My dentists booking secretary, Judy, got snotty with me because I hadn’t booked my cleaning on the required schedule, like my wife had, every six months. She wasn’t overt about it, but I got the message and was pissed off. I booked the apointment anyhow since my wife was going in and I could have my appointment at the same time.
The thing I hate most about going to the dentist is the part about not being able to close your mouth, and all the guck that drools down your throat, despite the suction thingie. The very worst part is not the pain, which I can dissociate from, but the damn fluoride treatments in trays, since you have to sit there with them so long and the thick, gooey liquid always ends up going down my throat without my consent.
Without my consent.
I’m not going to get graphic here, but I’m sure you can guess, given the theme of this blog what kind of thick liquid went down my throat without my consent as a child.
I knew I didn’t want to go to the dentist, but I didn’t really know why clearly until I was sitting in the waiting room, almost in tears at the thought of those damn fluoride trays and what the sensation was too similar to. Then for good measure had a hastily squashed mini-flashback about it in my dentists waiting room. I thought “I can’t cry here / I can’t do this!”
Then I realized. I don’t have to do it.
I don’t care whether it’s good for my teeth. I’ll let them scrape my teeth but no frigging trays. I have fluoride mouthwash I can spit out when I want to. Just say no to trays! I felt immediately a lot better. Adulthood gives one the blessed right to be irrational. I’m paying for this after all!
So, I follow the dentist in to the treatment room and before she starts I tell her. “I have a sore throat, and I have some personal reasons as well, and it’s very important to me that nothing goes down my throat.” She was a lot less snotty than her receptionist, but I still felt a bit like she must be thinking “oh she’s one of those difficult anxious ones…” I’m sure there’s something in my file about it.
However, she said she’d get her hygenist in there to wield the suction so nothing would go down my throat. It’s not the bits of tartar or whatever I’m worried about, it’s the fluid, so this wasn’t a complete success, but enough to keep me from iether vomiting or sobbing during the cleaning. The TV mounted on her ceiling helped a lot too. Dissociation is my friend.
After the dentist had finished her scraping, the hygenist came back to do some more stuff, and I had to give my little survivor safety talk to her as well. She clearly thought I was being difficult but gave me the suction thingie to hold.
At last she asked me what flavour of fluoride treatment I wanted. I sighed inwardly, and said to myself “I think I can handle this.” I said outwardly “mint”. She handed me a little cup and asked me to swill it around my mouth for a minute. No g’dammed goopy trays! I was all prepared to balk at the trays but blessedly, didn’t have to.
So this is why I don’t go to the dentist every frickin six months, Judy. If you think it’s awkward to have an anxious patient asking you to be extra careful, you have no idea how awkward a flash-backing sobbing vomiting survivor would be.
Here’s the divine intervention part. I really think the Goddess sent me this book.
Martha is the daughter of a Mormon scholar and apologist, and an incest survivor. She describes what began as a spiritual search for union with God and progresses toward experiencing repressed memories and leaving the church. At the time of writing she was a straight mother of three (actually according to her site about the book she’s now in a relationship with a woman) with a doctorate in sociology from Harvard, and she was raised within a patriarchal religious community but other than that her experience reflected mine so much that it took my breath away. It also made me laugh or snort out loud several times, as she’s got a wicked and irreverent sense of humour.
She was also first raped by her father at the age of five. Her father was also a highly intelligent, high status guy who was highly dissociative, liked to speak in codes (my father once inserted himself into a college phone conversation with my mother and told me quite seriously not to let any man make me his teddy bear, a comment I still don’t understand), and believed he’d been cured of serious illnesses (in my father’s case, complete blindness) by God. However, given my fathers near miraculous survival from multiple health hazards and accidents, he may have something there.
Unlike me, her extended family were mostly unsupportive, because her dad is so famous in the Mormon world and also because the Mormon’s are all about propping up male authority no matter what. Some of the press in particular has made the usual accusations of false memories, something Beck refutes in a particularly clear statement online.
At this point I’d like to pause for a nice clarifying rant. Here’s the backup references for what I’m about to say: [click here] So called ‘false memory syndrome’ is NOT recognized as a syndrome by any reputable scientific source, like the DSM or the American Psychological Association. The folks who made this completely false syndrome up and promote it are themselves accused child molesters or their spouses. One of their ‘expert witnesses’ was quoted endorsing sex with children in a paedophilia magazine. People don’t want to believe bad stuff happens to children because it freaks them out. I get it. But lying and hurting people who’ve already been through so much is unethical, and supporting the propaganda interests of pedophiles and their apologists is heinous. Journalists, stop being manipulated by child abusers! End of rant.
Beck says some very useful things about abusers and their behaviour and what causes them, and has also learned the same passionate devotion to truth and hatred of lies, silence and complicity that I have. She also has had mystical experiences of the divine (although hers seem more striking to me, somehow) and has found them an important part of her healing. Her mother also initially said she believed her, in a conversation chillingly similar to the one I had with my mother where she said “yes, that’s something he’d do” but also wanted her to forgive and support her father anyway, like it didn’t matter what he’d done at all.
She also has something I’m a bit embarassed to envy – scar tissue inside her vagina that proves she was raped as a child. I don’t know if I have scar tissue, and I’m kind of scared to find out. I told a doctor I was a child sexual abuse survivor (just in case I had a flashback with my legs in the stirrups, not (gasp!) to get all emotional or needy on her. She was horrified. She told me everything looked normal, like in those words she could erase ten years of experience. What would I gain in making that up? gees! I’d really like to know if there is scar tissue, but doctors are generally robots – how could I find one that would seriously investigate for physical evidence rather than trying to invalidate me from their own discomfort? I have some ‘female issues’ that could be related like vaginal infections so constant that a doctor once tested me for both AIDS and diabetes (I have neither) to try and figure out what might be causing it, but honestly, although I enjoy the TV program House MD, and like my Gray’s Anatomy, I don’t have any faith in medical doctors’ ability to figure out more subtle stuff like mine and have simply managed symptoms on my own and do all the recommended things to avoid infections.
Martha (Dr. Beck, actually, but really she feels more Martha to me) has a definition of forgiveness, taken from another source, that I can endorse. “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a different past”. If that’s the case, I’ve definitely forgiven my father, years ago, and probably also my mother. I’ve always just called it ‘Acceptance’ the last stage of grieving, where things actually begin to feel better, even though the tragedy hasn’t changed at all. I’ve long embraced grief, knowing that when it’s time to cry, it is a profound gift. Grief is my friend, as it it the only thing that actually heals tragedy.
In short, I may need to buy a copy of this book to have around for validation, since the library will only let me have it for two weeks.
On the hiding front, I’ve come down with a sore throat, a few days after my music jamming with my friend and future performing partner. My body has come to the defense of my psychic camoflage, and is trying to shut this scary passion business down. This is good, it’s like learning not to dissociate: I’ve begun to recognize when I”m doing it. I still want to sing, and I’m going to sing sore throat or no sore throat. My fingertips are tender from practicing my guitar and I’m not stopping.
I’m so grateful for this blog and the support I’ve gotten from survivors posting comments. For the first time in a long while, I have a place to be, to tell the truth to the Goddess and people who understand.
The last few weeks, I’ve been gradually eating a small supply of chocolate Eostre/Easter eggs. In my faith tradition, spring equinox eggs are sacred to the Goddess Eostre and represent rebirth, as do the red balls on the evergreen tree at Yule. I’ve decided that every time I eat an egg I’m going to dedicate it using a prayer for rebirth. Rebirth of hope. Rebirth of presence in my body and today, with this book, rebirth of Validation.
So now she dances a sword, atop his grave so fresh
and she dances victory, to seal his cruel ghost
So now she calls her fierce ancestors, to take his soul away
that never may he trouble her, in night or in the day, oh.
And now she dances a sword, atop his grave in victory
And she dances binding
to seal his cruel ghost.
And now she calls her fierce ancestors, to take the monster’s soul away
that he may trouble her no more, in night or in the day
And may they trouble us no more
the men who try to rape/take our souls
and may we outlive them all!
and dance upon their graves!
[Note about men as abusers – The following are all true: most sexual abusers are men, women abuse children sexually too, boys get abused too, I have many men I love and who are my allies. I refer to abusers as men in my writing because that is my reality. Your mileage may vary, and that’s fine. If you’re against child sexual abuse, that’s all we need to be allies.]
As part of my ongoing quest to stop Hiding I’m starting gradually to getting back into both doing things I’m passionate about and letting others witness me doing them. Tonight, I’ll be meeting to jam for the first time with a friend of a friend who plays the guitar. We’ve been discussing material and will be putting together some jazz and folk numbers, perhaps to perform. This is probably a good thing to do this week, continue to unfurl the sprout and reach for the sun rather than focus on worrying about how my mother will react.
I realized why I have the fear my mother will kill herself ‘accidentally’ in a car accident driving while sleep deprived (she works two full time jobs) in reaction to my letter. It’s happened before.
A few years ago I decided to send altered father’s day cards to my abuser, reminding him of how his actions had affected me. I’d read this thing that talked about how under partriarchy the consequences of actions all flow downhill – boss yells at worker, worker yells at wife, wife yells at older kid, older kid hits younger kid, younger kid teases dog. I decided to make the ball roll up hill. I bought and doctored up a couple of these fathers day cards and sent them off in intervals. I forget if I sent one or more than one, I know I intended to send them every few months. I have a few left somewhere. It helped me deal with all the mushy mushy we love our dads stuff around father’s day, by formally acknowledging my remembrance of daddy is quite different.
Anyhow, later that year, on my birthday no less, I get a call telling me that dear old dad had drunk himself into a .4 blood alcohol reading (in the range that causes death) and driven his car into the wall. The two family dogs were with him and one died. The other was found unharmed. My abuser was in intensive care with a flail lung. (50% mortality rate) Coincidence he did this on my birthday a few months after his wife left him and I started sending him regular reminders? I think not. He almost died before some idiot doctor dropped by, spotted the flail lung and put him in intensive care, saving his life. In ICU, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and contracted a flesh eating disease (that almost killed him as well. Then he had to quit drinking, a virtual impossibility, and find a liver donor (also hard for an old drunk) to get a transplant. All of this news was spread out over the next several months. I was a wreck, getting news every couple of weeks or so that he was on his deathbed. My wife wouldn’t let me go visit him – she thought I might be tempted to kill him. I wouldn’t have done it, although I might have yelled at him a bit hoping it gave him a heart attack or something. I went to the cancer centre for these relaxation groups for family members. Blessedly, they didn’t make you say anything so I didn’t have to say I wasn’t actually hoping he’d survive. Then my mother, who had left the bastard a few months prior, moves back in with him to nurse him through his transplant and I was afraid she was going back permanently. She didn’t and recruited my abusers’ sisters to take second shift. She noted that they went as a pair, so neither would be alone with him. The family really pulled together to save his life, which felt like a slap in the face.
What seems like divine intervention to me (Goddess only knows why) is the following:
Death rate from .4 blood alcohol – unknown but high
Death from serious car accident – unknown but high
Death from flail lung = 50% mortality
Death rate for Liver cancer over 5 years =94% mortality rate
Why are the Gods keeping this guy alive these past 5 or so years against all these odds? To give him more time to suffer (I approve) , give him more time to get to remorse (he’ll live forever…) or to give me time to prepare? I’ve been banking on at least the last one.
You can see now why I’m expecting him to die any time now. Particularly as he’s had a recurrence last summer and still smokes and drinks.
So anyways, tonight I’m going to sing. I’ve lost almost 20 lbs of camoflage so far and I’ve mailed a brave letter to my mother. One day soon I’m going to set up a sword dance lesson with the teacher I researched.
I can do this.
This is a song I wrote several years ago:
When the world is full of pain, and there’s no way you can stop it.
The truth’s a bitter shame, and the holy has been stolen.
When there’s no safe place to go and there is no-one safe to love
And you have to hide your face to survive.
Remember, there’s no reason to go on, but you must.
The world makes no damn sense but you go and live there anyway
When you remember, there’s no reason, maybe no hope and no reward, go on living, loving, hoping anyway.
I thought my courage to survive was all I’d ever need,
but the world I re-emerged to I could no longer believe.
When you’ve seen the very worst there is the greatest feat of all is to
Remember, there’s no reason to go on, but you do. The world makes no damn sense, but you go and live there anyway.
When you remember there’s no reason, maybe no hope and no reward,
but go on living, loving, hoping anyway.
(Copyrighted material (C) 1991 All rights reserved. You can quote it but always credit the source.)
This morning I wake up too early thinking that I don’t have enough money to continue therapy (I probably do), that my mother will commit suicide by car accident when she reads my letter (she probably won’t), that ‘oh THAT is why I ate so much chocolate yesterday and wondered if I was PMSing’ (again) and why I’ve been feeling like my marriage might be ending.
My wife has chronic pain, and chronic sleeplessness, and is understandably quite cranky and fussy, alternating with a kind of shut-off stoicism. This has bee going on for about five years. Most of the fun things we used to do together are off the menu, and what’s worse, she wasn’t doing much to solve the problem so there was no end in sight. The acupuncture/traditional Chinese medicine is helping her, and because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it feels safe to experience how hopeless I’ve been feeling about my future with her. We were just married 2 years ago, and have been together for eight, and I’m stuck between two things that hurt too much to face square-on – the idea of divorcing and the idea of spending the rest of my life like this. Perhaps this is another part of the inner me that is emerging to sunshine from winter, this awareness of a bit of pain I had frozen since I thought it had to be ignored.
How do I separate all that from the growing feeling of doom that my mother will be reading and reacting to the letter today? I don’t. It’s all of a piece.
How do I protect myself over the next week? I’ll be screening my calls. My mother will just have to deal with her reaction to this on her own, and I’ll have to fight the urge to look after her, to retract, I tell myself firmly. I’ve got enough to deal with. I told my wife I could use a little extra TLC this week and why, and she told me the best she can do right now is stay away from me, since she’s just unable to not be cranky. I forgive her, because I believe she’s in as much pain as she says she is, but thinking of it brings tears to my eyes. She’s not a survivor. I’m seeing a survivor friend tonight who does get it and I’ll be busy today. That will have to be enough comfort. I’ve made do with less.
I re-read my last post about the emerging sprout and it gave me hope. The Goddess is helping me wash away what is already dead, and nourishing what is holy and intimate, soulful and good, with rich moist soil and gentle sunshine. Even in my panic, I know She is there.
Against that certainty, I have the cold, resigned stillness that is my standard way of coping, the antithesis of the sprout. I realized I have gone cold not because I could feel it, but because of the picture that I was drawn to to go with this post, a stone grave-angel. Martina McBride has a song about a concrete angel that fits the picture and feeling as well. [video] [lyrics]
Goddess, grant me Serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. Blessed be.
I was at a women’s spirituality conference last weekend. It was my first time in awhile attending anything to do with my religion/spirituality in several years, so is another part of me stepping out.
One of the workshops I took part in was on dreams and movement. I brought in my dream about the Goddess selecting plants and worked with it. The exercise was that we split into groups of three. One woman was the Maiden, one was Mother, one was Crone. The maiden’s job was to silently act out their dream, explore it through movement. The mother was to copy her movements, mirror them. The crone held the space. When it was my turn to be maiden I acted out the dream, first in the role of the Goddess, spritzing plants to expose what was healthy in them, planting the healthy ones in arrangements.
Then I shifted perspective on my dream and became one of the seeds. I started curled up on the floor, a seed, slowly awakening, unfolding, really being in the dream, being the seed sending out first one seed-leaf and then the other into the light of the Goddess.
You need to understand that this was a safe, sacred space I was doing this in, which had been blessed by women singing multifaith sacred songs, dancing and drumming. I felt open and safe to really let myself experience this moment.
As I reached my leaves up to the light I felt welcomed by a loving Mother in the world, and the contrast with how I’d actually felt as an infant and child made me cry with gratitude at the warmth and love I felt from the Goddess on my emerging little embryonic self.
The woman who was holding crone during my dream-acting, wrote the most beautiful poem about my ‘dance’. She described the tears as dew collecting on the new plant. I hadn’t told iether of the women about what my dream was and her poem made it clear she’d understood it perfectly, without any words.
It felt like a blessing from the Goddess on this re-emergence of my most sacred and authentic self, this little green sprout in the sunlight, with deep rich soil and warm weather.
Today is the day after I mailed my letter to my mother. She won’t have received it yet, I reassure myself. I don’t have to panic till Monday or Tuesday now. I found an earlier version of the letter, cleaning up today. I’m glad I didn’t send that version, but it was good to read it again, to be reassured that it really is as serious as I am treating it, what she did.
I will protect my Self, allow her to bask in the warm sunshine, allow her to grow. It’s scary to be this new, this vulnerable. It is an act of will to allow myself to be blessed.
Yesterday in therapy we talked about me hiding. There is a sneaky part of me that is afraid of being seen, that shuts me down, but doesn’t tell me that it’s doing it, whenever it gets triggered.
It reminds me of when I was learning not to dissociate. At first I wouldn’t realize I’d dissociated for a long time, perhaps when my body got really cold, or I had to pee really bad, or I got clumsy and hurt myself or forgot something important.
Then, after trying for awhile, I’d notice I’d been dissociated but couldn’t figure out how or when it had started. Then I began to notice sooner after I ‘left my body’ and developed strategies for getting back in touch. Then I started to figure out what had triggered me to dissociate in the first place. Then I learned ways to comfort and ground myself when I got triggered, so I wouldn’t dissociate all the way. Then, finally, I was in my body most of the time and really noticed when I was not. Now I’m pretty much always in my body, unless something heavy is really up, or I’m having sex, of course, when being fully in my body for long periods is a blessed exception, rather than the rule. I’ve come a long way, but have a ways to go.
I’m hoping I can apply this method to my new challenge, learning not to hide my passion from myself. I ‘lose interest’ in things that are important to me far too easily, and although I know intellectually I want to do something, I can’t muster up any desire or motivation to follow through. It usually happens when I’m noticed or recieve recognition, or when the thing I’m doing is intimate, personal, from my soul, like singing, sex, making art or expressing my deepest values in action. Since I love to be recognized and am essentially an extravert, this constant hiding feels like the actions of a completely other person. And no, I’m not a multiple personality, thank Goddess.
So here’s where things get heavy.
How did I learn to hide?
I am pulled into myself. I am utterly still. I am barely breathing. I have no thoughts, I have no feelings, I am empty. I am blessedly not anxious, not afraid. I am nothing.
This is how I waited, how I survived. I am hiding in the closet, I am laying utterly still on the bed. He can’t see me. He’ll never find me. I could lay motionless for hours in the formal living room of our house, where no-one ever went, and if I lay silently enough, perhaps my mother would forget to send me to bed, perhaps I could survive here for the night.
I am waiting, motionless. I have no desires. This is not Buddhist nirvana, this is exhaustion from terror. This is hiding anything from him that he can use to get into me. If I don’t admit anything is important to me, it can’t be used to manipulate me. It can’t be taken away.
So how do I notice I’m doing it, and more importantly, stop it in progress?
I’ve made an appointment to do some singing with a guitarist, and maybe do some performing. This is something I’m both good at and have been stalled in for years. I can’t get it together to practice with any consistency, even though I know it makes me happy and I could be very good if I practice. I don’t know if forcing myself to ‘do it anyway’ is the way to go yet or not, or even that I can do it.
I’ve been thinking about how to mend my relationship with you. I thought I’d start by sending letters.
What I thought is that, in 14 years where we had almost no contact, you really hadn’t gotten much chance to know who I’ve become. I was 19, then I was 35 and now 40, with hardly any contact during that time. I think some of the tension we have with one another is that you might be expecting me to behave toward you in the ways I did back when you saw me more. Part of this is my fault, because often it has been easier and more familiar for me to just be fake with you than to be honest with you about how things really stand between us. I grew up needing desperately for you to love me and protect me, so I’ve gotten into some bad habits of protecting you from the truth when I know you won’t like it.
I have changed an awful lot in those 14+ years and I know that when people close to you change, it’s hard. Perhaps learning more about what has changed might help you understand some things about me.
I have an anxiety disorder called complex post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Complex post traumatic stress disorder is not a mental illness, but an injury that happens when a person is exposed to chronic, repeated trauma, in a situation that goes on for months or years where they are under total control by another. Anyone who survives that type of situation will have these symptoms, regardless of how healthy they were beforehand. I’ve printed off a fact sheet about complex post traumatic stress disorder for you to read.
From my perspective, you were there and are a part of the system that harmed me for almost a decade. It’s as if I was a prisoner in a concentration camp and you were one of the guards, maybe not a very powerful one, but still with more power than me.
A person who gets raped once, or a soldier who sees or participates in horrible things, might get post traumatic stress disorder. It turns into ‘complex’ post traumatic stress disorder if you are abused for a long time over a period of months or years, and can’t get away. This is what happened to me.
I need you to accept that I’ve been changed forever by what happened. I need you to accept that I hold you responsible for not saving me, and most particularly for staying with [abusers name] after you got my letter about what happened. The crown council also told me you refused to speak to the police when they were investigating after I reported him. I can’t prove you knew he was abusing me, but I really think you should have known something was terribly wrong. You’re right, I can’t hold you responsible for what [abusers name] did, but I do hold you responsible for what you did, and in these things alone you’ve got a lot to answer for.
I have spent nearly as much time and money on therapy to recover from your betrayal in staying with [abusers name] , as I spent on recovering from the abuse.
Complex post traumatic stress disorder gets better with effort, and mine is a lot better than it was, but the effects, while lessening, are permanent and affect my life daily. Little things that remind me of those horrible times still produce strong fear reactions and have profoundly changed how I view the world.
Who am I now? I have fought hard to feel at home in my body. For many years, I had a spacey, unreal feeling in my body, and wasn’t aware of how it felt. I have fought hard to reclaim my voice. When I was 19, I had a soft, almost inaudible voice when speaking at school or in groups and didn’t know how to speak up for myself. I dressed in long sleeves and pants, even in hot weather, so that none of my body would be exposed. I didn’t want men to be interested in me, because I thought that meant that they would rape me. I averted my eyes from men so they didn’t think I was encouraging them. When I saw films with anything that reminded me of the abuse, I would get so terrified I’d have to walk out of the theatre right away. Afterward I would have weeks of nightmares and fear about what I’d seen and what it reminded me of. Now, I choose not to see movies I think might have suspense, captivity or sadistic violence, but if something comes on the TV I can usually tolerate it for a short while without having terrible nightmares. I went from hating myself for what happened and avoiding thinking of anything to do with it, to keep my fear under control, to being able to face my past, grieve it and make sense of it. I went from being so terrified of the dark that I couldn’t get up in the night to go to the bathroom to pee, to being able to feel safe in my home with my wife and dogs. I am grateful that I never used drugs and rarely used alcohol, which I knew instinctively would make things worse.
Where were you when I was learning to do all that? You were living with my abuser. He’s a sadistic, controlling, evil rapist. You chose him over me. Were you held captive? Were you threatened with death if you left? Did you have no relatives, friends or places to go to? You never once asked me for help leaving, or asked if you could come stay with me. You seemed to be able to travel freely and not be captive in your home. If you were forced to stay, then I need to hear details about that.
How does this affect you and I? Why can’t I just be ‘normal’ with you? I need you to understand how insulting it is that you want me to have a ‘normal’ relationship with you at all.
Now maybe you have post traumatic stress too, it’s certainly possible. You sometimes behave like someone who has PTSD. There may well be horrible things that happened to you I don’t know about, but up till now I haven’t seen any evidence that what you went through was even close to what I went through.
I realize that when I was young that you did help keep [abusers name] from hurting me as often as he might otherwise have done. Things like the time you turned him away from going in my bedroom, or just his need to keep it from being too blatant, did help reduce his opportunities to hurt me. Because of this, as a child, I very much wanted you to be as strong as possible so that I would be safer. Now, how that affects our relationship now is that I try to fix you, to make you calmer (so your anxiety doesn’t make me anxious and I am more comfortable) and look after yourself better. Since I’m completely unsuccessful in this (as most people’s attempts to change other people are), it doesn’t help how I feel at all. When I see you relying on [brother] to make your decisions for you and not looking after your physical and financial needs in ways I would think necessary if it were me, I feel an echo of the fear I felt then, that you would fall apart and I would have no protection at all from [abusers name] . I also get angry or irritated at you, since when you do those things, I am reminded about how ineffective you were in helping and protecting me. I realize I am an adult now and can protect myself effectively from [abusers name] , but old habits and reactions die hard.
How I would like to handle this differently in future is for me to mind my own business and not worry about you so much. I need to have faith that you will sort out the rest of your life and your retirement for yourself, and to remind myself that you’re no longer in any immediate danger. When I was in Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) they talked about it being unhealthy for a person to do for someone else what that person can and should do for themselves. I’m going to try and take that more to heart. This might take a few tries to do gracefully!
As a result of being betrayed by my parents, I’m very conscious of people’s integrity and cautious not to be betrayed. I look closely at people’s words and actions to see if they match. If they don’t, I try not to associate myself with the person. This is because the tension/suspense of knowing that they might betray me makes me anxious, and I need to keep my anxiety down. With you, that affects our relationship a lot. You said you believed me about [abusers name] , but didn’t think his actions were worth divorcing him over. That is the second worst thing anyone has ever done to me. I really don’t know if I can forgive you or trust you because of it. I have spent almost as much time in therapy sorting out my feelings and the effects of that betrayal by you as on anything else. I am absolutely, lividly furious with you that you could have the lack of integrity to not stand by your professed feminist beliefs and your professed love for me.
Because you have betrayed me in this important and painful way, I don’t trust that you will do what you say when it really matters, or act in accordance with the values you say you have. Another thing that is confusing for me is that you also don’t seem to remember some things about my childhood that [brother’s name] and I remember clearly, like when we didn’t have enough money to buy groceries and [brother’s name] and I went hungry.
Aside from the betrayal I experienced, what I think most gets in the way for me in being comfortable around you now is your denial about how bad the abuse was, and your suggestion that since things were hard for you too, any mistakes you might have made should be excused by that. I do not accept this. I agree that things were hard for you, and you need to heal that somehow, but that doesn’t excuse you from being responsible for your decisions.
I say these things, not to hurt you, but to correct my misrepresentation of how things are between us. I have been trying to be kind, to be generous, to give you the benefit of the doubt, to give you time to make explanations and amends on your own. I think this was a mistake, as it may have given you the impression that things aren’t as serious as they are. This is what might have given you the impression that I was willing to accept your version of events. I think it has come time to be honest, to make it clear that we have some serious issues between us, and I’m not willing or able to brush them under the rug. I know you birthed me and looked after me, and that most mothers feel entitled (and are entitled) to expect a certain amount of attention and sacrifice from their children because of that fact, but in light of your 14+ years of betrayal and refusal to assist the police in their investigation, I need to tell you that I don’t owe you any of those things.
I am very proud of how well I have improved my PTST and how well I manage it. It has been a long, expensive and time-consuming struggle. I think I have done very well. My most important coping strategy is my faith. Part of what kept me going, even as a child, was my spirituality, which has always been more about the Earth and the strength I draw from nature. When I grew up, I found religious beliefs that fit well with what I already believed and found strength in. Something you told me as a child, helped me survive spirituality, and to not lose hope and become suicidal. You told me repeatedly that ‘things always turn out for the best’ even when things looked bad. I took that to heart, and it probably kept me alive. Thank you for giving me that.
If we are to continue seeing one another from time to time, what I would like to do in future is to limit our visits to about 2 hours. Perhaps things will change between us, but since I can’t make you own up to the harm you have done me, I need to keep our visits short so I can maintain my composure around you. Because I have a long history of pretending I’m fine when I’m not, of putting your emotional needs before mine automatically, and numbing out to tolerate bad situations, I can seem fine when in fact I feel horrible. I spent many years learning not to automatically dissociate or ‘space out’ when things became uncomfortable, a process that has a lot of bad memories for me, and can exhaust me for days afterward. I sometimes do that when I am with you for too long, and I don’t want to have to do that any more. If I start to feel like I am doing that, I’m going to choose to just walk away, even if it’s less than two hours, when I feel anxious, frustrated or angry. I would say something like “I think I’m going to go now” and [Spouse] and I will leave. Knowing I can leave with no explanation if it gets too much will also help a lot. This will work better as an ‘escape valve’ if you avoid check ing in with me about whether I am becoming anxious or spacey, because I will then feel pressured to make you feel better by hiding my discomfort, which I’m not willing to do anymore.
Because you live so far away, when you visit I feel obligated to make it a longer visit than I want to make your effort worthwhile. If you lived in my city, we could do something routine and familiar like go grocery shopping together for an hour and then go home, which is about my speed. It’s pretty much impossible for me to think of coming and staying at your place, even with [wife’s name] there as a buffer. At some point, I might be able to visit your town if [wife’s name] and I stay at a hotel, and then drop in and visit with you for a couple of hours in the midst of doing other sight-seeing by ourselves.
I value honesty a lot in myself and in others. I need to have people around me I can be myself with, so my close friends are very important to me, and fill the space of family for me. I need you to respect that they have equal status to yourself and [brothers’ names] in my life. When you thought you had the right to un-invite [friend’s name] for Christmas (at MY house, no less!) so we could be ‘just family’, you were way out of line.
It was great how you and my other relatives came together for the wedding. I will always treasure that, and I know you were a big part in making that happen. Thank you. Thank you also for helping [wife’s name] and I buy our house by co-signing our mortgage. This is something no-one else would do for us and we appreciate it very much. Because of your help, we have some security for ourselves, and it makes both of us very happy and will help keep us safe in our retirement.
I realize I can’t be angry with you forever. I can hate [abuser’s name] forever, because he’s so evil that no sane person would ever forgive him. With you, I think we could have a decent, if not terribly close, relationship, if you can take responsibility for what you’ve done that has harmed me, and we can find ways of relating honestly with one another.
With so much left unsaid about the abuse between us, it really feels false and insincere to talk with you about anything else until we have that resolved. In my opinon resolving it means you fully appreciating the harm you have done me and changing some of your behaviour and expectations toward me. I realize you may not see things the way I do, and you may not want to see me under these conditions. I’ve reached the point where I can be at peace with not seeing you again, if that is your choice.
What would help me in a practical way would be, a signed letter acknowledging formally, in writing, unequivocally, that you believe the abuse happened and that I am telling the truth. This is because one thing I would very much like to do when [abusers name] is dead, is to speak out to help prevent what happened to me from happening to other children. I can’t stop men from abusing children, but I’d like to help stop the silence about it, which provides camouflage for abusers, and prevents kids in the situation I was in from getting help as soon as they need it. It would help me make my lifetime of stuggle to repair what happened have some value to the world. Because [abusers name] wasn’t criminally convicted of his crimes, and can’t be now that the statute of limitations is past, it is difficult from a legal and media perspective to refer to my own experiences in the way that would be most helpful. I would like to be able to refer to myself publicly as an incest survivor as part of helping to stop the silence and inaction around incest.
My friend, who is a newspaper editor, says that since I am telling the truth, if any of [abusers name] ’s heirs sued me for defamation that I would win. It would be horrible, though, if we had to go through all that, and your letter would reassure any media, for example, that referring to me as an incest survivor would not be a legal problem for them. I hope you will support me in this important work by giving me a written statement acknowledging that the abuse happened, and ideally providing all the reasons you know it to be true. This would is something you can do to make amends to me, and surely is in line with your values? By helping stop the silence and denial around child abuse, our experiences would be made meaningful and useful in some small way to others. I may also write to him and ask for a written confession from him as well, but I’m not holding my breath.
What I hunger for from you is truthful information from you about my past. You were an adult during times that I was so young and traumatized and it would be very helpful to compare what I remember with what you and others who were adults during that time remember. I don’t want to hear that you didn’t know, I want to hear what you now realize were signs he was abusing me. What has been hard so far for me when I ask you about the past, is that you don’t seem to remember some of the bad things I remember and [brother’s name] clearly remember, like not having enough to eat. When you do this, it is very frustrating for me and I think you don’t want to remember the truth or think a lie will be more pleasant for me. I know painful or shameful things are hard to remember accurately sometimes, but your courage in being honest with me about how things were would be much more helpful and would help rebuild my trust.
Why would this be of practical use? Part of healing PTSD is putting all the pieces together and grieving them. Once they are known and grieved, the impact lessens. When memories are stored during a time when a person is traumatized they get stored in a different way, similarly to how a person who learns something when they are really tired only remembers it again properly when they are again really tired. Although there are some things I remember clearly and have been able to heal, for other things what I am left with is the feelings that go with some of the memories, with only some of the information. Lttle details can help put things together and the truth is very important. It would be very helpful to me if you could help me remember some more details of what my childhood was like, not just the abuse. I would also like to know more about what [abusers name] was like then, from your perspective, and who else was around the family. I would like to sit down with you and a tape recorder and ask you questions about everything you can remember from that time. I would also appreciate it if you could write down for me everything creepy/abusive [abusers name] did that you observed and can remember, and everything you now realize was a sign that he was abusing me. For example, I know from [brother] that Uncle L—- said that [abusers name] called Aunt R—- a whore (or something similar), and that Uncle L—– and Aunt R— didn’t associate with our family after that. Were you there when he said that? Can you tell me more about that? Were there any other women or children you saw him make inappropriate or offensive remarks to? Did he have affairs? He spoke to me about his conversations with prostitutes and I got the impression he’d hired them – did you suspect that he hired prostitutes? What made you suspect if you did? I remember him fixing bicycles for neighbourhood children on [street]. Given how selfish he seemed to me to be, that doesn’t sound like something he would do without an ulterior motive. I know it’s not likely to be something you want to think about, but I think that he may have abused other children there. If I don’t know the truth, I will always wonder and therefore be afraid I will remember gruesome details unexpectedly, which is quite unpleasant. I’d rather remember on my own terms. Because of all this, it would also be really helpful to me if you could draw me a floor plan of the place we lived on [street] of the main floor and the basement.
These are real, practical ways you can help me, and also prove to me that you can be truthful and follow through about things to do with being accountable for the harm you have done me. I don’t want to go shopping with you, or go to dinner in fancy places or resorts. It’s too easy for me to fall into my habit of making you comfortable insead of being honest with myself. Instead I want to talk about the abuse until I have the answers I need.
It has taken me several weeks to write this letter. I find writing to be a good way for me to be sure I am saying what I really mean, and explaining myself well. If you would like to reply to my letter, you may, but I’m not ready for phone calls or visits yet.
I was in therapy this week unraveling a chain of reactions, as we survivors often have to do. My mom is anxious, and I have PTSD, which makes you anxious, and being around her, you guessed it, makes me anxious. So I try and pad her up, fix her, so she won’t be anxious (which doesn’t work), but also so she’ll be strong and brave and stand between me and my abuser/father like she did so ineffectually back then. Never mind that I haven’t seen him in about 20 years and don’t plan to.
Now, once I realized that is why I do that, I also realized that of course, I’m quite capable of defending myself from a physical attack from my father now. He’d be nutless before he hit the floor if he ever tried anything. The important thing is to convince my inner child of that.
Suddenly I had an inspiration, a kinesthetic memory of what it actually feels like to knee a man in the groin full force. I felt myself kneeing him hard in the groin and the fear of him was defeated.
The first time I kneed a man in the groin was in my first Model Mugging class. This, is not, as it sounds, a class where we mug skinny adolescents with fake boobs, but a self defence course where we actually ‘modeled’ what it’s like to fight full force against a male assailant. The teacher is a woman, and our ‘target’ is a specially trained (and carefully padded) man, who co-instructs but mostly gets knocked around.
The male co-instructor, in his padded suit, but not wearing his helmet, came up to each of us in the first class and invited us to knee him in the groin. I did so, half heartedly. I’d never hit another person before, except one brief schoolyard tussle, and it just felt wrong. He quite correctly pointed out that I hadn’t done it hard enough, and that by bringing my knee up solidly between his legs from underneath his testicles, that it would hurt a lot more. During the course of this two week course, I got familiar with the feeling of kneeing a man properly in the groin, jabbing him in the eyes with my hands, and even stomping on his head once he was down (used if help is far away and you need to insure he’s unconscious for long enough to get away. ). We would set up a ‘model’ incident or fight simulating a real attack, starting from a standing, walking or laying down position, and practise kicking ass, with our team of classmates yelling instructions that still echo in my head. Elbow! Eyes! Groin! Stomp!
So when I remembered with my body what it felt like to knee a man in the groin and applied that to my father, it gave me more than an intellectual realization that I am no longer in any physical danger from him.
Living or dead, spiritually, intellectually, socially and physically, I can kick his ass.
I’ve been following a blog called “Smelling God” – she’s a survivor who also seems to be taking a mystical approach to healing. It’s nice to see. Her god is probably not a regular dinner partner of any of mine, but that’s fine, with me anyhow.
Today I bought a small pot of mini daffodils on the way back home from an acupuncture appointment today. They are bright and the green of their leaves seems freshly minted.
The acupuncture is something I’ve meant to try for years. My wife was being very successfully treated for some nerve damage in her foot and I noticed that the clinic also does acupuncture for weight loss. The traditional Chinese medicine doctor looked at my tongue and took my pulses and told me I had excess ‘damp’, which apparently means I’m blocked up in the systems that process fluid and energetically. Since I started the treatment a little over a week ago, I’ve lost 15 pounds, which the doctor says is not unusual. More importantly, I feel less anxious and more energetic, and even my wife noticed I seem less stressed. My prayers for a reduction in anxiety seem to have been answered, and I’m experiencing a kind of springtime myself.
I had a dream last night where I was at a new job and trying to figure out what my duties were to be, and what the purpose of my new workplace was. In my dream I was taken to a supervisor who was arranging pots of spring flowers. She showed me the bulbs that were sprouting blooms, and pointed out how some were healthy and some were exposed as sickly when you sprayed them with a sharp burst of water from her spray bottle. Her task appeared to be to select the healthy ones and arrange them into potted arrangements.
I don’t know what the dream means exactly, but I’m willing to take a hint. Pay attention to Spring, Life and new growth. Embrace the hope of spring flowers and the Maiden goddess they represent.
A few weeks ago at that storytelling retreat, I made a sculpture on the theme of the Maiden, which turned out to be a welcome to Her that I hung outside my front door in welcome to Her. It seems She has arrived.
In more ancient times, I’m told the term ‘virgin’ meant a woman who had not yet given birth. I’m therefore a virgin, and will likely always be one. One of my favourite virgin goddesses, Artemis, is sometimes seen as a protectress of children. I like to think She’s one of my allies in this journey.
Walking to a friend’s house today, it occurred to me what I want from my father before he dies. Even better, I think I can get it.
I want a signed confession. I want him to sign a paper, witnessed and legal, that says that he sexually abused his daughter.
Here’s why I think I can get it:
First of all, he’s dying, so a confession can’t hurt him.
Secondly, the statute of limitations for his abuse has long since passed, so a confession can’t hurt him.
Thirdly, he’s dying, so even if I sue his estate for money, I’d essentially be suing my mother, not him.
Fourthly, we can even put it in the care of a lawyer with me not getting it till he dies, if he wants to.
Lastly, there’s no one he’d care about knowing who hasn’t already known for years.
What good would it do me to have this paper?
Well, first and not actually most importantly, surprizingly enough, I’d have a talisman against my own denial. If my father himself admits he did it, I never need to doubt myself again.
Secondly and more importantly, if I want to do activism around incest (and I think I do), I’d then be able to be described as “myname, incest survivor” as opposed to “myname, who alleges her father sexually abused her”, or even “sorry we can’t report on that since it hasn’t been proven in court that he did it” , which would make things a lot easier.
Lastly, it helps with the unquiet ghost thing somehow. He will have confessed, and can go into death at least being honest about that.
Now, I may be unrealistic here, but I figure, the idea came to me for a reason, and I will try.
I’ll tell him “I want this from you so I can work to stop it happening to any other little girls. It doesn’t cost you anything. You owe me this.”
I’ve been wracking my brains for weeks now, trying to ferret out what made my father do it. Was he a flawed man with some redeeming qualities who inexplicably got fixated on sexually abusing his daughter? Or was he a sociopath who merely pretended to be good sometimes, for appearances sake?
The first theory presents as evidence my ‘daddy’s’ behaviour: playing guitar and singing “how much is that doggy in the window” for the sheer pleasure of his 4 year old daughter, reading stories to her, and recording fairy tales on tape, so when he wasn’t home I’d hear his voice telling me stories.
The second theory presents as evidence my father’s extreme dissociation while he raped me, his obliviousness to my screams and the physical injuries on my little body. His mysogyny, his disrespect for the boundaries and feelings of people around us, his cruelty to our two dogs. As further evidence, the fact that anyone in my family or friends of my mothers who knew him, believed without question when informed he’d abused me. It seemed to fit with their experience of him.
Why do I need to know? Because my four year old self wants me to explain. She loved her daddy. She loved him right up till the pain started, and after that she thought a monster had taken him over. She was energetically open and innocent. She needs to know.
I’ve been thinking about this in adult terms.
Today, driving home from therapy, allowing myself to grieve from that 4 year old place, it came to me.
“He was Bad.”
That’s all she needed. Yes. He was bad. Somehow whether he meant it when he sang with me or read to me is suddenly irrelevant. ‘Bad’ is a concept that explains everything to a four year old, apparently. The explanation settles in, clicks somewhere and ties the monster and daddy together. It seems to provide a reason, and relieves her of the burden of needing to find out if the monster swallowed her daddy.
He was, simply, Bad.
Do I need to say goodbye to a ‘bad man’? Maybe not. Do I need a deathbed confrontation or to write ‘rapist’ in weed killer on his lawn? I won’t rule it out at this point, but at this moment, I feel peace.
So it wasn’t just t-shirts that got me thinking the other night in my chocolate (and probably PMS) induced sleeplessness.
I’m behind in my correspondence.
It’s been years since I wrote dear old dad a letter, and him being (hopefully) close to his deathbed, perhaps it’s time to drop him a line.
I sent him a fathers day card a few years ago. I found one with a sappy saying “Thanks for a lifetime of happy memories”, crossed out the word “happy” and sent it to him, unsigned. I think he knows who sent it though. I’d planned to make it a yearly event (I figured if he gets to get away with raping me, then me sending him a nasty card once a year is certainly within my rights. ) However, like I said, I’m behind in my correspondence.
So let me rehearse my draft to him here.
Dear Dad (yes, I’m using the term, since well, he is my Da, and it’s what I called him last I spoke to him. The word ‘Dad’ just doesn’t have the same meaning for me as it does for other folks, I think. Then again, since a full 20% of all people in the US have been abused, my meaning might be more common than it appears. )
So I hear you’re dying of cancer.
Hope it’s really really painful.
I wanted you to know some things before you die. First off, the police MP have you in a database of sexual offenders, and have been watching you, so if you are thinking of getting in a bit more abuse before you go, know that they will pull you in and I’d be delighted to provide a character reference.
Secondly, you know all that Christian stuff about forgiveness you were taught? I didn’t buy it. As you may have heard, I’ve gone back to my Pagan Scottish roots, which make a lot more sense. I want you to go into your death knowing that I don’t forgive you for raping me and for insulting the honour of our family, and I never will. I won’t be laying flowers on your grave, and neither will anyone else.
However, I want to give you one thing, one secret, before you die. The only way to go into death clean is to feel remorse for the horrors you’ve done. I suggest you get down to it right away. Our family doesn’t need a restless ghost.
I want you to think about your death, about your own soul, which you have dishonoured, and which surely must be a bleeding scrap by now. I know your father beat you, and I don’t know what else happened to set you up to believe that raping your daughter was an option, but I don’t care. I know you think your drinking was an excuse. It’s not.
I assume you’re a sociopath, but who’s to know? I certainly have no sane fathers to compare you to. I remember when you found me on the highway, unconscious, after I was hit by that car, and you told me how you’d realized in that moment you loved me, with great surprize in your voice. Do you remember that? It actually makes sense, for a sociopath to be surprised at experiencing love, however briefly.
I told your mother you abused me before she died and she believed me.
Everyone believed me.
They figured, yes, it was something you’d do.
Do you know that you are legendary for your selfishness? At my wedding, someone made a selfish, arrogant and self-centred statement and someone else said he was just like you. Go into your death knowing you are not forgiven, but you will be forgotten. You have done nothing of value.
I have lived my entire life trying to overcome the pain you inflicted on me, and I curse you for it.
I do not need to kill you. Mother Nature will do it for me. I would not dishonour myself by making myself a murderer. But know this. When you die, I will rejoice and I will claim your death as my victory. I declare victory over you now, for you will be dead soon, and I will be alive and happy.
Last night, I made the mistake of eating a bit too much chocolate before bed (it was worth it) and lay awake for awhile.
My last post got me thinking about “Survivor Pride” and how I might incite it. “Incest Survivor Pride” has the wrong ring to it, I think, since I’m certainly not happy or proud that incest was inflicted upon me. I am, however, proud of how I’ve responded. People seem to get all sappy about veterans, how about “Incest Veteran Pride”.
Victor Frankl was a man who to me has ‘survivor cred’ about choosing a brave and resilient response to injustice, being a holocaust survivor who turned his experiences there into a theory and practice of choosing one’s response to suffering and making meaning of it.
He has some interesting quotes:
If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life – an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival. – Man’s Search for Meaning. An Introduction to Logotherapy, Boston: Beacon, ISBN (Okay, sexist title, but I’ve read it and I forgive him for it.)
“What is to give light must endure the burning.”
“Everything can be taken away from a man [sic] but one thing: the last of the human freedom — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.“
There was also one I couldn’t find a direct quote for, but which has been paraphrased as: “even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps he found only two races of men to exist: decent and non-decent ones. These were to be found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups.”
I wasn’t thinking last night about meaningful, literary quotes, although, with the caveat of the sexism, I support all the above in relation to incest and sexual abuse.
Last night I was thinking about t-shirts. Cheap, popular and visible, gay people have used them to come out publicly and make statements for decades.
In my mind I designed a t-shirt with a circular medalion on it, kind of a coat of arms, with my tai chi sword crossed with a thumb-width stick. Above it the lettering would say.
Child Sexual Abuse
May We Outlive them All
and below it it would say
And Dance Upon Their Graves!
Other shirts would say:
I’ve survived much worse than this. I can do anything!
This is a good day…
to dance on my abusers grave!
To suffer – is human…
To survive…. is a lot of damn work!
If you think I’m bloodthirsty – you should meet the bastard I survived! (this one needs work, I think…)
Where were you all when I was being tortured?
Your fear won’t protect them. Abused children need strong communities.
I went through hell as a child and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!
I only look underfunctioning when you make my obstacles invisible.
I survived incest in childhood. Where’s my trophy?
You get the idea – I’d welcome any others (or refinements on mine) in comments.
As a lesbian, I’m no stranger to coming out. Coming out is the antidote to shame when you’re a gay person, a way of demonstrating to one’s own soul that you love yourself just the way you are. I live in Canada, where I can marry the person of my choice and no-one can fire me for being gay – unless they lie about it. (My hypercompetent wife was once suspiciously let go after she listed me as her spouse with human resources).
I can’t tell you enough how much easier it is to come out now that we can get married. I know now that if I walk into an emergency room with my wife, as happened last summer when she had an infected tooth, that if anyone has any problem with me being her next of kin, there’s nothing they can do about it. Anyone who denies me my wifely privileges is heading for a sure loss, both in court and in the court of public opinion, which is overwhelmingly in support of our rights here. I am blessed to be Canadian.
I was reading a post on a blog about mental illness just now that talks about what the author describes as the ‘s-word’. The word stigma means “stain or reproach caused by dishonorableconduct” and is used to describe both how people (such as persons with a mental illness and their families) feel about themselves and how others feel about them. It refers to an ancient practice of marking social outcasts with a mark, called a stigma. She prefers the much more accurate “unnecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination”, a phrase borrowed from Barack Obama because ‘stigma’ implies the person did something to deserve a bad reputation.
I’ve always thought the word ‘homophobic person’ should be replaced by the term “political opponent”, “anti-gay person” or “bigot”.
People don’t discriminate against or kill gay people because they have an irrational fear of us after all. They discriminate because they know that allowing people to make their own sexual, relationship and moral choices, based on their own conscience, undermines the power of authoritarian institutions such as conservative churches and male-centric hierarchical families. If you have two women together, which one subsumes her career, life and identity to care for the other? If you have two men together, might they prove that men can have a relationship of equals and inspire straight women to demand their men do the same? My utopia is my opponents’ loss of structure and status.
I rather suspect that the reasons for the UBSD (unecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination) are similar to the reasons my opponents try to deny gay people our civil rights. If all incest survivors could talk openly about our truth, then “The Family” suffers an unfortunately deserved public relations breakdown. All hierarchical relationships in or outside the home would be recognized as magnets for abusers. “Father knows Best” would be undermined irreparably.
So how do I, as an incest survivor, experience unnecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination?
It’s hard for me to think in those terms. Unlike the gay pride movement, there is no ‘incest survivor pride’ movement (yet) to help me separate myself in thought from the sea of social norms and prejudices. I have to feel my way, sometimes blindly, to truth and clarity.
Perhaps the barriers, stereotypes and discrimination I fear can be revealed in these questions:
Would you hire me to care for your kids if you knew I was an incest survivor? Why or why not?
Would you expect me to be reliable and responsible at my job as a computer programmer, doctor or lawyer?
Who do you think is more likely to be violent? an incest survivor or a non-survivor?
Would you date an incest survivor? Marry one?
Do you think incest survivors should just get over it and shut up? It can’t be so bad – since children don’t remember much anyhow.
If we are discussing our families and whether we”ll be seeing them over Christmas/Solstice/Chanukka, is it permissible in polite company to say “I don’t see my father, he’s a child abuser.”? Or would a more dishonest or evasive answer always be preferred? If so, do survivors ever get to be honest about their lives and experiences in regular life? What do you think the impact is of never getting to tell the truth about one’s life?
My sister in law asked me what to tell her children about their grandfather. She has no cultural stories to guide her in this, because of the silence that surrounds incest, and no-one else to ask but me, since she can’t ask for advice from her friends, like she could about diaper rash or potty training. I said to tell them “He has something wrong with him that makes him hurt other people. We keep you away from him to keep you safe.” Why are there no fairy tales or cultural stories about parents protecting children from evil relatives? Because as a culture we have not clearly decided to whom our loyalties lie. families are just as likely to turn a blind eye and permit funny uncles and abuser daddies access to children as not. My brother and sister in law are fortunately sensible people but just in case I made it clear that if I learned that my father had access to the children I would call the police.
When my father dies, do I get to tell? If social acquaintances find out and say “I’m sorry”, is it permissible to say “Don’t be. I’m not.” If not, do I have to pretend to reflect the presumed norm that people generally like their fathers, and render myself and my complicated grief, not for his death, but for my life, invisible at the time I need support the most?
Why is it that sex workers under the age of 18 are referred to as ‘prostitutes’ rather than ‘child sexual abuse victims’? Does that mean that having sex with children okay as long as they appear to consent and you pay them or their owners for it? Why is the story of ‘Lolita‘ not framed as a book about child sexual abuse instead of a titilating tale of male fantasy about a girl-child’s supposed seduction of an old man?
Why is it considered sexy or even acceptable to refer to one’s lover as ‘daddy’ and dress up as a little girl or boy for sexual purposes? Can you think of how that might be insulting and horrifying to those who actually had to have intercourse with their ‘daddies’? Most people don’t, apparently. I know in my bones that sexualizing sex with children makes it that much easier for the evil ones and that much harder to speak up when you’ve actually experienced it. How do I speak up about this without the vulnerability that comes with disclosing my horrific past?
Does disclosing my past add to my credibilty on these topics, or destroy it?
As a lesbian I am in community, through my community newspapers and events, with lots of people whose sexuality lies outside the norm. Because we know what it’s like to be a minority, our community has a party line of being accepting of people whose sexual preferences are unusual that I think often goes too far.
There. I’ve said it.
I’ve been at public events where I’ve seen one human being lead a bound and gagged other around on a leash. I know straight people do this too, probably even more of them since there are more straight people in the first place. However, I don’t have to be around them and I am not pressured into pretending to be their ally. I’m supposed to be proud of them for being ‘out’ when in fact all seeing them does is remind me, viscerally, of being restrained, suffocated and raped. As an incest survivor and a good community member, I’m not allowed to tell them how their stupid and insensitive actions hurt me.
As an incest survivor, I’m absolutely certain that coercive sex or the appearance of coercive sex should never be accepted as sexy or positive. If you haven’t truly been coerced into sex, on fear of your life, over and over again, you’ve no f-ing business pretending it’s fun.
The same goes for calling your partner ‘daddy’ or dressing as a child for sexual purposes. To my mind, that’s advertizing for the enemy, feeding their rationalizations and those of people who look the other way. However, to call these people on their crap, I first have to come out as an incest survivor, and endure the “oh, that’s why she’s so sensitive” looks or comments.
I lived through years of torture. I’ve done my time. My experience and authority on this subject should be accepted. If a survivor of Abu Ghraib (the prison where US soldiers tortured and sexually assaulted Iraqi prisoners) objected to people framing prison interrogator/prisoner ‘scenes’ as sexy, he would be accorded much more respect.
So that’s why I, who am not the least afraid of letting people know I’m gay, find it hard to come out as a survivor. Those are some of the barriers that must be removed. Like suffragette Sarah Grimké, I want no special favours, only the right to be openly who I am without judgement or discrimination. I am brave, I am smart, I am capable. I am socially and financially successful, resilient and strong. I need to stand my own ground, in my own truth. I deserve to be respected for my strengths and the wisdom that I’ve earned, and accorded the right to be truthful about my life.
I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on the ground which God has designed us to occupy. – Sarah Grimké, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women; Boston, 1838.
I spent the weekend with a bunch of friends and acquaintances at a storytelling retreat. At this same retreat last year was the first time I told people publicly that I intend to dance on my father’s grave. It was an incredibly important experience for me then, to speak of my loneliness being a high-functioning and therefore able-to -hide survivor of extreme abuse. It was a kind of coming out, and like all coming out experiences, helped me connect with allies and support I would not have dreamed possible.
This year, I wanted to tell them how the project was coming along. I wanted to tell these kind, sympathetic women how six months after I told them how I was waiting for my father to die, I got news that he’d been in the hospital for months and had cancer again. I wanted to tell them how I’d been planning, preparing a rite of passage for myself, a brave act of victory and inspiration for others.
I ended up feeling more and more alone.
I am not brave. I am not a sword dance warrior waging glorious psychic battle with the patriarchy as embodied in its one evil representative in my life.
I am horribly exposed.
As I sit here, typing, gasping for breath amid sobs, from long habit permitting and encouraging myself to sob until it is all released, I feel like I have undermined all my efforts to be a success in this world, that people I know, know that I am damaged and not well socialized enough to keep my dirty secrets, fears and spiritual sorrows private in polite company.
I am pressed up against the wall of ice that is the silence around incest, trying so hard not to beg, please, please let me be part of you in my whole self. Let me be a normal person with normal responses to a horrific tragedy. Let me speak the truth of my life without making you look at me with discomfort.
Please let me be real.
My friend, who is also a brave warrior, suggests I scan and publish the art piece I made on the first night there, when it felt like I was a stream of hot lava running through a landscape meant to be watercolours and comedy, politeness and laughter.I willed myself to be truthful, to claim the right to be me in an intimate environment, knowing that successful art comes from rigorous truth. I avoided graphic details out of concern for virgin ears, and to keep the focus on my Quest. Other women could talk about the painful truths of their life, divorce, loves lost, abortions and miscarriages, loss of beloved parents, but my losses are too bizarrre to share, too evocative and raw.
As an act of courage, I ruthlessly returned to the art I wanted to make and share, the story of my quest to reclaim the right of women who have been raped to openly challenge their abusers and avenge their honour, if only in symbolic terms. I wanted to see and hear women understand, but I don’t have any evidence they did.
On the last day, one woman, a therapist, self-confessed ‘not-a-survivor-herself’ but a therapist to many survivors over the years took exception to a phrase I used, as feminists often sadly feel the right to do.
I had used it to describe my conviction that I had been exposed, by listening to survivors I’d sat in support meetings with and in other contexts, to women who had experienced the full range of the horror of sexual abuse, from molestation to rape to ritual abuse. She said this had been disrespectful to survivors, since I couldn’t possibly have heard ‘everything’. My point had been that a thing I valued about myself was that when listening to a woman’s story, I listened for what she wanted to tell me, and didn’t get distracted by the drama of the horror. I knew of and accepted the fact of a very large range of abuse so didn’t need to attach energy to them if it wasn’t the main topic the survivor wanted to discuss.
When I tell someone about my experience, I don’t normally want them to get caught up in the dramatic and graphic details, but in the meaning I am trying to make of them, how they affect me now or even just to provide context for an everyday experience affected by my past. I’d been really trying to say, probably, “Listen to my story, but don’t get caught up in pity or disgust. I have a richer story to tell about this if you don’t get caught up in the horror.”
Frankly, once I got over the hurt, if I have as yet, it seemed to me that this was like a white person telling a black person something they said might be disrespectful to black people. None of the other survivors I spoke to after my story seemed to have any issue with it, and I know for sure I would not have been offended had someone else said what I’d said. Perhaps it would have been offensive or disrespectful coming from someone ‘not-a-survivor-herself’, depending on the attitude that accompanied it. I’d be inclined to say that if you’re not a survivor yourself, you can’t know.
When I was single and told lovers I was a survivor, it wasn’t because I wanted to get into it and kill the mood (although it unfortunately might have at times), but because, like a hip injury or an STD, they needed to know in order to understand why I might have some limits to the way I could have sex and it was a big deal that they be respected.
The neighbourhood where I live has a lot of lesbians living in it. This has the advantage of being a place where people are blessedly bored with the whole concept of lesbians. I can hold hands or go shopping for household items with my wife with no funny looks or awkwardness and interact with people without the gay thing getting in the way.
While I don’t want people to be bored with incest, which of course still needs to be aggressively stopped whenever and wherever it is noticed, I’d sure like it if my normal, everyday, Pagan rite of passage for the death of a mortal enemy could be viewed as a reasonable and expected thing for a survivor to do. I’d like it if survivors, like the wounded shamans of other cultures, were regarded with respect for their courage, resilience and earned wisdom. Christopher Reeves, the superman who bravely soldiered on after a spinal cord sports injury, is heralded as a hero, which may in fact be so, but where are our incest survivor comeback stories, from women who’ve sustained injuries as deep and debilitating and have triumphed?
As I tell my story, I tell myself that that is what I am creating that space for myself and others, a way of viewing survivors as heroic/heraic figures. May the all that I hold holy – earth, water and fire and air and the truth/life/sacred at the centre of all things – bless me with the courage and support I need.
I’m forty now. I haven’t had any children and I’ve decided not to try. It’s a good thing, really, that my spouse doesn’t want kids iether, since I’ve been thinking a lot about kids since I turned forty and if I didn’t have such an awesome birth control method, I might ambivalently allow myself to get pregnant. A lot of births happen that way, I think.
Would I have had kids if I wasn’t an incest survivor? Maybe. When I was younger, I thought the pain of childbirth might trigger too much the pain of being raped as a child. I didn’t think I could handle it, and knew I didn’t have the support in my life if it turned out I couldn’t. There is really almost no systemic or societal support for incest survivors. If I had cancer or diabetes or a head injury, I could go to a support group in a hospital for free, talk about my life-challenging injury or illness freely, and even get my friends to walk in walkathons or shave their head or register to donate bone marrow in support.
But I’m an incest survivor. When I was very young I faced the threat of death, injury and loss of control over my own body on a daily basis. For a decade. Continually. While being forced on implicit threat of more violence to stay quiet about it and hide any effects on my person or behaviour. With no resources, money, status or external support of my own. With not even the knowledge that sustained people interred in concentration camps that the abusers were morally wrong and that others were going through the same thing. With only the hope of growing up and getting out to sustain me.
I hoped as a child that I would grow up and get married and get away. This was the reason to live. I looked forward to having sex, since everyone said it was such a good thing. Doing it made you an adult. Like many girls I made up names for my future children, and figured out whether I was going to be a teacher or a nurse when I grew up, those being the only choices presented.
I apparently tested at the top of the charts in the intelligence tests all kids were administered in elementary school, 98 percentile, meaning only 2 percent of all children my age tested higher. I read at a grade 12 level when I was in grade six. I was told, along with the other three girls who tested as high and were sent off to ‘enrichment’ class, that we were the hope of the future, Canada’s future leaders and we would solve the big world issues of nuclear proliferation, world peace and the environment. Even at the time I thought this was unfair. Why should the adults wait till I grew up to solve these problems? They created them, didn’t they? They were so much more powerful than I, so how could I fix things if they couldn’t?
A three dollar lock for my bedroom door would have made all the difference, had I known I had a right to one. I’m told by women who were social workers in those days that no-one was on the lookout for child sexual abuse, that telling might not have done much good. Perhaps I can let go of hating the teachers that didn’t identify that I needed help. Surely things are different now. I don’t think I can let go of hating the systemic sexism that made it possible. I know things aren’t different now.
I live in a neighbourhood where women who sell sexual services to survive work nearby. Many of them show signs of being meth users – the awkward floppy legged walk from nerve damage, visible wounds and bruises at times. All are bone-rack skinny and wear clothing insufficient to the elements. I know many feminists argue that prostitution is a legitimate profession, and I’ll allow it could be, in settings where the working conditions weren’t so appalling. I called an ambulance for a woman with so much skin ripped away from her chest that I could see raw meat underneath. Her ‘boyfriend’ really didn’t want her to go to a hospital, and tried to talk me out of calling, then dissapeared by the time the ambulance arrived. The fact that women in these straights still exist mean to me that men like my father still exist.
I was laying awake this morning thinking about what I could do today to make me feel better. I’d love to go for a walk in the large semi-natural city park we have, if I wasn’t sure I’d be afraid all the time, walking through the beautiful, sacred forest, praying and connecting energetically with the earth as is my right as a religious Pagan, that some asshole would steal my body and perhaps my life away from me again. Christians don’t have to worry about being raped during church services and I envy them. I have periodic fantasies of buying some land out in the country somewhere, where I can be in nature and feel safe at the same time. Sometimes it’s hard not to hate men for all the freedoms they enjoy. They might be afraid of being mugged in an isolated place, but not usually raped. On the tv shows where the police officer trying to get the suspect to confess or take a deal threatens them with the likelihood that they’ll be raped in jail, pretty boy that they are, I can tell this thought horrifies men. It’s like it’s this horrific, rare, exceptional thing to be in regular danger of being raped. For women it’s this horrific, common, usual thing to be in regular danger of being raped.
To point this sort of thing out is to be labelled a man hater. Bullshit! Facts are facts, and not facing them doesn’t make them not true. Men rape women more than women rape men. A lot more. Men kill women more than women kill men. A lot more. Does this mean men are bad? No. It means that we encourage men (and boys) to behave violently toward women (and girls), and mostly let them get away with it when they do. According to Raine Eisler, the military necessity of being able force a lower status man to objectify and kill a total stranger or be killed depends on this training, and it seems so does a lot of economic conquest and battle. I know lots of honourable men, but even they are uncomfortable with these facts. It’s like being a white person trying not to cooperate with racism in apparteid-era South Africa. If you’re not a full time activist, there are lots of daily ways to be complicit in thought or deed with the injustice the society around you is hell bent on perpetuating.
So what would genius-level IQ, creative, musically talented me have been if I hadn’t been a woman in a household with a rapist in a culture that lets fathers rape their children? Is is too late to be a portion of what I might have been? I don’t even know how to find out.
Here’s the thing. A blog about “incest survivors, sprituality and ceremonies of justice” is kind of a conversation stopper. In order to be able to feel absolutely honest here, I’ve avoided any mention of who I am and where I am in my posts. Continue reading Bloggy Award Nominations and Coming Out