Yesterday I did a ritual of blessing and letting go with one of my friends. We both practice the same religion but hadn’t done any ceremony together before. It was her idea to burn things we wanted to let go of before we go into the new year, and to eat a dinner of black eyed peas and greens ( a southern US prosperity blessing practice).
I burnt three things. The first was a shield I’d made of paper, early into my healing journey. At the time, I was living alone and having night fears and flashbacks almost nightly. At the time I called them monsters. Come evening time, it was like I was haunted by anxiety and the sense that something was stalking me over my shoulder. I would be afraid to look around or to focus much attention on it, for fear the ‘monster’ would come closer. Because most of my abuse happened at night in my bedroom, going to bed was particularly hard for me, and, although I didn’t know it, I was having memory fragments of the fear I experienced as a child and teen, waiting to see if my abuser would come down the hall to my bedroom and enter to abuse me or if he would pass my room by and go to bed. Since before he would abuse me he would usually use the bathroom across the hall from my room, I had come to associate bathrooms with bad things happening as well. However, I hadn’t had enough time and support to put all this together yet at that point, so all I knew was the fear.
I had created the shield with all of the sacred elements pictured on it, and posted it on my door as a warding to keep the monsters out. That, combined with some other ritual I did at the time, like writing down my fears in bed before sleeping, keeping a jar by my bed in case I was too scared to get up and go into the bathroom at night, and bringing a candle with me to bed so I didn’t have to walk across a dark bedroom, helped keep the monsters manageable until I could process more of the memory fragments. When I moved, that shield came down and didn’t go back up again in my new place, but I’ve kept if for the 20 some years since.
I burned it yesterday because there are no longer monsters waiting for me outside my bedroom door, and if fear fragments from my past emerge, I can name them and deal with them directly. I thanked the shield for protecting me and let that energy go.
The second thing I burned was a journal from 2003. At that time, I was living with a roommate who bullied me. She had been asked to leave the house, but in the two weeks before she would actually leave, I stayed with a friend because I no longer felt safe at home. This woman, I’ve realized recently, was very similar to both my father and my recent other partner, so it felt fitting to burn my account of freeing myself of her at the same time I am freeing my self of my ex. I do not have to be connected with people who enjoy hurting others.
Also in the journal at the time my father/abuser was in the hospital after a serious car accident, and while there he had been diagnosed with cancer, which they were treating. My family rallied around to nurse him back to help, which felt like such a betrayal, and lessened my ability to deal with the abusive roommate. I now have no contact with my family and have many more people in my life who know my story.
Flipping through the pages, I came across a description I wrote after waking at 5 am to cry over the fact that my girlfriend (now wife), who I had been with three years at this point, was losing her sex driving in menopause, something she thought was only temporary and I should be patient with. Ten years later, we’ve resolved this issue, although in a completely unexpected way, by me having additional partners, something that has completely transformed and blessed our relationship.
I wrote at the time about feeling politically alienated from the queer community, because as a survivor of misogynist violence, my needs are different, and the most important (only) gender issue for me is expanding power and equality for women for the purpose of protecting ourselves and children from misogynous sociopaths like my father. When people wish to do away with the concept of ‘woman’ completely, it feels like they are trying not to create equality, but to make women and our struggles invisible. This issue had come up for me that day in a queer poly group I have been dipping my toe into, that I was concerned would have a rigidly lockstep political stance on these issues. Instead of being silenced, I spoke out, and got reassurance that my perspective would not be shut down from one of the moderators. Afterward, I re-read yesterday on my blog a post where I had a wonderful comment exchange with Michelliana ( a woman of trans experience) about the conflict of trans needs and survivor needs. I realized how healing this simple, thoughtful, vulnerable exchange had been for me. All of these things have been ongoing issues in my life, and in the past ten years, all have transformed. It’s good to let that energy burn off and be released.
The last thing I have some mixed feelings about. I burned a bunch of nitrile gloves. As a Pagan, doing something so polluting was a dumb idea in sacred space (or anywhere) and I thought afterward that I could have just cut them to bits with scissors and put them in the garbage. The gloves had been purchased as safe sex supplies by an ex-girlfriend, and barely used. I had requested that she wear gloves, which provide a smoother surface and prevent fingernails and rough hands from irritating my skin, and so make it less likely that I’ll have a flare-up of the inflammatory skin condition I have around my vulva resulting from the assaults. She didn’t like the gloves that I preferred for this purpose and had bought her own, in a rough material and size so large it was wrinkly, causing more discomfort than the ungloved hand would have. They represented that selfishness and lack of empathy and caring that I don’t want to see again in a partner. This was the only thing I burned that was a true banishing, a releasing of something that disgusted me to see and which I was glad to see the back of. The smoke clung to me afterward, and today I find myself with a headache. I would like to find a way to think about that toxic smoke amid my relief to have them truly gone, to have her truly gone from inside me as well. Perhaps it is reminding me that getting rid of something toxic leaves a residue, and it’s best to avoid those things completely in future, and not rely on my strength to withstand and clean up the damage later. When we are very hungry, it is tempting to take the food that is offered, despite the toxins in contains. It is important to ensure I never get that hungry again.
I think today, I will focus on blessing myself, my life and the people I love, on nourishing myself. Going forward, I will pay attention to my hunger, and figure out a strategy for meeting my needs without accepting toxic people into my life or at least removing them immediately.
May your 2014 be blessed. As my friend Kate says, “Good and Healing Thoughts to You.”
I just got back from a camping trip with my wife. With her support, I burned several boxes of old journals, dating back from my childhood through the present. It took me three days. Now that I’ve decided not to sue the old hopefully soon to be dead bastard, I don’t need them any more.
I flipped through each of them, tore out some poetry and things I wanted to keep, and then burned the rest. As a Wiccan, releasing ritual is usually done on the waning moon, but the moon was waxing so I needed to interpret what I was doing in that light, as accepting, increasing or making whole rather than discarding something unwanted.
What I came up with is that I am all of it. I am the woman who wrote 30+ years of journals, writing mostly when I had too much inside that I couldn’t share. I am the teenage girl obsessing about boys and interpersonal crap with girls, even though I’m a lesbian. I am the young woman obsessing about guys, money and finding a job. I am the emerging lesbian obsessing about women, whether to label myself bi or lesbian. Thank goodness queer wasn’t a label in use then, that would have been way more confusing. I am the woman who lived with a man but knew she preferred women, who fell in love with her best friend and was rejected by her.
I am the woman who saved her friend from committing suicide because I could read the signs and took a long cab ride out to stop her. I am the woman who stood up at a 12 step convention and asked a crowd of 300 people to tell me they believed me about the abuse. I cry even now thinking of how powerful that was, when they all unanimously stood and declared it in unison. I am the woman with a powerful and direct voice when she has enough social support and a hesitant, anxious and ruminating manner when she doesn’t. I am the girl who wrote poetry. I am the girl who counted in her head to keep from having intrusive thoughts and feelings about the abuse.
I am the woman who successfully pulled her mind away from abuse thoughts during sex, who once despaired of ever having an orgasm without some abuse fantasy in it, who took her sexuality back from the abuser. Who now almost never thinks or feels those things in sexual contexts.
I am the woman who chronicled her flashbacks – reading them I remembered when the memories of the abuse were more visceral, and am glad that has faded as they got integrated.
I accept all of my experience, power and knowledge into me. I integrate that girl, that woman I have been and am. Although I have changed and evolved, it is all me and I welcome that stored energy and passion back to me.
What I noticed as well, is that so much paper was spent agonizing over decisions, fretting and obsessing rather than acting. Some of this is my highly sensitive person nature, where I am cautious and slow to act. Some of it is the chronic anxiety I struggled with most of my life. Some of it is just that I had no one else to tell. Some of that has not changed.
If this ritual, this spell of release and transformation, has one goal, it’s to end that. I will write purposefully – envisioning the ideal future or in poetry, music or prose – or not at all. I will put my feelings into music or art instead. I have obsessed and ruminated enough. Now I will act.
My self-help book is underway. The working title is “It gets better: What I learned from 25 years of healing childhood rape”. I could use some ‘test readers’ to give me feedback on the rough draft – not about fine editing things and grammar, those are third or fourth draft, but about what parts seem most helpful, what might be missing, what’s unclear. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to review a copy of it and give me some feedback. A lot of it is from this blog, just organized in a different way with some added material.
She walks toward
swords held crossed above her head
strong legs, proud back
the bagpipes drone and wail, supporting her
carying within it the voices of ancestors
the strength of traditions of a proud people
who tolerate no dishonour
Stopping at the grave site
laying the swords crossed before her
her sword of will and power earned
his of pain and power taken
She leaps in the air
flying feet in warrior rhythm
No preparatory dance this, traditional to prove one’s mettle before battle
This is the battle dance of victory for enemy defeated
the battle dance of survival and the dance of triumph
Leaping over crossed swords as her ancestors taught, she banishes
she honours them and herself
She does what they did,
pinning unquiet ghosts to earth.
Leaping the final complicated steps over and around swords
spinning, then stopping, fists held high, then drawn from sky to waist.
a knot tied.
a battle completed.
She bows and walks away.
One of the things I believe as part of my religion is that communication with the Gods is not just a one way flow. Events that feel significant in one way or another, probably are. Many people believe that their Gods answer their prayers for help or guidance in this way.
I went downtown on the weekend where there was a big community festival and stumbled into a speech given by an aboriginal woman who was an Olympic gold medalist. She talked about how she had gotten severe PTSD from being near-fatally stabbed by a Canadian soldier during a historic conflict between the military and her nation that happened when she was a child. The conflict is a shameful event in Canadian history when the Canadian military supported developers wanting to turn her people’s burial ground into a golf course. Since her nation, like many aboriginal cultures (and my Pagan tradition), practices ancestor worship/veneration, desecrating a burial site is a sacriledge. She was speaking to a mostly aboriginal audience, and talked about how her determination to be the best in her sport saved her life by giving her meaning. It had affected her powerfully when a person from her first nation had won a gold medal in the Olympics, how it counteracted the racist prejudices and beliefs of the majority culture against aboriginal people, and she wanted to give that gift to other aboriginal children. She said to consider how your descendants would remember you. She also said that her people alive today are survivors, and by the process of survival of the fittest, were therefore the best of her people.
This had me in tears and I left the hall and went out into the street where I walked away from the crowds. A few blocks away there was a bagpiper in traditional dress just standing on the sidewalk, playing traditional songs I’d heard in my highland sword dancing days. Again I had a strong emotional reaction and thought immediately of the sword dance. I felt a strong sense that this was important.
I continued down the street and went into a cafe and ordered a latte and some cake. I sat down and a few minutes later, in came a woman I had met at a Pagan conference about a year ago, and run into recently at another Pagan event. She came over and greeted me in a friendly way and we spoke for a couple of minutes.
Three events occuring at a time that affected me emotionally and spiritually, like there was something inside that resonated with each.
Making meaning of trauma by providing inspiration…Sword Dance…Pagan
I should have prefaced this with the fact that I’ve been seriously considering what I’m meant to do with this new evidence about the abuse, and how to make meaning of what happened.
These events helped me come to the conclusion that the best way on is forward. It’s like I got permission from the Goddess not to go to court, that it’s okay, he doesn’t have some little girl held captive I need to rescue. The sword dance is enough. Perhaps knowing about the scar tissue will help me be more definitive when talking about what happened. I certainly feel more confident that what I remember is correct.
Like Cazaril, I need to trust that the talents I have been given are the ones I am to use for good. Like the speech-giver (I’m withholding her name not to deny her honour but for my own privacy), I have a duty to give hope to the survivors and children who come behind me. My Scottish heritage has given me a tool to reframe how society sees survivors, as warriors and veterans who fight for justice and virtue. My Pagan training and faith gives me a way to structure that fight that is meaningful and powerful, as well as, in my faith, a spell that actually changes reality for the better and focusses people’s will on stopping child abusers.
I think I’m finally ready to be at peace with my father/abuser’s death (if it ever comes) and to celebrate surviving him with a sword dance.
I just reread my last two posts (and found and fixed some typos).
Getting to certainty is important. When I read Tarot, I get myself calm and centred, and then reach down to my roots and dwell there. This helps me be grounded in my intuition and my connection to the Goddess. If I don’t do this, the cards are just cards, and nothing magical happens.
But when I connect deeply, I know with certainty. I can judge my emotional and spiritual health, no matter what is going on, by how deeply connected I feel. I am a tree with deep roots. I am a bird who rides the updrafts. I am the sunlight sinking into muscles and the green generators of plants. I am the water seeping into the porous soil, filling every tiny crevice and crack.
When I am connected, magic happens. A month or so ago I read a book about the science around psychic phenomenon. I’m not going to get into all the interesting double-blind, scientific evidence that certain kinds of extra-sensory perception exists, which was amazingly credible to a gal with a university education and a sharp analytical mind. This book validated something I have believed for a long time.
When I changed my first name, the name I chose fit me so well that even my mother agreed it was better. I chose it because it was a name I’d given as a child to several of my most precious stuffed animals and dolls in succession from early childhood. Then I looked it up in one of my mythology books and liked what it meant. It fit in a way that my birth name had not. I hadn’t intended to change my first name, only my last one, as a symbolic disowning of my father, but ended up changing both when I connected with this new name so deeply.
I have spent many times in the past twenty years connecting with myself as a child, talking to her, sending her love and the assurance that things will work out well in the end, that she will survive and that I love her. I have told my younger self this during flashbacks and when her fear and pain makes me afraid at night. I have done this for years.
As a child I had no-one, really. I drew my comfort from plants and my self-centred older brother, my books and my dolls and my teachers. I had few friends, a precarious social existence with my peers and a mother who was the complete slave of my father. I had a dear younger brother, who was also my bratty younger brother.
But I did feel connected, somehow. Connected with rocks, and trees and the stuffed animals and dolls. I named the most important and comforting of these, the ones that were an extension of my self, with this name I now wear.
I believe that I felt then the love I’ve been sending to that self. This kind of retro-time communication is one of the effects documented in the book I read. I believe that it actually, literally reached me in my most painful and terrifying moments and that’s why I’ve done so well for myself despite being alone and abused. The Goddess used me to reach out to myself.
Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favourite authors, writes through a character named Umegat in the Curse of Challion that “The Gods are parsimonious”, meaning that they work through people rather than the flashy miracles most of the time. And yet the more open we are to the path we are led to, the more beautiful and right what flows through turns out to be. The lead character in the book, Cazaril finds his way to a place he’d lived as a boy after a horrible ordeal and betrayal in war, and is drawn by his own good character and at times reluctant willingness to be used by the Gods into ending a powerful curse.
Perhaps we survivors are suffering in the service of a greater goal, to end a powerful curse on the whole biosystem, a curse of domination and greed.
In the book, the curse can only be broken by someone who dies three times for his country. Cazaril turns out to die three times, once by intervening as a galley slave to save a younger slave from a likely lethal beating, which he incurs instead. The second time he performs an act of death magic to kill a villain who is forcing a princess Cazaril has been entrusted to protect to marry him and intends to rape her. The spell itself is a prayer for justice and price of is one’s own death in addition to that of the guilty party, who must truly be guilty. When a Goddess by miracle seals the soul of the guilty man inside a tumour in Cazarils body, the death of the enemy is accomplished without Cazaril’s death but Cazaril is burdened with constant and physically painful haunting. The last death is when Cazaril is fatally stabbed by the villain’s even more evil brother, who pierces the tumour, and ends up paying the death magic price in Cazaril’s stead, freeing him of his brother’s soul as well.
The whole point of this convoluted tale is that all this was actually necessary. The Gods needed Cazaril to learn the skills of surrender that allowed them in the end to enter the world through him so they could correct what was causing the curse. It was all a lesson in becoming empty and getting out of the way. They really wanted to end the curse causing so much pain, but couldn’t do it without an agent in the land of form and matter.
As clumsily as I have paraphrased Bujold’s beautiful story, it inspires me. It makes me believe that the lessons of being a survivor are worth something that are worth the price paid.
When Cazaril experiences the miracle sealing his enemy’s soul inside him (with effects very reminiscent of being a trauma survivor, actually) he becomes a saint, and is recognized as such by a temple priest Umegat, also a saint, who has been holding the curse back from killing the king. Cazaril asks Umegat what the duties of a saint are.
“You cannot outguess the gods. Hold to virtue—if you can identify it—and trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. And that the talents given to you are the talents you should place in the gods’ service. Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent to you. Not even your life.”
Then Cazaril says:
“If the gods are making this path for me, then where is my free will? No, it cannot be!”
Ah.” Umegat brightened at this thorny theological point. “I have had another thought on such fates, that denies neither gods nor men. Perhaps, instead of controlling every step, the gods have started a hundred or a thousand Cazarils and Umegats down this road. And only those arrive who choose to.”
“But am I the first to arrive, or the last?”
“Well,” said Umegat dryly, “I can promise you you’re not the first.”
So, taking Bujold’s lesson to heart, what does that mean in my quest to do the Goddess’ will in making the world a better place?
Hold to virtue, if you can identify it.
Trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. (hmmm… I see a court case in my future.)
And the talents given you are the talents you should place in the gods’ service. (I see a squad of holy sword dancers outside a courthouse in northern Canada. I see speaking and writing and singing about this. )
Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent you. (I will have what I need.)
So I did end up talking to a lawyer about my father and the scar tissue last night, but not in the way I expected.
I asked a friend of mine, who is a lawyer about how I might go about finding a suitable lawyer. She asked what about and we got into it. She was very helpful, and told me a few things.
Criminally, there’s no time limitations on being charged for raping kids. Unless charges were laid and dropped, I’m good to go.
My aunt’s testimony wouldn’t be usable, since you can’t use ‘he did things like that to other people’ as an argument apparently.
She knows some women in the system and is going to ask around about who might be helpful. In one case she knows of a witness for the crown (which I would be) hired a lawyer to advise her about her records (journals, therapist notes etc…)
Because I was assaulted as a child, there might be an automatic publication ban on my name and by association the name of my father, which would be against what I want, which is to out him as a rapist.
I could put a stop to the proceedings at any time if it got out of hand just by refusing to cooperate, since I’m the main witness. They’d be unlikely to force me to testify.
The judge reads over journals and notes and medical records and such and decides what is relevant before allowing it into the court, but don’t give anything to the police that you don’t want my father’s side to have. The thought of him having access to my private information is creepy.
And she’d be willing to come and watch me dance on his grave, if it came to that.
Aren’t allies wonderful?
Do I really want to do this? As you know if you’ve been reading my blog, I’ve been mulling over what the spiritual meaning of my fathers ongoing near death experiences are for a long time.
I believe that the Goddess gives us help to do what we’re meant to do:
I have proof now.
I have more support now.
I have a job that will tolerate me going to another city for a court case now.
He’s old and sick and the stress of being charged would do him good.
The question I have to answer for myself is the same one I was asking in my last post. What do I want to have happen? What do I need for me?
My friend said to be clear about what I need and want. If I go to dance on his grave, who do I want with me, how do I want to travel there? What do I want to have happen? She said to treat it as if I needed a lot of medical attention and expect the same support. People support someone with cancer or whatever by rallying around. I could invite that around either the court case or his death.
What does the sword at the top of my blog mean for me? Is it the sword of the sword dance on his grave, or the sword of justice? Is it the Pagan sword of the East and air that cuts the circle and sets the boundary around oneself? In what way am I meant to be the sword dancer?
I hate and may regret when he’s dead that he got away with it. He may be up there raping kids and women all these years because I didn’t go through with the court case all those years ago. Not that he’d have been likely to have gone to jail, even then. Convictions don’t stop abusers from offending, we know that. Psychopaths like my father just keep offending. Only the Goddess can stop that. My hope is that his poor health has kept him from his usual activities.
What is happening to me this past year is a rite of passage, the rite called, “Death of an Abuser” or maybe some level of warrior initiation. The first initiation was all those years ago, when I was in university and was safe enough to recognize the intrusive and fragmented memories for what they were and who they were. This plunged me into a kind of isolation, where my whole world was healing for about five years. I’d always felt separate and different from other people, but now I knew why, I’d experienced something that most people don’t want to think about.
The second stage was reporting him to the police. I did it to protect my younger brother, and because it was the right thing to do, but I don’t know if I ever expected it to go to court. The crown didn’t even contact me about it and the police didn’t investigate till several years later, when some political pressure was forcing them to get old sexual abuse cases off the books.
At that point I told my first lawyer in full about what happened. He interviewed me for seven hours, but it was a relief rather than an ordeal. I discovered that I actually did remember a lot of detail. He told me that abusers are always at a disadvantage in court, because they’re lying and people can tell.
I don’t know what this stage is. Facing some hard realities I guess. My mother was complicit in the abuse. My formerly revered older brother is behaving a lot like my father and is now essentially dead to me because he won’t deal with what happened directly. I now wonder if my nephews have been safe all this time. My only reassurance is that my sister in law is a strong woman, who I hope would know what to do if there were concerns. The memories I have of being raped as a tiny child are absolutely real. It really happened. It happened to me in this body. I not only still have the scars, the damage still physically affects my ability to do something as simple as having sex with my wife without pain.
Or perhaps this stage is knowing the possibilities and having the opportunity one last time, to choose. How do I approach justice? Do I just begin speaking about the abuse, doing whatever activism I feel is necessary? Do I earn myself a sword in that battle, the sword of truth, by fighting the monster in his den? Do I wait for him to die and dance the sword to celebrate my victory over him?
When I pray for guidance from the Goddess, I have to be willing to listen to it. She doesn’t always make it easy, but doing the right thing has it’s own blessings attached.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” WH Murray
I believe this to be true.
I wish I could say I knew in my soul what I’m meant to do. Or can I? All this is adding up to taking him to court. The scars, the friend coming back into my life at this time, the support from my aunt, all my ducks in a row. When I found out he was dying (or so I thought) I literally could not stop crying, something that almost never happens. Not grief for the dying psychopath, but what? Regret? Relief? Fear?
I was afraid of him dying and haunting me, but now I’m not. That’s a good thing. No matter what I decide, it’s about me. The important things I’m meant to do with my life could be about the arts rather than justice. Or the arts and justice. I’m meant to write, I’m meant to sing and write songs, and who knows whether a long court battle would just drain and distract me from that? Perhaps dancing on his grave is enough. Or perhaps I’m avoiding, as anxiety is wont to make me do. To do what I’m most anxious about would be to go to his door and confront him – and having the RCMP at my back would only make it stronger.
I don’t want to disrespect Her gifts. I want to honour them, and myself. I don’t want to be a martyr for the cause. My ‘scars to prove it’ song has been running through my head. A concert tour to raise awareness about incest. Could I go public about the incest without ‘earning my chops’ in court? Am I entitled? Are the scars enough? Do I want vengeance? Of course I do. Who wouldn’t? What I need is a Pagan to talk to about this.
Have I committed myself? Perhaps not yet. I’ve committed myself to dancing the sword, but the ‘stream of events’ could carry me away if I’m not sure where my tiller and my sail are intended to take me. That is what I need to decide and commit to. It’s clear the Goddess is ready with a wind at my back.
Today is the morning of the shortest day of the year. A time when I usually clean up, simplify, tidy, pray.
I’m grateful for my blessings this year: learning to persevere, my friends.
I’m also grateful for something that happened recently.
In the place cleared by recognizing that I’d already lost my older brother, I found I have other relatives.
I talked to my aunt yesterday, my mom’s sister. She’s had therapy so is pretty real to talk to. We’d made a date (she’s in another time zone) to talk about my father as a young man and my mother and whatever context she could tell me.
She told me some useful things and gave me a lot of support.
Apparently I was right that my father acted out with other women – he’d ‘gotten fresh’ with my aunt (which I think means he made a pass that was more than verbal) and she’d had to kick him hard on the leg to get him off of her. After she told me this, I remembered, I’d seen the scar and heard the story from his perspective, which was mostly in the line that my mom’s crazy bitch sister had kicked him in the leg and left a scar. It’s a big scar, maybe 4 or 5 inches long, and pretty wide and red. I told my aunt “good for you” for giving it to him.
She told me she made a point of telling her sons to keep their kids away from my dad, and why. She confirmed the story I’d heard about my other aunt and my dad saying something awful to her too, but said I’d have to ask her directly for the details.
She explained a bit about their upbringing, and how they’d been raised to do whatever your husband wanted, and that their mom would be very angry at any show of disloyalty by her daughters to their husband. This tells me a bit about how my mom might have been cut off from support for leaving my dad. I also was able to explain to her what I wanted from my mom. My aunt and I agreed that my mom probably wouldn’t be able to face the enormity of what happened, that she’d be stuck in this workaholic avoidance for a long time. I told her I felt it was loving to not write her off, to believe she could do it, even though it was unlikely. I think she got it. She knows my mom better than I do.
She asked me essentially if I would ever heal, as if she thought I hadn’t, and I told her in one sense I already had, probably ten years ago. I gave her an example of a person getting in a car crash as the driver, where the passenger was killed. I said “would they think about it, on and off for the rest of their lives? probably. It’s not something you’d even want to forget, something that important. Would they still have feelings come up about it from time to time when they were reminded? Of course they will. What happened to me was many traumatic events like that, so there are more reminders and more feelings. However, essentially it’s as healed as it would ever be. I think I’m getting better at explaining it.
She asked me about confronting my abuser. I told her I’d reported him to the police and how that had all gone down. I said I didn’t think I wanted to talk to him personally about it, because he’s so creepy I thought he might make it worse by telling me something more that I didn’t know. I told her about the scar tissue, and about planning to sword dance on his grave. She said she’d be happy to come and hold the circle for me when I did that, and so would her kids and my uncle and his family. This brings tears to my eyes even today.
So I seem to have lost a brother and gained some aunts and an uncle and some cousins. Not too bad, actually. I had dinner last night with my other brother, who is a good guy. He works in the alcohol industry and his job essentially requires him to be a party guy, so I worry a bit about his alcohol consumption, but he’s a stand up guy, and I avoid judging him as much as I can.
I had a birthday party this week, and eight people were able to make it, which is a miracle, really for December. We had a really nice time, just having dinner in a restaurant, but with lots of good food and talk. I felt connected.
Yesterday one of my friends gave me an drum lesson on the Irish hand drum (the Bodhran) which was fun and I did pretty well at. It seems like a good bardic instrument.
So today, I am grateful for my family and my friends.
I’ve been telling my friends that coming back from my week at camp I feel like I’ve had a megadose of ultra-strength feminist Mother Earth vitamins. It’s not like I”m any different, just more of myself, and I feel stronger and more resilient.
How important it is to be in a space where I can drink deep of the healing power of swimming in a lake, breathing in the moist scent of pine, cedar and soil, having a whole day, a whole week even with nothing to do but enjoy and visit with nice women. How critical it is as a survivor to be able to be frank.
There was a woman there who had just finished hearing about the sentencing of a man who had almost killed her. I told her I appreciated how frank she was being about it, and we compared horrific life experience stories and betrayal byour mothers and families in a laughing and cynical way that was very refreshing.
I had a huge cry on the first day of the camp about the scars and the deeper level of reality of the rape of me as a child. It was so good to let my sorrow go into the Earth, and to know that I was safe. For the rest of the camp I felt joyful and strong, which I often do when I’ve been able to let deep feelings flow. Intimacy with myself, in ceremony, lovemaking or sometimes solitude, often produces this type of crying release, but if I stop the flow to spare the sensibilities of others or feel I’ll be judged, it cuts me off from myself, and from my wife. I noticed a few other women crying, and made a point of connecting with each of them. All had something legitimately horrible they were grieving, but by releasing the feelings in safe space, like me, they all seemed to feel better. I invited them to be real with me, and was able to be real in turn, which meant I had women who knew and accepted where I was at sprinkled throughout the camp. I made a point of being a cheerleader for crying “go cryers, go cryers!” in a playful way to point out that I’m a cryer too and it’s good to cry when you need to. People laughed. Crying when you needed to became a normal and good thing. Blessings.
On my last day at the lake I was swimming with a woman who I’d become friends with. I told her how healing it had been to swim naked, to allow the sacred lake to bless my body in a way that wouldn’t have felt the same in a swimsuit. I told her about the scars I’d recently discovered and she looked at me and said “isn’t it interesting how all sharing here seems to reach an understanding audience”. I won’t tell you what she disclosed to me then, but although she who was not to my knowledge a survivor, she also bore the scars of a betrayal by someone she loved and trusted.
Today on the phone I was talking with a good Pagan friend who knows I’m a survivor. I told her I’d recently had an exam that showed me some scar tissue I didn’t know about from when I was raped as a child. She said “scars where?” and I said “where do you think?” A silence followed as she allowed that to sink in. We talked together about our murder fantasies of killing the men who had done the intolerable to us – her ex husband who is damaging her son’s spirit, and my father who had done the unthinkable to me. I said to her “you don’t have to pretend it’s not as bad as it is, I’m one of the few people who actually understands a good revenge and murder fantasy”.
Feminist vitamins. Sharing reality, building solidarity, becoming less alone. One capsule at a time.
Yesterday I saw my therapist and we talked about the pap test appointment tomorrow. What’s different about this appointment is:
1) the medical professional will know I’m a survivor.
2) I’m planning to ask if I have scar tissue.
3) I’m planning to ask about all the wierd things I have going on with my vagina.
It feels incredibly vulnerable to do this this way, consciously, asking for the compassionate care I want, especially when I didn’t have any care that I remember for my vagina when I was assaulted as a child.
I have duly printed out my ‘survivor safety lecture’ pap test sheet and marked the appropriate boxes. I also have typed up all my questions, and the rationale behind them on a single sheet of paper so that if I can’t deal with asking verbally, I can just get her to read it.
At my therapists suggestion, I’m going to reserve the right not to go through with the exam if I don’t like the nurse or her responses, so the questions have a dual purpose. I get to see how she handles them. My therapist also offered me an emergency session on Thursday or Friday if I need one, an offer which brings tears to my eyes even now.
It was good to talk it over with my therapist, and more importantly cry it over, cry over the body of the 5 year old girl with the injured vagina, cry over the lifetime lack of anyone to ask questions about my injuries or to care about them. Cry about the shame and fear of judgement / condescension / freak out of a nurse or doctor knowing my history examining me.
So, I’m going to watch some nice, anethesizing tv or read my new book.
On the up side, I’m still meditating 8 minutes per day and still practising either singing or guitar daily. I also started a tai chi class with my wife yesterday. So in general, things are good.
“Warriorship…does not refer to making war on others. Agression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word “warrior” is taken from the Tibetan Pawo, which literally means “one who is brave.” Warriorship—is the tradition of human bravery, or the tradition of fearlessness.” – Chogyam Trungpa
In those terms, most of the survivors I know are also warriors.
“The trained martial artist…truly acts only in response to agression. He [sic]does not seek it out. When made, his [sic] responses are nonresistant and nonviolent. He [sic] is a man of peace. – Musashi (1584-1645)
Something to strive for.
“Each Warrior wants to leave the mark of his [sic] will, his signature, on important acts he touches. This is not the voice of ego but of the human spirit, rising up and declaring that it has something to contribute to the solution of the hardest problems, no matter how vexing!” – Pat Riley
A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave. (Ghandi)
I quit the my position on the board of an company I co-founded this morning. I hadn’t had too much sleep. My wife and I had been up till 1 AM (unusual for us) and I’d been woken by the summer sunlight and a persistent sense of anxiety this morning at 7am. I finally got up at 7:30 and did a tarot reading. “Tell me about quitting the board” I asked. The response was pretty unanimous, it was a good business decision, and the time had come for change.
Now before you think that I make major decisions solely on the basis of a card reading, I don’t. I founded this organization years ago with a guy who became my friend I met at a meeting to discuss [censored] that was posted in a local paper. We were both annoyed by the 'all talk no action' atmosphere of the meeting and decided that we wanted to actually get something done on a cause we cared about.
So we founded [the company]. In the process we took on several more members, but it was still mostly me and that first guy who did most of the work. We've completed several projects. Over time there became a dynamic between an the guy I founded it with, where I realized both of us needed more control than we'd get sharing the company with each other. At the same time, he wanted to quit his regular job and work more for the organization and I wanted to focus more on my own business. So I let him know I'd be backing off. I still had his back, filled in for him when he went on vacation, attended board meetings and helped out when I could.
I was getting the official and tax mail for the organization at my home, and I noticed a pattern where we were getting a lot of “you haven’t filed such and such government paperwork yet” and “you owe us a remittance on this tax or that tax” letters. One was a ‘you still haven’t paid your insurance’ letter. I passed them on to my colleague, who does the books and he explained he’d gotten swamped and hadn’t dealt with them but would, or that he just had, or whatever. I believed him, and probably still do, although it is definitely not my style to let these things go undone. I didn’t want to appear critical, because I knew he was truly swamped, but made suggestions about getting a bookkeeper, and I began to get very uneasy.
One night I woke up in the middle of a dream with the sudden knowledge that I should get off the board. I considered it, but knew that I had no respect for most of the other people who were involved, and he’d be outnumbered and hung out to dry without me.
I was sick on the night of our AGM, but sent word that I was okay with standing for the board.
When it came time for me to do the paperwork to let the government know about the results of the AGM. I looked at the responsibilities and liabilities of a board of directors. It turns out all of us are responsible, personally, financially for the debts of the organization. I called my friend to ask him to explain the financial statements from the AGM to me and to ask him how we stood. He explained he was having some problems with one of the suppliers, who had been paid for equipment that he wasn’t delivering, and that we had some accounts payable that he hadn’t gotten to invoicing.
On a whim, I opened one of the bank statements (which also were coming to the house) that I hadn’t been looking at. In it, I saw references to at least one loan. I asked my friend about it and he said he’d been lending personal money to the organization to help it through cash flow issues. I didn’t ask him how much.
At the next meeting I attended, we talked about the finances and the full story came out, that we were tens of thousands of dollars in debt, most of which was money lent interest free from his savings by my friend, but that when the invoices were paid it would all work out. With me making the argument that as a board, we have to know about and control new debt if we’re going to be responsible for it, we voted in some measures to put a cap on any future debt, and to make sure the board authorizes any further borrowing. I was also asked to write a collection/settlement letter threatening legal action to the supplier.
That night I was restless and motivated by anxiety about the meeting, did all the things I’d volunteered to do, including sending out the draft letter for review by the other members, staying up till midnight to do so. One of the other board members, who is a friend of the recalcitrant supplier, took exception to the legal tone of the letter and my speed in producing it. He accused me of vindictiveness against his supplier friend, he thought, who he figures I’ve had something against all along. He always smelled fishy to me, so maybe I did. In a transparently veiled way, he laid his anger on me in an email ccd to everyone.–>
A man can be called ruthless if he bombs a country to oblivion. A woman can be called ruthless if she puts you on hold.
– Gloria Steinem (b. 1934)
I’d had enough. This guy does no work at all, and rarely follows through with anything he commits to do. I told him in no uncertain terms, ccing all the others, as he had, that I’d only done as I’d been asked and that when he started doing as much work as I did and as promptly I’d be more willing to take his criticism. My friend also clarified in another email I wish I’d read before responding, that he also saw the need to take legal action against the supplier and that I had been only doing as they’d all agreed in the meeting.
Again, I get an angry response from the other board member, attacking me personally for my manner, things I’d said, and blaming me for a painful experience I’d told him about in another situation, accusing me of having poor personal skills. Essentially the message was “bad not submissive woman, assertive dyke, you have no right to stand up to me, a man, about this and be mean to my poor helpless friend (who owes us $6000 and a pissed of client for the delays)”.
I replied and told him he was clearly taking the matter personally, and that the letter was a business decision, and that his personal attacks were inappropriate and I wanted them to stop. I apologized to the others for including them in my emails to this guy and said that I would not be discussing the topic further.
Here’s when the last straw happened.
My friend replies to my email and told both of us the email exchange was the most unprofessional he’d seen and that he wanted us to stop (I already had) and direct any future emails to him. I agreed the other guy was very unprofessional, but although I probably could have accepted the other guy’s first barb and taken the high road (and resented it), after that I’d been carefully worded my responses.
I was exhausted with pain and shame. Nobody likes a whistle-blower. If it hadn’t been for me, the financial problem would have limped on forever and we’d have been thousands more in debt or something worse – like the insurance bill not getting paid and us getting sued for liability on one of our jobs with no insurance to cover us. If it hadn’t been for me, no-one would have supported my friend’s need to take a harder line with this supplier.
So this morning, I decided to quit the board. A progressive company should be directed by those who actually do most of the work, which (now) isn’t me and it isn’t my ‘just in it for his resume’ board colleague, who has barely done a lick of work in years. I crafted and sent an email, at the same time reading yet another poison pen email from the other board member. Knowing I was quitting, it didn’t sink in at all.
My wife is all for it. Once I told her we were potentially on the hook for this debt, she wanted me out. She’s also heard me complain for the last year or two about being frustrated and ambivalent. It’s time to let go.
Tomorrow I have to see my friend to finish a task I promised to do. He’s let me know he wants to talk about ‘it’ and I’ve agreed. I don’t know if he’ll tell me off or try and talk me into staying. I do know it will probably be difficult.
I’m prepared to tread the high road here, but I’m not going back.
Dumbledore was right, it is harder to stand up to your friends than your enemies.
This weekend I attended a Pagan conference and met some interesting and helpful people.
Have you ever had a period in your life where you appear to be in Grace? Where challenges emerge and are defeated easily? Where it seems simple to be calm and powerful? The voices of the divine and your own truth seem strong and clear? I seem to be in one. My music is going fabulously, I’m attracting all kinds of resources I’ve needed, and most importantly, other people’s gunk seems to be sliding off my back like I’m coated in Teflon(R).
Pagan gatherings are a quite a bit in feel like science fiction conventions – a variety of flavours of modern neo-paganism are represented. One thing I realized, that unlike the women-specific spiritual events I’ve attended, which are generally attended and organized by smart, highly competent, healthy and empowered women, the mixed Pagan ones attract a nerdier, more fringe crowd. This is not to say that most of the people I met weren’t remarkable and nice, but that I noticed a distinct difference in general social functioning, on the whole, with several people who didn’t seem to be doing well at all. Seeing how it was a Canada wide conference, I attended to see what was going on and do a bit of networking.
Amazon warrior that I am, I got into several heated intellectual discussions (which I enjoy, for the most part) and at least one controversy.
There’s a split in modern Paganism, or perhaps only in the sub-category of Wicca or Witchcraft, between the folks that are into a fertility based practice and those whose practice is ecstatic. Fertility practice of Wicca (also known as traditional or Gardnerian Wicca) is essentially a religion that gives relatively equal prominence to both Goddesses and Gods (with Goddesses being slightly more central), celebrates heterosexuality as a manifestation of the creative power of the Gods, and is based in the tradition started 50 or so years ago by Gerald Gardiner. The most central imagery, rituals and practices are often concerned with celebrating heterosexual sexual expression. This is NOT to say they’re having orgies all over the place, it’s just that the erotic attraction between men and women occupies a similar symbolic place in traditional paganism that for example the imagery of torture and murder via crucifiction occupies in Christianity. Christianity isn’t all about or even mainly about torture and death, but the imagery of crucifiction, which was a historical method of torture/execution, is a big part of their imagery and festivals such as Easter. What’s interesting to me is that unlike the traditions I practice, the women-oriented facets of fertility, particularly virginity, pregnancy and birthing, don’t get nearly the amount of emphasis in these ‘fertility’ traditions as the sexuality itself. Gods are seen primarily as lovers or fathers and the Goddess as lover or mother. Sister and brother Gods or virgin Goddesses do not carry much importance and do not appear to be emphasized. In some of the traditions I have experience with the Gods as brothers and sisters are just as important and provide important models of respect and cooperation between the sexes.
By contrast my own practice is in the ecstatic and social justice traditions (some examples are Reclaiming, Dianic, Goddess Sprituality and Feri traditions) which are not nearly as focussed on heterosexualily and more on relationship with the Gods and taking positive action in the world. Understandably as a gay woman, heterosexual sex, while as sacred as any other, is not of interest to me, so my expression is more about individual growth, recovering and celebrating my own body, intuition, honouring the Earth in action (environmentalism) as well as observance, and creating and discovering rituals and connections with the Divine Feminine that reinforce me and other women in being powerful, effective and strong. It is based in both Feminism, Goddess Sprituality and Wicca, with a social justice component from a tradition called Reclaiming.
The controversy began when a non-pagan film-maker presented her film about witches and invited discussion and feedback afterward. The only voices represented in the film were from fertility traditions, some of whom represented that in contrast to male centred religions, Wicca was about the balance between God and Goddess. Since the film maker was looking for feedback, I pointed out that my style, which is primarily about the Goddess, had not been represented. At this point, some reps of the other style – all older males, told me in paternal tones that while I was certainly Pagan, I was not a Wiccan because I didn’t give equal importance to male Gods worshipped via the imagery of straight sex as they do. I was, of course, offended, but couldn’t help but remember a conversation years ago with someone from an Evangelical Protestant sect who told me straight faced that Catholics weren’t Christians. Seeing how Catholics invented Christianity (or are at least the earliest surviving version I know of) this is patently ridiculous, so I had the perspective that all religions seem to do this infighting thing over stupid differences in practice. Similarly, I’m pretty certain that if they start up the bonfires to begin burning witches again, assertive female activist feminist witches will be the first they want to throw on the pyre. Our enemies know we’re all witches, so these boys need to just get over it.
I defended my point pretty well I thought, and even though I could have felt ganged up on (those in the room who I later found shared my beliefs kept their mouths shut), I didn’t really. I mostly just saw their rigidity and dogmatism as coming from their own insecurities, as older men holding onto what privilege they’d scrounged together in a religion that is, at least officially, led by women (The high priestess is technically the leader of each worship group, although a high priest may also serve). Most religions do this kind of infighting. It’s too bad, but really nothing personal.
Standing up to the patriarchy and heterosexism, and being a misunderstood minority in a room full of peers, really ought to have worn me out, but didn’t particularly, do my great surprise. I’m truly grateful. Perhaps this preparing to dance at or on my fathers grave is changing how I see sexism and oppressive men. It’s like exercising over a period of time for awhile, and then suddenly realizing you can run up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath. Mostly, thoughout the weekend I felt confidence, happiness, acceptance and warmth for and from the people there.
On the helpful people end of things, I made contact with a pagan social activist from my home town, who I asked for information on who I could connect with up there about my sword dance ritual. He said he and his wife (who is also pagan) would help, and gave me the name of a woman’s shelter contact who he thought I should make contact with as well. It feels like a Goddess-given connection.
It’s very interesting to me that men seem to be among my important allies in this sword dance ritual – from my friends who helped me search for a sword, to this man. Brother allies are a good thing. It looks like the person I’ll be taking sword dance classes from will be a man too – the women teachers I approached weren’t interested in teaching adult women.
I’m sorry for doing this in an email, but wasn’t certain I could explain all this well over the phone. I hope you can forward this email to whomever in your organization it might concern. I’m originally from [home town] (born and raised) and am an incest survivor. My abuser, who was my father, is still living in [home town] and is likely to die within the next year from cancer. I’ve been in recovery for over 20 years and in general am very well, but since surviving and recovering has been such a big and spiritually significant part of my life, I know I will need to celebrate my abusers death in a way consistent with my culture and spirituality, as part of having closure with him.
I’m planning to dance a traditional Scottish sword dance that is performed on the death of a mortal enemy to celebrate the victory of having outlived him and banish him from my life. Since I’m fairly certain my father will be buried in [my hometown] I’m planning to do this at his gravesite there, with a bagpiper and supportive witnesses. I’m working with a counsellor here on this and will be bringing my partner and one or two friends with me, but wanted to make contact with your organisation, in case it would be possible to receive some support from you while I am up for the ceremony. I have investigated the legalities of performing this ceremony at my father’s gravesite, and it looks like there should be no barriers. Grieving rituals are not only expressly allowed under the provincial funerals act, they are protected and cannot be interrupted by law. The cemetery itself has a no disturbing the peace rule, but a graveside grieving ceremony conducted by a relative could hardly qualify. My family are supportive and will not object.
I plan to bring a friend who is a video artist to record this event in hopes that it might be meaningful to other survivors, and would like to extend an invitation to local survivors and their allies who might want to bear witness to what I believe will be a powerful and empowering ceremony.
Anyhow, if you agree it would be appropriate to talk further about this, I’d like to speak with one of your staff about this, and keep you posted on the plans that will begin once my abuser dies. If this type of support does not fall within your mandate, I understand. I would also be willing to cover the cost of the counsellors time. Knowing that there was a feminist counsellor with childhood sexual assault literacy available in [my hometown] to check in with in some way during my visit would be very helpful.
The concept of dancing on your abusers’ grave seems to have some resonance for survivors I’ve talked to. Not all of us are of Scottish heritage, or even interested in learning the sword dance or Ghillie Callum used for this purpose.
For those of you lucky enough to have dead abusers with graves ripe for dancing, I thought I’d provide a list of suggested songs. Perhaps between this and the comments we can come up with a nice long list.
Flinty Kind of Woman – Dar Williams – this upbeat country song tells the story of a bunch of upscale New England matrons garrotting an attempted child molester in a bog.
“Going east of Mississippi got a flinty kind of woman And you don’t act smart and you don’t touch my children If the young man wants to see the sun go down” Here’s another sample (the words are great)
“And by the “Welcome to New England” sign
Got him with the fishing line
In the dark smell of brine
Betty said “This one is mine.”
She is ruthless ”
Here’s a link to the lyrics: http://darwilliams.net/music/tabs/flinty.html
Independence Day – Martina McBride – story from a grown child’s perspective of her mom burning down the house to kill herself and her batterer.
“Let freedom ring,
let the white dove sing
let the whole world know that
Today is a day of reckoning
let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
roll the stone away, let the guilty pay, its independence day.” Click here to watch the video
Concrete Angel – Another Martina McBride Song – more a grieving song about an abused child who died.
“Through the wind and the rain,
She stands hard as a stone in a world that she can’t rise above;
But her dreams give her wings and she flies to a place where she’s loved.”
Click here for full lyrics View video here
Goodbye Earl – Dixie Chicks – the story of two best friends who kill the battering spouse of one of the women after he disregards a restraint order and get away with it.
“Well she finally go the nerve to file for divorce, she let the law take it from there. But Earl walked right through that restraining order, and put her in intensive care. Right away Mary Anne flew in from Atalnta, on a red eye midnight flight. She held Wanda’s hand as they worked out a plan and it didn’t take long to decide that Earl had to die.” Click here to watch the video – worth it to watch the gleeful dancing when he dies Celebrative and upbeat. Good for a grave-dancing.
Testimony by Ferron – not super overt, but about strength among women after sexual assault, very pretty. ” But by my life be I spirit
And by my heart be I woman
And by my eyes be I open
And by my hands be I whole” Click here for full lyrics
I don’ t have any good incest survivor pride songs yet, but maybe you have one.
So I didn’t go and make music this week. The sore throat won. However I did compile a bunch of lyrics and listen to a lot of songs that my musical colleague wants to do, and prepared a chart of an original song we’re going to work on together. I kept going. I also practiced my guitar, enough that the calluses on my fingers are starting to come back.
So, not leaping wildly out of the hiding space, but still moving. Baby steps.
I’m not long on persistence when it comes to things for me, particularly things I want desperately. I have no patience with suffering for long periods, holding on and hoping for things to get better, for people to change. All that has failed me spectacularly. It takes enormous faith, now to keep going when progress is slow or things get frustrating. The anxiety of waiting is a lot to bear.
So continuing with the baby steps in the face of obstacles is a good thing.
I still haven’t heard anything from my mother. Which is a good thing, I guess. I’m thinking, slowly, about what I’m called to do with my life, trying things on in my head like a new sweater, putting it on and checking it out in the mirror.
My wife is the best clothes shopping ally. She tells me when something makes my butt look good, or is too tight and doesn’t flatter me, even if I’ve fallen in love with the colour or fabric. She says if it doesn’t delight me, there’s no point buying it, even if it’s on sale. I almost always find something I feel, if not beautiful, at least respectable in when I go shopping with her. Without her, I almost never find anything for my atypically sized body.
I need a little support, a way to reinforce the small voice that knows the truth inside me. Sometimes writing will do it, rarely a friend will be able to get inside my strange and beautiful brain to hold a mirror to my ideas. Sometimes my wife will do it – she’s particularly good with business problems and telling me my work is valuable and worth every penny.
Encouragement is so important, being understood is so important and a little goes a long way. That’s one thing we miss out on as survivors when we ‘pass’ for non-survivors, the sense that someone knows and understands, that our reations and feelings are normal given the circumstances. It is only in community with one another that I understand this in my bones. I’m very grateful.
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.]
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.
Yesterday night I was thinking about my own mother, and what to do about the non-contact I’ve imposed on our relationship. [Spoiler: I like the end of this post the best, so if you get bogged down in me whining about my mother, just skip it.]
My mother was likely aware that my father was sexually abusing me throughout my childhood, and when she ‘officially’ found out when I was 18 declared right away that she believed me. However, she did not leave my father over it. The shame, grief and betrayal I have felt over that fact, that a major crime against her daughter (and really all women and children) wasn’t sufficient for my mother to be willing to endure the hardship of divorce or separation, has been persistent and heavy.
My mother is now separated from my father, which she clearly states was because he was a bad husband, not because he raped me. (Although surely, raping your children makes a man a bad husband?)
My mother is anxious, dependent and scattered. She relies heavily on my younger brother for all her decision making and loves to be waited upon. She connives to be fussed over using the same tactic as some men use when feigning helplessness in the face of laundry or a diaper. She provides steady pressure on me to be a close and affectionate daughter, to visit her, fuss over her, pamper her for mothers’ day etc… She is a paradox, a feminist activist who could not leave her own rapist husband, a woman who can run for city council but could not figure out how to stand on her own.
I cannot stomach it. A mother who condones the rape of her daughter by staying is no mother at all. I will not give her her maternal due. She birthed me and taught me, diapered me and (some of the time) fed me, but this one betrayal, it seems, cancels all those other debts.
However, I used to be a therapist, and know that it is pointless to cut off one’s relatives, for the issues they present will just show up in other ways. My father is a special case, I think. Only someone deep in denial or striving for some kind of misguided sainthood would associate willingly with a man who had raped her. One needs to draw the line somewhere.
Harriet Lerner, the author and family systems therapist, says two things I like. One is that the antidote to shame is being open about what one is ashamed of. I am starting to do that by letting more and more of my friends know that I am a survivor.
The second thing is that distance stores energy. When I am separate from my mother, I feel less anxious, and if I move closer to her, that anxiety stored in the distance will be released and I will feel it. The more anxiety there is, the more energy is released by even a small change in distance, such as moving from not talking at all to writing post cards on a regular basis. This is similar to the energy stored in the electron orbits of an atom, where enormous amounts of heat is released when an electon moves into a closer orbit around the central proton core.
I have decided to write her a letter or two. Lerner says that the way to change an intrenched pattern in a relationship is to state clearly who one is, without blaming, firmly and while staying connected. I don’t know if I can do that. My relationship with my mother confuses me so much it is hard to know where and who I am around her, which is part of what I hate so much about being in her presence. Perhaps I will tell her a bit about how my life was during those 14 years I had no family, between the time I ‘came out’ about the abuse and began healing and when she separated from my abuser. Perhaps that will be a way to start.
The Mother I replaced my fragile, weak mother with provided me a support I could not have lived without. When I was 19 and grieving for the theft of my innocence and family by my father, She was the Ocean I stood by witnessing my howls and holding the huge pain while I let it flow. Ocean was the mother I brought my art therapy clay sculptures of parts of the abuse to, for Her to dissolve and purify. Ocean was the place I could go home to, where I could lay and listen to the sound of my Mother’s heartbeat in the waves.
My real Mother was the spruce tree in my elementary school yard with a little hollow underneath where I could sit and look at her green, fragrant branches. Just seeing Her calmed me, allowed me to cope with the teasing from other kids for being teary-eyed, ‘easily’ upset, and different.
My Mother was the grove of poplars at the end of my street I would tell my day to by standing very still and gazing up at them on my way home from high school. I grieved for them when they were cut.
My real Mother was the tall deciduous and ancient trees on the campus of the university I attended, which I could look up to and calm myself, feel heard and understood without saying a word. My mother was the Air between their branches and the roots of these aunties and mothers beneath my feet.
My Mother was the heart of the flowers I looked at every day for weeks one summer after a bad heart break, when I bicycled across town to the beach. I would walk down the stone stairway to the beach from the forest and see a large bed of flowers. Always, every day, one would be gazing it’s petalled face directly at me and I would feel comforted, that there was one being in the world that was looking for me, that saw me. I would walk to the beach and lay on my towel in the sun and let the heat soothe me, till I felt warm and comforted. I would then walk into the ocean and immerse myself, letting the salt water wash my father out of me, wash the psychic and emotional grime from my body and soul. Then I would dry myself in the sun for awhile and immerse myself again, purified by sun and salt and water, fire and earth and water and air.
My Mother now is the trees that surround my house and street. She is in the Crone waiting to accept and transform the dead and dying in the large compost bin I have in my yard. She is my grandmother’s piano, the labrynth-patterned rug I was married on in my living room. My Mother is always with me.
My Mother is my own strong Self who holds me when I face the worst of what happened to me, my self-mother in my therapy sessions who reminds me I am safe, and urges me to do the right thing, to speak truth, to be loyal to myself, to face the grief and pain and let it flow through me and from me.
This woman who insists she is my mother, is no longer my Mother.
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.