Here’s the divine intervention part. I really think the Goddess sent me this book.
Martha is the daughter of a Mormon scholar and apologist, and an incest survivor. She describes what began as a spiritual search for union with God and progresses toward experiencing repressed memories and leaving the church. At the time of writing she was a straight mother of three (actually according to her site about the book she’s now in a relationship with a woman) with a doctorate in sociology from Harvard, and she was raised within a patriarchal religious community but other than that her experience reflected mine so much that it took my breath away. It also made me laugh or snort out loud several times, as she’s got a wicked and irreverent sense of humour.
She was also first raped by her father at the age of five. Her father was also a highly intelligent, high status guy who was highly dissociative, liked to speak in codes (my father once inserted himself into a college phone conversation with my mother and told me quite seriously not to let any man make me his teddy bear, a comment I still don’t understand), and believed he’d been cured of serious illnesses (in my father’s case, complete blindness) by God. However, given my fathers near miraculous survival from multiple health hazards and accidents, he may have something there.
Unlike me, her extended family were mostly unsupportive, because her dad is so famous in the Mormon world and also because the Mormon’s are all about propping up male authority no matter what. Some of the press in particular has made the usual accusations of false memories, something Beck refutes in a particularly clear statement online.
At this point I’d like to pause for a nice clarifying rant. Here’s the backup references for what I’m about to say: [click here] So called ‘false memory syndrome’ is NOT recognized as a syndrome by any reputable scientific source, like the DSM or the American Psychological Association. The folks who made this completely false syndrome up and promote it are themselves accused child molesters or their spouses. One of their ‘expert witnesses’ was quoted endorsing sex with children in a paedophilia magazine. People don’t want to believe bad stuff happens to children because it freaks them out. I get it. But lying and hurting people who’ve already been through so much is unethical, and supporting the propaganda interests of pedophiles and their apologists is heinous. Journalists, stop being manipulated by child abusers! End of rant.
Beck says some very useful things about abusers and their behaviour and what causes them, and has also learned the same passionate devotion to truth and hatred of lies, silence and complicity that I have. She also has had mystical experiences of the divine (although hers seem more striking to me, somehow) and has found them an important part of her healing. Her mother also initially said she believed her, in a conversation chillingly similar to the one I had with my mother where she said “yes, that’s something he’d do” but also wanted her to forgive and support her father anyway, like it didn’t matter what he’d done at all.
She also has something I’m a bit embarassed to envy – scar tissue inside her vagina that proves she was raped as a child. I don’t know if I have scar tissue, and I’m kind of scared to find out. I told a doctor I was a child sexual abuse survivor (just in case I had a flashback with my legs in the stirrups, not (gasp!) to get all emotional or needy on her. She was horrified. She told me everything looked normal, like in those words she could erase ten years of experience. What would I gain in making that up? gees! I’d really like to know if there is scar tissue, but doctors are generally robots – how could I find one that would seriously investigate for physical evidence rather than trying to invalidate me from their own discomfort? I have some ‘female issues’ that could be related like vaginal infections so constant that a doctor once tested me for both AIDS and diabetes (I have neither) to try and figure out what might be causing it, but honestly, although I enjoy the TV program House MD, and like my Gray’s Anatomy, I don’t have any faith in medical doctors’ ability to figure out more subtle stuff like mine and have simply managed symptoms on my own and do all the recommended things to avoid infections.
Martha (Dr. Beck, actually, but really she feels more Martha to me) has a definition of forgiveness, taken from another source, that I can endorse. “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a different past”. If that’s the case, I’ve definitely forgiven my father, years ago, and probably also my mother. I’ve always just called it ‘Acceptance’ the last stage of grieving, where things actually begin to feel better, even though the tragedy hasn’t changed at all. I’ve long embraced grief, knowing that when it’s time to cry, it is a profound gift. Grief is my friend, as it it the only thing that actually heals tragedy.
In short, I may need to buy a copy of this book to have around for validation, since the library will only let me have it for two weeks.
On the hiding front, I’ve come down with a sore throat, a few days after my music jamming with my friend and future performing partner. My body has come to the defense of my psychic camoflage, and is trying to shut this scary passion business down. This is good, it’s like learning not to dissociate: I’ve begun to recognize when I”m doing it. I still want to sing, and I’m going to sing sore throat or no sore throat. My fingertips are tender from practicing my guitar and I’m not stopping.
I’m so grateful for this blog and the support I’ve gotten from survivors posting comments. For the first time in a long while, I have a place to be, to tell the truth to the Goddess and people who understand.
The last few weeks, I’ve been gradually eating a small supply of chocolate Eostre/Easter eggs. In my faith tradition, spring equinox eggs are sacred to the Goddess Eostre and represent rebirth, as do the red balls on the evergreen tree at Yule. I’ve decided that every time I eat an egg I’m going to dedicate it using a prayer for rebirth. Rebirth of hope. Rebirth of presence in my body and today, with this book, rebirth of Validation.
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.]
As part of my ongoing quest to stop Hiding 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
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.)
This morning I wake up too early thinking that I don’t have enough money to continue therapy (I probably do), that my mother will commit suicide by car accident when she reads my letter (she probably won’t), that ‘oh THAT is why I ate so much chocolate yesterday and wondered if I was PMSing’ (again) and why I’ve been feeling like my marriage might be ending.
My wife has chronic pain, and chronic sleeplessness, and is understandably quite cranky and fussy, alternating with a kind of shut-off stoicism. This has bee going on for about five years. Most of the fun things we used to do together are off the menu, and what’s worse, she wasn’t doing much to solve the problem so there was no end in sight. The acupuncture/traditional Chinese medicine is helping her, and because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it feels safe to experience how hopeless I’ve been feeling about my future with her. We were just married 2 years ago, and have been together for eight, and I’m stuck between two things that hurt too much to face square-on – the idea of divorcing and the idea of spending the rest of my life like this. Perhaps this is another part of the inner me that is emerging to sunshine from winter, this awareness of a bit of pain I had frozen since I thought it had to be ignored.
How do I separate all that from the growing feeling of doom that my mother will be reading and reacting to the letter today? I don’t. It’s all of a piece.
How do I protect myself over the next week? I’ll be screening my calls. My mother will just have to deal with her reaction to this on her own, and I’ll have to fight the urge to look after her, to retract, I tell myself firmly. I’ve got enough to deal with. I told my wife I could use a little extra TLC this week and why, and she told me the best she can do right now is stay away from me, since she’s just unable to not be cranky. I forgive her, because I believe she’s in as much pain as she says she is, but thinking of it brings tears to my eyes. She’s not a survivor. I’m seeing a survivor friend tonight who does get it and I’ll be busy today. That will have to be enough comfort. I’ve made do with less.
I re-read my last post about the emerging sprout and it gave me hope. The Goddess is helping me wash away what is already dead, and nourishing what is holy and intimate, soulful and good, with rich moist soil and gentle sunshine. Even in my panic, I know She is there.
Against that certainty, I have the cold, resigned stillness that is my standard way of coping, the antithesis of the sprout. I realized I have gone cold not because I could feel it, but because of the picture that I was drawn to to go with this post, a stone grave-angel. Martina McBride has a song about a concrete angel that fits the picture and feeling as well. [video] [lyrics]
Goddess, grant me Serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. Blessed be.
I was at a women’s spirituality conference last weekend. It was my first time in awhile attending anything to do with my religion/spirituality in several years, so is another part of me stepping out.
One of the workshops I took part in was on dreams and movement. I brought in my dream about the Goddess selecting plants and worked with it. The exercise was that we split into groups of three. One woman was the Maiden, one was Mother, one was Crone. The maiden’s job was to silently act out their dream, explore it through movement. The mother was to copy her movements, mirror them. The crone held the space. When it was my turn to be maiden I acted out the dream, first in the role of the Goddess, spritzing plants to expose what was healthy in them, planting the healthy ones in arrangements.
Then I shifted perspective on my dream and became one of the seeds. I started curled up on the floor, a seed, slowly awakening, unfolding, really being in the dream, being the seed sending out first one seed-leaf and then the other into the light of the Goddess.
You need to understand that this was a safe, sacred space I was doing this in, which had been blessed by women singing multifaith sacred songs, dancing and drumming. I felt open and safe to really let myself experience this moment.
As I reached my leaves up to the light I felt welcomed by a loving Mother in the world, and the contrast with how I’d actually felt as an infant and child made me cry with gratitude at the warmth and love I felt from the Goddess on my emerging little embryonic self.
The woman who was holding crone during my dream-acting, wrote the most beautiful poem about my ‘dance’. She described the tears as dew collecting on the new plant. I hadn’t told iether of the women about what my dream was and her poem made it clear she’d understood it perfectly, without any words.
It felt like a blessing from the Goddess on this re-emergence of my most sacred and authentic self, this little green sprout in the sunlight, with deep rich soil and warm weather.
Today is the day after I mailed my letter to my mother. She won’t have received it yet, I reassure myself. I don’t have to panic till Monday or Tuesday now. I found an earlier version of the letter, cleaning up today. I’m glad I didn’t send that version, but it was good to read it again, to be reassured that it really is as serious as I am treating it, what she did.
I will protect my Self, allow her to bask in the warm sunshine, allow her to grow. It’s scary to be this new, this vulnerable. It is an act of will to allow myself to be blessed.
Yesterday in therapy we talked about me hiding. There is a sneaky part of me that is afraid of being seen, that shuts me down, but doesn’t tell me that it’s doing it, whenever it gets triggered.
It reminds me of when I was learning not to dissociate. At first I wouldn’t realize I’d dissociated for a long time, perhaps when my body got really cold, or I had to pee really bad, or I got clumsy and hurt myself or forgot something important.
Then, after trying for awhile, I’d notice I’d been dissociated but couldn’t figure out how or when it had started. Then I began to notice sooner after I ‘left my body’ and developed strategies for getting back in touch. Then I started to figure out what had triggered me to dissociate in the first place. Then I learned ways to comfort and ground myself when I got triggered, so I wouldn’t dissociate all the way. Then, finally, I was in my body most of the time and really noticed when I was not. Now I’m pretty much always in my body, unless something heavy is really up, or I’m having sex, of course, when being fully in my body for long periods is a blessed exception, rather than the rule. I’ve come a long way, but have a ways to go.
I’m hoping I can apply this method to my new challenge, learning not to hide my passion from myself. I ‘lose interest’ in things that are important to me far too easily, and although I know intellectually I want to do something, I can’t muster up any desire or motivation to follow through. It usually happens when I’m noticed or recieve recognition, or when the thing I’m doing is intimate, personal, from my soul, like singing, sex, making art or expressing my deepest values in action. Since I love to be recognized and am essentially an extravert, this constant hiding feels like the actions of a completely other person. And no, I’m not a multiple personality, thank Goddess.
So here’s where things get heavy.
How did I learn to hide?
I am pulled into myself. I am utterly still. I am barely breathing. I have no thoughts, I have no feelings, I am empty. I am blessedly not anxious, not afraid. I am nothing.
This is how I waited, how I survived. I am hiding in the closet, I am laying utterly still on the bed. He can’t see me. He’ll never find me. I could lay motionless for hours in the formal living room of our house, where no-one ever went, and if I lay silently enough, perhaps my mother would forget to send me to bed, perhaps I could survive here for the night.
I am waiting, motionless. I have no desires. This is not Buddhist nirvana, this is exhaustion from terror. This is hiding anything from him that he can use to get into me. If I don’t admit anything is important to me, it can’t be used to manipulate me. It can’t be taken away.
So how do I notice I’m doing it, and more importantly, stop it in progress?
I’ve made an appointment to do some singing with a guitarist, and maybe do some performing. This is something I’m both good at and have been stalled in for years. I can’t get it together to practice with any consistency, even though I know it makes me happy and I could be very good if I practice. I don’t know if forcing myself to ‘do it anyway’ is the way to go yet or not, or even that I can do it.
I’ve been thinking about how to mend my relationship with you. I thought I’d start by sending letters.
What I thought is that, in 14 years where we had almost no contact, you really hadn’t gotten much chance to know who I’ve become. I was 19, then I was 35 and now 40, with hardly any contact during that time. I think some of the tension we have with one another is that you might be expecting me to behave toward you in the ways I did back when you saw me more. Part of this is my fault, because often it has been easier and more familiar for me to just be fake with you than to be honest with you about how things really stand between us. I grew up needing desperately for you to love me and protect me, so I’ve gotten into some bad habits of protecting you from the truth when I know you won’t like it.
I have changed an awful lot in those 14+ years and I know that when people close to you change, it’s hard. Perhaps learning more about what has changed might help you understand some things about me.
I have an anxiety disorder called complex post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Complex post traumatic stress disorder is not a mental illness, but an injury that happens when a person is exposed to chronic, repeated trauma, in a situation that goes on for months or years where they are under total control by another. Anyone who survives that type of situation will have these symptoms, regardless of how healthy they were beforehand. I’ve printed off a fact sheet about complex post traumatic stress disorder for you to read.
From my perspective, you were there and are a part of the system that harmed me for almost a decade. It’s as if I was a prisoner in a concentration camp and you were one of the guards, maybe not a very powerful one, but still with more power than me.
A person who gets raped once, or a soldier who sees or participates in horrible things, might get post traumatic stress disorder. It turns into ‘complex’ post traumatic stress disorder if you are abused for a long time over a period of months or years, and can’t get away. This is what happened to me.
I need you to accept that I’ve been changed forever by what happened. I need you to accept that I hold you responsible for not saving me, and most particularly for staying with [abusers name] after you got my letter about what happened. The crown council also told me you refused to speak to the police when they were investigating after I reported him. I can’t prove you knew he was abusing me, but I really think you should have known something was terribly wrong. You’re right, I can’t hold you responsible for what [abusers name] did, but I do hold you responsible for what you did, and in these things alone you’ve got a lot to answer for.
I have spent nearly as much time and money on therapy to recover from your betrayal in staying with [abusers name] , as I spent on recovering from the abuse.
Complex post traumatic stress disorder gets better with effort, and mine is a lot better than it was, but the effects, while lessening, are permanent and affect my life daily. Little things that remind me of those horrible times still produce strong fear reactions and have profoundly changed how I view the world.
Who am I now? I have fought hard to feel at home in my body. For many years, I had a spacey, unreal feeling in my body, and wasn’t aware of how it felt. I have fought hard to reclaim my voice. When I was 19, I had a soft, almost inaudible voice when speaking at school or in groups and didn’t know how to speak up for myself. I dressed in long sleeves and pants, even in hot weather, so that none of my body would be exposed. I didn’t want men to be interested in me, because I thought that meant that they would rape me. I averted my eyes from men so they didn’t think I was encouraging them. When I saw films with anything that reminded me of the abuse, I would get so terrified I’d have to walk out of the theatre right away. Afterward I would have weeks of nightmares and fear about what I’d seen and what it reminded me of. Now, I choose not to see movies I think might have suspense, captivity or sadistic violence, but if something comes on the TV I can usually tolerate it for a short while without having terrible nightmares. I went from hating myself for what happened and avoiding thinking of anything to do with it, to keep my fear under control, to being able to face my past, grieve it and make sense of it. I went from being so terrified of the dark that I couldn’t get up in the night to go to the bathroom to pee, to being able to feel safe in my home with my wife and dogs. I am grateful that I never used drugs and rarely used alcohol, which I knew instinctively would make things worse.
Where were you when I was learning to do all that? You were living with my abuser. He’s a sadistic, controlling, evil rapist. You chose him over me. Were you held captive? Were you threatened with death if you left? Did you have no relatives, friends or places to go to? You never once asked me for help leaving, or asked if you could come stay with me. You seemed to be able to travel freely and not be captive in your home. If you were forced to stay, then I need to hear details about that.
How does this affect you and I? Why can’t I just be ‘normal’ with you? I need you to understand how insulting it is that you want me to have a ‘normal’ relationship with you at all.
Now maybe you have post traumatic stress too, it’s certainly possible. You sometimes behave like someone who has PTSD. There may well be horrible things that happened to you I don’t know about, but up till now I haven’t seen any evidence that what you went through was even close to what I went through.
I realize that when I was young that you did help keep [abusers name] from hurting me as often as he might otherwise have done. Things like the time you turned him away from going in my bedroom, or just his need to keep it from being too blatant, did help reduce his opportunities to hurt me. Because of this, as a child, I very much wanted you to be as strong as possible so that I would be safer. Now, how that affects our relationship now is that I try to fix you, to make you calmer (so your anxiety doesn’t make me anxious and I am more comfortable) and look after yourself better. Since I’m completely unsuccessful in this (as most people’s attempts to change other people are), it doesn’t help how I feel at all. When I see you relying on [brother] to make your decisions for you and not looking after your physical and financial needs in ways I would think necessary if it were me, I feel an echo of the fear I felt then, that you would fall apart and I would have no protection at all from [abusers name] . I also get angry or irritated at you, since when you do those things, I am reminded about how ineffective you were in helping and protecting me. I realize I am an adult now and can protect myself effectively from [abusers name] , but old habits and reactions die hard.
How I would like to handle this differently in future is for me to mind my own business and not worry about you so much. I need to have faith that you will sort out the rest of your life and your retirement for yourself, and to remind myself that you’re no longer in any immediate danger. When I was in Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) they talked about it being unhealthy for a person to do for someone else what that person can and should do for themselves. I’m going to try and take that more to heart. This might take a few tries to do gracefully!
As a result of being betrayed by my parents, I’m very conscious of people’s integrity and cautious not to be betrayed. I look closely at people’s words and actions to see if they match. If they don’t, I try not to associate myself with the person. This is because the tension/suspense of knowing that they might betray me makes me anxious, and I need to keep my anxiety down. With you, that affects our relationship a lot. You said you believed me about [abusers name] , but didn’t think his actions were worth divorcing him over. That is the second worst thing anyone has ever done to me. I really don’t know if I can forgive you or trust you because of it. I have spent almost as much time in therapy sorting out my feelings and the effects of that betrayal by you as on anything else. I am absolutely, lividly furious with you that you could have the lack of integrity to not stand by your professed feminist beliefs and your professed love for me.
Because you have betrayed me in this important and painful way, I don’t trust that you will do what you say when it really matters, or act in accordance with the values you say you have. Another thing that is confusing for me is that you also don’t seem to remember some things about my childhood that [brother’s name] and I remember clearly, like when we didn’t have enough money to buy groceries and [brother’s name] and I went hungry.
Aside from the betrayal I experienced, what I think most gets in the way for me in being comfortable around you now is your denial about how bad the abuse was, and your suggestion that since things were hard for you too, any mistakes you might have made should be excused by that. I do not accept this. I agree that things were hard for you, and you need to heal that somehow, but that doesn’t excuse you from being responsible for your decisions.
I say these things, not to hurt you, but to correct my misrepresentation of how things are between us. I have been trying to be kind, to be generous, to give you the benefit of the doubt, to give you time to make explanations and amends on your own. I think this was a mistake, as it may have given you the impression that things aren’t as serious as they are. This is what might have given you the impression that I was willing to accept your version of events. I think it has come time to be honest, to make it clear that we have some serious issues between us, and I’m not willing or able to brush them under the rug. I know you birthed me and looked after me, and that most mothers feel entitled (and are entitled) to expect a certain amount of attention and sacrifice from their children because of that fact, but in light of your 14+ years of betrayal and refusal to assist the police in their investigation, I need to tell you that I don’t owe you any of those things.
I am very proud of how well I have improved my PTST and how well I manage it. It has been a long, expensive and time-consuming struggle. I think I have done very well. My most important coping strategy is my faith. Part of what kept me going, even as a child, was my spirituality, which has always been more about the Earth and the strength I draw from nature. When I grew up, I found religious beliefs that fit well with what I already believed and found strength in. Something you told me as a child, helped me survive spirituality, and to not lose hope and become suicidal. You told me repeatedly that ‘things always turn out for the best’ even when things looked bad. I took that to heart, and it probably kept me alive. Thank you for giving me that.
If we are to continue seeing one another from time to time, what I would like to do in future is to limit our visits to about 2 hours. Perhaps things will change between us, but since I can’t make you own up to the harm you have done me, I need to keep our visits short so I can maintain my composure around you. Because I have a long history of pretending I’m fine when I’m not, of putting your emotional needs before mine automatically, and numbing out to tolerate bad situations, I can seem fine when in fact I feel horrible. I spent many years learning not to automatically dissociate or ‘space out’ when things became uncomfortable, a process that has a lot of bad memories for me, and can exhaust me for days afterward. I sometimes do that when I am with you for too long, and I don’t want to have to do that any more. If I start to feel like I am doing that, I’m going to choose to just walk away, even if it’s less than two hours, when I feel anxious, frustrated or angry. I would say something like “I think I’m going to go now” and [Spouse] and I will leave. Knowing I can leave with no explanation if it gets too much will also help a lot. This will work better as an ‘escape valve’ if you avoid check ing in with me about whether I am becoming anxious or spacey, because I will then feel pressured to make you feel better by hiding my discomfort, which I’m not willing to do anymore.
Because you live so far away, when you visit I feel obligated to make it a longer visit than I want to make your effort worthwhile. If you lived in my city, we could do something routine and familiar like go grocery shopping together for an hour and then go home, which is about my speed. It’s pretty much impossible for me to think of coming and staying at your place, even with [wife’s name] there as a buffer. At some point, I might be able to visit your town if [wife’s name] and I stay at a hotel, and then drop in and visit with you for a couple of hours in the midst of doing other sight-seeing by ourselves.
I value honesty a lot in myself and in others. I need to have people around me I can be myself with, so my close friends are very important to me, and fill the space of family for me. I need you to respect that they have equal status to yourself and [brothers’ names] in my life. When you thought you had the right to un-invite [friend’s name] for Christmas (at MY house, no less!) so we could be ‘just family’, you were way out of line.
It was great how you and my other relatives came together for the wedding. I will always treasure that, and I know you were a big part in making that happen. Thank you. Thank you also for helping [wife’s name] and I buy our house by co-signing our mortgage. This is something no-one else would do for us and we appreciate it very much. Because of your help, we have some security for ourselves, and it makes both of us very happy and will help keep us safe in our retirement.
I realize I can’t be angry with you forever. I can hate [abuser’s name] forever, because he’s so evil that no sane person would ever forgive him. With you, I think we could have a decent, if not terribly close, relationship, if you can take responsibility for what you’ve done that has harmed me, and we can find ways of relating honestly with one another.
With so much left unsaid about the abuse between us, it really feels false and insincere to talk with you about anything else until we have that resolved. In my opinon resolving it means you fully appreciating the harm you have done me and changing some of your behaviour and expectations toward me. I realize you may not see things the way I do, and you may not want to see me under these conditions. I’ve reached the point where I can be at peace with not seeing you again, if that is your choice.
What would help me in a practical way would be, a signed letter acknowledging formally, in writing, unequivocally, that you believe the abuse happened and that I am telling the truth. This is because one thing I would very much like to do when [abusers name] is dead, is to speak out to help prevent what happened to me from happening to other children. I can’t stop men from abusing children, but I’d like to help stop the silence about it, which provides camouflage for abusers, and prevents kids in the situation I was in from getting help as soon as they need it. It would help me make my lifetime of stuggle to repair what happened have some value to the world. Because [abusers name] wasn’t criminally convicted of his crimes, and can’t be now that the statute of limitations is past, it is difficult from a legal and media perspective to refer to my own experiences in the way that would be most helpful. I would like to be able to refer to myself publicly as an incest survivor as part of helping to stop the silence and inaction around incest.
My friend, who is a newspaper editor, says that since I am telling the truth, if any of [abusers name] ’s heirs sued me for defamation that I would win. It would be horrible, though, if we had to go through all that, and your letter would reassure any media, for example, that referring to me as an incest survivor would not be a legal problem for them. I hope you will support me in this important work by giving me a written statement acknowledging that the abuse happened, and ideally providing all the reasons you know it to be true. This would is something you can do to make amends to me, and surely is in line with your values? By helping stop the silence and denial around child abuse, our experiences would be made meaningful and useful in some small way to others. I may also write to him and ask for a written confession from him as well, but I’m not holding my breath.
What I hunger for from you is truthful information from you about my past. You were an adult during times that I was so young and traumatized and it would be very helpful to compare what I remember with what you and others who were adults during that time remember. I don’t want to hear that you didn’t know, I want to hear what you now realize were signs he was abusing me. What has been hard so far for me when I ask you about the past, is that you don’t seem to remember some of the bad things I remember and [brother’s name] clearly remember, like not having enough to eat. When you do this, it is very frustrating for me and I think you don’t want to remember the truth or think a lie will be more pleasant for me. I know painful or shameful things are hard to remember accurately sometimes, but your courage in being honest with me about how things were would be much more helpful and would help rebuild my trust.
Why would this be of practical use? Part of healing PTSD is putting all the pieces together and grieving them. Once they are known and grieved, the impact lessens. When memories are stored during a time when a person is traumatized they get stored in a different way, similarly to how a person who learns something when they are really tired only remembers it again properly when they are again really tired. Although there are some things I remember clearly and have been able to heal, for other things what I am left with is the feelings that go with some of the memories, with only some of the information. Lttle details can help put things together and the truth is very important. It would be very helpful to me if you could help me remember some more details of what my childhood was like, not just the abuse. I would also like to know more about what [abusers name] was like then, from your perspective, and who else was around the family. I would like to sit down with you and a tape recorder and ask you questions about everything you can remember from that time. I would also appreciate it if you could write down for me everything creepy/abusive [abusers name] did that you observed and can remember, and everything you now realize was a sign that he was abusing me. For example, I know from [brother] that Uncle L—- said that [abusers name] called Aunt R—- a whore (or something similar), and that Uncle L—– and Aunt R— didn’t associate with our family after that. Were you there when he said that? Can you tell me more about that? Were there any other women or children you saw him make inappropriate or offensive remarks to? Did he have affairs? He spoke to me about his conversations with prostitutes and I got the impression he’d hired them – did you suspect that he hired prostitutes? What made you suspect if you did? I remember him fixing bicycles for neighbourhood children on [street]. Given how selfish he seemed to me to be, that doesn’t sound like something he would do without an ulterior motive. I know it’s not likely to be something you want to think about, but I think that he may have abused other children there. If I don’t know the truth, I will always wonder and therefore be afraid I will remember gruesome details unexpectedly, which is quite unpleasant. I’d rather remember on my own terms. Because of all this, it would also be really helpful to me if you could draw me a floor plan of the place we lived on [street] of the main floor and the basement.
These are real, practical ways you can help me, and also prove to me that you can be truthful and follow through about things to do with being accountable for the harm you have done me. I don’t want to go shopping with you, or go to dinner in fancy places or resorts. It’s too easy for me to fall into my habit of making you comfortable insead of being honest with myself. Instead I want to talk about the abuse until I have the answers I need.
It has taken me several weeks to write this letter. I find writing to be a good way for me to be sure I am saying what I really mean, and explaining myself well. If you would like to reply to my letter, you may, but I’m not ready for phone calls or visits yet.
I was in therapy this week unraveling a chain of reactions, as we survivors often have to do. My mom is anxious, and I have PTSD, which makes you anxious, and being around her, you guessed it, makes me anxious. So I try and pad her up, fix her, so she won’t be anxious (which doesn’t work), but also so she’ll be strong and brave and stand between me and my abuser/father like she did so ineffectually back then. Never mind that I haven’t seen him in about 20 years and don’t plan to.
Now, once I realized that is why I do that, I also realized that of course, I’m quite capable of defending myself from a physical attack from my father now. He’d be nutless before he hit the floor if he ever tried anything. The important thing is to convince my inner child of that.
Suddenly I had an inspiration, a kinesthetic memory of what it actually feels like to knee a man in the groin full force. I felt myself kneeing him hard in the groin and the fear of him was defeated.
The first time I kneed a man in the groin was in my first Model Mugging class. This, is not, as it sounds, a class where we mug skinny adolescents with fake boobs, but a self defence course where we actually ‘modeled’ what it’s like to fight full force against a male assailant. The teacher is a woman, and our ‘target’ is a specially trained (and carefully padded) man, who co-instructs but mostly gets knocked around.
The male co-instructor, in his padded suit, but not wearing his helmet, came up to each of us in the first class and invited us to knee him in the groin. I did so, half heartedly. I’d never hit another person before, except one brief schoolyard tussle, and it just felt wrong. He quite correctly pointed out that I hadn’t done it hard enough, and that by bringing my knee up solidly between his legs from underneath his testicles, that it would hurt a lot more. During the course of this two week course, I got familiar with the feeling of kneeing a man properly in the groin, jabbing him in the eyes with my hands, and even stomping on his head once he was down (used if help is far away and you need to insure he’s unconscious for long enough to get away. ). We would set up a ‘model’ incident or fight simulating a real attack, starting from a standing, walking or laying down position, and practise kicking ass, with our team of classmates yelling instructions that still echo in my head. Elbow! Eyes! Groin! Stomp!
So when I remembered with my body what it felt like to knee a man in the groin and applied that to my father, it gave me more than an intellectual realization that I am no longer in any physical danger from him.
Living or dead, spiritually, intellectually, socially and physically, I can kick his ass.