When I was about 20 years old I realized how numb I was all the time. I remember concentrating really hard, but being unable to feel anything in my foot. No sensation of cold or warmth, only a faint sensation if my skin was touched, and literally no proprioception, no awareness of where my foot was unless I was looking at it. The same was true of most parts of my body.
I spent a long time learning to be grounded, which in my faith tradition is pretty important. We spend the first few minutes of any religious ceremony in meditation to connect ourselves with the sensations and energy flow of our body, something I was at first unable to do.
Now, 20 years later, I’m typing this with cold hands, something I’m easily able to ignore from lots of practice ignoring discomfort, but at least I know where my hands are and how they feel without looking at them or touching them.
Not all of my body is completely reclaimed. I still have a hard time feeling anything in the sexually designated parts of my body, which makes for lovemaking where the ‘foreplay’ activities of stroking and touching the ‘not usually seen as sexual’ parts of my body is particularly important. Most times I’m just grateful I can have sex at all, and with someone I love and who loves me to boot. However, although I’m a good ‘active’ lover according to reviews, I’m probably quite boring to make love to, since I have to be still and concentrate so hard to feel anything at all.
I understand where ‘stone butches’ come from – women who get their pleasure from making love to another woman and won’t permit themselves to be made love to. If you can’t feel anything, making someone else happy is much more interesting.
Dancing on my father’s grave won’t win me back my body. That’s something I have to do for myself. However, it makes sense to me to renounce him in such a physical way, to use the tool he tried to steal from me to defeat him.
The holiday of Yule and Christmas are both associated with motherhood and the birth of a sun, son or new year.
This holiday season is my first in several years without paying lip service to the idea that I still have a family. Last year, I went away to a ski resort with my spouse, mother and brother. I hated being trapped in one place with her, where I could not get away, but I stayed as short a time as possible and with my partner and brother there it was not so bad.
In the previous 5 or so years since she left my abuser, mom would tell me which of the days around the holiday she’d have off, normally a day and a half including Christmas eve and part of Christmas day. She would come to my city and eat dinner on one of the days with myself and my partner, at our house (where I can get away) stay overnight and then leave in the morning. After that short visit, I’d be tired, and possibly a bit irritated with her incessant neediness and demands for attention, but would still live solidly within my own skin.
I enjoy spending time with my younger brother, whose only flaw, from my perspective, is his enmeshment with my mother. My older brother seems to have a violent reaction to connection to my mother, like he feels that she had tried to colonize him emotionally in some way he had to fight off.
Me, I’ve been grieving. I’ve finally recognized that I have no mother. My mother was never my ally, never my saviour and likely will never be willing to face her own demon. Just because I was able to claw myself away from my father, both physically and psychically and become a strong, independent woman, doesn’t mean my mother will do it. She left him physically, finally, but she is still living within his shadow in many ways, by living a life filled so full of work and spending, sleep deprived and exhausted, so that she need not think about all the things she didn’t want to remember.
I almost walked into the trap again of waiting for her to be the heroine she has proven time and again that she will never be. When asked what it would take to be comfortable with having her in my life, I figured out that what I needed from her. I would ask her to go to therapy weekly, reduce her workload to a maximum of 40 hours per week, and save money for her retirement. If she could stick to that for a year, I’d be able to have an actual relationship with her.
I assumed that weekly therapy would also result in a confession of her involvement in covering up my abuse or at least telling me truthfully what she had observed. If she was in weekly therapy, she would have to be honest with herself, and hopefully, eventually, me. If she was working a reasonable work week, she’d have to look after her own life and body, and wouldn’t be so needy and exhausted when we were together. If she saves for her retirement, it would be a tangible sign that she was looking after herself, instead of blowing her money as fast as she earns it, looking to be rescued by someone else.
Then I realized this for the trap it is. It allows me to transfer the ball to her court – make her responsible for us being estranged because she would never be able to comply with my request.
So here I sit. I don’t want to be around my needy, in denial mother, a woman with whom I have very few shared interests. In grief, asking her to be a heroine in order to win my love is just bargaining with the inevitable. My mother must save herself. I can change only myself.
Why am I publishing such personal information on the web? My therapist thinks that my process might be of value to others, and I’m proud of defying the silence that supported my abuser and unfortunately still supports the abusers that are raping children today. If incest and rape is taboo to talk about, it reinforces the shame that survivors don’t deserve and helps no-one but the perpetrators.
I’ve spent about 20 years actively healing from being abused by my father, and now he’s dying. I don’t know how fast he’s dying. He’s got cancer, and this is his second bout of it, and he’s old. All of that says to me that he’s dying.
He’s a lifelong smoker and heavy drinker. It’s surprising to me that he hasn’t died yet. I’ve often wondered why the Gods would keep him alive. Surely he deserves to be dead. Now I think it’s because I hadn’t yet prepared for his death. When your mortal enemy dies, it is a rite of passage. When a pagan person’s ancestor dies, they normally become part of their community of dead, to be venerated and remembered yearly at Samhain. My father needs to have this right formally revoked. I have disowned him in life, and this ceremony will disown him in death. I am asking my grandmothers and maternal grandfather, who are all dead, to assist me in making this happen.
This past weekend I bought a sword to dance over. The sword will represent my strength. It will represent the watery emotional and psychic battle I have waged with him (the sword is a tai chi sword and feels watery, somehow). As a sword, in my Wiccan faith tradition it represents boundaries and intellect, another way I have fought with my father. The iron represents my inner iron, the crisp and sharp strength I have exercised throughout my life.
The sword dance was traditionally performed on the death of an enemy, on the battlefield. The warrior’s sword and that of the enemy are crossed, and a dance that faces the four directions is danced over the crossed swords. I think it was originally a dance of celebration, but also a dance of banishing an enemy spirit from following the warrior off the battlefield. Cancer can kill my father for me, but I will celebrate his death and bind and banish his ghost with this ceremony.
I will cross my sword with a wand representing my father’s strength that was used against me. The stick will be freshly cut, and a thickness slightly larger than my father’s thumb.
The common phrase “rule of thumb” refers to the regulation in British Common Law that controlled the diameter of the stick a man was allowed to beat his wife, his human property, with. If the diameter was larger than his thumb, beating his human chattel was illegal. It refers to what allowed and supported my father in raping me – our culture’s tacit granting of ownership of women’s bodies to the men they designate as their masters.
By this dance I renounce the custom of formal or informal ownership of women and children by men.
Now, people will say, that may have been true a century ago, but no man owns a child or woman. I say, you have not seen what I’ve seen. If a man can rape you and no-one steps in to help, because he has a specific legal relationship to you, because he’s your father or husband, then how is that different from ownership?
Then of course there are all the jokes equating one’s ‘big stick’ with the weapon my father used to torture me. It is an appropriate fit to represent his power.
The first time my father raped me I was about 5 years old. The last time, I’m not sure, maybe 13. He strangled me till I lost consciousness, possibly to stop me from screaming. I was so young that, not knowing what passing out from lack of air was, I deduced from the pain and the unconsciousness that I’d actually died. My mother appeared to take no notice of what must have been the obvious signs of distress in her little girl. When we finally had a conversation about it, after I’d grown up and left the house forever, she said she believed me, but continued to live with my father for another 14 years. You would think raping your daughter, or any woman for that matter, is worth leaving your husband over. Apparently not.
My father is dying of cancer, hopefully quickly and painfully.
I’m planning to dance a sword dance on his grave.
I’ve started this blog to write about this, but now I find myself unable to write.
I found this picture of the Goddess Brigit with a sword that appeals to me. We women need to fight back, we survivors need to fight back against the silence and prejudice that keeps the abusers free and the survivors invisible.
The picture appeals to me because it represents the strength that is divine and female and cannot be silenced. The strength that is the iron core, the sword inside that we survivors use to fight for our lives and our happiness.
What kind of punishment suits my father? my mother?
I’ve long thought that the punishment within my reach that would be most appropriate would be to sue him into poverty. An added bonus is that it would also take away my mom’s dubious reward for staying with him all those years, protecting their shared equity.
Yes, I could, and did, pursue criminal charges against him. I filed a police report against him, and 7 or eight years later when the crown investigated (yes, it did take that long) they decided they had a good case to lay charges. The way the crown prosecutor explained it to me, abusers make terrible and uncredible witnesses because they’re lying, and people can tell. However, in those days, the norm for a daughter accusing her father of abuse was for her to just be grateful it was over after the 3 years of agonizing and life-sucking legal proceedings, and to be disheartened with the three year or suspended sentence slap on the wrists given to men who have done the worst think one human being can do to another, barring murder.
Because of this, and the fact that I was about to move to another region with my then boyfriend, I told the prosecutor that I did not need him to pursue the case on my account. If he wanted to pursue it to protect the public or other victims, he had my support as a witness, but I didn’t need him to do it on my account. He called me (or did he write, I forget?) and told me that they would have pressed charges but for my letter. I still kind of regret not going forward, having him dealt with for good, a closure I’m now looking to receive from his death from cancer, hopefully soon.
But suing him into the ground would be much better than a slap on the wrist. I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years on therapy. I’ve spent a thousand dollars this year alone, directly related to his abuse and my mothers complicity with it.
So I had a look on the internet about it. I couldn’t determine the legal time limitations on suing someone damages relating to sexual assault or parental breach of fiduciary duty. Apparently, due to the work of some blessed feminist lawyers, the clock doesn’t start ticking on limitations until the victim realizes the harm she experienced is related to her childhood abuse. However, I realized that about twenty years ago, so I think I might be out of luck. This isn’t really fair. It takes a long time for a woman to heal enough and be in a strong enough place with herself that she could sue the bastard for the abuse she’s spent most of her life overcoming. The statute of limitations is supposed to prevent cases with really stale evidence coming forward. The evidence I have, namely the effects on my person, are still there as much as they were twenty years ago, I’ve just learned to cope better, so it doesn’t really apply in my case. Whatever evidence the police compiled when they investigated twelve or so years ago is probably still there somewhere.
My only legal victory is the knowledge that the police in my home town know he’s a child sexual abuser, that they hauled him down to court and read him my charges against him. And it probably terrified him. According to my mother, the police officers treated him the way one would expect or hope to expect they would treat a man who rapes children. This is the small piece of justice I have, knowing that the police in his town know what he is, and he knows they know.
A real source of betrayal is the fact my mom refused to speak to the police about it. Was she afraid of perjuring herself?
Dancing on his grave will have to be enough. Dancing in defiance and relief and victory and celebration.
I have come to understand that my mother knew and chose to do nothing.
When I was 18 or thereabouts, I wrote my mother a letter telling her what my father had done to me. That he’d raped me and sexually abused me, beginning when I was quite young and continuing for years.
To her credit, she said believed me immediately, that it was “something he would do”.
She told me afterward that she spend the next several months crying and hiding from my father at night by sleeping in their bedroom closet.
Women leave their husbands for a lot of reasons – alcoholism, physical abuse, cheating or because they just don’t love them any more. Not my mother. My father drank himself unconscious almost every night. He slapped her at least once, an action I heard from the next room, and which my brother witnessed. He raped me, beginning when I was five years old. Despite clearly being in distress, and showing no signs I could discern that she felt anything for my father but revulsion, she didn’t leave at any time during my childhood, or in the 14 years after that letter. I begged her several times to leave, told her her duty as a mother and a feminist demanded it, but she didn’t. She told me afterward it was because no-one would help her.
I’m not sure what kind of help she needed. She traveled regularly, visited her relatives, who seemed to care about her, and was in enough contact with feminists to have access to information about shelters and welfare. She never asked me for a plane ticket or a place to stay to help her leave, or anything else. Fourteen years later, she finally left, but not because of me. She told me that since I was no longer in danger, she could take her time and leave when the time was right. She said she’d finally left in order to have a relationship with her children, two of whom would no longer have contact with her.
During my childhood, my father was known to make inappropriate sexual comments to adult women, including my mothers brother’s wife, my aunt. The insult he paid her was so severe my uncle and aunt severed contact with my family over it, but no-one wondered, to my knowledge, whether his daughter was at risk.
Except perhaps my mother.
A couple of years after I wrote her the letter, my mother, trying to repair her relationship with me, attended a joint therapy session with herself, her therapist and I. During this session I asked her to do a basic listening exercise, where I said couple of sentences and she would repeat back what she heard. There, in a different city from my father, with her therapist present, rather than repeat a simple sentence, that my father had raped me over a period of about ten years, beginning when I was about five, my mother ran screaming to the bathroom. She could not do it.
When I was little and being raped, it was just down the hall from where my mother slept. My father would drink himself unconscious, then wake up a few hours later, dragging his clumsy hands along the hallway to the bathroom where if he intended to rape me, would go in and pee. He would then come out and enter my room, which was directly across from the main bathroom. If he intended to go to sleep, he would continue down the hallway to his bedroom and pee in the ensuite bathroom.
I believe she must have known, and that’s why she didn’t leave later on, that she’d already decided long before to stay, no matter what. If his drinking, hitting her, verbal abuse and the embarassment of his sexual sleaziness was not enough reason to leave, what was the rape of a daughter she could not have truly valued?
All of this, the hand dragging, the stumbling down the hallway, the peeing, the flushing in the middle of the night made some noise. I know I heard it. I’d lie awake waiting for the sounds that would indicate I was in danger or safe for the night. One night that I know of, that my mother admits, she intercepted him after he left the bathroom and was entering my room. She steered him down the hall to their bedroom. She claims she just didn’t imagine he’d abuse me.
Clearly I don’t get my imagination from her, since I am quite able to imagine abuse. However, perhaps that’s not fair. I didn’t need to imagine it.
So now that I stare all this in the face, waiting for my father to die, what do I say to my mother when she wants to get together for the holidays? How do I respond to her when she wants to hang out, have lunch and visit, when she’d like me to make a fuss over her for mothers day or visit her at her home? I can’t imagine it.