What Quark the Ferrengi taught me about coping mechanisms and PTSD

This won’t make much sense to non-Trekkies. In the Star Trek Series of TV shows, particularly ‘Deep Space Nine’, there is a species called Ferrengi, who are avaricious and focussed on accumulating wealth. Their central philosophy is rooted in the ‘Rules of Acquisition‘ .

I was struck by a unique application of rule #3 in the Deep Space 9 episode “The Maquis, part 2“.

Rule of Aquisition #3 Never Spend More for An Acquisition Than You Have To.

In the story, a Ferrengi is locked up in prison with a Vulcan. Ferrengi are ruled by the ‘rules’ and Vulcans are governed by logic. The vulcan is a member of a group called the Maqui, who were trying to defend their home territory from a nearby empire, and were cut off from help by the Federation of Planets by a treaty ceding that land as a buffer zone between the two empires.

Here’s a link to the conversation between Quark and the vulcan Saconna. He calls her position with the Maquis illogical and uses the Rules of Acquisition to explain that, “peace can be bought at a bargain price.” He explains she doesn’t have to fight or die to protect her home, but can get peace in a less costly way. The conversation is right at the end of the video so it gets cut off and continued in the next video.

I have adapted this rule and the logic behind it, as interpreted by my guru Quark, into:

Sworddancewarriors rule #3 of being a survivor

(I’ll come up with #1 and #2 later)

Never use a self-destructive coping strategy, when a less harmful one will get you what you need instead.

Some examples:

  • Why cut your body to convert unbearable emotional pain into physical pain and banish dissociation when holding onto cubes of ice will do the same job without injuring your body permanently?
  • Why stay in a relationship with an abusive partner in order to feel safe sleeping at night, when a big dog will do the same job?
  • Why drink to numb overwhelming feelings when expressing them in a safe place will get you to a calm place without the hangover and liver damage?
  • Why over-function to make critical people like you, to deal with hating yourself, when you can learn to like yourself and find people who like you without being bribed?

Anyone got any other examples of substitutions of cheaper coping strategies for expensive ones?

Free your vulva and the rest will follow.

I used to know this woman, a survivor, who was a fitness trainer. She loved exercising so much it was actually contagious. She and I used to go dancing a lot. At the time, there was a song called “Free Your Mind” with an anti-prejudice message. The chorus, which was most of what we could really make out in a noisy nightclub, was “Free your, mind, and the rest will follow”.

My friend adapted it to “Free your ass, and the rest will follow”, meaning “be in your body and grounded and everything gets a lot better”. It has a lot of truth, and has stayed with me. When I moved to another town, she made me a dance tape as a goodbye gift and titled it “Free your ass and the rest will follow”.  When I need to ground, shaking my butt or dancing helps a lot. It’s hard to be clenched up and  anxious when your butt is relaxed. Try it.

Artist Taishe sells these t-shirts. The image is linked to her site.

So this morning, after writing about my internal debate over my mother and whether I have more than just the one main abuser (*I removed this post because I was getting homophobic comments on it), I went to a place I go to do do a walking meditation. During the meditation I came to this.

It doesn’t matter if there’s more abuse I don’t remember. What matters is, can I live my life as fully and joyously as I want to? It’s been my experience that by going out and living passionately, the stuff that gets in the way needs to be cleared comes up. If it doesn’t get in the way, it’s irrelevant at this point.

The only tricky thing is when my unconscious hides my limitations from me (like being unaware that I clench my hands or jaw in sleep until it does damage).

In my meditation walk, I suddenly had a flash that my new motto was “Free your vulva and the rest will follow”.

What this means to me is that I need to stop clenching my vulva, in order to improve my vulvadynia, the sensation in my vulva, and hence, my sex life. I also need to unclench my passion and creativity (symbolized by my vulva) in all the other ways that they’re locked up. So instead of whining about how unmotivated I am to do my singing, I need to press into the resistance instead of allowing it to smother me.

Now, I know from past experience that my resistance is extremely well developed, and battling on to create anyways is a central struggle of my life so I’m not going to promise great results here. However, just as focussing on keeping my hands, feet and neck warm has unexpectedly resulted in me being more grounded, I have a suspicion that keeping my vulva relaxed will have good, but as yet unknown effects. If it brings flashbacks, so be it. If I suddenly find myself singing or making love, so much the better.

Memories of childhood sexual assault – why are they different? how can we trust them?

Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn
Photocredit: Natasha C Dunn

One of the most difficult things about suviving childhood sexual assault is coping with the fragmented and taboo nature of our memories.

This breaks down into three main issues:

  • Memories of trauma are different from regular memories.
  • Memories of childhood trauma are different from regular trauma memories.
  • Memories of childhood sexual assault are different from regular memories of childhood trauma.
  • How do you trust your memories, particularly when people go on about ‘false memories’.

Memories of trauma are different from regular memories.

Traumatic events overwhelm the normal systems in the brain that store memories. A traumatic event isn’t just a very unpleasant or very stressful event. People experience trauma when they experience or witness something that’s going to kill or seriously harm you or someone else. During a true traumatic event the person feels strong feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.

Because trauma is so overwhelming, the brain gets flooded with the information and can’t store it in the usual way. I think some information just flows over the edge of the cup and is lost, while other information comes in but isn’t properly catalogued. It’s stored in little boxes, separate from one another, some linked together and some not. The touch, taste, smell, sight and thought memories get put in completely different boxes.

Normal memories work like this:

You eat an ice cream cone and you taste the chocolate and it reminds you that you had chocolate ice cream with your friend Sally on her birthday and it was a sunny day and you were down by the ocean, and it was nice. You haven’t seen Sally in a while, maybe you’ll give her a call. Who was that guy she was dating again? You can’t remember his name. You have the taste, visual, emotional and context memories of the event with Sally all in one block, and they are being triggered by something relevant, the taste of ice cream. You may not have all the details, but the important ones are there, and they make sense in connection with one another.

A traumatic memory is like this.

You turn a corner and smell where some beer has been spilled and there is a stale beer smell. You feel panic. You don’t know why, and you don’t even necessarily know the panic is connected to the beer smell. You try and calm yourself down.  Here, you’re getting the smell and emotional part of the memory linked together, but the sight, sound and context information is stored in a different box. You can’t get there from here, so the panic doesn’t make sense to you.

This can work a different way, where you have information without the body or emotional memory. You can have the information, such as: ‘I was raped in my dorm bedroom’, divorced from the information about who raped you, what they looked like and a large part of how it felt while it was happening. You also have almost no feeling in your vagina, and a crushing feeling on your chest sometimes. You know he was a short, dark-haired man, because short dark-haired men now freak you out. You can’t see his face in your mind though. You feel numb about the rape, and are dreading remembering the pain and fear, which you can intellectually imagine is in there somewhere, but which you can’t reach. You don’t put this together with your sudden panicky distaste for stale beer.

Non-survivors often don’t get why people who have experienced trauma don’t remember the events in the connected way, like Sally and the ice cream cone. Their distrust is what fuels myths like the ‘false memory syndrome’.  Traumatic memory is different, but a lot of information is in there.  It just takes quite a bit of sleuthing to sort out.

Memories of childhood trauma are different from regular traumatic memories

On top of all that, traumatic memories stored in childhood have some key differences. First of all, children’s brains are still developing, and this affects how we store information. There have been studies that show that children aren’t able to tell the difference between television violence and violence occurring in real life until they reach age 7. This does not mean that children are going around ‘fantasizing’ being sexually abused. How could they? Even non-survivor adults have a hard time even imagining the kind of crap that happens to kids, why would a kid?  Children are normally so uninformed about sexuality, that “inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sexual acts” is a key sign that a child has been sexually abused.

Children young enough won’t have the self-talk we have that makes sense of what is going on such as labels for sensations or experiences:  “chocolate”, “warm”, “that’s daddy”. They will instead only have the sensations, which means that the context for the abuse “I was in my crib and someone who was angry picked me up and hurt me.” is missing, making it hard to classify in your mind later.

Children don’t yet have a mature self-identity, so that severe, conflicting traumatic demands upon them at a young enough age can force them to develop multiple identities to cope. As far as I know, instead of splitting myself, I instead split my father into two people, one who was my father, a mean, controlling drunk but who I could love and deal with, and ‘the monster’ who was the person who came out at night and raped and terrified me. I told people about ‘the monster’ I was terrified of , but since everyone knows that monsters aren’t real, especially when children talk about them, nothing came of it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that the information that my father was the monster was safe to remember. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard, overwhelming, terrifying and confusing to remember, just that it became possible to do so.

When we don’t have separation and experience to give us context to analyse information, and if we are abused by a caregiver, we likely accept the abusers explanation for what happened. For example, I literally did not know that my father wasn’t entitled to rape me (or kill me for that matter), until I was 14 years old.

Memories of childhood sexual assault are different from regular memories of childhood trauma.

“The taboo against talking about incest is stronger than the taboo against doing it.” – Maria Sauzier, M.D.

There are taboos about talking to children about sex, even in age-appropriate ways. Children are supposed to be innocent and non-sexual, and are shut down from talking about even normal or healthy sexuality or more importantly, the things they unfortunately need to know to label and report abuse.

A friend of mine ran away from home at age 14 and then was recruited by a pimp. When the pimp (who she thought was her boyfriend) groomed her with protection and drugs and then started having intercourse with her, she didn’t know what they were doing was sex. She’d heard of sex, of course, she just didn’t connect it to what they were doing.

I didn’t know that what my father was doing was sex or rape either. When I first had consensual intercourse with a guy in university, I believed I was losing my virginity. I knew what sex was too, my mom had given me a book and I understood the basics. I knew very little more than that it was something that happened in bed and that the thing that guys pee with went into a hole in the woman’s body and could result in pregnancy. I, however, did not know exactly where my own vagina was, or that I had a clitoris until the guy I slept with identified it for me. He, luckily was European and had heard of the clitoris.

Children are not told what the real names of the parts of their body are and not given safe situations where they can talk about them. Adult women can ask about a lesion on their vulva or pain in their anus in the doctors office, for example (if they get up the nerve) but a child will not usually have a person other than their mother (if that) who they can talk to about problems with the private parts of their body. If mother is an abuser or enabler, that’s not going to be any help.

Children are not routinely told that no-one, not even your parents, should touch the private parts of your body or make you touch the private parts of another person’s body. This is not the case in Sweden, where sex education has been mandatory in schools since 1956 starting at age 7, something that has run afoul of Muslim fundamentalist immigrants wishing to ‘protect’ their daughters from the information. The desire and determination to disempower girls and to keep children in the dark about the private and sexual parts of their body is something a variety of religions and ideologies share, unfortunately.

Children aren’t told how to tell the difference between safe genital touching, like an adult putting diaper cream on a baby, or gently washing with a washcloth, from abuse. Familial abusers take advantage of this by passing off abuse as normal care-giving  Children as a rule don’t know that if someone does inappropriate touch, it is important to tell a safe adult, even if (especially if) the person who did these things warns them not to. The don’t know that if they tell someone they think is a safe adult, and that person doesn’t help them, that they need to keep telling until someone does.

This means that information stored about sexual abuse will not have the context that an adult’s memory would have. If an adult woman is fondled by some creep in an elevator, she knows he’s not allowed to do it, and that it’s a crime, and she is within her rights to knee him in the balls and report him to the police. If a child is fondled in an elevator, she knows it’s icky and scary and that’s it.

Telling about sexual abuse means breaking several taboos and norms of behaviour. Children are supposed to be good and do what adults tell them to do, they are supposed to be innocent and not speak or know about sex or sexual assault.

So all this means that, if you were raped as a child, you don’t have the language to discuss it, and it is associated with shame. If you were in a traumatic car accident as a child, you could talk about it with your relatives and teachers without anyone freaking out too much, and no-one thought you were a bad girl or boy for bringing the topic up. When sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member, the child is cut off from their natural source of that support and help. Discussing the information and getting social support soon after an event are protective against developing post traumatic stress disorder. When the trauma is sexual, it is unlikely a child will get the information, social support and opportunities to talk about it that they would get for a non-sexual trauma.  You probably won’t get to talk about it for decades, until you are an adult. Since you can’t process it at the time, the mind and body file the disjointed information away, until it gets triggered later.

False Memory Syndrome has no scientific validity and was made up by an accused incest perpetrator

At this point, a discussion of the abuser and enabler propaganda tool that is ‘false memory syndrome’ comes into play. Let me be very clear, false memory syndrome is a completely bogus construction. It was literally made up by someone credibly accused of sexually abusing his daughter, and is promoted by this abuser and his wife in order to discredit his daughters allegations of abuse. Survivors know that most child predators deny having abused children; this is just a more elaborate version of the usual.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by medical professionals to classify what is wrong with people, has no entry called ‘false memory syndrome’. No mainstream professional association of doctors, psychologists or social workers has endorsed this fiction. It is completely and utterly a made up thing by abusers and their apologists.

Its power to convince comes from non-survivor’s discomfort with the topic of child sexual abuse by family members, and desire to make it go away.

Delayed memories of abuse are the norm rather than the exception for child sexual assault. The majority of survivors have some amnesia. There is an online database of hundreds of corroborated cases called the “Recovered Memory Project” connected to  Brown University where a person has remembered in adulthood a traumatic thing that happened, and then had the remembered facts externally validated.

My own life is an example of a memory of abuse being suppressed in childhood, remembered as an adult, and then finding physical corroboration much later. I remembered, when I was about 21, being raped at the age of approximately 5 by my father. I remembered intense pain, a lot of blood and an aftermath of pain while it healed.  When I was about 40, during the time I was writing this blog, I asked my medical practitioner if there were any scars, and she showed me scars and vascular damage corroborating my memory of rape, extensive tearing and a lot of blood.

Until I saw the scars, there was always a tiny doubting voice. That voice asked why didn’t I remember more detail and why were the memories so fragmented, with almost none of them having all the pieces in one box. I now know that’s the way it usually works, but it still made me doubt. Then I would have to remember all the corroborating information I had, the intensity of the memories, the effects on my life, and remind myself that with an effect there must be a cause. It helped, of course that my memory of the first time I was raped was the clearest and most detailed. It is the one memory I’ve been most sure of.  I know other stuff happened from the fragments I have, but I am much more certain about that one time. The most compelling part of the memory for me was that I remembered how it felt to be so young and to be so emotionally open, to love and trust my daddy, and how shocked I was with the pain and his brutality. It was nothing I could make up, and I knew it immediately.

You may never remember all of it. It’s frustrating but true. The more extreme, extensive or prolonged the abuse was, the more likely you are to have a hard time piecing it together. You may remember things, and then go back into denial about them while you process their impact on your life and relationships. You may be sure about what happened one day, fresh from a vivid flashback, and doubtful the next because important details are missing or vague.

What people don’t always know, is that this is completely normal, even typical, for survivors of childhood sexual assault.

What I learned about faith and child sexual abuse

Photocredit: Denis Collette

My adult spirituality developed in first or second year university. I was taking a philosophy of religion course, up to my neck in flashbacks and attending 12 step meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics. The Courage to Heal and ‘You can heal your life’ were my lifelines.  In the 12 step meetings I went to, the word God was used, but often the phrase ‘higher power’ was substituted. My 12 step colleagues felt that any higher power was better than no higher power, and a person had a right to choose what felt right for them.

By this point in my life I had had quite enough father-rule. I decided that if I needed a higher power, I was going to invent one that I could trust completely. Instead She found me.

But this isn’t what I wanted to write about. I’ve written this before.

The part of faith that transcend all specific religions and are empowering for survivors are these.

Somebody knows all about the abuse and how dirty and ashamed you feel inside sometimes, and loves you. She/He/It/They both see you and love you. This is the magic bullet for shame – to be both seen deeply and loved.

You don’t have to connect with the same God(s) you were introduced to as a child, or if you do, to interpret and relate to Him or Her in the same way you did then. You can choose to believe in whatever and whomever feels right and safe for you. In my case, I didn’t feel good about opening up and feeling vulnerable to a male God. My God had to be a feminist. Your mileage will vary and that’s okay, in my opinion. I don’t know if there is one God with many aspects or many Gods or something altogether different, and that’s okay with me.

It is okay to be mad at God. She can take it and He gets it. Once I yelled at Her at a 12 step retreat. I can’t remember now what I yelled exactly, but it freaked everyone out and then I cried myself into exhaustion. I told Her She might have a reason for not intervening to stop me being abused, but I didn’t have to like it. This was the beginning of an honest relationship with deity that has deepened and strengthened me immeasurably over the years. Sucking up or bargaining with God(s) isn’t nearly as helpful.  There is no point pretending you aren’t mad that a powerful being didn’t intervene and stop an innocent child, you, from being abused and that the abuser got away with it if they did.

In philosophy of religion, this is called ‘the problem of evil’, a core subject that basically comes down to: if God(s) is omnipotent and good how can God(s) allow evil to happen?

The standard answers are: “It all makes sense somehow, we just don’t get it.” and “God wants people to have free will so they can choose to be good rather than have it forced upon them.” A variation on answer number two is the existence of an adversary or anti-God and the two of them fight it out. All of these answers have a lot of logical problems that philosophers of religion haggle about endlessly.

The main thing I learned from philosophy of religion is that all fundamentalists are alike and all mystics are alike, no matter their religion. A Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Wiccan mystic will have more in common with one another in their core values than they will with a fundamentalist of their own tradition.  This essentially means you get two basic types of religion – one where being devout is about obedience to holiness rules and religious authority, where the will of the Divine is interpreted through priests, and a second type where the Divine speaks directly to the person, whose own conscience is informed by that intimacy with God(s).

The first type of faith is about holding to the rules and structure even when they don’t make sense, and being rewarded with a sense of solidity, certainty and connection with community and tradition.

The second type is about ecstatic connection with the Sacred. Faith in the Divine is unnecessary if you experience the Divine directly. Faith is expressed by trusting that the connection is real and opening to it. It can make you feel whole, but it can be very vulnerable.

I personally think the mystic’s path of direct connection works best for survivors. Here is why.

Firstly, the direct and intimate relationship with a loving higher power of our personal and direct understanding is shame reducing.

Secondly most of the hierarchical religions have a vulnerability in that they are easily exploited by predators. Even if survivors escape further abuse, survivors can be re-traumatized by structures and philosophies that enable or condone abuse, and which might not be as painful for others. When people give their moral compass to someone else blindly, they will likely as not have it returned with it’s pointer bent, and this is intolerable for those of us who have been betrayed by authority figures before.

It is my opinion that only God/Goddess is big enough to hold the need, the pain and the sorrow of a survivor’s inner child. Bargaining with that fact by trying to find a lover, therapist or parent surrogate who can do it only postpones the inevitable. We need to learn to love ourselves, and God/Goddess is big enough to hold the enormity of our pain and need. There were times when I was so grieving and heartbroken, that all that would help was to give my pain to the ocean to hold. She was big enough, she could take it, and in the process of giving it to Her to hold, I learned to let the pain flow through me and out of me.

Connecting with the Divine is an ongoing relationship that evolves over time. It’s about learning what connects you to the sacred, what it feels like to turn your burdens over and ask for guidance from a power greater or deeper than yourself, and how that process works for you. It is about healing the relationship and in my case, forgiving Her for not saving me from being abused.

You don’t actually have to believe all the time. Faith is like abuse memories. Sometimes you’re sure they’re accurate, and others the doubt creeps in or you’re cut off from your source  of certainty. God(s) don’t mind if you doubt, She/He knows you and gets why and loves you anyhow.  Connecting with the Divine is like reaching your roots down into fertile soil that steadies and nourishes you, or challenges and heals you. You already know how to do it, you may just not know you do.

I think I have written better pieces about faith and survivors than this one, pieces that actually come from that connection more than I am feeling it today. I invite you to read them here:

Healthy, Safe, Loved, Connected

My good friend whose husband threatened to kill her a little over a year ago, got her divorce finalized yesterday. Butthead has been dragging it out and they’ve been spending a fortune on legal bills, but it’s done. Yay!

I met up by chance with a good friend today who, like me, was waiting somewhat impatiently for an abusive parent to die. She was one of the first people to ‘get it’ about wanting to dance on my father’s grave, and came with me on my journey through the mists to purchase my sword. Her mother died yesterday morning.

Yesterday was a good day for survivors of all kinds.

May we outlive them all, and dance on their graves!

Gifts of Kindness II: teacher sends care package of lost memories to incest survivor former student

Photocredit: Greenhem

I got the package from my grade 6 teacher today. She sent me a beautiful letter, a collage of pictures of me and my classmates in a frame, and some stories about me then. I cried a good hard cry. I’ll write more later, since I’m at work. I think this is the kindest and most beautiful thing anyone has done for me. For background, see this earlier post.

What I learned about child sexual abuse and forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

Don’t let them.

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

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

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

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

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

And lastly –

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

You deserve it.

What I learned about anxiety – for child sexual abuse survivors

Feel whatever is there in a safe place

The first time I remember not being anxious was after a 12 step meeting. My shoulders were relaxed. This had never happened before, I was certain.  It  was after an adult children of alcoholics meeting.

I found 12 step meetings really helpful in my early recovery, because I could be real there about what was really going on, and because of the structure (no crosstalk) no-one could try and rescue me. I attended almost one meeting per day. At the time it was the only place I could be real about the intense memories and feelings I was experiencing.

I shared my first flashbacks and some very intense things in meetings in those days, so much so that afterward, people would come up to me with the ‘are you all rrriiiight…” and a pitying tone to their voice like they were pretty sure I was a complete basket case. I always took no more than my share of the time, normally about 10 minutes per person, and could get a lot done in that time. I’d always say (and feel) “yes, of course, I just got it out and had a cry, of course I’m all right.” And I was. I refused to let them pity me. I was just having a feeling, and I’d expressed it fully, and could move on to being calm.

This is the first thing I learned about anxiety and other strong feeling states, that being direct and honest about it in a safe space makes all the difference.

Ramping down the hyperarrousal

The second thing for me was the strong link for me and perhaps other survivors between anger and anxiety/fear, which is so big a part of being a survivor of childhood sexual assault that I wrote quite a bit about it in my post on night fears, so I’ll just refer you there.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder. I don’t think of it as a mental illness, but as a nervous system injury. Anyone who went through what I went through, with the lack of support that I had, would have it. The trauma is the cause. My nervous system was set on fear, legitimately, so high and for so long, that it got stuck that way, among other things. Anything that ramps down the PTSD hyperarousal is a good thing.

Physical solutions help a lot more than you’d think.

Exercise: I can often manage my anxiety best by looking after it in completely physical ways. Walking for exercise, which gets the good endorphin benefits without getting me adrenalized the way more active exercise or classes do, helps a lot.

Food: Eating whatever I feel like and whenever I am hungry (and stopping when I’m full) seems to reduce any anxiety my mind and body has about there not being enough food available, and if I’m consistent about it, it helps keep me calm.  Stress-eating can calm me down, but is more of a band-aid thing. Consistently meeting my body’s needs ramps down my anxiety.

Sleep: I play all kinds of tricks to help me sleep, but hypnosis has been the most effective. I particularly like a cd called ‘deep sleep with medical hypnosis‘ and listen to two of the tracks from it (healing sleep and deep sleep) back to back almost every night. Safe routines are good.

Medication: I know nothing about medication for anxiety. I’ve never taken any for my PTSD. However I have taken chamomile tea, skullcap, and melatonin to help me sleep.  The thing I pull out if I’m desperate is one of the old school antihistamines (not the no-drowsy kinds) which works but makes me groggy in the morning. I also almost never consume caffeine, aside from the occasional chocolate.

However, vitamins help my anxiety. I take two multivitamins, six fish oil capsules, a vitamin D3 and a low dose coated aspirin daily. Since I’ve been doing that I feel a lot better. Apparently, there is some research to show that physical and emotional pain are connected. I take the aspirin because apparently when you are over 40 it is recommended to reduce inflammation, but I think it helps my mind ramp down too, by reducing my aches and pains. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, after all.

Safe touch: Curling up with my wife, skin to skin, reduces my anxiety. Petting my dog reduces my anxiety. Hugs that last more than 10 seconds apparently release positive chemicals in the body. Getting a foot rub reduces my anxiety.

Writing it down

Writing: Other than feeling the feelings when they come up, as fully as possible, I haven’t found a lot of mind/emotional things that work, other than journalling. I’ve journalled at night, and in the morning, artists way style where you write non stop for 3 pages, and both help clear out worries and obsessive thoughts. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night when I’ve had a nightmare and written in this blog. It helps.

What I’ve learned about happiness

I am a student of happiness right now. It started when I realized that I wasn’t actually happy. Nothing bad going on particularly, but not happy. That has changed.

Then I came across this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4Qm9cGRub0 and something in it clicked for me, about how I need to let people see me, people in my regular life ( you folks already usually get the straight deal).  She has this great quote: http://www.brenebrown.com/badge/ about being authentic. She says people are happier and experience less shame when they can be authentic. Makes sense. I know as survivors sometimes being authentic freaks people out, so it’s not easy, but I still think it’s worth doing to the extent that feels safe.

Then I got this audiobook from audible called the Happiness Project http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/the-happiness-project-book.html The author, Gretchen Rubin, an organized type-A ex-lawyer New Yorker and mom of two, researches what makes people happy and sets out trying out and evaluating various strategies. It appealed very much to my left brain way of organizing my life, but is also quite soulful.

So I’m trying some of her stuff. Being a pretty devout Pagan, I’ve used the concept of the five directions to organize the strategies into groups by element.

The first direction is Earth – which I associate with the body. I’m tracking in a chart on my computer whether I take my vitamins. I’ve read that Omega 3s are good for the brain and eyes. I follow a recommendation from ‘Dr. Oz and Deepak Chopra’ and take two multivitamins, one vitamin D3 and one low dose aspirin daily along with six fish oil capsules. I know from the past that taking vitamins helps keep me from getting depressed, particularly B’s.  I also track keeping my hands and feet warm and doing something for exercise every day. I took Gretchen’s advice and am paying attention to getting a good night’s sleep and made my bedroom very dark to help with that. I also have a resolution I’m tracking to go to bed as soon as I’m tired rather than staying up. I’m making a point of eating slowly and enjoying my food, and of eating whatever I want when I’m hungry and stopping when I start to be full. I do this about 60% of the time, perhaps a little more, which is an improvement and I’m eating healthier than I was because of it.

The results from my ‘Earth’ strategies are very positive. The warm hands and feet thing keeps me in my body more than I’d be otherwise, which thankfully isn’t bringing up any gunk, and is improving my sex life and enjoyment of food. I’m sleeping better and waking more rested, with less midnight anxiety. I’ve been walking for exercise, which doesn’t trigger me like other exercise does, and it seems to be making me calmer. I sometimes walk on a treadmill, watching tv on my laptop at the same time which keeps me interested, and sometimes I just walk to wherever I’m going. I walked to a stressful early morning meeting that usually flattens me, and I realized midway through the meeting that I wasn’t the least bit anxious, which has never happened before.

All this is to say that, as survivors we often have a crappy relationship with our body. What I’ve learned about happiness is that doing small baby-step sensible practical things to improve my relationship to my body and to take better care of it, actually improve my well being. This may seem obvious, but it was not for me. Tracking it in a chart also seems to help me do it consistently.

Other things that seem to help me be happier are:

Air (communication, boundaries): Not nagging my wife and negotiating with her not to nag me. We have created a ‘nag board’ where we write down things we might otherwise ‘remind’ each other about or nag each other to do. The nagger writes down the date, what they want the other to do, what room they want them to do it in and their initials. When the ‘nagee’ does the item, she erases it from the board. This has eliminated almost all of our mutual nagging! As survivor space cadet girl, most ‘reminders’ to do something or not do something are almost instantly forgotten, and then my wife thinks I don’t care about her when in fact I’m just spacey. Writing it down and crossing it off seems to work for me. As the nagger, I also feel like my request is recorded and I don’t have to remind my wife or remember to remind her. She is more likely to do whatever it is if we don’t get in a big power struggle about it. Now that I’m happier, we seem to have more ease in our relationship as well and things are going a lot better. It’s not perfect, but I can feel hope. An Air resolution I haven’t gotten under my feet yet is practicing singing and writing three pages daily, although I’m making progress.

I’ll write more about Fire, Water and Center when I get to them. I figure once I have the Earth and Air resolutions nailed down, I’ll move on to Fire (passion) and Water (emotion and connection) and then figure out what Centre is for me.

I’ll keep you posted.

What I learned about child sexual abuse survivors and sex and relationships

Photocredit: Morning Spiral Rose by Nexus6

Here’s a post from a place where I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a handle on all of the post-traumatic symptoms, although I have come a long way.

Stages of my sexual life as a survivor:

1) Teenage – not going ‘all the way’ and enjoying all the sexual play leading up to intercourse. Being quite prim and avoiding sexual situations

2) Young adult – having intercourse with boyfriends and experiencing pain, fear and flashbacks. Not being able to connect the dots with abuse at first, but trying to avoid sex. Bargaining with sex for safety while sleeping. Needing to make sure my partner was satiated before sleep so I could be assured that I would not be awoken with demands (with variable success).

3) Middle adult – Sex in relationships got good and a lot easier. However, in relationship it always dried up after the first year or two, not always on my end. Partners would lose interest and I would try and interest them in pleasing me the way I needed, which would be interpreted as a criticism.  Or I would lose interest and be harder to please and have a hard time getting into my body deeply enough for things to work well.  Hiding intense feelings (from myself or partner) and having sex at the same time became impossible, so if intimacy was a problem, then sex wouldn’t work either.  On the up side though, the sex I did have was a lot better and more connected and pleasurable, and almost all the time the sex I had was sex I wanted.

What I’ve learned / believe about survivors and sexual healing

  1. If you’re just having sex with someone to have them guard you while you sleep at night, get a dog. They will guard you for free.
  2. Experiencing feelings and flashbacks isn’t so bad, avoiding them is what causes all the trouble. If you allow yourself to process the gunk in therapy, sex gets easier and less like a trigger minefield.
  3. Never ever pimp out your inner child to get your adult self off sexually on things that are part of the abuse. It’s tempting if it’s the only way you know now to have an orgasm or get connected sexually, but it’s not worth it. It cuts deeper a channel between sex and trauma that should never have been there in the first place, making it harder to eradicate. Your child self was used to satisfy an adults sexual wants already, it’s a betrayal to do that to her now that you know better. You can break those abuse-sex connections if you stick with it. Find other things that feel good. Get in touch with your body. Do the work of clearing out and integrating flashbacks and feeling feelings. What fires together in the brain wires together and you owe it to your child self to set her free of abuse. Rewire with positive fantasies that make you feel safe.
  4. Clenching your vagina and vulva cuts off blood flow and can cause or worsen vulvadynia (pain and itching in the vulva). It is possible to be doing this without being conscious of it. Ice helps with the pain of an injured vulva, and heat can help keep it from coming back. I thought I had a yeast infection for years, but it turns out it was actually part of the long term effects of the wounds on my vulva from the rapes.
  5. Use completely different setting to remind yourself you’re not in the same place you were abused in and not with your abuser. Different lighting, smells, textures, positions, activities etc… really help keep you present day.
  6. Develop a routine around staying in your body and a way to get back when you dissociate. Mine is feeling the temperature of my feet, and telling myself “It’s okay, you’re safe now”.
  7. Develop a safe sex list of things that you actually can do without getting triggered, and an unsafe sex list of things you probably can never or never want to do. With a new partner, only do the safe sex things, and then maybe work into the medium risk things as trust and safety builds. Never do the unsafe sex things. If they want to make love with you, your partner needs to understand and accept that the unsafe sex things are forever off the table. You might even have body types or genders of partners that are not going to ever work for you, and that’s okay.
  8. See a therapist regularly if you are going through lots of flashbacks and stuff with your partner. They are too close to the action to help you heal that stuff, no matter how loving and compassionate they are.
  9. Tell your inner child self that sex is an adult thing. You and your partner will play together, and you can meet her needs later (or before). Make sure you do this to keep adult stuff adult. Think of your abused child self as an external child that you can put to bed with her teddy in another room while the adults play. Meet your inner child needs for play, validation, touch  and attention separately if you can. Have some times and places that your partner knows are off limits for initiating sex, where you can meet those needs for nonsexual cuddling and hugs.
  10. If your spirituality makes you feel safe, bring it into your sexuality. Make loving your partner an act of magic or prayer. It will completely change the feel and energy.

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

Photocredit: Miracle Moods

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

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

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

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

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

I am so very grateful.

What I learned about night fears and sexual abuse survivors

In this post, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about night fears resulting from sexual assaults as a child and how to reduce them.

I started out with night fears which were more of the usual type. I had a real sociopathic perpetrator, in my house, with real access to me, and I was afraid. Straight up, regular, warranted fear. My mother was no help. This was a lot of real, justified fear and I lived in real risk of being raped at any time for at least a decade. So you might say I was conditioned to associate laying in my own bed at night with, if not being raped, at least with the persistent fear of being raped.

Over time, I developed what I called ‘monsters’, which I still don’t fully understand. They were compilations of my fear and rage that seemed to haunt me, give me a target for the fear in my body, other than the one I couldn’t admit into awareness, that it was my father who was the source of the danger and injury. When I’d be in bed, it would feel like a ‘monster’ was there just outside of my awareness (or in it) that was waiting to harm me if I dropped my guard. I had these from early childhood onward through my 20’s.

When I left home I still had the monsters of course, and it took me a couple of years to even begin to figure them out. I’d started attending an adult children of alcoholics (ACoA) meeting that was for women only, and it was there I started to have some support and validation. It was also the first place in my own memory that I’d felt safe.

One afternoon or evening, I was sitting on a couch in the common area of the student housing where I lived with a friend who was a survivor, and she was asking about the monsters, about what would happen if I let one of them come close. I trusted her, and I tried to do this. Once the monster came close enough, I suddenly knew it was my father, that it was my father who had hurt me.

This is the first learning about night fears. It helps to find out, even roughly, what real life person, location, experience or whatever they are about. From then on, when I had monsters, I could say, “this is from being abused by my father”, and I didn’t feel like I was going crazy.

I started to notice I’d get what I called ‘monstery’ when I was triggered by something, usually something I’d seen on tv, but sometimes contact with my family. The types of things that triggered me were depictions of women-hating violence like rape, or scary movies with a supernatural element (reinforcing my fear that the monsters were real). If I avoided triggers like that the monsters were under a bit more control. I could also do things as part of my going to bed procedure that would make me feel more safe, such as having a candle lit by my bed and blowing it out last, or by writing in my journal and clearing out all my worries by writing in bed, just before turning off the light. I wrote my journal as a letter to the Goddess, so it was the same as praying before bed.

A major breakthrough came a few years later, when a friend from ACoA said I could call her the next time I had a monster, no matter how late it was. I called her and with her prompting, described the monster in enough detail to try and figure out what event or fear it was associated with.  I still remember that phone call, and how helpful it was to have someone there with me when I was so afraid. Over time, I became good at letting the ‘monsters’, which were really flashbacks and the fears of flashbacks, come to my awareness during therapy sessions and then allowing them to come closer to me so I could feel what information they might hold about my life.

People have these misconceptions about survivors, they think it would be best if we just forgot all the bad stuff that happened to us. What they don’t get is that we may be able to forget the facts and details in our heads, but our body never forgets on it’s own. the memory isn’t all stored in the same place like a regular memory. It doesn’t fade until all or most of the pieces are brought together into a bundle, and that takes psychological detective work.  If I didn’t remember and assimilate all the traumatic events, I’d still be terrified every night going to sleep. When healing from chronic trauma or complicated PTSD, I believe the only way out is through.

Some other random things that helped:

1) Giving myself permission – I was terrified to get out of bed in the night to go to the bathroom. I got myself a chamber pot to use for awhile so I didn’t have to.

2) Pets – Pets are excellent company for keeping away night terrors. They don’t mind if you wake them up for company in the middle of the night and they are always alert for real-world dangers. If you feel like someone is in your room or hallway to attack you and the dog hasn’t noticed, it’s not a real-world attacker.

3) Feeling anger – once I’d cleared out the fear of being raped that was stored in the monster experiences, I became aware gradually and with some help from a therapist, that anger was actually the main trigger, or even rage. While it may seem odd for me to fantasize a monster hurting me rather than the other way around, that’s how it worked. Anger was so dissociated from my awareness – I never consciously felt anger – that my mind had somehow decided it was safer to have the monsters angry at me than me at them. The monsters were in fact my own rage. This convoluted theory was proven right when I started acting as if this was correct. When I had the ‘monster kind of scared’ going on, I’d assume I was angry. I looked in the mirror, into my own eyes and told myself “I’m angry, I’m angry” over and over. I found it was impossible to feel both angry and fearful at the same time. I tried to both feel the anger, and see myself in the mirror believing and hearing me. I tried to feel the anger in my body. This completely dissolved the monsters! It was like I’d found a magic wand to turn them off.

4) Being brave / exposure. I began getting up in the night to pee. When I felt a monster coming on, I would practice thought-stopping. “no, I’m not going there” I would tell myself firmly, and although the awareness of the monster feeling was still there, I’d go through with my plan to get up and pee and come back to bed. If I had to turn on all the lights, so be it, if I had to run back to bed afterward, fine. I would remind myself that monsters were just my unconscious letting me know I was triggered or angry. I would tell myself “I’m angry I’m angry I’m angry” instead. I’m not going to tell you this wasn’t hard, but over time the night fear conditioning I’d gotten as a child gave up. I almost never experience it any more. More recently, I would read about how exposure therapy, progressively desensitizing yourself to the fearful situations, gradually and under your own control, is an accepted treatment for anxiety. Before I actually got up though, I tried some easier things, like allowing myself to lay on my back (a trigger) when the lights were on or  allowing my foot to stick out of the covers (where apparently I was afraid a monster would grab it). If I couldn’t deal on a particular night, I kept the chamber pot as a backup.

I’m happy and proud to say that most of the time I don’t have a single fear to get up in the night to pee any more. Unless something incredibly triggering is happening in my life, I also never have monsters any more. If I can do it, you can too.

You know, I was realizing as I was putting the categories on this post, that this qualifies as perseverance. Perhaps I am perseverent after all, I just have had a harder time doing regular life perseverance while I have been caught up in persevering on the healing tasks that I needed to do.

What I Learned about Grounding and Sexual Abuse Survivors

Photocredit: Raissa Bandou via Flickr

I thought I’d write a bit about some of the healing things I’ve learned in 22 years of clawing back the effects of being raped as a child from my life. One of the first and probably most important things I started working on was reclaiming a sense of being in my body.

<possible religious triggers>

I was raised loosely Christian, but when I was exploring my spirituality as an adult, I found that I needed something a lot more overtly empowering of women, with a very very low (or preferably nonexistent) patriarchal component. (Patriarchy means ‘father rule’, and I’d had quite enough of that.)

I came first to my own beliefs, that my higher power was nature, and then discovered existing religious structures that fit. I became Wiccan, in a social justice tradition called Reclaiming, who are kind of the Quakers of NeoPaganism. The nice thing about Wiccans is that people have a lot of choice on what to believe and how to practice, which suited my need to reclaim control of my life from my parents.

Pagans and Wiccans begin most of our meditations and ceremonies with something called grounding, which is a meditative act of connecting with our own body and then, energetically with the earth and sensations around us. This is apparently easy for some people, I’m thinking for folks whose bodies have not been traumatically violated.

It was only when I tried to do it, to ground, that I discovered that I had virtually no awareness of my body. If I held my arm behind my back, I could only tell where it was by looking for it with my eyes, or by reaching out for it with my other arm. I must have been phenomenally clumsy. When I started to pay attention to my body, at first I could only experience it with a great amount of attention. I started by touching my own skin, and comparing the sensation of feeling the outside of the skin with my ‘active’ hand with attending to the sensation of being touched by my own hand from inside.

At first the sensation on the ‘outside’ was a lot stronger than the sensation on the inside. I could feel what temperature my skin was by touching it with my hand, but if I took  my hand away and tried to attend to what temperature my skin was without touching it, I couldn’t tell. I’d guess, and then check by touching with my hand.

Gradually, with practice, I became aware of sensation from the hairs on  my skin, how they would raise themselves when I was cold and if I concentrated I could feel the air disturb these hairs, giving me some clues about how my body was moving.

Grounding myself to a degree that I could be adequately prepared for ceremony in my view took several months of practice, and a lot of concentration each time. Over time it has become fairly easy. I pay attention to the temperature of my extremities and other safe parts of my body on a regular basis, pay attention to subtle sensations like currents of air over my skin, my pulse, the buzz of blood moving around within me, whether my eyes or mouth are moist.

It is still easy to fall into my default setting, which is to turn most of these sensations off. However, I find staying connected to my body is worth it. I think better, I’m more aware of my surroundings and I can take better care of my needs in the moment, like knowing when I have to pee, relax my muscles or eat. People respond better to me when I am grounded, like they feel I am more there.

At other times it all seems to much, to be typing here and notice that the palms of my hands are a lot warmer than the backs, that the fingers themselves have a mild ache, that I’ll need to change position because my neck is getting stiff. It seems like it breaks my focus on what I’m trying to do or write.

But this was supposed to be about what I’ve learned. Here are my tips for getting into your body if you are as dissociated from it as I was:

When trying to ground, pay attention first to physical sensations in relatively safe areas of your body. If you have been out of your body for a while, don’t try to do it all at once, or you may be in for a weekend of flashbacks. Be gentle. Find a safe place (in my case,  my feet) where you can be minutely aware of sensations without it triggering anything. Put your awareness there, and feel everything you can, the temperature of the skin, and then if you can, inside the skin. Feel any differences in levels of comfort or discomfort in your safe body part. In my case, right now, between my big toe and my second toe, there feels like more movement space than between the other does. Move the body part slightly and observe how that changes the sensations. Take a few deep breaths from time to time to prevent yourself from completely leaving the rest of your body while you focus on this one part.

In time work up to being closely aware of two body parts at the same time, say your hands and your feet. Gradually work into being aware of the whole body at once.

You might find once you do this that there are certain parts of your body that you have no sensation from. These are possibly areas where some trauma is held. Be very gentle in getting in touch with these places. You might want to make your first few attempts with a supportive friend present or in session with your therapist, so you have someone to help remind you that you are safe in the present, and to help you release any feelings that come up.

It helped me to have something comforting to do for that body part. I was a low-income student at the time, but I could afford to buy socks from time to time. I bought colourful, soft socks for my feet, which helped me be aware of this part of my body with affection. Over time, as I have reclaimed most of my body, things like warm baths, lotions and massages have become body care, as have healthy food. 

Lately I’ve been eating a healthy dinner from a recipe my cousin, who is a very good cook, gave me. It consists of freshly cooked brown rice, still warm, with grated carrots and beets on top, slivered almonds, and chopped baby spinach. Then there is a dressing (I’ll find and add the recipe for it to the comments) that goes over top. The dressing is, frankly, what makes it taste good. He calls it “hippy  crack”. What I like about eating it is that my body seems to like it. After I eat it I notice my body feels ‘happy’ for lack of a better word, with all the nutrients. You might want to try this, eating something healthy, like a freshly squeezed juice, and see how your body feels in response. This was something I’ve only been able to notice in the last ten years or so, so don’t worry if you don’t feel anything at all.

Lastly, if you are very dissociated from your body, it is for good reason. Your mind and body will let you know the full back-story when it is safe to, in time, but you don’t need it to start to reclaim your connection to your body. Don’t judge yourself for being numb, spacey or ungrounded. Let other people’s judgement slide off you if you can. They have no clue. With people who know my history, sometimes I’ll say – “This behaviour is a caused by some very extreme experiences and I’m doing the best I can to overcome it. You haven’t been in my shoes. Cut me some slack.”

I’d love to hear what you think about this post, or if you have any strategies or experiences around connecting with your body to share in the comments.

A Sexual Abuse Survivor’s RCMP statement – novel

This is another excerpt from what I’ve been writing this month for national novel writing month. I can’t seem to make much of a transition to fiction again this year. Some of this is blatantly ripped off from my life, but it’s interesting to see it from the perspective as part of a story. Those of you who have read the non-fiction parts of my blog will no doubt recognize parts of the story. However, some of it is completely fiction, and it’s meant to be fiction, although there’s a lot of truth in it. 

This is another installment of my novel, in progress. More pieces here.

Sarah sat in the beige hallway waiting room and looked at the woman across from her. Zelia had long black hair, liberally threaded with grey, which she wore unbound, shoulder length around a thin face. She wore no makeup, and a pair of dangly shell earings. Her black pants were paired with a knit shirt and cardigan in rust tones, and her shoes looked good for walking. She had a soft accent, south African it sounded like. Sarah didn’t want to ask, she thought speaking to a white person from South Africa might bring up uncomfortable topics, and she needed this woman as an ally. They hadn’t known each other long. 

Zelia had met with Sarah in the offices at the family service centre and had explained what would happen. Sarah didn’t tell her her story, but Zelia was aware of the basics. Zelia said the officer might not let her be in the room when she told her story, but she would come with her, and wait for her outside if she couldn’t be there in the room.

Sarah wore black pants and a long sleeved black turtleneck. Her skin fully covered like this made her feel safer,  more protected, although she knew even in this she was still a target. Her flat heeled shoes made her feel more grounded, and she wore thick soft socks that caressed the one part of her body she could easily love. Her light brown hair was tied back with two metal clips in a fashion more practical than fashionable. She had blue eyes that boys had told her were beautiful often enough that she thought it might have some truth in it. She carried her tall frame with a bit of a slump, perhaps so that people wouldn’t notice how tall she was. She had her grandmother’s skin, fair and translucent like thin porcelain. She liked it too, unless it was flushed red with embarassment or exertion, when the translucence failed to mask dark blotchy redness.  She wore  no makeup. Why invite male attention she desperately didn’t know how to field? Today, all she wanted was to look respectable, believeable, and feel safe. She’d have to settle for one out of two.

A door opened and a tall RCMP officer in a blue uniform entered. Miss Norland, would you come with me please”.

Sarah thought “I thought you’d be a woman, don’t they have women officers for this?” She wasn’t sure she could be alone in a room with a male police officer. As if in response to her thoughts, Zelia stood up and introduced herself. “I’m a victim legal support worker, I work for family services. I’m accompanying Sarah today.”

“Can Zelia to come with me?” asked Sarah. She wasn’t sure where she’d found the voice to speak to the officer. She’d never spoken with a police officer before. She had to do this. She had to do this for her little brother’s sake, if not her own.

The officer looked them both over and questioned Sarah. Do you know this woman?

Sarah hesitated, “well, we just met, but she works for Family Services and they said she could come with me to help me make my statement.” 

“She’s not a family member, or a friend?” he asked, looking at both of their faces for a reaction, as if they might be lying.

“No”, said Sarah, wondering why it mattered. Well, now that she thought of it, a family member she could see, they might try to shape her story. Then she got it. “This person has no personal connection to me or what happened to me. ” she said. It did kind of make sense. She wouldn’t have wanted her mother sitting in on this interview.

“It’s my job to be do legal accompaniment” confirmed Zelia.

The RCMP officer looked at Sarah and Zelia, considering, and then motioned them both ahead of him, through a door and down another hall into a small beige interview room.

The officer introduced himself and gave her his card. He got out a note pad, and prepared a tape recorder on the table. Sarah got out her notes.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened in your own words” he said.

Sarah looked at this man, and then at Zelia, who smiled. “you can do this” her eyes said.

“I’m from Still Lake. Beginning when I was about five, my father raped me.” she started.

“When you say ‘raped’ what do you mean?”

Sarah thought, “if this guy was a woman he’d know exactly what I meant” but said, for clarity”He vaginally raped me”

“Do you mean he had intercourse with you?”

Sarah didn’t like that term for it, there is no ‘with’ in rape, and the way it was phrased implied she’d had consensual sex, but technically, that was the term for what he’d done ‘with’ her. “Yes.”

The officer motioned for her to continue.

“It happened from the time I was about 5 till I was 15, when he stopped. When I was twelve he… switched to oral and anal rape. I think he thought I might get pregnant once I started having my period.” The officer asked some questions to clarify what she meant by oral and anal rape, as if it needed to be clarified. Zelia didn’t look surprised at the questions though, so she went on, patiently, as emotionlessly as possible explaining what he wanted to know.

The police officer asked how many times it had happened. Sarah honestly didn’t know. More than once? he asked. Yes. she said, definitely more than once. No, I don’t know how many times. How did she know it had happened more than once?   I remember at least three different locations where things happened, so it must have happened several times. In my memories I’m different ages. It all runs together.

When did it stop? he asked. I don’t remember exactly, but I know definitely by the time I was fifteen.

“It slowed down when I started having my period. I think he was worried I’d get pregnant. Then later, he was worried I’d tell, so he stopped.”

He had stood in front of her in the hallway, tall, trying to look gentle, concerned, like the nice daddy he pretended to be in front of others, and sometimes for her. She had stopped pretending she believed in his act, and it worried him. Lately she’d been arguing with him in the evenings before he passed out in his chair. She’d found out he wasn’t supposed to be doing what he was doing and she had stopped being a good quiet little girl. Away from everyone else, he’d cornered her there with his back to the fabric wall hanging of trees, hanging at the end of the hall. She kept her eyes on the hanging. He said brightly “you know I’d never hurt you”, like this was the truth she was supposed to believe, or more likely tell others she believed. Sarah looked at him and said nothing, but her look did not comply or submit.  That was the day she was sure it had stopped. He never abused her after that day. Her mother and brothers did not stand up to him. He’d tortured and terrorized her almost her entire life, she had refused to comply, and it had ended.

“Why are you reporting this now?” asked the officer.

“I am not living with my parents any more, and my dad doesn’t know where I am. My little brother is at home and I want to protect him. I think he might have moved on to him.”

“Why do you think that?” asked the officer.

Sarah told him of her suspicions, that her dad had taken too much interest in her brother being naked in the shower, had made a sexual comment to her once about her brother. Her father said creepy things, like they were perfectly normal, but this made her wonder if he was eying her brother sexually.  Mike’s bedroom was next door to the one Sarah had been abused in, even closer to the master bedroom than her own had been. Access would not be hard.

The officer was not impressed. Fathers abusing daughters, he could apparently believe, but teenage sons were a bit beyond his credibility. He asked how old her brother was, and evidently thought he was too old to be abused. He thought that her father would not abuse boys and that a fifteen year old could defend himself. Sarah knew that her dad controlled her home so absolutely, he could do whatever he wanted, to his wife who should have been old enough to defend herself too, and even to his son, but how could she convince the officer of that?

“Do you think he would rape his own daughter and stop at boys?” Sarah thought to herself, but didn’t say it. She hoped her brother had been spared. Truly hoped it. Instead she said “He would do anything.”

The officer asked her a few more questions, gave her an incident number and told her that a typed transcript of her statement would be sent to her. At Zelia’s prompting, he asked whether Sarah felt afraid about her father’s response, and she said, he doesn’t know where I live, I think. The officer aske d if her mom and dad might try to get her to retract her statement, and Sarah allowed that they might try. She was more afraid her father would come to town in person. That would be very bad. He said he’d add a no-contact order to the file, so her father couldn’t contact her. Sarah didn’t know that was even possible, but was so relieved she could barely speak. S nodded, relieved.

The officer seemed to be done with her at that point, and showed them back to the waiting area. Sarah couldn’t have spoken more, she was so relieved to be done, if frustrated that she hadn’t been able to convince them to protect her brother. She was so glad to be out of the small room with the big man, and left. Zelia told her she’d done a good job.  She drove her home and said goodbye. Sarah never saw her again.

The police sent the transcript, as promised. Sarah waited. Almost seven years later, apparently under political pressure to clean up the backlog of sexual assault cases, they questioned her mother, father, older brother and she didn’t know who else. The no-contact order was apparently a fiction until then, if they presented it at all. She found out later that her mother refused to speak to the police. Until charges were laid they couldn’t force her to do so. Her father had been taken down to the station in a police car by two police officers, who had read him her statement and questioned him. Sarah had decided to let that be her justice, that he’d been treated like the criminal he was. He’d immediately lawyered up, and refused to talk to them iether. Her mother told her later that he was terrified afterward for years that they would come back for him.

When, twenty years later, her mother informed her that her father had a recurrence of the cancer he’d almost died of two years before, Sarah realized that till then she had always been waiting, hungering for his death. She wanted the satisfaction of knowing that it was over, that he would never hurt anyone again, and that it was no longer her responsibilyt to stop him. She had been dreading the tidal wave of emotion and possibly, horribly new memories her mind would release once assured of her safetly from him by his death. However, despite these fears she could feel his hold of fear on her, like a psychic choke chain, weaken to a thin strand, near breaking.

Car Crash – or what PTSD is like – novel

Photocredit: Kel Patolog via Flickr

[Note: Since I first wrote this, this piece has gotten a lot of attention for being a really good way to explain to people in your life what it’s like to have PTSD and Complex PTSD in particular and why there aren’t any quick fixes. I hope it’s helpful for you and your loved ones.]

I’m writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) and the following excerpt is what I wrote today on it.

The novel this year is about sociopaths, a people making sense of a past including child abuse, disconnection with nature and people trying to do the right thing in the face of it. I don’t know exactly what shape the pieces will take yet. I didn’t know last year at this stage iether really, but I suspect it will be more complicated this year. Last year was a simple time-travelling love story.

This is an installment of my novel, in progress. More pieces here.

Excerpt:

It’s like this.

Imagine you are a mother driving home from a family function with your nine year old daughter in the passenger seat. You have had one or two drinks but it was awhile ago and you decided you were okay to drive.

The night is rainy and you get into a serious car accident. You are thrown forward in your seat and injure your body where the steering wheel strikes you. Your daughter is killed. You are helpless, pinned inside the car, unable to reach her as she dies before your eyes, convulsing, screaming, blood coming from eyes and ears.

The experience is so overwhelming, emotionally that your brain can’t process it, can’t store it in the usual way. The information flows in to fast and too intensely to be properly filed in one place, all together. The sensation of the steering wheel and the pain in your abdomen gets put in one place, completely separated from the visual memory of your daughters face as she struggled and died. That memory is separate as well from the contempt in the voice of the rescue worker who asked if you had been drinking. That memory is separate from the lights of the semi high beams in your eyes which blinded you for a moment, contributing to the accident. The pain from your chest. The emotional pain of watching your daughter die. Your daughter’s last words.

Those snippets of memory, and hundreds of others from that night are stored in little boxes in your mind, with no connection to the other pieces. They don’t form a whole memory at all, and you have no ability to put them in the correct order or link them to one another. It is too painful and overwhelming when you try, so you don’t.

You receive medical attention but everyone drifts away from you after that and you move to a new place where no-one knows. You vaguely remember that your daughter died in a car accident, but don’t remember details. People think you are lucky not to remember any of it, and are relieved you have nothing to tell them. Knowing it happened at all is bad enough for them, and the uncomfortable look on their faces soon teaches you to not even go that far with them. You can’t tell anyone about what you do remember, because it feels like it was your fault. After awhile you seem to forget it happened at all.

Then one day you are riding the bus and someone pushes you hard, in your abdomen. Suddenly the memory fragment of the crushing sensation in your chest is triggered, which in turn has a connection to the box holding the emotional pain that you don’t know is from watching your daughter die. They both ‘fire’ in your mind simultaneously.

You feel the pain in your chest as if it was happening now, along with a loss so great and horrifying that you panic. There is no other information to explain what this is about. You freeze, ashamed, and people are well meaning but think you are crazy, or think you need a doctor. You think you are crazy too.

Later on, this type of thing happens again and again. Lights in your eyes trigger some part of the memory, or a particular phrase, or seeing a simulated car crash on tv, or seeing someone who looks like your daughter did, seeing a rescue worker in uniform, or being around your family members at the holidays, who carefully do not talk about what happened.

You feel anxious and fearful a lot of the time, but couldn’t say exactly why.

If you are lucky, you will be able to stand the sensation during the gift of memory that is a flashback long enough to put the pieces together a little and don’t try to numb it very often with drugs, or alcohol, food or work. You do remember that your daughter died, and you think that maybe this has something to do with it.

You find a therapist and tell her what you remember consciously, which isn’t much. Your daughter died. You were driving. The rest is a blank. One day you have a session after a particularly intense flashback. While telling her about it, in the safety of a non-judgmental relationship, you have another flashback that fits with the first and make the connection with what you already know. You realize that the lights in your eyes you’ve been having nightmares about are the headlights of the truck you saw that night. The next time you have a nightmare about them, you tell yourself this and it calms you down. The better you get at doing this, the less often you have these nightmares, and you gradually find you can look at headlights at night without feeling much panic. Eventually they are sometimes just headlights, unless you are having a particularly stirred up day.

One day, with a lot of support from your therapist, you get the courage to ask after the accident reports. You travel back to the town you lived, practicing deep breathing to keep from having panic attacks when you see familiar landmarks. The day you go to the station and get access to the report, you are terrified. Some of what is written is not exactly as you remember it, it is told from a different perspective. It reads like it happened to another person. When you read in the police station archives, that it said you’d indicated you’d had a drink at the party prior to driving, you become unable to read further and freeze. You run into the bathroom, find a stall and break into deep sobs in the police office. You hope no-one comes in and hears you, or worse, asks what is wrong.

However, the report helps because it gives you a framework to attach the snippets of sensation and memory that intrude into your consciousness or have been invited during therapy sessions. You find that they all fit at some place in the story, and you begin to have compassion for the woman who experienced this tragedy, that woman who doesn’t quite feel like yourself.

Now imagine that the situation is not a car accident, witnessed and documented by police, so you can check the validity of your memory fragments. Imagine that an incident equally horrifying or worse was perpetrated on you by a loved and trusted person while you were a child under their control. Imagine that there was no medical attention, even though you were seriously injured, and no one to help or tell. Imagine that it wasn’t a single traumatic incident’s worth of sensation fragments to piece together, but fifty, spread out over a decade or more. Imagine that as a result of the first couple of incidents, you had walked around in a self-protective haze for most of your childhood. Imagine that as a result, your brain didn’t bother to store the kind of information that provides context and meaning for these later traumas, but only the sensations of pain or horror. You are missing a large number of key pieces of several of the memories, meaning that without outside validation, you will likely never be able to explain or integrate them fully for yourself, make them whole and stop them from intruding into your life.

Imagine that your family members refuse to talk to you about what they remember of what happened, because it is too painful for them, or because they don’t want you to remember what happened, they blame you or they don’t want you to remember their part in condoning it. Imagine that they tell you that you are lying, making it all up, that you are crazy, either directly or indirectly. Or imagine that instead they say they believe you that this person hurt you, but don’t think it was a big deal and still spend christmas every year with the family member who hurt you. They expect you to do the same.

If you are lucky, you will divorce your family, get good therapy, and find some friends with similar experiences who understand and normalize what happened. If you are lucky you will have a spouse who becomes trained to hold you and calm you at night when you have nightmares, or if you have flashbacks during lovemaking, does not take it personally and learns not to touch you in ways that trigger the minefield of memory fragments. With luck and time, you connect the puzzle pieces you can, and develop what explanation you can for those you cannot connect. You learn, in the midst of the panic, to tell yourself, “this is abuse stuff” and that you are safe now, and most of the time that helps enough. If you are lucky and face it as square on, for as long as you can, then the memory fragments intrude less and less, and eventually they stop. You make peace with the mysteries you can’t solve, and protect yourself from further harm effectively.

You don’t tell most people about all this, as it upsets them and often they say stupid things that make it worse. They ask why you aren’t over it by now. They say “parents do the best they can with what they know at a time” or “forgiveness will set you free”. Their own experiences with minor wounds and misdeeds tell them that these are the truth, so they think it applies to you.

Friends you trust enough to tell how it really is are uncomfortable with the anger you have worked hard to feel and express, because turning it inside poisons you. They tell you that forgiving the sociopath who hurt you solely for his or her own enjoyment will magically make all the aftereffects disappear, forcing you to make the decision to tell them what naïve fools they are or just change the subject. Sometimes you want to ask them, “will forgiving the truck that hit you make the broken bones go away?”

If you are lucky, you will have some people in your life who never say these things, or you will soon have no friends at all. You learn not to tell most people things they can’t understand, which means that sometimes your behaviour is unexplainable.

Without being able to share the facts, it becomes impossible to explain in a compelling enough way to strangers, that unless they want to hold your hand, remind you to breathe, listen to you tell them the disjointed snippets of what you remember about being trapped and tortured in a small box, and comfort you afterward, all of which would actually healing, you simply cannot ride in an elevator today.

Some days you can do it with no more than some attention to deep relaxing breathing, and focusing on the elevator musak and the knowledge that you are safe and an adult. Doing this often enough will make things permanently better, but takes a lot of internal fortitude each time. However, you know from experience that if you do succumb to pressure and ride in the damn elevator (or whatever) when you’re not ready, you will pay by going numb for days, and spend days on high emotional alert and nights of nightmares. Because  they don’t or won’t understand why you have needs they don’t, people find you rigid and odd. They have no idea how courageous you are.

Honour is what you know to be true about yourself

It’s one in the morning, and I can’t sleep.

I’m regretting the bar of chocolate I ate at the movie, whose caffeine might be what is keeping me awake. Mydog is ecstatic to be on my lap rather than in her bed beside our bed, but is interfering with my typing, as seems to be the Goddess given role of all small furry pets.

She occasionally gives me a little body language “what, are you still typing rather than petting me?” What can I be thinking?

What I’m obsessing about tonight is my hurt feelings about some volunteer work I’ve been doing. The women-run organization I’ve been donating some computer work to has rather high-handedly decided to hire a man (one of the women’s sons) to do the job I’ve been doing for free. I’m sure it’s personal, as the work itself I’ve done has been high calibre, prompt and efficient. I’ve ruffled some feminine oligarch’s feathers and have been replaced. The funny thing is that this organization prides itself on making decisions by consensus, and I know the woman I report to was not in favour of replacing me, which means she was outvoted by someone, a thing that is against the orthodoxy of consensus.

It is my unfortunate habit of pointing out just this type of thing that has made me unpopular. One of my favourite authors, Lois McMaster-Bujold, has a character who says something to the effect that the difference between honour and reputation is that your honour is what you know to be true about yourself, and your reputation is what others think, and to guard your honour and let your reputation take care  of itself, honour is far more important. You need to be able to live with yourself, above all.

Unless I have one or more alter personalities I don’t know about (which I suppose is scarily possible, given how little I know about my childhood), I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. I am a bit too willing to point out elephants in the middle of respectable living rooms, and a bit too inclined to be blunt. Having been raised with only brothers, and a survivor of extreme abuse to boot, I’m not particularly polished in my women among women communication skills, to say the least. I tend to say what I mean, and expect others to do the same.

Anyhow, my feelings are hurt. Very hurt. I want to prove to them that they are wrong and I am right, and yet I understand that that is impossible.

My dog has once again gotten up, looked over at my overly bright screen and given me a look. Would I puh-leeze stop making typing noises and turn that light out?

My wife went to see the doctor today, who kept her waiting for an hour and then was dismissive to her. She did, however, write her a prescription for the two hormones that my research said would help her sleep, stop having hot flashes and make her peach more resilient. My brave wife talked about her lesbian sexual issues affecting her relationship with her straight, impatient, rushed doctor, and despite being brushed off, managed to get some of her needs met. She is in fact sleeping in the other room, which means that the progesterone is working as advertised.

In Canada, doctors don’t really have to care whether you are happy with how they treat you. Somebody really really needs to do a patient satisfaction survey. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather be sick in Canada than say the US, unless I was independently wealthy, but the bean counters that tell doctors how much time they can bill for a doctors’ visit are woefully misguided about how long it takes to do a competent job. Lesbians, in particular, don’t go to doctors often, and so when we do go, it’s because we have something chronic that we can’t fix on our own, or serious and acute. Iether way, fifteen rushed, impatient minutes aren’t going to do it, particularly when it’s something sensitive and hard to talk about. I told my wife how proud I am of her bravery and gave her lots of love.

I really hope this helps. Our marriage needs her to be able to be physically affectionate with me again, to be able to cuddle without a sweaty hot flash, and to sleep well enough that she’s not achey and constantly cranky.  I’m too young to stop having sex, and I’d rather break up that consign myself to a lifetime of celibacy.

I have to remember that I have people who love me, and that my honour is more important than my reputation.

I am proud of managing to eat and drink healthier. I’m drinking  a lot more water than before, and eating smaller portions, slower, for the most part. I haven’t lost any weight, but I’m pleased at the better habits. I’ve also been doing more chores, something that is only fair. I’ve been listening to a hypnosis recording about the positive diet and exercise habits,and am pleased at how it is sinking in. I listened to it tonight, hoping the voice would lull me, but no dice.

Honour before reputation! I trust and believe in myself and that’s what’s important, I tell myself. However, it is frustrating to have such terrible skills or something with women’s groups. Seeing how I’m a lesbian, it’s a bit inconvenient. It seems to also be mostly cliquey older women I run afoul of. I can think of three times this has happened in my life particularly. I’ve developed a real distrust of baby boomer women in groups – they seem to often circle the wagons and cut me from the herd, instinctively.

There was something on the Blooming Lotus blog about how Faith (the author of the blog) noted that it is a survivor thing to not get complicated social clues. She gave the example of not bringing a gift to a birthday party where the hostess had asked please no gifts, and then discovering that not only had everyone else brought a gift,but the hostess made a big production of opening them. What the F? This is the sort of thing I run afoul of I’m guessing. I think I read up on what egalitarian consensus decision making is supposed to be and then assume it is like that in real life, when in reality one is supposed to respect the established pecking order, and not act on the assumption that one is equal.

I didn’t get the memo, and I spent most of the time I would have learned all this doubtlessly useful social strategy keeping myself from getting raped or starved too often. I am smart and successful, and I hate being pitied or condescended to, so I don’t show my vulnerabilities often. This means that people probably think I’m thicker skinned, a lot thicker skinned, than I in fact am.

My wife had a good insight about the endless meetings this group has. I can hold it together for an hour or two of meetings, without saying something overly blunt or trying to hurry things along and get stuff done, but after that all bets are off. This group had collective meetings of 10 hours long, with meal breaks, but still. I’m too sensitive, emotionally and psychically, to hold it together and not say something blunt, when awash in all kinds of social ambiguity and murkiness for so long. I don’t really even understand what I’m doing, only that alpha women in groups really don’t like me. I was going to say women over about 60 years of age, but that’s not always so, it’s more like women who feel entitled to dominate by virtue of some status deriving from something other than role, competence or service, like age, or length of time with the organization or position in some invisible (to me) ruling oligarchy. I just don’t recognize those types of statuses, and don’t really want to. People often tell me, after we’ve become friends, that at first they found me intimidating. These women are usually women I have come to respect, or who seem older or more knowledgeable, so I’m usually surprised to hear it, although I’ve gotten used to it. I think my persona is a lot more amazonian than how I feel inside.

Blah blah blah. I’m sorry to be navel gazing to this degree at almost two in the morning, but I really am sore and stiff from being distrusted and shunned by yet another group of women. It’s not like I don’t have lots of friends, I do, it’s just this group of women in power thing that seems to trip me up. I have come to think of it as them being threatened, and trying to exclude me or put me ‘in my place’ but honestly I’m at a loss here.  I’m sure there are some sort of mommy issues attached, I certainly don’t respect or defer to my mother, and for good reason.

Baxter and the Birds by Vurnman
I chose this picture, called Baxter and the Birds, because that’s how I feel sometime, like I’m a pretty straightforward dog, unable to speak the language of birds. Or perhaps I’m a cat in a pack of dogs, or a dog in a pride of cats. Baxter is having fun, which I sometimes do hanging out with groups of women, but it does capture the different species thing. If I didn’t know I was a woman, I’d swear I was a man. My wife says I’m like a man sometimes. I don’t really get the trans thing, not that I don’t think people don’t have a right to self-identify, but because, honestly if someone plunked me down in a man’s body, I’d get on with being a man. I’d probably feel no more out of place than I do now, and except for the systemic sexism and the fact that I was raped by a man for the first time at the age of five, I’m quite happy being a woman.

I performed my ‘scars to prove it’ song

A few days ago at my woman’s camp I performed my ‘scars to prove it’ song. I wrote a new ending for it. Here’s the version I performed below. I got a standing ovation. At the intermission two women came and cried in my arms (which was fine and an honour). That night several women came up to offer their support and several survivors came to me, disclosed and thanked me for my song.

Here’s the version I did.

Scars to Prove It

Have you ever wondered
how a child survives a horror?
Do you think children are resilient
or children they forget?

Hiding from yourself, is necessary for survival
Nice girls don’t make a fuss
Nice girls they pretend
they’re safe and loved

30 years or more they’ve been there
evidence of my destruction
proof somebody should have seen
when I was six years old.

30 years or more he’s been
protected by her indecision
by his respectability
people willing to be blind

I’d never looked, never asked
no doctor ever mentioned
perhaps they thought I’d given birth
and never been sewn up
Until one day I asked her, and she showed me with a mirror
“this is very old” she said, healed without a doctor’s care.

They were the scars to prove it, a nightmare seen in daytime
The scars that showed that I’d been making nothing up
Scars seen in the mirror, instead of in my soul
For the first time I could see the story of that little girl.

I’ve got the scars to prove it
because a father owns his daughter
got the scars to prove it
because no-one interfered
I’ve got the scars to prove it, 30 years or more they waited
scars of horror, just where you’d think they’d be.

Scars to prove it. A nightmare really happened.
Scars to prove it, spotted far too late.
Scars to prove it, because nobody would interfere
Scars of horror, just where you think they’d be.

I’d like to say he’s still in jail
I’d like to say he’s paid the price
I’d like to say I never think about those awful days
but I don’t lie about it anymore,
I’ve learned the price that silence
takes upon your soul and

I have the scars to remind me that
my life has to matter
the scars to prove that will never disappear
Scars seen in the mirror, and not just in my soul
Scars of horror, just where you’d think they’d be.

Somewhere there’s a little girl who doesn’t know he’s not allowed
And somewhere a community that needs to make it stop.
And that is why I tell this story
That is why I fight this fight, for her and I and all of us
with

Scars to remind us
our soul was never broken
scars to remind us we are stronger than our wounds
scars seen in the mirror
no longer in our souls
scars to remind us
just where you’d think they’d be.

Scars to prove it
We will know our own self’s measure.
scars to prove that
we never disappeared
scars seen in the mirror
and fading in my soul
scars of honor
just where you’d think they’d be.