is important in Neo-Paganism, where we literally believe that you can will things to happen to a certain degree, much in the way that other people pray for things to happen. I am ‘willing’ everything to work out in the best possible way as hard as I can right now. I am ‘willing’ the world supply of Goodness to be blessed and increase.  Anything more specific is too simplistic to have an impact on this chaos; I’m trusting in the mysterious forces for good in the universe to work things out, and am willing to cooperate in any way I can.  Compost, eat organic, sustainable transportation, stick up for others, stick up for myself, vote, help ethical politicians and groups, speak up and out, I am willing.

Holly Near has a great song the lyrics of which were written in response to the US’s dark period governed by George Bush. I can only hope we get our own Canadian version of Obama to clean up the mess this bastard is making too. It’s a grieving song and a hopeful alliance with goodness and change song. Here are the lyrics.

“I am open, and I am willing, for to be hopeless, would seem so strange. It dishonours those who go before us, so lift me up to the light of change.  There is hurting in my family, there is sorrow in  my town. There is a panic all across the nation. There is wailing the whole world round. But I am open, and I am willing, for to be hopeless would seem so strange, it dishonours those who go before us. So lift me up to the light of change. Give me a mighty oak, to hold my confusion, and give me a desert, to hold my fears. Give me a sunset, to hold my wonder. And give me an ocean, to hold my tears. May the children see more clearly, and may the elders be more wise. May the winds of change caress us even though it burns our eyes. For I am open and I am willing, for to be hopeless would seem so strange. It dishonours those who go before us, so life me up to the light of change.”

May it be so.

More great Holly Near songs: Gentle Angry People ; Fired Up

Transition Point

Photocredit: Zanastardust

She walks toward
swords held crossed above her head
kilt swinging
strong legs, proud back
the bagpipes drone and wail, supporting her
carying within it the voices of ancestors
the strength of traditions of a proud people
who tolerate no dishonour

Stopping at the grave site
laying the swords crossed before her
her sword of will and power earned
his of pain and power taken
She leaps in the air
flying feet in warrior rhythm
No preparatory dance this, traditional to prove one’s mettle before battle
This is the battle dance of victory for enemy defeated
the battle dance of survival and the dance of triumph
Leaping over crossed swords as her ancestors taught, she banishes
she honours them and herself
She does what they did,
pinning unquiet ghosts to earth.

Leaping the final complicated steps over and around swords
faster faster
spinning, then stopping, fists held high, then drawn from sky to waist.
a knot tied.
a battle completed.
She bows and walks away.
head high.

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.)

Exercise

I’m out of shape and overweight. I’ve lost over 20 pounds this year, mostly water I think, just by counting calories and exercising a little. I’ve got about 30 more to go till I’m at the top range of what the most generous charts say I should weight for my height. Lately, I’ve been exercising twice a week with some friends – we’re trying to get in shape and lose weight, with a little friendly competition built in. Normally I avoid that stuff like the plague, but it seemed right this time and so far it’s been okay.

Whenever I get into exercising, or being sexually active on a regular basis, my emotions gets stormy. I get easily frustrated, moody and bitchy, like a bad case of PMS out of cycle.  Mostly I just want to be left alone and read a book for a long time, to still my body enough for it to go away. I’ve been exercising the past few weeks, and charged up by the ‘feminist vitamins’ of my trip I was happily surprised to not be experiencing my usual storminess.

Well the holiday is over. Today I should have been working and I’ve spent almost all of it reading a novel, and being cranky with my wife (it’s her day off) to keep her away from me whenever she intrudes upon my funk.

Craig’s death might have something to do with it – really does it matter I use his name since he’s dead and really only my family would know who he is? I don’t even know where his grave-site is, but dancing upon it is not appropriate, since I’m still not certain it was him. I don’t need to take power back from him, if I ever did,  his life seems to have done it for me, and his death, dying a homeless drunk is enough of any kind of revenge I might have needed.

What comes up in me when I exercise is perhaps a body memory, a memory (oh now I start crying) of waiting around after the rapes for my body to feel better and my fear and adrenalin to pass. The frustration of being pinned down and helpless again, with no way to win, that comes up for me easily when I am doing something physically difficult and hard.

So that’s it, a body memory of being defeated by my heavy, stench-coated, sweaty opponent. The frustration of struggle and pain and defeat. There is shame in it, shame I was not stronger, that I could not get out from under him, that I could not draw anyone in to help me, anyone that would be effective.

My brother called to tell me about Craig’s death as he will one day likely tell me about my fathers’. I think I’d told him about Craig, and he knew the import of what he told me.

Now I’m crying, properly, harder. Crying in grief relief that my brother did actually get it, did get that I’d want to be told.

I don’t want to feel helpless anymore. Would learning to wrestle defeat this feeling of being vanquished? Not unless I won every time, I think, and I’m afraid of what I might do in the heat of it. I’m a big strong amazon of a woman, and not afraid to use it, but what would it feel like at last to defeat my father, knock him out with a roundhouse punch, throw him to the ground and hold him there struggling with a knife to his throat, to tie him up and strangle him as he did me? It would dirty me, I think, to use his methods to defeat him. Cancer and time will do it for me, with my victory no less welcome.

I will be the Bear when I exercise, I will walk through this and remind myself that I am powerful, that I will never be a child raped and torn again. And when he dies I will be strong enough, fit enough to dance on his grave with physical strength and power to match that of my spirit.

So mote it be.

Magic and Meditation

I attended my friend’s celebration of life this week. It seems she was a remarkable woman. I also found out at this ceremony that she was probably a survivor as well. There were about a hundred people at the ceremony, all of whom had been profoundly affected by her support and positive encouragement.  The attendees included the  mayor of the town she lived in, along with someone high up in the RCMP who attended in full dress uniform in honour of her.  I did not know her in this way, or really well at all.  I think she saw me as a powerful priestess rather than someone she needed to support and encourage, which I guess is a compliment.

She and I attended a fairly intense week-long spiritual retreat almost ten years ago, the retreat where she also met the woman, M–, who was to become her wife. M– is also my friend and we’ve stayed in touch. I attended their wedding a few years ago. I went to the funeral primarily for my friend her wife and was able to offer her something I don’t think anyone else could, some spritual witchy support. In a room full of friends of her wife, she was not necessarily among people who knew and cared for her. At least I am someone who knows M– in her own right. The problem with having an intensely social, popular wife is that when she is gone there is no-one.  I’m going to try and stay connected with M–.

I’m still trying to calm my mind and get my life in order. I’d like to feel more centred, have more energy (I’m fatigued a lot of the time) and get the things I’m passionate about done. I’m still meditating once a day, which seems to be helping.

Photocredit: Swamibu
Photocredit: Swamibu

I was telling Butterfly today that many of the people I’ve told about my sword dance ceremony have offered to fly up there with me to attend. This is an incredible thing. Aside from my ACoA days, I’ve never had this kind of support from nonsurvivors, people seem to actually get it.

Once, years ago, perhaps 20 or so now, I was at an ACoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) conference. 12 step groups were good for me, especially the ones with no cross talk, where I could share about what I was struggling with with the abuse without having to deal with people’s reactions, which seemed to be mostly a kind of horrified pity. I was sitting in a chair in an auditorium, listening to a speaker, and I guess feeling a then-rare moment of safety I seemed to feel only in 12 step groups at the time.  I had a very strong feeling of being touched by a huge, benevolent hand that loved me, a tactile vision of God, which is what I called my higher power at the time.  Later in the conference, I was speaking in front of a large group of two or three hundred people and I asked for something I wanted. I wanted, if they felt it,  to hear people say they believed me about the abuse.  All of them rose and said in unision, “We Believe You [my first name]”. I believe they meant it. It still brings tears to my eyes thinking of it.

Being visible as a survivor can bring a lot of awkwardness and stupid comments from people, but at times it can bring great gifts.

Photocredit: NFlorence2012
Photocredit: NFlorence2012 - "Dance of Shakti"

Pagan Conference

This weekend I attended a Pagan conference and met some interesting and helpful people.

Photocredit: Sinjy, 2006
"Wicca Apples" Photocredit: Sinjy, 2006

Have you ever had a period in your life where you appear to be in Grace? Where challenges emerge and are defeated easily? Where it seems simple to be calm and powerful? The voices of the divine and your own truth seem strong and clear? I seem to be in one. My music is going fabulously, I’m attracting all kinds of resources I’ve needed, and most importantly, other people’s gunk seems to be sliding off my back like I’m coated in Teflon(R).

Pagan gatherings are a quite a bit in feel like science fiction conventions – a variety of flavours of modern neo-paganism are represented. One thing I realized, that unlike the women-specific spiritual events I’ve attended, which are generally attended and organized by smart, highly competent, healthy and empowered women, the mixed Pagan ones attract a nerdier, more fringe crowd. This is not to say that most of the people I met weren’t remarkable and nice, but that I noticed a distinct difference in general social functioning, on the whole, with several people who didn’t seem to be doing well at all. Seeing how it was a Canada wide conference, I attended to see what was going on and do a bit of networking.

Amazon warrior that I am, I got into several heated intellectual discussions (which I enjoy, for the most part) and at least one controversy.

There’s a split in modern Paganism, or perhaps only in the sub-category of Wicca or Witchcraft, between the folks that are into a fertility based practice and those whose practice is ecstatic. Fertility practice of Wicca (also known as traditional or Gardnerian Wicca) is essentially a religion that gives relatively equal prominence to both Goddesses and Gods (with Goddesses being slightly more central), celebrates heterosexuality as a manifestation of the creative power of the Gods, and is based in the tradition started 50 or so years ago by Gerald Gardiner. The most central imagery, rituals and practices are often concerned with celebrating heterosexual sexual expression. This is NOT to say they’re having orgies all over the place, it’s just that the erotic attraction between men and women occupies a similar symbolic place in traditional paganism that for example the imagery of torture and murder via crucifiction occupies in Christianity. Christianity isn’t all about or even mainly about torture and death, but the imagery of crucifiction, which was a historical method of torture/execution,  is a big part of their imagery and festivals such as Easter. What’s interesting to me is that unlike the traditions I practice, the women-oriented facets of fertility, particularly virginity, pregnancy and birthing, don’t get nearly the amount of emphasis in these ‘fertility’ traditions as the sexuality itself.  Gods are seen primarily as lovers or fathers and the Goddess as lover or mother. Sister and brother Gods or virgin Goddesses do not carry much importance and do not appear to be emphasized. In some of the traditions I have experience with the Gods as brothers and sisters are just as important and provide important models of respect and cooperation between the sexes.

By contrast my own practice is in the ecstatic and social justice traditions (some examples are Reclaiming, Dianic, Goddess Sprituality and Feri traditions) which are not nearly as focussed on heterosexualily and more on relationship with the Gods and taking positive action in the world. Understandably as a gay woman, heterosexual sex, while as sacred as any other,  is not of interest to me, so my expression is more about individual growth, recovering and celebrating my own body, intuition, honouring the Earth in action (environmentalism) as well as observance, and creating and discovering rituals and connections with the Divine Feminine that reinforce me and other women in being powerful, effective and strong.  It is based in both Feminism, Goddess Sprituality and Wicca, with a social justice component from a tradition called Reclaiming.

The controversy began when a non-pagan film-maker presented her film about witches and invited discussion and feedback afterward. The only voices represented in the film were from fertility traditions, some of whom represented that in contrast to male centred religions, Wicca was about the balance between God and Goddess.  Since the film maker was looking for feedback, I pointed out that my style, which is primarily about the Goddess, had not been represented. At this point, some reps of the other style – all older males, told me in paternal tones that while I was certainly Pagan, I was not a Wiccan because I didn’t give equal importance to male Gods worshipped via the imagery of straight sex as they do. I was, of course, offended, but couldn’t help but remember a conversation years ago with someone from an Evangelical Protestant sect who told me straight faced that Catholics weren’t Christians. Seeing how Catholics invented Christianity (or are at least the earliest surviving version I know of) this is patently ridiculous, so I had the perspective that all religions seem to do this infighting thing over stupid differences in practice. Similarly, I’m pretty certain that if they start up the bonfires to begin burning witches again, assertive female activist feminist witches will be the first they want to throw on the pyre. Our enemies know we’re all witches, so these boys need to just get over it.

I defended my point pretty well I thought, and even though I could have felt ganged up on (those in the room who I later found shared my beliefs kept their mouths shut), I didn’t really. I mostly just saw their rigidity and dogmatism as coming from their own insecurities, as older men holding onto what privilege they’d scrounged together in a religion that is, at least officially, led by women (The high priestess is technically the leader of each worship group, although a high priest may also serve). Most religions do this kind of infighting. It’s too bad, but really nothing personal.

Standing up to the patriarchy and heterosexism, and being a misunderstood minority in a room full of peers,  really ought to have worn me out, but didn’t particularly, do my great surprise. I’m truly grateful. Perhaps this preparing to dance at or on my fathers grave is changing how I see sexism and oppressive men. It’s like exercising over a period of time for awhile, and then suddenly realizing you can run up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath. Mostly, thoughout the weekend I felt confidence, happiness, acceptance and warmth for and from the people there.

On the helpful people end of things, I made contact with a pagan social activist from my home town, who I asked for information on who I could connect with up there about my sword dance ritual. He said he and his wife (who is also pagan) would help, and gave me the name of a woman’s shelter contact who he thought I should make contact with as well.  It feels like a Goddess-given connection.

It’s very interesting to me that men seem to be among my important allies in this sword dance ritual – from my friends who helped me search for a sword, to this man. Brother allies are a good thing. It looks like the person I’ll be taking sword dance classes from will be a man too – the women teachers I approached weren’t interested in teaching adult women. 

I’m finding more allies than I expected.

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

Sincererely,

[My Real Name]

Songs to dance on an abusers grave to

The concept of dancing on your abusers’ grave seems to have some resonance for survivors I’ve talked to. Not all of us are of Scottish heritage, or even interested in learning the sword dance or Ghillie Callum used for this purpose.

For those of you lucky enough to have dead abusers with graves ripe for dancing, I thought I’d provide a list of suggested songs. Perhaps between this and the comments we can come up with a nice long list.

  • Flinty Kind of Woman – Dar Williams – this upbeat country song tells the story of a bunch of upscale New England matrons garrotting an attempted child molester in a bog.
    “Going east of Mississippi got a flinty kind of woman And you don’t act smart and you don’t touch my children If the young man wants to see the sun go down” Here’s another sample (the words are great)
    “And by the “Welcome to New England” sign
    Got him with the fishing line
    In the dark smell of brine
    Betty said “This one is mine.”
    She is ruthless ”
    Here’s a link to the lyrics: http://darwilliams.net/music/tabs/flinty.html
  • Independence Day – Martina McBride – story from a grown child’s perspective of her mom burning down the house to kill herself and her batterer.
    The Chorus:
    “Let freedom ring,
    let the white dove sing
    let the whole world know that
    Today is a day of reckoning
    let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
    roll the stone away, let the guilty pay, its independence day.”
    Click here to watch the video
  • Concrete Angel – Another Martina McBride Song – more a grieving song about an abused child who died.
    “Through the wind and the rain,
    She stands hard as a stone in a world that she can’t rise above;
    But her dreams give her wings and she flies to a place where she’s loved.
    Click here for full lyrics
    View video here
  • Goodbye Earl – Dixie Chicks – the story of two best friends who kill the battering spouse of one of the women after he disregards a restraint order and get away with it.
    Well she finally go the nerve to file for divorce, she let the law take it from there.  But Earl walked right through that restraining order, and put her in intensive care. Right away Mary Anne flew in from Atalnta, on a red eye midnight flight. She held Wanda’s hand as they worked out a plan and it didn’t take long to decide that Earl had to die.”
    Click here to watch the video – worth it to watch the gleeful dancing when he dies Celebrative and upbeat. Good for a grave-dancing.
  • Testimony by Ferron – not super overt, but about strength among women after sexual assault, very pretty.
    ” But by my life be I spirit
    And by my heart be I woman
    And by my eyes be I open
    And by my hands be I whole”
    Click here for full lyrics

I don’ t have any good incest survivor pride songs yet, but maybe you have one.

In a cold and northern town

[A song in progress – celtic/folk story ballad feel. Key of D major]

In a cold and northern town, the days are short and the nights are long
A little girl grew up alone, surrounded by her family

When she was five years old she didn’t know that daddy’s weren’t allowed
She thought a monster’d come to kill her, (I) guess that’s what it was

A father owns his daughter, while not exactly true
was true enough to keep her enslaved and him free to abuse.

And now she dances a sword, atop his grave so fresh
And she dances victory, to drive away his cruel ghost

[Bridge]

She cried at school until they teased her, bad crybaby, should grow up
She never heard she had a right to tell, or even
what to call it
when the monster called

And when in hospital he lay, they tried to save his life,
they got him into treatment, he got nursing from his wife.

And now she dances a sword dance, atop the monsters grave
And she dances victory and she is proud and she is brave

Her grandpa died when she was 12, her mother told her later
if he had known he’d have slayed that monster, he would have saved her

Her grandmamar, the monster’s mother, bravely faced the truth
She listened to her grown grand-daughter
and gave her back her family

Her Scots ancestors danced over
crossed swords  before battle to prove their hearts

Danced over their slain foes, to celebrate,
to keep vengeful spirits in their grave.

So now she dances a sword, atop his grave so fresh
and she dances victory, to seal his cruel ghost

So now she calls her fierce ancestors, to take his soul away
that never may he trouble her, in night or in the day, oh.

And now she dances a sword, atop his grave in victory
And she dances binding
to seal his cruel ghost.

And now she calls her fierce ancestors, to take the monster’s soul away
that he may trouble her no more, in night  or in the day

And may they trouble us no more
the men who try to rape/take our souls
and may we outlive them all!
and dance upon their graves!

[Note about men as abusers – The following are all true: most sexual abusers are men, women abuse children sexually too, boys get abused too, I have many men I love and who are my allies. I refer to abusers as men in my writing because that is my reality. Your mileage may vary, and that’s fine. If you’re against child sexual abuse, that’s all we need to be allies.]

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

Slogans for Survivor Pride Parades

Last night, I made the mistake of eating a bit too much chocolate before bed (it was worth it) and lay awake for awhile.

May We Outlive Them T-Shirt

My last post got me thinking about “Survivor Pride” and how I might incite it. “Incest Survivor Pride” has the wrong ring to it, I think, since I’m certainly not happy or proud that incest was inflicted upon me. I am, however, proud of how I’ve responded. People seem to get all sappy about veterans, how about “Incest Veteran Pride”.

Victor Frankl was a man who to me has ‘survivor cred’ about choosing a brave and resilient response to injustice, being a holocaust survivor who turned his experiences there into a theory and practice of choosing one’s response to suffering and making meaning of it.

He has some interesting quotes:

If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life – an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.Man’s Search for Meaning. An Introduction to Logotherapy, Boston: Beacon, ISBN (Okay, sexist title, but I’ve read it and I forgive him for it.)

What is to give light must endure the burning.

Everything can be taken away from a man [sic] but one thing: the last of the human freedom — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

There was also one I couldn’t find a direct quote for, but which has been paraphrased as: “even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps he found only two races of men to exist: decent and non-decent ones. These were to be found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups.”

I wasn’t thinking last night about meaningful, literary quotes, although, with the caveat of the sexism, I support all the above in relation to incest and sexual abuse.

Last night I was thinking about t-shirts. Cheap, popular and visible, gay people have used them to come out publicly and make statements for decades.

In my mind I designed a t-shirt with a circular medalion on it, kind of a coat of arms, with my tai chi sword crossed with a thumb-width stick. Above it the lettering would say.

Child Sexual Abuse
May We Outlive them All

and below it it would say

And Dance Upon Their Graves!

Other shirts would say:

i-survived

I’ve survived much worse than this. I can do anything!

This is a good day…
to dance on my abusers grave!

To suffer – is human…
To survive…. is a lot of damn work!

If you think I’m bloodthirsty – you should meet the bastard I survived! (this one needs work, I think…)

Where were you all when I was being tortured?

Your fear won’t protect them. Abused children need strong communities.

I went through hell as a child and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!

I only look underfunctioning when you make my obstacles invisible.

I survived incest in childhood. Where’s my trophy?

You get the idea – I’d welcome any others (or refinements on mine) in comments.

Trying to make it Normal

I spent the weekend with a bunch of friends and acquaintances at a storytelling retreat. At this same retreat last year was the first time I told people publicly that I intend to dance on my father’s grave. It was an incredibly important experience for me then, to speak of my loneliness being a high-functioning and therefore able-to -hide survivor of extreme abuse.  It was a kind of coming out, and like all coming out experiences, helped me connect with allies and support I would not have dreamed possible.

This year, I wanted to tell them how the project was coming along. I wanted to tell these kind, sympathetic women how six months after I told them how I was waiting for my father to die, I got news that he’d been in the hospital for months and had cancer again. I wanted to tell them how I’d been planning, preparing a rite of passage for myself, a brave act of victory and inspiration for others.

I ended up feeling more and more alone.

I am not brave. I am not a sword dance warrior waging glorious psychic battle with the patriarchy as embodied in its one evil representative in my life.

I am horribly exposed.

As I sit here, typing, gasping for breath amid sobs, from long habit permitting and encouraging myself to sob until it is all released, I feel like I have undermined all my efforts to be a success in this world, that people I know, know that I am damaged and not well socialized enough to keep my dirty secrets, fears and spiritual sorrows private in polite company.

Ice Wall II by Etolane
Ice Wall II by Etolane

I am pressed up against the wall of ice that is the silence around incest, trying  so hard not to beg, please, please let me be part of you in my whole self. Let me be a normal person with normal responses to a horrific tragedy. Let me speak  the truth of my life without making you look at me with discomfort.

Please let me be real.

My friend, who is also a brave warrior, suggests I scan and publish the art piece I made on the first night there, when it felt like I was a stream of hot lava running through a landscape meant to be watercolours and comedy, politeness and laughter.I willed myself to be truthful, to claim the right to be me in an intimate environment, knowing that successful art comes from rigorous truth. I avoided graphic details out of concern for virgin ears, and to keep the focus on my Quest. Other women could talk about the painful truths of their life, divorce, loves lost, abortions and miscarriages, loss of beloved parents, but my losses are too bizarrre to share, too evocative and raw.

As an act of courage, I ruthlessly returned to the art I wanted to make and share, the story of my quest to reclaim the right of women who have been raped to openly challenge their abusers and avenge their honour, if only in symbolic terms.  I wanted to see and hear women understand, but I don’t have any evidence they did.

On the last day, one woman, a therapist, self-confessed ‘not-a-survivor-herself’ but a therapist to many survivors over the years took exception to a phrase I used, as feminists often sadly feel the right to do.

I had used it to describe my conviction that I had been exposed, by listening to survivors I’d sat in support meetings with and in other contexts, to women who had experienced the full range of the horror of sexual abuse, from molestation to rape to ritual abuse. She said this had been disrespectful to survivors, since I couldn’t possibly have heard ‘everything’. My point had been that a thing I valued about myself was that when listening to a woman’s story, I listened for what she wanted to tell me, and didn’t get distracted by the drama of the horror. I knew of and accepted the fact of a very large range of abuse so didn’t need to attach energy to them if it wasn’t the main topic the survivor wanted to discuss.

When I tell someone about my experience, I don’t normally want them to get caught up in the dramatic and graphic details, but in the meaning I am trying to make of them, how they affect me now or even just to provide context for an everyday experience affected by my past.  I’d been really trying to say, probably, “Listen to my story, but don’t get caught up in pity or disgust. I have a richer story to tell about this if you don’t get caught up in the horror.”

Frankly, once I got over the hurt, if I have as yet, it seemed to me that this was like a white person telling a black person something they said might be disrespectful to black people. None of the other survivors I spoke to after my story seemed to have any issue with it, and I know for sure I would not have been offended had someone else said what I’d said. Perhaps it would have been offensive or disrespectful coming from someone ‘not-a-survivor-herself’, depending on the attitude that accompanied it. I’d be inclined to say that if you’re not a survivor yourself,  you can’t know.

When I was single and told lovers I was a survivor, it wasn’t because I wanted to get into it and kill the mood (although it unfortunately might have at times), but because, like a hip injury or an STD, they needed to know in order to understand why I might have some limits to the way I could have sex and it was a big deal that they be respected.

The neighbourhood where I live has a lot of lesbians living in it. This has the advantage of being a place where people are blessedly bored with the whole concept of lesbians. I can hold hands or go shopping for household items with my wife with no funny looks or awkwardness and interact with people without the gay thing getting in the way.

While I don’t want people to be bored with incest, which of course still needs to be aggressively stopped whenever and wherever it is noticed, I’d sure like it if my normal, everyday, Pagan rite of passage for the death of a mortal enemy could be viewed as a reasonable and expected thing for a survivor to do. I’d like it if survivors, like the wounded shamans of other cultures, were regarded with respect for their courage, resilience and earned wisdom. Christopher Reeves, the superman who bravely soldiered on after a spinal cord sports injury, is heralded as a hero, which may in fact be so, but where are our incest survivor comeback stories, from women who’ve sustained injuries as deep and debilitating and have triumphed?

As I tell my story, I tell myself that that is what I am creating that space for myself and others, a way of viewing survivors as heroic/heraic figures. May the all that I hold holy – earth, water and fire and air and the truth/life/sacred at the centre of all things –  bless me with the courage and support I need.

Bloggy Award Nominations and Coming Out

Honour-bound, as I am to nominate some bloggy award winners (5) I’ve decided to start in manageable steps.

Here’s the thing. A blog about “incest survivors, sprituality and ceremonies of justice” is kind of a conversation stopper. In order to be able to feel absolutely honest here, I’ve avoided any mention of who I am and where I am in my posts. Continue reading Bloggy Award Nominations and Coming Out

Sharpening the Sword to Dance on My Abusers Grave

A woman's sword

So I now have the sword I’m going to use to dance on my fathers grave, when he will do me and the world the favour of finally succumbing to cancer. It’s a tai chi sword, with a kind of feminine, watery feel to it, with a wooden handle and a red cord to hang it by.

It’s meant to represent my inner iron, my strength and will and intellect, all my power that I’ve used throughout my life to fight my smart, brutal, dominant, creative father. The fact I haven’t seen him in over 20 years, doesn’t mean I don’t fight him regularly. Continue reading Sharpening the Sword to Dance on My Abusers Grave