Gotta look and see what’s there, before getting to the other side of them.
In general, a person who acts on the belief that they know the mind of God or of another man, except in the most basic way, diminishes their own honesty and empathy toward others. They may even tell themselves that their criticism of others is Love. They may call it “tough love”, believing their moral criticism of others actually helps them, but I tell you there is only tender Love, that includes empathy, and strives to understand another’s perceived “inadequacies”. More times than not, they turn out to be injuries not moral inadequacy. Love contains no moral judgment! It seeks to find resolution, understanding, and connection. It does not shame or diminish.
Recently someone in my extended family harshly criticized my sister for perceived “ir-responsibilities” over the years, and framed it as a moral issue, shaming my sister, despite the fact that that my sister has struggled with something that looks like depression, PTSD, and panic, because of the chaotic and terrorizing environment we grew up in. I was affected in the same way, because I experienced the same environment. I have struggled my whole life with PTSD/Depression/Panic Disorder. I have been gravely affected by injuries received growing up. My ability to “be like everyone else” striving towards all those things in Life that we want, like a good job, nice home, financial standing, etc. has been sorely lacking. I will never “be like everyone else”! My experience is different. My inadequacy is injury. The perceived inadequacies that come from PTSD are normal reactions to an abnormal experience. We have experience that others do not have, and cannot know from the outside!
Either PTSD is a real thing or not. Either Depression is a real thing or not. Either Panic Disorder is a real thing or not. You cannot have it both ways and make” inadequacies” that come from those very real medical conditions a moral issue.
My sisters and I grew up in a family with a mother who was severely mentally ill. Extreme violence and periodic terrorizing left my sisters and I affected, each of us in our own way. We lived through it, we are the “experts” of that experience and of its effects.
We can still love my mother despite her injuries/medical conditions (she was probably suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder), but we do not have to see her as morally deficient, because the truth of it is, that she had injury or disease as well.
Nor do we make her behavior normal in our minds, and take upon ourselves the effects of that violence and chaos! Understanding and empathy have brought us to this point, not moral judgment. Moral judgment would have interfered with our quest for resolution of our own injuries from her behavior.
I can never be like everyone else because my experience is different. In order to manage my PTSD (manage not control) there are many times when I “look” less responsible than others because I need more downtime than others, or have to withdraw from situations that activate the PTSD. I may be seen as spacey, ir-responsible, confused or lazy. But the truth of the matter is that your judgment of me is all about you, not me. Your judgment of me is none of your business, and the same is especially true for others who grew up in the same kind of environment as my sisters and I did.
Quite frankly, abuse survivors should be seen as having the incredible resolve and courage for continuing to find their way in Life, despite how difficult that quest is and we should seek to understand that. In doing so we grow, both in empathy as well as honesty, finding forgiveness in the process.
I believe answers to our current dilemmas are always found in the present moment through our undamaged, undiluted, unfiltered awareness. I have found this to be true, time and time again. When “things” do not go well, upon reflection, I see that I had lost focus, that I had been focused in my head on either the past or future, or I had blindly accepted some societal or religious “rule”, which means that I was following someone else’s answer, not my own. Fear takes me out of the present moment, out of my body and into my head, out of my other feelings, out of myself, out of the Truth. Fear is the fundamental dishonesty, that we don’t have what we need in any moment. Truth speaks to us from the core of our being in the present moment. It is both nonverbal as well as Archetypal. We put our own words to it, but those words are our words to convey Truth that wells up in us when needed. Words convey things, ideas, experiences, themes, solutions, feelings, states of mind, but are not what they convey, they are less than what they convey. God doesn’t need words and is not less than or separate from anything!
Absolute honesty is the path back to our Birthright, our Primal Awareness. Human beings seem to have a propensity for taking the easier path. We don’t want to do the hard work that Honesty requires. Instead we rely on rules and suppositions and explanations, doctrine, and the descriptions of others of an inner relationship with Truth, with Life, with God. Those descriptions do often have value, but in relying on them exclusively in each situation, we are not trusting ourselves, and we put this precious Gift in jeopardy, giving that Power to others, allowing their descriptions of Truth to over-ride our own. It’s not enough that our Primal Awareness has been diluted countless times over the years through injuries by others who have had their Awareness injured, or diluted, but then, we continue on in their footsteps, and do it to ourselves! We do this unconsciously. Even in the process of recovering access to this precious Gift we often find ourselves replacing this Birthright with something less.
Keeping in touch with this birthright in a group is particularly difficult. From birth we have given up what we know and what we see and what we feel in order to fit in. Our relationships are important to us. When we were little, that was a matter of life or death. To lose the love of a parent or parents, or of the whole family could have meant that we would perish. We knew this Instinctively. To lose the love and acceptance of parents or family would mean that we would be trapped with others who didn’t care about us. Children see this kind of situation as both life-threatening and never ending. To be totally ourselves despite a situation like this is beyond the capabilities of a child. What is most important in us becomes Unconscious. We then carry this learned behavior into our adult lives, so that belonging is often more important than Being Ourselves! And of course, we are not aware of this propensity. This Unconsciousness is particularly active and powerful in all or almost all groups.
A group will have its own story or description of Life, or the part of Life that it is associated with. When we act from our core in a group we are often at odds with this story that everyone who belongs must accept in order to belong. Group stories are often about separation from others who believe differently, and about a focus on “otherness”. Protection of the group becomes more important than the protection of Individuality. Groups gives a sense of safety in numbers, but are often about fear of others even if that is unconscious rather than acknowledged. The injuries of individuals in a group, then act unconsciously to protect the group, and the group story, whatever that may be.
I was born into a particularly fearful family. My mother was the main conduit of that fear and much violence. Later, however it was others outside the family. I was molested by a man who did “volunteer work” with underprivileged youths in our area at 13, and by the parish priest at 14, a scout leader at 15. I have carried those injuries ever since. This year I am 60 years old. I believe that not only do we carry our injuries with us, injuries that need resolution, stories that need to be told fully, but Life moves to heal those injuries at the appropriate times in the appropriate way. Healing is just as personal, as our relationship to Truth, to Life, to God. We cannot fit our healing, we cannot fit our story, into the words, or views, or rules, or stories of others. That healing, that relationship is deeply personal. It doesn’t fit inside Anything else.
I live in The Deep South. Lots of injury. Lots of Unconsciousness. Lots of mistrust. Lots of churches. Much of the work I do is for churches and ministers. My best friend is a minister. Recently I was doing some contract work for a church, and found myself having to constantly set and reset boundaries, explain, then re-explain what I needed to do the job. I really needed the money that was coming from the job, at least that’s what I told myself. Their behavior in terms of providing what was their responsibility to provide, was very out of control. They wanted more and more and more, regardless of the contract, and regardless of what should have been their own later responsibilities. I asked for digital, they’d give me paper. I’d ask for original, uniform, digital pictures, I’d get cropped, cut up, paper copies. They’d call and call and call. They started forwarding email suggestions from 20 different people in their congregation – all with different ideas about what should be despite the contract. I felt like I was being pecked to death by chickens! In me, uneasiness turned to fear, then panic. I knew my reaction was about my past, about being hurt by the priest, although I didn’t know what, specifically, I was recalling. To date, my memories of that particular injury are very dim. All I knew was that the world didn’t feel safe to me anymore. Other people were acting crazy and out of control, and I felt trapped and vulnerable to their craziness.
Then I had a dream. In the dream, the priest who hurt me was a shadow, but I knew it was him. He was reaching for his gun to come after me with it. I told my best friend about this, and having been trained as a minister, he suggested praying for the priest, that perhaps I had not forgiven him. I replied that I was not angry anymore (even if I was, that energy of anger is often the fuel to tell or to say No!). I did not feel animosity, only fear, panic in fact . He suggested that sometimes things are hidden from us. I know that only I hide things from myself. He suggested perhaps there was something underneath that fear. I knew that at least in me there is no other feeling underneath the fear, it is a primal emotion, and panic is about fear for one’s life. I trusted my friend enough to push back with what I believe from my own experience, and I told him I would “take it to God”, withdrawing from our “back and forth”. I also left “room” for what I might not be aware of. I felt strong having stood up with my own Truth.
The next day, I remembered that the priest that hurt me did in fact have a gun. I had known that all along, but did not have access to that. He showed me that gun, in a black holster, the same color as his clothing. Showing me that gun, was his subtle way of warning me that if I told, he’d come after me. That was the story about my past, that Life sought to show me, once I got past other people’s stories, and created both time and space to receive my own. © 2012 Ken Scully All Rights Reserved
The demand for absolute obedience from a child is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Parents often look at children as if they were just “little adults”. They also treat them as if they were all the same, and expect adult reactions from them. But like every color in the rainbow, every child is different, one from another. One child is as calm as a lake on a still, sunny day; another is caught in a storm of frenetic activity. One child listens intently; another cannot because their own internal soundscape is too loud. One child is accepting, never questioning what they are told; another is curious and questioning by nature, and must know for themselves. One child is patient and focused; another impatient and scatter-brained. One child is comical and friendly; another is serious and withdrawn. One child is blindly obedient, so eager to please; another senses injustice and powerlessness, and are confused by thoughtless demands, or enraged by angry, dishonest ones. Some children are sensitive; others are not, but the most sensitive among children, are the ones who float on the stormy seas of their parents emotions. Those children will have a very difficult time, indeed.
Too often parents make their children into servants. That’s different than teaching responsibility. There needs to be flexibility, when we are dealing with children. Parents do this because “That’s what parents are supposed to do!” Gradually, these “jobs” will “belong” to the children, even when it makes more sense, one time or another, for the parent to take care of that particular “job”. Parents often “bark” orders, reminding the child of past “indiscretions”, threatening punishment instead of pleasantly and calmly reminding a child of their “duties”. That sets the child up to fail, and “raises the stakes” in a very disfunctional parental game. A parent sitting next to the front door shouldn’t be demanding that a child on the other side of the room open the door every time, when they themselves are closer. Most children are not stupid, and will see the injustice in that. They will see the inflexibility. Parents who make their children into obedient servants, do this for one reason, and one reason only – because their own parents did that to them. They will tell you otherwise, of course.
“But they have to learn how to obey”, is the usual mindlessly repeated retort by protesting parents. This response usually comes from a place of frustration at the least, anger in most cases, exasperation and rage in other cases. If you feel rage because of your child’s disobedience, and especially if you do not give that child adequate time to respond to your often angry or threatening requests, your rage is not about the child, although you do not know that. You are allowing your own past to interfere with your, and your child’s present. Rage is only a proper response to gigantic loss or betrayal. It’s not a response to a child’s disobedience, unless you want them to be injured in the same way you were. Most of us carry our own childhood injuries so deeply inside ourselves, that often we are not aware of the extent of the damage done to us. Those injuries are not silent, however. Often they are expressed in an unyielding, inflexible, enraged attitued directed at our own children, when that rage should have been directed at our own parents long ago. Some of us were never allowed to disagree, or God forbid, disobey our parents. There would have been Hell to pay! That Hell would have been our own parent’s rage, and its consequences, the same rage, we may be directing at our children! This rage is a jealous rage, because it seeks to destroy in others, what was destroyed in ourselves. Like a wolf in waiting, neither parent nor child will ever know when it will attack. Children are led to right action through a calm, patient demeanor.
A parent doesn’t have to beat the “bejesus” (curious expression!) out of a child to do damage. When a parent is feeling this rage, and their child is experiencing their parent’s inflexible, impatient demands, one child may suddenly feel drained of energy, feel frightened and confused. Another may feel an awful feeling in the pit of their stomach, from the fear of being trapped in an out of control situation, with an out of control adult. (Their awareness is still undamaged, and they see the situation for what it is.) Some children respond “like a deer in the headlights”. One child may blame themselves for the parent’s rage, asking themselves, “Why am I so stupid. Why am I so bad. Why can’t I control myself”. (That child doubts their own awareness, no longer feeling what they truly feel, nor seeing what they truly see. They take on the false story that the parent is telling themselves.) The strongest child may feel rage at the injustice, the dishonesty, the lack of love in the parent’s actions and mood. Woe to that child! It will be “proof” to this disfunctional parent that the child “deserves” this treatment. They believe the child is challenging their authority, when in essence the child is challenging the dishonest story being presented to them. It will then become their quest to convince this sensitive, intelligent child, that what they are aware of is not true, that they, indeed are “the problem”! Awareness is eventually destroyed, perhaps losing an Einstein, a Mozart, or a Michaelangelo in the process! The child’s belief that no matter what, they will be OK is destroyed as well. They may carry these tremendous losses for the rest of their lives.
When I see the absolutely honest expression of anger, fear, determination, and sadness on a child’s face after one of these confrontations with a parent who is out of control, I pray the child can hold on for just a little longer. They still know what is true at that point, and still trust themselves. Their awareness is not yet fully damaged. Eventually, without some sort of intervention, the wolf will get the lamb. The parent’s injury then becomes the child’s, and the child’s birthright of an undamaged awareness is stolen from them.
If you are a parent or child like I describe, I hope and pray that you and they will not carry these injuries for a long time. Although healing anytime is a wonderful blessing, healing at say, fifty, sixty, or even later in life, brings with it, the knowledge, that an integral part of yourself, a powerfully creative, sensitive, empathic part of yourself, has been missing for most of your life. We need the “be jesus” in us.
© 2011 Ken Scully and Lowcountry Survivors All Rights Reserved
Cicadas chirped. Birds and butterflies fluttered. Gravel crunched under his Buster Browns. He smelled the perfume sweet honeysuckle smell in the air, and the fresh cut grass of his neighbor’s lawn too. His Spirit sang the happy Song of Being, as the sun shone down on him from an immaculately blue sky, dotted with small fluffy cotton candy-like Cumulus clouds. He was made of Love and smiles, and an equal measure of contentment, excitement, unrestrained giggles and delight. Nothing had shattered his makeup yet. Oh, there was a tentativeness, and uncertainty that wasn’t in him previously, and there had been cuts and bruises, colds and stomach upsets, times of mild admonishment, and other small losses. Of course, to him, every small loss at the time seemed gigantic and forever, and he would cry with all his heart.. But when they were over, though, they were not revisited. He had not learned to do otherwise.
His mother was in the house, doing whatever she always did in there, when she hurried him outside to play. He didn’t really know what she did in there during the day; he did know that she cooked and cleaned and did dishes in their little five room bungalow, but what else, he didn’t know. All he knew was that she didn’t play, because he had asked her to play with him any number of times until he learned not to ask. He learned very quickly, he was very smart.
He had a “well oiled” imagination, rich, vibrant, detailed, and nearly as real to him, as the world he really occupied. His imagination was a wonderful tool, because he spent long hours alone. When he was outside, both his body and his mind were there. When he was playing in his room, that’s where his mind and body were. When he decided to, he used his imagination. He used his imagination to go to places he couldn’t go to, and to do things he couldn’t do, and everything in his imagination made him happy. He had not yet learned to use it in any other manner. His imagination was probably the best toy he owned, although he didn’t even question having it, or using it. It was just a part of him like his arms and feet, and everything else.
He couldn’t tell you how he felt inside, how he felt about himself, and how he felt in the world. But if he could, he might describe feeling smooth and clean and fresh, happy, and a part of everything he saw, and experienced, especially the sunshine and the beautiful soft blue sky that wrapped around his head and body when he was outside. He would tell you that he just felt like himself, how could he feel any other way? He didn’t question his perceptions, his awareness, his feelings. He felt neither strong nor weak, neither good nor bad. This way of being, this way he experienced his world was completely natural to him, and he didn’t know it, but it was his birthright.
© 2011 Ken Scully and Lowcountry Survivors All Rights Reserved
He sat leaning against the telephone pole, stroking his dog Happy, while he sobbed. It was a late March afternoon, grey sky, the grass not quite green, the ground still cool and damp on his bottom. His most prized possession, a small blue plastic 9 volt transistor radio, lay discarded beside him. He had been holding it near the grounding cable of the pole, attempting to hear stations usually too faint to hear at all without the added antenna boost of the cable. It was his connection to the outside world. Maybe he hoped to find solutions in those faint, static filled AM stations. Maybe he hoped that magically he could be transported, somehow, to where those faint stations were. Anywhere would be better than where he lived, and the people he lived with. He stroked Happy as he cried; telling his best friend how no one loved him. It wasn’t the kind of crying we might do later as young teenagers. It certainly wasn’t the kind of weak ineffective stifled crying we might give in to as adults, (if we ever do at all). It also wasn’t the childishly dishonest crying declaration that a young child might make when they feel slighted, because his observation about his family was firmly grounded in the truth.
Some folks are not capable of Love, or honesty. Love must contain empathy. They might say they love, but love is never real unless demonstrated consistently. Love confessed must never be polluted by demonstrations that undo that “love”, like cruelty, contempt, dishonesty, narcissism, or violence, (all of which he had experienced during his short 10 years of life).
He felt he could not go on, the despair he carried far too large for a little boy. His chest heaved uncontrollably. His heart and throat burned, as he cried, spasms rising from his belly, into his chest, forcing his cry from his throat, while tears flowed freely down the side of his face. There was no terror now, although it had been his companion earlier. Now, despair and sadness so large that they threatened his tender nature was what his heaving chest and tears confided to the soft heart of his four legged friend, and attempted to expel. His friend and protector never flinched, or turned away, accepting the sobs and tears, all part of the many emotional storms lately. Happy accepted unconditionally, because that was his nature, and in this instance, his purpose. He nudged closer, kissing his charge on the side of the face with his large wet tongue. Then the little boy let loose even greater sobs, unloading the rest of the poison that had just been put into him.
I am not always like this, of course. However, in the course of my life, I continue to cycle in and out of my issues to gain mastery over them.
I try so hard to be good. I try so hard, that sometimes, it consumes me. I allow myself no wiggle room, no permission to just be human. Sometimes, I try to anticipate my wife’s bad moods, watching what I say and do, and how I say and do. Maybe I do her thinking for her, so that she doesn’t have those moods, or I might help her do her thinking to get her out of those moods. Sometimes if someone is angry, or going to be angry at me, I do everything in my power to keep that from happening. I am rewarded for this, by others seeing me as “strong” or “together”. I am smart. I am kind. I am respectful. I am attentive. I am empathic, and I am dead tired. Sometimes I am so busy doing all this, and being responsible for everyone else, and everything else, that there is no room for me, inside me. I know why I do this.
In 1955, when I was 4 ½ years old or so, I followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of neighborhood kids down Circle Drive, in our little town of Trooper. We ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand. After an hour or so, when they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up. Now, a 4 ½ year old kid takes something like that seriously! Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. I was terrified! I thought I was going to die there, all alone, that no one would ever find me. I distinctly remember that being my fear.
Eventually, my mother came looking for me, and “beat the crap” out of me as soon as she found me. I could make a hundred excuses for her – she was scared because she hadn’t known where I was, or she was scared that she could be in trouble, or be seen as a bad mother, or any number of other excuses. But the fact remains that at that moment she remained focused on herself, and had no empathy for a 4 year old child’s distress! She put responsibility on me, not herself! She should never have allowed me to be in that situation. Her responsibility was to keep an eye on me, not allow me to wander off with older children for hours at a time! That was her responsibility! This is the earliest memory I have of her beating me. There would be hundreds, if not thousands of more times that her beatings would occur, their force, her rage, my fear, her contempt, and her lack of taking responsibility growing each time.
At 4 years old, I was a needy, gentle, naive, deeply feeling, intuitive, impulsive child “ just the way I was meant to be. I looked to others for their definition of me. Let me say that again: I looked to others for their definition of me. I looked to others for their definition of me, their acknowledgement, love, attention, and reasoning. I looked to others to show me how to fit in, how to express my thoughts and my feelings, to learn what was right and what was wrong. I trusted that what my mother told me was true, and that how she acted was right. There was no argument about that in my little 4 year old mind. I would have to try harder to be good.
My mother’s violence towards me, taught me that I was worthless and defective. Her demeaning words of contempt would eventually solidify my view of myself.
A child has no grasp on their own impulsiveness. They are a cauldron of churning, boiling feelings. Their impulses are fueled by those feelings. How ferociously this cauldron boils is dependent upon their experiences. When they are met constantly with craziness and terror; when their caregivers are dishonest, violent, and impulsive themselves, the “cauldron” often boils over. They are seen as “bad”, defective, or worse, by adults who themselves do not understand either their own or a child’s impulsiveness. They do not understand that children operate by impulse, those impulses fueled by feelings that the children have because of how they are treated and seen by these very adults! How is a child to untangle themselves from such a “catch 22″ situation? They cannot. Often they never will, even as they get older. They mature in years, seeing themselves as these adults have seen them, never understanding the nature of their impulsiveness, seeing themselves as “bad”, defective or worse. Escalation is an integral part of this mechanism. As the adults continue to see these children acting on their impulses, their misguided view of the children is solidified. Their reactions and judgment continue in themselves, and reactions in their children continue to escalate. Often other more favored children are brought into this drama, seeing their brother or sister as the parent sees them. The child singled out for this drama, is completely alone, “knows” that they are different from everyone else, because they see every member of their family treating them that way. Isolated from those who see the child this way, the child is left to their own devices in dealing with the violence and craziness, and more importantly, the feelings they are left with because of it.
All through my childhood, I could never seem to do anything right. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt growing up with this. I remember feeling listlessness, loneliness, and a tightness in my chest, that seemed to contain something unknown and hungry, something that needed to be filled or satisfied, but never could be. Rather than soft, gentle, warm, fuzzy, happy, content hopeful feelings, I had internalized the TERROR and DESPAIR of being raised by someone who more often than not was out of control. I never knew what to expect from my mother. Sometimes she was childlike and “nice”, while other times, she was like a wild animal, ready to devour me if I said or did the “wrong” thing. It would have been less crazy, if she had been wild all the time.
Over time, I learned to read her moods, in order to avoid her during her worst times, but my own impulsiveness set me up to do things that got me in trouble anyhow. My language skills grew as I tried to talk myself out of trouble. Nothing I said (or did) made any difference with her. I found better more precise ways of saying things so I wouldn’t be in trouble, all to no avail. I tried so hard to be “good”, but my own impulsiveness would get me in trouble. No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I was never good enough. Nothing I did or said was good enough for her, or later, for me! If only I could just get it right! But always the axe would fall, and I would find myself dealing with an enraged, out of control woman, ready to hurt me. The fact that she could so easily rationalize her own behavior, made her exceedingly dangerous. At any time, she might have killed me. Over and over and over, I was terrified of her, and terrified that she would kill me. Unless you experienced this, you cannot know what it is like. But I am asking you to try.
As a society, we have grown enough to recognize that it is wrong for an enraged husband to beat his wife. “Just a little hitting” is not OK. We even understand the mechanisms in him that allow him to do this. We understand how his abuse affects her. We understand that he is teaching her that he “owns” her, that she is powerless, in fact even defective and worthless! A mother who beats her children because of her own out of control rage teaches these same terrible lessons to her children. She fills their hearts with terror, rather than love, despair rather than hope, worthlessness, rather than integrity and value.
As a society, we must stop making excuses for parents who beat their children. I am tired of all the excuses. The Law looks for marks on the outside, but we must learn to see the marks it causes on the inside! We must stop automatically defending the right of a parent to beat their children by calling it child rearing, or shifting responsibility to the child by seeing them as “difficult” and the parents as blameless. “Just a little hitting” is not OK!
As a society, when we have grown enough to value our children enough to truly protect them, then perhaps, we can turn our attention toward helping so many others, child and adult alike, who have already been injured. That is the one right place to “try so hard”!
Everyday, I hear something on the news that “makes me” mad. Notice the quotation marks around “makes me”. That phrase is in quotes, because it’s something we say in polite conversation, but it’s something that’s totally untrue. Nothing can “make us” feel anything. If something happens to us, one time we might be sad, while another time we might feel angry, depending on what is already going on with us at the time. Our reactions are our own responsibility. We are making decisions to react or not react inside ourselves all the time, even though we may not notice that subtle subconscious landscape. A more honest way of saying the same thing would be: “I feel angry when I hear some things on the news”. That way I “own” my own anger, I am responsible for it, not the news. I use this as an example of how pervasive and un-noticed our dishonesty is. Let me start over –
I often feel angry when I hear dishonest things on the news. I feel angry, when people are being dishonest with me. When people are being dishonest, they are usually attempting to manipulate others, and that is what I get angry about. Manipulation is an attempt to force someone to think, feel, or do something, and I don’t like being forced! They may not even know they are doing it! Folks have a terrible time with honesty. They also have a terrible time avoiding the impulse to manipulate others. Worse than either of those two is the fact that folks often have trouble noticing dishonesty and manipulation. When I watch the news, I see people in power trying to manipulate us, and they succeed handily! Government officials, political pundits, various authorities in religion, education, business, foreign affairs, and economics all push their particular views – or more correctly stated, the views of their organizations. They use faulty logic, lies of omission, and various other techniques, and quote others using the same tactics!
The news is a maelstrom of dishonesty. On every side of every issue, people attempt to manipulate how we think and feel about that issue. Whether the War in Iraq, Global Warming, or the latest mistake made by some politician, people on both sides of every issue tug at our minds and heart-strings in order to get us to “see it their way”. Most of us can sometimes see the manipulation that goes on by “the other side”, but do we see the manipulation that goes on in “our own side” as well.
Advertisers know how easy it is to manipulate us. The more one has been manipulated, the easier it is to be manipulated! Governments know this principle, and use it. Those in power within those governments attempt to make us see things with their particular slant. It allows them to consolidate power, and to do what they want, whether their motives are good or evil. It is a terrible danger to us as a society.
Why are we so easily manipulated? Why do we have such an awful time with honesty? It is because of this rule: The more one has been manipulated, the easier it is to be manipulated! Most us of were introduced to manipulation and dishonesty when we were children! I don’t mean to imply that all parents are “bad”, that all families are “bad”. Many parents are unaware, sometimes, of what they feel, think, or sometimes why they do what they do. What I am trying to say, is that to a certain degree, deep, penetrating, internal self honesty has been lacking in most of our families to one degree or another, and it causes us to become accustomed to manipulation and dishonesty long before we are “out in the world” ready to be influenced by the forces there. We all are still operating in the “trance” that was created in our families. We only see what this “trance” allows us to see, and we react in predictable ways, based on the tenets of our family trance.
For quite a while, many family therapists have been aware of this. In Transactional Analysis, also, therapists have been aware of this dynamic, as well as those therapists who treat addictive disease. We have all heard of the term “denial”, and have heard about how dishonest and manipulative active alcoholics and other addicts can be. Perhaps we have heard that addiction is a “family” disease, that all members are affected. The forces that bind members in a good way can also be forces that bind them in ways that are not so good.
There is a teaching tool that has been used to describe the processes that bind us in families and similar groups, and keep us in a state of denial (keep us dishonest, or unable to recognize dishonesty and manipulation). This teaching tool is called “The Drama Triangle”. The powerful processes of “The Drama Triangle” train us to be victims. I won’t get into The Drama Triangle’s dynamics here in this article, but if you are interested, do a search for it online.
In all families, children fall into roles that provide stability or credibility to the family, and that role then overshadows their “True Selves” (who God wants them to become). A good example of this is when an older brother or sister becomes the pseudo parent of their younger sibling because of some lack in that family. They can become more responsible than a child should be, and lose touch with their own true child needs and desires, because the role that they have to play in the family becomes foremost in how they see themselves, and how they “act”. Now, for the family, and perhaps sometimes for the little sibling, this can be a good thing, but for the one who takes on the role, they become actors in their own lives, completely unaware of that happening to them. They become super responsible, always striving, but completely unaware of their true feelings and intuitions. Granted, it is a good thing to be responsible, but it is a very bad thing for them to be forced unconsciously into that responsibility, because they lose touch with their own innermost feelings, intuitions, and desires, their “True Selves” . Living out the scripted responses of a family role in this unconscious way, is dishonest living, even though the child never chose to be this way. Another good example is the “black sheep” of the family. No matter what that child does, parents and siblings see him or her as defective: stupid, bad, dirty, disgusting, irresponsible, etc. The more they are seen that way, the more they act and see themselves that way, and the more the family continues to see them that way. But it is all a lie, a scripted role created for them by the family! They go on to continue to act out that role in adult life.
I was the “black sheep” in my family. The remaining members of that family still see me that way. So be it. That is a betrayal. I am sad, and I am angry about that. The forces of their drama still control them, and even though they describe me in all sorts of negative, contemptuous ways, I see me differently! Those who truly love me, see me the way I truly am! Although sometimes, I have very strong feelings about the poor treatment I received as a child, and how I am seen by estranged family members now, I am blessed. I am blessed not because of the abuse that I suffered as a child – that was most definitely not God’s Will for that to happen to me or any other child, but because He provided everything I needed in order to start unraveling the extraordinary dishonesty that was put inside me, and has allowed me to see how these fascinating and powerful forces work. I have spent many years of my adult life (in my 30’s and 40’s) in therapy, with some of the most genuine, loving, intuitive folks, who have been able to give me what my parents could not, and I will be forever grateful to them, and to God for that! For a period of 15 years I read everything I could get my hands on, in order to find my way out of the prison that was created for me. You would be surprised to find out how common that is, for abuse survivors to become experts in the forces that formerly bound them!
I speak from experience rather than authority. These forces that are in all our families to a small degree in some, an enormous degree in others, are what cause us to be so easily misled by those who want to manipulate us. When we live in a sea of dishonesty, dishonesty doesn’t catch our eye!
So what do we do about this? How can we undo this tendency in us that allows us to be manipulated into believing what is not true, buying what we don’t need, supporting those who would hurt us or others by their policies? We have to rigorously cultivate deep, penetrating, internal self-honesty. We must learn to question everything, to not take anything for granted. Just because we have “always” believed something, doesn’t make it true. Most of what is in us was put there by others. Much of what we find will be untrue. This is an extraordinarily uncomfortable process, and most people are unwilling to even attempt it. We are not very patient, and find anything that takes a long time difficult. Also, we have been taught to protect our deepest beliefs, but if they are true, they need no protecting! When who we are, what we feel, what we do, and what we believe is truly and authentically our own, what is inside us needs no protection. There is no uncertainty, except that which is supposed to be in us – we are not omniscient! We do not know everything, and never will. We are human, and will always have some vulnerability, but we were not made to be manipulated by others. We need community, but need to be uniquely and authentically ourselves inside any community. We need to be aware of any community that promotes the value of community over the value of the individual – both are equally valuable. Any group or community that sacrifices the needs of the individual for the needs of the group cultivates the same forces that have created these injuries, or vulnerabilities in us.
Those of us who are believers (in God) may be frightened that our relationship with God might be affected. I started out my journey, by trusting God to lead me on this journey, and quite frankly, I never expected that journey to take me where it has. If anything, my trust in God has grown exponentially during this journey. I started out having trouble trusting anyone. Now I trust both myself and God more than I thought I ever would.
Finally, like many things we seek to develop inside ourselves here on this Earth, this journey is a journey without a final destination, and on this journey our constant companion (along with God) must be vigilance. We must constantly watch what we say, and think, to start rooting out anything that is less than honest. As we do this, not only do we find much that is untrue, but we will start to notice how much of what we hear out in the world that is untrue as well!
“God-damn-it! So help me Christ, I swear there’s something wrong with you, you rotten son-of-a-bitch”, she screamed. I see her in my mind’s eye, above me, always above me, glaring at me, red-faced, her mouth full of teeth, sharp and somewhat yellow-stained, ready to throw more bony fisted punches if I dared to challenge her omnipotence. She said things like that to me in a voice tinged with hysterical rage. Actually, not tinged, (if the truth be known), but filled with rage, overflowing with rage.
I never knew how far she would go, how much she wanted to hurt me, how much she would allow herself to inflict on me, or how long she would continue. Her rage became my terror.
Her “disgust” of me was convincing, I know she believed her own lies. Unfortunately, my sisters and I learned to believe them too.
I wonder why she started on this crusade to convince not just me, but the whole family, that I was dirty, defective, broken, lazy, bad, stupid, and maybe even crazy. She started when I was 4 or 5. I was a child, and children do “bad” things, especially when they are getting the crap scared out of them by an out of control adult like my mother. I think she needed me to be “wrong”, so she could be “right”. I had to be scared, so she could feel powerful. I had to be “bad” so she could feel “good”. She must’ve done that to me 10,000 times if she did it once. Back in her childhood, she had felt a lack of power, and she was bound and determined as an adult to feel that power that she had missed.
My sisters believe that my mother loved them (and me). They believe that I should believe that too. They tell me that I should focus on the “good times”, and all the “good” things my mother said. I don’t remember her telling me too many “good” things!
I can imagine that after just one terrifying episode with my mother, I was probably immune to the next 100 compliments (if they would have been available.) That’s not a defect in me, that’s just a fact of life!
I learned to not trust adults because she, quite frankly, was untrustworthy. There has to be trust for a compliment to do its job. A compliment is like food for our emotional system. As children we need many each day for us to feel OK, competent, strong, loving, and calm.
Looking back, I believe often she hated me, and barely tolerated me other times. For some reason, she saw all the bad things in herself, when she looked at me. There was no reason for her to do that, other than the fact that I was an innocent, intelligent, sensitive child, with all the self-centered needs that all children have. She taught me to see myself in the awful way she saw me from the start. I didn’t have a chance to see me any other way.
A mother who loves her children.
-is a mother who beats her children with her fists?
-is a mother who screams like a wild animal while she beats her children?
-is a mother who calls her children “rotten sons of bitches of bastards” while she beats them?
-is a mother who continuously tells her children that “there is something wrong with you”?
-is a mother who tells her children that she wishes they were never born?
-is a mother who continuously tells her children that they are “disgusting”?
-is a mother who tells her children “you make me sick to my stomach”?
-is a mother who beats her son with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe?
-is a mother who ties her children to a chair?
-is a mother who tells her 9 year old son that she’d kill him if she could get away with it?
-is a mother who unleashes her unbridled rage on her children, and blames them for it?
-is a mother who does all these things countless times, while pretending to be the victim?
Honesty demands that we say “No!”
Honesty demands that we acknowledge that a mother, who does all those things to her children, does not truly love her children, perhaps through injury, she cannot.
All those things are Not Love.
I believe one of the most important things in this Life, is learning about ourselves, and wondering what God wants for us. Who does He want us to become? How do we become more than we are?
I also believe that to move forward to become the person He wants us to be, sometimes we need to look back, to see where we have been injured, and to heal those injuries that keep us from becoming more. All of us have been injured, many have been injured gravely.
I believe, that to heal emotional injuries from childhood, we often need to revisit those injuries with others, revisit and share the sadness, or anger, or terror with others, and find some personal resolution within ourselves. For many of us who were gravely injured, this journey takes a lifetime.
I spent my childhood in a very rural area. We lived in a large farmhouse, built before the Revolutionary War. Behind the house were three maple trees, over a hundred years old, too large to climb, although those were the trees I always wanted to climb. They had trunks about 30 inches in diameter, deep ridged bark, the first branches more than 20 feet up. Close to these trees, and adjacent to Brownback Road, hidden in the underbrush, was “The Wine Cellar”. Obviously it was built when the first part of the house was built, but separate from the house, and forgotten for a large number of years, hidden away, waiting for discovery. Covering the outside of this tomb like structure (it reminds me of the story of the tomb that Jesus was in, where he rolled that huge boulder away from the entrance) was an almost impenetrable barrier of Osage Orange. Now Osage Orange, if you’re not familiar with it, is the most lethal thorn bush around. I don’t mean lethal, like it is poisonous or something, but lethal, like a sharp knife could be. Thorns two inches long, needle sharp, and woody strong. Folklore attributes this plant to Jesus’ crown of thorns. This “wine cellar”, that’s what we called it, although it was, in fact, a root cellar, was built with expertly placed stone, to form a Quonset or arch shaped underground room, made entirely of stone. Inside, hundred year old mustiness, the smell of dry leaves, which had found their way in over the years, left over spoiled apple smell, mold, and wet earth smell, like the garden, were prevalent. The stones, perfectly fitted, were kind of white, like quartz or limestone. I kept expecting to find stalactites, or stalagmites, but I never did of course. In the very back of the “Wine Cellar”, about 20 feet back, was a perfectly built stone wall, with a square opening 2ft by 2ft, halfway up the wall. When I was most courageous, I would jump and shinny up until I had my belly on the ledge of that opening, and I would peer down a deep stone lined well, which reminded me of pictures I had seen in fairy tale books. I could see the water at the bottom even though every time I got the courage to look in, I expected to find monsters.
I remember this one time, my father spent a weekend cutting the Osage Orange back, and burning what he cut. It grew right back, though, and he gave up, never trying to keep the entrance to the Wine Cellar clear again. He abandoned it. It didn’t matter that it represented the artisanship and way of life of the past. It didn’t matter that out of the whole property, the “Wine Cellar” had the most character of any structure. It didn’t matter that it was built to last forever. It didn’t matter that it had an aura of mystery and power. He abandoned it. I didn’t. I carry it, and what it represents to me, inside myself. I keep pruning those thorns back, and I’ll never stop like he did! I’ll keep pruning them back so I can keep going down in there, to see if I will find monsters or treasure in that well.
After years and years of “revisiting” my childhood, I am still surprised at how powerful my feelings are when I look back, and at how much I have changed, and at how many “confining” rules I have broken in order to change. I was 35 when I had my first “flashback” of the abuse I suffered as a child. Here I am, sitting in my own computer repair shop, almost 1500 miles from where I started my Journey of Healing, and I am almost 53 years old! My two sons are grown, and I have remarried. I have changed so much, and I yet, I have so much still to change!
One of my three earliest memories is of myself at 4 years old or so. My grandparents, who only visited a few times each year were visiting. I was told to go to bed. Of course I didn’t want to go to bed, and I remember crying, and asking for water, and pleading to stay up. Eventually, my mother beat me because I kept crying, and I remember feeling such a huge rage inside of me. I could not hit her back. I could not protect myself. I could not get what I wanted. I remember biting the sheet on my bed, and growling and screaming with my teeth clamped down on that sheet so they wouldn’t hear my defiant rage. And in my rage, I yanked that sheet, and accidentally pulled one of my own teeth out. When my mother came in and saw what I “had done”, she beat me some more, telling me there was something wrong with me, that no normal child pulls their own teeth out.
Well I have to tell you, that no normal mother beats her child like that, or tells her child that he’s not normal. I believe it was one of my last acts of defiance, with only a few exceptions surfacing until I was 40 years old or more. My defiance was beat right out of me, along with any incentive, creativity, or willpower. I became compliant, and all the “Life” went out of me.
The Hexter Brothers taught me to put a stone in the middle of a snowball. I was 4 or 5. I was so proud of my new talent, and having been shown a secret process in confidence, that I showed my mother the first chance I got. She beat me.
The other “earliest memory” was not too long after the tooth incident. Since we moved when I was 5, I suspect I was 4 1/2 or younger, living at that same house. I had followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of kids down the street, and we ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand that. When they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up or something. Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. Finally, my mother came looking for me, and beat me when she found me. She beat me to make me compliant, then beat me because I was compliant. How crazy is that? I also see how she set me up to fail even then. What parent leaves her 4 year old child outside and unattended? What parent would blame a 4 year old child for wandering off, instead of blaming herself for not watching the child?
When I look back, there are things other than pain. There is also irony. On one side of us lived the Hexters. On the other side were the Beulah’s. You could say we lived between Heaven and Hell, but from my perspective as that little 4 or 5 year old kid, I didn’t have to die to go to Hell, I was already there.
I want you to read this. I want all of you to read this. Not because I like the limelight, or relish telling you about my past. I want you to know me, so that you believe me. The power of my words is dependent upon how you judge me. I would rather folks judge me because of the strength of my character, which can only be known by knowing my past, and not because I drive a rusty old truck, am soft spoken and sometimes nervous and self conscious, or because on the surface, I may seem to not have accomplished much by your standards even though I am 55 years old. Judge me by what I have endured as a child. Judge me by what I have accomplished despite my past. Judge me by what I have overcome, by the length and scope of my journey. Then my words will have the power that I intend them to have, because they must convey terrible truths that no one should have to know but that everyone must, so that we might protect the future.
Over forty-two years ago I was molested by a man named Warren Frye. I want to say “I use the term “man” loosely”, but that is the anger in me. He was just a man, nothing more, nothing less, a man who hurt me. He lived in our neighborhood, and took “underprivileged” kids on trips, that their parents could not or would not take them on. He took me and two other boys to the 1964 New York World’s Fair for three days. I was fourteen years old. I’m not sure if he was the first one to hurt me that way, but I do know he wasn’t the last. In the hotel room that he had rented, there were only two beds for three boys and a grown man. When he was in the bathroom, I remember that we boys argued about who was going to sleep with whom. Apparently I lost this tug of war with my buddies, although I don’t remember the details of that loss. I do remember that he had given each of us an ‘aspirin’ to “help us sleep”. Two of us didn’t want to take that pill, because we didn’t believe it was aspirin, but my buddy Glen, always the joker, smiling, tossed the pill into the air and caught it in his mouth and swallowed. I can’t remember if I or the other boy swallowed the pill. I do remember getting into the bed alone, while my two buddies got into the other. I was in my underwear, and I remember the terror that I felt when he got into the bed in his underwear, the kind of terror that makes you feel like there is no air in the room to be had. I couldn’t look at him; I couldn’t look at anyone or anything. At this point, my memory goes blank. The next day, I had excruciating pains in my bottom. It felt like I had a knife sticking into my insides. I also found blood, and I remember that I was afraid I was going to die, but I knew I couldn’t tell anyone, even though I didn’t consciously remember what he had done to me. I just knew to keep quiet. It was a very long day, while I waited in silence to die, and I remember that even though I was in this place that was almost like Disneyland, with all the people, and exhibits about the future, I didn’t enjoy one thing about it. To a certain degree, I have had trouble fully enjoying anything since that day. I don’t think I ever saw him after that, although he haunted my dreams throughout my thirties and early forties. In these terrifying dreams, he was this bald man who kept suddenly jumping on top of my car while I was driving, almost making me crash, and always damaging my exhaust system. I didn’t put the pieces together until sometime during therapy, in my forties, when I remembered how I knew to keep quiet the morning after he molested me. I had never forgotten that next morning.
Later that year or maybe before the trip, I’m not sure which, I had another experience of violation in my Boy Scout troop. An older boy named Oliver; maybe three years older did something to me that for the longest while, I thought I had consented to. All of the older boys, and some younger ones were involved in one form of sexual experimentation or another. I remember tremendous shame, and fear that I would be exposed, yet it wasn’t just me. It seemed like almost the whole troop was doing it. We were all “out of control” when no adults were around. We were given no direction by adults about sexual matters other than in Catholic school where they taught us that it was a mortal sin outside of marriage, and that we would go to hell. Fear of punishment and damnation was not enough to overcome our physical impulses to experience pleasure, especially for those of us who came from homes without much affection, or with a lot of violence. Both were true in my case. No one told us that sexual feelings felt good and might draw us into behaviors that could get us hurt in one way or another! The fact that adults who should have looked after us, but didn’t because they were embarrassed by sexual matters is a glaring fact in retrospect. I can only disclose it now, because I am sure about my sexual orientation, the pressures that existed back then, and know that experimentation like that is fairly common with boys, even in males who grow up to be heterosexual. Anyhow, this guy Oliver had a sort of a “cult following”, because he was older and in the Explorers, and because he wanted to become a priest. He was on the bed with his clothes off while we were at winter camp. He was in charge while the adults were away. He had all of us touching him, but then he tried to do the same thing that Warren Frye had done to me, and was hurting me. I hadn’t wanted him to do that, I hadn’t even thought of doing that. I remember that it felt like he was putting broken glass into me, it burned so much. Yet I didn’t say no. In fact, I couldn’t say no! All I could do was whimper. One of the other boys had to say “stop it, you’re hurting him!” I thought I had agreed to all of it. Now I see it was a matter of peer pressure, and this terrible fatal flaw in my makeup that I could not say “no” to anyone!
Why couldn’t I say “no”? I’ve heard that a lot of abusers “groom” their victims. Was that the case? Was that the reason I never said no to things I didn’t want to do? No it wasn’t, although there were aspects of their behavior that might look like grooming. They went slow. They “sized” their victims up. They wanted to make sure that the victims would be compliant, and that they would “Keep the secret”. But they didn’t do the actual “grooming”. In my case, my mother did.
I know, at this point you might want to turn away from what I have to say; how could I say such an awful thing? I say it because it is the absolute and undeniable truth. Was my mother a sexual predator who groomed her victims? No I don’t believe she was, although she most certainly did groom me to be a victim. I didn’t understand this fully until very recently.
Two and a half years ago, about a year before she died, I wrote to my mother, trying to develop an honest relationship with her, rather than staying estranged, or pretending the past had never happened. I wanted her to acknowledge that her anger had kept us apart, not my inadequacies or supposed faults. Instead she went into a diatribe of disrespectful insults, ones that I had heard my whole life. I confronted her about how her rage had kept me terrified throughout my entire childhood. I was finally able to express to her, how angry I was about how she had kept me totally impotent by her rage. My anger allowed me to stand up to her, to be the real me in her presence, not a pretend me that might win her “love” or acceptance. My sisters may never “forgive” me for doing that (even though doing so was not wrong, and even though my confrontation was RESPECTFUL, despite my mother’s disrespect!). By being honest, and breaking out of the mold that led me to be a victim, (by confronting her), I lost my sisters, and a sizable inheritance. I would do it again! I had lost my sisters long ago anyhow. That loss only came to the surface to be seen. It was already there. My mother got all her “power” by putting others down. By belittling others, she felt powerful. By using the approach of playing victim while putting others down, over and over, she drew others into her web of dishonesty. They got to feel powerful too, or at least, less powerless, and were drawn into her “inner circle”, accepted members of the family, unlike myself, a black sheep, and outside this circle. She didn’t only use this tactic, but violence as well. Her rages were unbridled, hitting me with her fists while she told me how lowly, and pitiful, and dirty, and what a mistake I was; that I should never have been born. She did this, while hurling obscenities in every sentence; spit flying from her mouth, her teeth, sharp like daggers – that’s how I saw her. I knew when she was raging, that I had better be docile and compliant, so that her violence would be over sooner. I didn’t dare provoke her further. I truly lived in a constant state of fear. I became “troubled”, and acted out even more, which brought her rage and judgment to bear even more, and made my shame grow, because I could not be good enough, perfect enough to make her stop, and I did believe her that I was “just no good” at the core. What a vicious circle! What a powerful way to train victims. If I had ever dared to say “No!” to her, I would probably be dead! As time went on, she escalated, her dysfunctional behavior culminating in her threatening me with a butcher knife, when I was 16 or 17 years old. When I was old enough, I finally moved away to keep her and all my painful memories at arms length, strengthening her (and my sister’s) judgment of me as disloyal, uncaring, unloving – “and after all she had done for me!” I moved 700 miles away, taking with me an enormous load of shame and terror.
My story is an extreme one, and I know, difficult to hear. But what I want you to know is this: I know that it takes far less to “make a victim” than what was done to me. A child is an extremely sensitive being, a being that deserves the utmost in respect. Hitting a child teaches them that others may do as they wish with their bodies. No amount of rationalizing or explaining will remove that lesson from their tender psyches. It is their reaction to our behavior and moods, not whether we feel or believe that we were morally or ethically justified in our using physical punishment that creates a victim mentality. We as adults have no control over whether that happens or not, unless we refrain from hitting them. Do you want to take that chance with your child? Remember, “Logic is not truth!” There are all sorts of supposed justifications that allow us to tell ourselves that not only is it OK to hit our children, but it is our duty as parents. Remember again, “Logic is not truth”! You have no control over whether your child will develop a victim mentality, if you hit them! Tenderness, honesty, time and attention, and a positive emotional and mental outlook in parents are all necessary to avoid creating a victim mentality in our children. They give us some control over whether our children become victims or not. Explaining sexual feelings and dangers is an integral part, without so much moralizing as we tend to do, because children really don’t see and experience the world like we do. They don’t think that bad things will happen to them (at least until many do happen). They do not have the ability of abstract thought. Spiritual matters are somewhat or very abstract – they have no way to really wrap their minds around such matters. Most important of all: we must never attack their worth, their right to be here, their “okay-ness”. We must teach them that like us, they are not perfect, but they are not bad, that everyone is a mixture of both “good” and “bad”. We all can be kind or cruel, sensitive or insensitive, happy or sad, peaceful or angry, satisfied or hungry, courageous or fearful. We all are a mixture of all these things at various times, in various ratios. As children, we see all these things in ourselves. If we are told that we are bad or defective or worse because we have these tendencies, rather than offering sensitive empathic understanding about what a struggle it really is to grow into who God wants us to be, then we help to create victims. Finally, teach your children to say “No!” Don’t beat it out of them. Have rules that they must follow (here’s where you model saying “no” to them), but allow them to win an argument occasionally when the situation warrants it. A good example is when a child says “no” to finishing a meal because they are no longer hungry. Allow them to win that argument sometimes. They need to be able to practice saying “No!” to people that are more powerful than themselves! Often parents are dictators in their own homes, rather than leaders. Be a compassionate leader. If a child is allowed to learn to say “no”, they can say “No!” to abusers, and they will also be able to say no to the “bad” things inside themselves, like beating their kids when they are parents.
Special Note: My memories of this abuse were triggered by seeing a Myna bird in a pet store, and having one of the most severe panic attacks I have ever experienced. Later, I was triggered when I stood up and set boundaries with someone who reminded me of this priest. When I realized that, I decided to do something more direct for the “kid” in me, and wrote this piece. I am still reverberating inside from writing this.
You do evil things.
I can tell by the way I shiver, and my teeth chatter.
You are cold.
Your actions come from a place with no warmth, a place of ice, not flames.
Hell is a cold place, not a place of flames.
I was taught that you were between God and me.
I could only get to God through you. You were the intermediary.
That’s not true.
But they were right about the first part – you were between God and me.
An obstacle, a chasm, created out of your own selfishness, and condoned by others who cannot or will not know the Truth!
You are the ultimate betrayer!
Inside a religion that made me feel defective, confused, and shameful,
You used the injuries it created, to create more for your own satisfaction!
You are a carnivore that plays with his victims before devouring them!
You are a keeper of secrets!
Secrets are your food.
In the confessional, people confide them to you.
You pretend to be God, and to dispense forgiveness!
Outside the confessional, you pretend to be God, taking what you want, creating more secrets.
How powerful you must be to live in such a shroud of secrecy!
Secrets are your food!
You are so cold, so frozen!
Above it all.
You did not care that what you did, and what you told me would create such a painful wound in me!
You did not care that what you did and what you told me would cause me lifelong problems!
You did not care that what you did and what you told me would cause me to live in despair for most of my life!
There is no justice, and you may not hear this, but I am going to tell you anyhow!
I will make my own justice!
Your power was in your shroud of secrecy, and in your title.
I am taking that away from you!
Your name is Henry S McNulty!
I leave the Reverend off, because you have desecrated that title!
I strip you of that!
You do not deserve it!
You molested me when I was an altar boy, and scared me so bad that I have trouble remembering all the ways you hurt me.
But unlike you, I feel all that is in me, including what you put there!
I will tell people your name, and the more I remember, the more I will tell them!
You had a Myna bird that you kept as a pet.
You taught it to talk, to say your name, and Jesus’ name.
It was as black and cold as you were.
You almost got away with what you did to me.
Your actions almost remained a secret in me.
But I am taking this opportunity to tell you that I remember, because of that bird of yours.
You know that expression “a little bird told me”?
Well in this case, your own bird did.
1998 Ken S.
Special note to readers:
* I wrote this piece quite a few years ago. Mostly, I have left it as I wrote it, with a few, very minor changes. I have grown in remarkable ways since I wrote this, and have found that the little boy in me needs to tell his (our) story less and less as time goes on. He has learned to trust me (the adult), and I have learned to take good care of him. I never would have believed, four years, ago, that I would be where I am today! Warning! This piece is very triggering! I encourage you to pick a safe time to read it, and would also encourage you to use your support network if your “buttons” get pushed. Thanks, and take care!
Break the Silence, Break the Cycle
* I listened to a news report about a neighborhood, in which a number of neighbors called police when they heard a mother screaming and cursing, and hitting her child. The police arrested the woman for assault. I started sobbing uncontrollably when I heard this report, and I realized I was crying both in relief for the child, as well as in overwhelming sadness because no one did that for me, when I was a little boy. I heard also, in the news, that one child every ten seconds is abused in our country. My God!
* I have also read of the growing movement in parts of our country, to reinstate corporal punishment for nonviolent juvenile offenders. I look at those sterile, detached words, “corporal punishment”, with a shudder, and I ache inside, when I think of the number of people in our country, who do not see corporal punishment as violence, or as a violation of a child’s most basic, God-given rights – to own one’s own body, and to expect others to acknowledge that ownership!
* Violence is a coward. It hides inside families that look “fine” from the outside, and causes both victim and perpetrator to hide from the outside world. In reality, both are victims of its clutches. Violence is a liar. It tells both victim and perpetrator, that its use is justified, until eventually, they both believe its cunning lies. Violence almost seems to have a life all its own, drawing others into its addictive and mesmerizing clutches. Violence uses the logic of insanity.
* The continuation of violence in our families can only happen if we keep its secrets, and protect those who wield it. Families heal, only when members speak out, and tell their Truth. Our greatest wounds become our greatest gifts, because in the telling of our wounding, others may be moved toward healing, and perhaps, still more may be moved back into recognizing violence when they see it. (Many have eyes that are blinded by tears that were never shed!). I believe violence is inherently evil. I believe there is a line we cross, when we accept violence in any form other than self preservation. I believe that when we cross this line, we move into a territory that is comprised of greater and greater dishonesty, and less and less compassion and empathy. I believe that violence breeds more violence, and that its use is addictive, and progressively uncontrollable. When violence has been used on us as children, we may not recognize some of its forms, as an adult. We cross a line, leaving the Truth behind, to live in a world of denial. Many of us have crossed this line. I grew up in a family that had. Neither of my parents ever crossed back. But I have crossed back over, by both the Grace of God, and by the enormous strength and courage, and resilience of one very special little boy. A special little boy, who wants you to know how wrong violence in any form is. I know that if you listen to his story without running from his feelings, you will cross back over that line too. Listen to him now. Listen with your Heart!
* My mother was all sharp edges: teeth, and nails, and tight muscles, and clenched fists. She had a rage that consumed her, and turned her into skin and bones. Her rage consumed us as well. First, it was just me, and then it was my sisters too; mostly, though, it was just me. She was quick to go off the handle. It seemed like forever until the first blow, and a year of forevers until the last. Every time, I thought would be the last; not because I thought she’d stop, but because I thought she’d kill me. I lived in that terror for years, until I forgot I was living in it!
* It started when I was four or five years old, and didn’t stop until I was fourteen or fifteen. Ten years of terror and despair. Ten years of loneliness and isolation that turned into forty without my knowing it.
* Other times she took me into her confidence, indoctrinating me into her way of seeing my father, men in general, and worst of all, myself. She had crossed the line, the first time that she hit me, and told herself that there was a good reason for it. At a point in my teens, I realized that she was crazy. That didn’t make it any easier.
* Giving in to violent urges always leads to greater and greater violence. It did with her. The most frightening thing about her beatings, aside from my certainty of being killed, was her shrill, out of control scream: a screeching carnivorous sound. She used her fists, where she had used her open hand. Ten or fifteen blows. I never counted, though, That would have been impossible.
* One thing that was worse than being beaten like that, was not stopping her from hurting my sisters. I have felt guilty for that all my life. First I felt like dirt because she beat me and convinced me that I deserved it; then I felt worse when she beat my sisters, and I stayed frozen in terror. We all believed her that we were no good and deserved this treatment. There were some things that we never did again, because we had been beat, but in this process, whatever was real, and authentic, and spiritual in us, was all but destroyed!
* I remember this one time when my sisters and I were washing and drying the dishes. We were fighting about something, (I used to hate it when we fought). All of a sudden, she came storming into the kitchen. She was screaming and cursing at the top of her lungs. We all backed away from the sink, ready for the first blows, not knowing who would get them. Instead, she grabbed a butcher knife, and came after me! There was no where to go! I thought about the back door, which was behind me, but I didn’t want to turn my back on her. I just stood and faced her, frozen, and ready to die. I knew that she hated me enough to use the knife, she certainly had told me enough times before. I wanted to cover every part of my body, but I only had two hands. She stood above me, teeth clenched, screaming and growling from the back of her throat, arm raised. Every part of her shook. I don’t know how long I held my breath; sometimes I’m still holding it, even now. All this happened in about thirty seconds. She spun around and took off after my sister Karen. Both my sisters started screaming; their screams still echo in my head when I think of it. Somehow my mother never used the knife, but it left a wound in me that is only now healing.
* I believe that the door to my heart was nailed shut, that day. It had been closed tightly from countless spankings, then beatings and other forms of violence, as my mother got worse. I couldn’t remember the terror of that moment until this year. It was too much. I’ll be forty three in July. Sometimes, now, even after eight years of recovery, I may still feel defective. No matter what I do, there are times when my heart is closed. Sometimes, I can lose the ability to feel close to others. Sometimes I lose the ability to trust anyone -even God. Sometimes I can still feel like an outsider, even when I am with trustworthy and accepting friends. I have no control over these things! I especially hate it when these feelings come back, because it feels like evil has won; because the things that I’m feeling, are the very things that I was told as a child (that I was defective, unloving and un-lovable). But, Thank God!, I find that the door was only jammed. I go back to the way I want to be, the way I really am. Eight years of recovery have at least pulled the nails in that door!
* We must remember that violence always echoes forwards in time, to haunt us later. I believe that one of the worst things to come back from years of violent abuse, is the loneliness. So intense, it can push one to the edge of despair. When I was a child, that loneliness pushed me right over the edge. The only thing that took that feeling of loneliness, and of despair away was drugs and alcohol. It is no wonder I became an addict. Loneliness and despair to a child, are a universe unto themselves. A continuum that stretches forwards and backwards as far as one can “see”. At least it was that way for me. I suffered my loneliness and despair in my bedroom, although I carried it everywhere, even, and especially, into every relationship, into all plans or outlooks of the future, into every area of my life. My room as a child was both sanctuary,as well as torture chamber. It was where punishment was doled out. Many of “my” beatings – Hell! – their beatings took place there, and yet it was where I went to escape. My room had no door, which meant that I had no privacy, no boundaries, no rights, and no escape. I’d lay in bed, interested in nothing, knowing that I couldn’t escape them, wanting to escape their violence, desperately wanting some kind of attention or stimulation other than pain, and terror, and gnawing emptiness. Any time they’d start to come up the stairs, I remember my sharp intake of breath, and the jolt of terror that I’d feel, like an electric shock, moving upwards to stop my heart. Beatings were the norm in my house, not beating hearts!
* Eventually, my father was drawn into the violence as well. During those periods of time when their lives were not going well, beatings were an almost daily occurrence. I remember, also, the horrible feelings of betrayal, horror, and sorrow. These feelings merged into something more terrible than anyone could stand. I remember moaning from the deepest part of my belly, wailing with such intensity, that I thought my chest and belly would split open. That sorrow, and betrayal, and horror, were bigger than me, bigger than the room, bigger than the whole world. That is how I experienced it. While I was in this continuum of agony,(for that is what a child experiences when confronted with violence,), writhing, and whimpering, and moaning, and choking, I wanted to die, if only I knew how. I do not know how I survived, I really don’t.
* What I do know, is that now as an adult, these feelings and others come back to visit. Feelings that seem overwhelming, or never-ending, are often messengers of the past. They are a cry from the past, to listen to the story of a valiant little child’s attempts to deal with forces that were overwhelming to him. That little boy tells his story not in words or pictures, but mostly through feelings. Feelings that get more intense, the longer we stay with them. When we stay with them, no matter how painful it gets, in the end we understand the story they tell. Violence does exactly the opposite. It goes contrary to Life and Healing. It is the child that we were that will tell you that! In no other way can you know the true damage that all violence does. The child in you tells you every day that it is wrong!
* A long time ago, the little boy that I was, suffered long, suffered silently, and suffered alone. I lived in a war zone, where there was no cease-fire, there was no Geneva Convention, there were no treaties, no victories and no allies. It wasn’t right then, and it never will be. But the little boy that I was, needs to tell his story. He has every right to tell his story to anyone willing to listen. I have given him that opportunity, and have embraced him and the wonderful gifts which allowed him (and me) to survive. Listen to this child! He has found permanent sanctuary, not in an unsafe bedroom with no door, but in my heart, now beating with Truth, and Life, and Love.
Eight catfish were swimming in circles, in the stationary tubs. Around and around, and then huddling in the corner, over the small round white drain plug, somehow avoiding the chain that was attached to it, and to the side of the tub. The water smelled fishy, and there was the overall background smell of the tubs, which was somewhat like the smell of a wet concrete sidewalk. The fish had come from the Schuylkill River, and I was a little afraid of their whiskers, their black shiny skin, and the fact that my cousin Frankie said that they had some sort of spines that could sting me. It’s hard for me to realize, just how young I really was, when I look back at childhood events. I have to do the math, and I start to remember how I saw things, and what I was thinking. I look at my own son to get a handle on what it is like to be a kid of 8 or 10 or 14. If I am lucky, finally, I can remember what I was feeling at a particular time. When I can do that, my myths about my past can fall away, to be replaced by the Truth. Those fish swam around the stationary tubs, inside our 13 room farmhouse, (my parents counted the foyer, the cellar, and the two unfinished rooms in the attic), between hundred acre cornfields, in Linfield,Pa. The place was really wonderful to grow up in, if it wasn’t for the adults who ruined it. We had Such’s Hill, which was 1/4 mile long STEEP sledding hill. Half way down that hill, was where, at 14, I saw Mitzi Ackerman, and Lisa Bernadini dancing in front of the upstairs windows of Mrs Keene’s in their underware, waving and smiling at us. I was confused the next time that I ran into Lisa, that she really didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with me. Funny, how 14 year old kids think. I know now that she was probably embarrassed by what she and Mitzi had done. At the bottom of Such’s Hill lived Mitzi Ackerman. She moved in when Chip Such and his family moved out. Mitzi was the first girl to actually do anything socially with me alone. We went skating on her pond, and I was terrified. She was one of the prettiest girls in the school, and later became the most popular girl in our junior high, but for that one day, when she treated me as a peer, and a friend, and laughed and joked, and genuinely paid attention to me,I knew I would love her forever. We never did anything together again, after that. I don’t remember whether I was too afraid to ask, or whether she turned me down, or what. I do know that I was heartbroken for a long time after that. I thought that be- cause of her, my life would become tolerable. I’m wondering why my father didn’t go with Cousin Frankie, when we got those catfish. I do remember that we didn’t actually catch them; we had gotten them off of someone else, who didn’t want them. The river was really too dirty to eat anything that that could actually live in it. I’m wondering if my father was drunk again, and that was why he didn’t go with us; maybe he stayed back at the Linfield hotel, which was right by the railroad tracks overlooking the river. I wish I could remember. So much of my history, is out of my reach. I hate that.
I do remember some things though. I remember one time that my father got drunk. He made this sandwich, with liverwurst, and onion, and peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, and mustard, after eating a bunch of salted peanuts, and drinking a whole bunch. I remember playing outside, and seeing him on the chaise lounge, a folding lawn chair, with aluminum tubing frame, and 4″ hard foam cushions, covered with vinyl. It had an adjustable back, and my father had it all the way down, so he could lay flat in it. I remember coming up to him, to ask him something. I remember being terrified, because at first, I saw what looked like “guts” on the ground, and I thought that he was dead, that somebody had killed him. I was 6 or 7, he was drunk, and what I saw on the ground was his vomit. No one explained that to me, and even after I figured out that it wasn’t “guts” on the ground, I still wondered whether he was going to die, because I didn’t understand being unconscious from drinking too much.
Those fish, my mother made me pull the plug on them. I’m not sure whether they had died, or whether they were still alive, and if they were alive, what did we do with them.I do remember being made to scrub out the tub. I hated that, and I remember I believed that I would never finish. That neighborhood, with cornfields, and rolling hills, streams, and farmhouses, and Mitzi Ackerman, went the way of the polluted Schuylkill river…adults out of control built a powerplant, and that entire neighborhood is under the shadow of the cooling towers of the Limeric Atomic Power Plant.
My name is Kenny. I am nine years old. I have a dog named “Happy”, (he’s my best friend). He’s my only friend. He smiles, but I don’t, because when I do, I always get in trouble. He has real short white hair, that’s never out of place, and I’ll lean against him, and hug him, sometimes when I’m sad. I’m sad alot. He listens to me, when I need to tell someone how sad I am, and how mean my parents are. They hate me. They tell me that there’s something wrong with me. They tell me that I’m stupid, and that no one could love me. They beat me, and scream at me, and tell me what a worthless piece of crap I am. Alot of times I don’t know whether I can stand it anymore. I know that Happy loves me, but I wish I had someone else too, someone who could hold me, and comfort me, and tell me that I’m smart, and that I’m valuable, and that I’m OK just the way I am. I want someone to tell me that I am lovable, and to protect me so that at least sometimes I could smile. I need to be safe, at least for a little while. I want somebody to tell me that I’m OK, and that I shouldn’t give up, because someday I will be safe. I want somebody to tell me that someday, people will love me. I want somebody to tell me that someday I will know that I’m OK. I want somebody to believe me when I tell them I’m hurting. I want somebody to tell me that I deserve to be treated better, that I don’t deserve to be hit, and screamed at, and shamed. I want somebody to tell me that I don’t deserve to live with so much fear all the time. I want someone to show me that touch doesn’t have to hurt or feel yucky. I want somebody to tell me to have hope, because sometimes there are heroes and happy endings.
Riding bikes with my sisters. Rainy day, indoor tricycle marathon. Around and around, how fast can we go? Through the kitchen. Multicolored dots on a blue-gray background, the linoleum gives the illusion of speed. Around the corner, often nicking the white trim of the doorway, and into the small utility room. Past washer, dryer, and gray double utility tubs. Through the doorway, and into the long skinny hallway. Black tiles, twelve inches square form the road surface. Soft green latex paint on porous particle board paneling is our landscape. Past the bathroom on the left, the door is always open. past the door that we don’t use to the basement, always shut. Nailed shut. White, even the hinges are painted white. There is no doorknob, and I always wanted to open it, just because we weren’t allowed. Nearing the end of the hallway, the highway widens, as the stairway over the basement door empties into the hallway. Forbidden territory on the left, THE DINING ROOM. Access to the living room on the right. Dead end ahead if the door to the front porch is closed. We called it the front porch, event though it was on the back of the house. That would have confused alot of people, but we did alot of things like that. A hard turn to the right, brakes, and tires, and vocal cords squealing, then another hard turn to the right, just inside the 24 by 16 living room, the kitchen just in sight. Slower going, off road carpet driving. Past the alcove on the left, where we kept all the books that no one read, past the fireplace that we did all like to use when the fighting wasn’t going on. Past the other alcove with the built in desk. Through the eight or ten foot wide access to the kitchen, back onto the speckled linoleum. Breathless! Excited! Forgetting, especially, any fear or sadness, (and there was enough of both!) Wanting more and more of this drug called fun! Breathless abandon, giddy, don’t have to make sense feeling. Laughing, pretending. Anything possible. Temporarily powerful! YOU KIDS STOP THAT BEFORE SOMEONE GETS HURT! ROTTEN SONS OF BITCHES! I’LL BE DAMNED IF YOU KIDS RUIN TODAY LIKE ALL THE OTHER DAYS! BUNCH OF SCREAMING FILTHY ROTTEN BRATS! STOP ALL THAT DAMN NOISE! YOU MAKE MY LIFE MISERABLE! SONS A BITCHES! ALL YOU DO IS WANT WANT WANT! STOP THAT NOISE! IF I HAVE TO COME IN THERE SOMEONE IS GOING TO HAVE TO PAY! SO HELP ME GOD, I’LL TAKE ALL THOSE DAMN TRICYCLES AND BURN THEM IF YOU DON’T BEHAVE!
KA knocks her head on the doorway, and starts to cry. I’m right behind her. I’m the one who is gonna pay. All Hell breaks out.
I am being propelled backwards. My throat hurts, and I want to choke, where my shirt is pulled tight against the front of my spine. My feet get tangled in the tricycle, and it falls off to the right, knocking over the trash can. Kathy is forgotten, the sound of her crying, mixes with my own, and I am in a land of terror very different from the utility room, I just was in. Pain in my shoulder as she twists me around. Terror squeezes me out of my own experience. I am dimly aware of the excruciating burning on my rear end, but I am very aware of my fear that this time she will kill me. I live with that fear, for an eternity.
YOU GET UPSTAIRS TO YOUR ROOM! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT! GOD-DAMN YOU!
THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU! GET UPSTAIRS BEFORE I REALLY GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!
Up in my room, I am alone, outcast because of my defectiveness. I despair, because I know that this will never stop happening. Nothing will ever change. There is no one to comfort me. I am scared of everyone, and everything. I believed her, when she said that I deserved to be hit. She is right, and I am wrong. She is good, and I am bad. If I am lucky, I quietly cry myself to sleep.
“You can never know what it was truly like”, at least that is what I used to tell myself. There is some truth in that, but also, I have used it as an excuse (and you have too,) to protect you, or to protect myself, from feelings that are beyond our everyday experiences. I am telling myself the story, that by saying “you can never know”, I do not have to go into the details or feelings, and I also lie to myself, that in some way you will “get” how much I suffered. When I adhere to the notion that “You can never know what it was truly like”, and forgo the telling, I am making an unconscious agreement to protect people from the past who are guilty of horrors, and to silence a part of myself that is never quite satisfied with being alone with knowledge and feelings that no one should ever experience. When I believe “You can never know what it was truly like”, and act on that, I am acting out the despair that I felt during years of isolation as a child, when my only connection was with other victims (my sisters) and the perpetrators of atrocity.
Here are my list of “you can never know”s:
You can never know what it is like to be terrified everytime you walk into a room that your parents are in. You can never know the despair and terror of knowing that at any moment, they could storm up the stairs to your bedroom, not with goodnight wishes and kisses, but with wretching, searing, all powerful, wrathful-god-like violence.
You can never know the burning, dagger-like scrutiny that I experienced with my parents, and the crippling self-consciousness that came from that. You can never know the ache that comes and threatens to never leave, that tries to tell you that you are unloved and unlovable.
You can never know the lake of ache that comes from years of holding back the tears of imprisoned pain.
But you can never truly know ME if you can’t know what it was truly like for me.
Since I wrote this piece, I have found a lot of empathy for my father, and what made him so unapproachable.Â However, I needed to write this the way I wrote it at the time. :) KS
I wanted to write about the fact, that in some way, my father and Father McNulty were like twins. That’s what my kid is telling me. Both Irish, Catholic, unemotional, judgmental. Neither one was loving, even though they professed to be. Both were angry men with few social skills. Both had a huge amount of power over me and misused that power. Neither one was truly my father, even though both demanded to be called “father”. Both of them hid behind their religion, and behind alcohol.
What this has to do with the wine cellar, I don’t really know just yet. My kid wants me to tell you about the wine cellar, so, that’s just what I’ll do. Back in Linfield Pennsylvania, when I was a kid, we lived in a large farmhouse, built before the Revolutionary War. Behind the house were three maple trees, over a hundred years old, too large to climb, although those were the trees I always wanted to climb. They had trunks about 30 inches in diameter, deep ridged bark, the first branches more than 20 feet up. Close to these trees, and adjacent to Brownback Road, hidden in the underbrush, was “The Wine Cellar”. Obviously built when the first part of the house was built, but separate from the house, and forgotten for a large number of years, hidden away, waiting for discovery. Covering the outside of this tomb like structure (it reminds me of the story of the tomb that Jesus was in, where he rolled that huge boulder away from the entrance) was an almost impenetrable barrier of Osage Orange. Now Osage Orange, if you’re not familiar with it, is the most lethal thorn bush around. I don’t mean lethal, like it is poisonous or something, but lethal, like a sharp knife could be. Thorns two inches long, needle sharp, and woody strong. Folklore attributes this plant to Jesus’ crown of thorns. This “wine cellar”, that’s what we called it, although it was, in fact, a root cellar, was built with expertly placed stone, to form a Quonset or arch shaped underground room, made entirely of stone. Inside, hundred year old mustiness, the smell of dry leaves, which had found their way in over the years, left over spoiled apple smell, mold, and wet earth smell, like the garden, were prevalent. The stones, perfectly fitted, were kind of white, like quartz or limestone. I kept expecting to find stalactites, or stalagmites, but I never did of course. In the very back of the “Wine Cellar”, about 20 feet back, was a perfectly built stone wall, with a square opening 2ft by 2ft, halfway up the wall. When I was most courageous, I would jump and shinny up until I had my belly on the ledge of that opening, and I would peer down a deep stonelined well, which reminded me of pictures I had seen in fairy tale books. I could see the water at the bottom even though everytime I got the courage to look in, I expected to find monsters.
I remember this one time, my father spent a weekend cutting the Osage Orange back, and burning what he cut. It grew right back, though, and he gave up, never trying to keep the entrance to the Wine Cellar clear again. He abandoned it. It didn’t matter that it represented the artisanship and way of life of the past. It didn’t matter that out of the whole property in Linfield, the “Wine Cellar” had the most character of any structure. It didn’t matter that it was built to last forever. It didn’t matter that it had an aura of mystery and power. He abandoned it. I didn’t. I carry it, and what it represents to me, inside myself. I keep pruning those thorns back, and I’ll never stop like he did! I’ll keep pruning them back so I can keep going down in there, to see if I will find water, or monsters in that well. And I’ll find out why my kid keeps telling me that Father McNulty and my father were twins.
T. told me what your response was to my letter. I am sorry you reacted that way, but it was how I expected you to react. I wanted you to accept it in the spirit in which it was given. Quite frankly, I wrote that letter for you, not for me. I know that you probably won’t be here for too much longer, and I wanted you to have a chance of leaving this life without anger and resentment. You told T. that you were still angry from when I called you “a crazy old woman” during an argument we had. If you believe that I called you that, you have me mixed up with someone else. As an adult, I have never resorted to calling people names, and I have never called you names of any kind. In fact, I have never directly expressed any anger to you that I may have had towards you in any meaningful way. I have also never directly told you how I felt about how you treated us as children. I have only alluded to your anger, and my reaction to it. You called me many names when I was a child, but as an adult, I do not do that to anyone, even to you. I also live by a code of honesty that demands that I do not pussy foot around the truth. When you say something that is untrue, I am not afraid to challenge your version. I don’t resort to name calling.
I told you a long time ago that it was your anger which pushed us apart. I told you that for most of my life I was afraid of your anger. I have chosen those in my life who do not choose anger, and resentment, and negativity as a state of being in their lives. I have done that, because that is what healthy, people do. Healthy people stay away from folks who nurture their resentments, or spend an inordinate amount of time complaining. You have a problem with both. You even chose your anger and resentment and negativity over having a relationship with 2 of your grandchildren, S. and F. . For almost 20 years, I raised my sons by myself. You complained to K. and KA. and T. about how awful it was the way we lived. Yet you chose to take very little interest in your own grandchildren, nor did you offer to help make things better for them. Instead you just chose to complain, and to paint me as the bad guy, who couldn’t do it right, just like when I was a child. You got to feel powerful and righteous, but you missed the lives of your grandchildren. You have no idea what wonderful men they have become, nor have you shown any interest in even finding out! Other folks. who were around all through S. and F.’s childhood could look past the lack of money, and see the fine job I did all through that time, even though we were dirt poor. You choose to see what you want to see despite the facts. I always wished that you wouldn’t do that.
Since I am telling you the truth here, you should know that you have a more negative attitude towards life than anyone I have ever met. I always wished that you weren’t that way. It is such a waste. You just about drive K., and KA., and T. crazy with all of your negativity, complaining about other people, almost to the exclusion of other conversation, but they put up with it. I don’t. I chose to stay away, praying that you would change, so that I could have a normal relationship with you. I will also not pretend that all your violence was OK. It wasn’t. What kind of parent beats her children with her fists, screams at the top of her lungs while doing that, obscenities coming out of her mouth with not the slightest bit of shame or guilt? What kind of parent beats their child with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe? What kind of mother threatens then chases her kids with a butcher knife? Much of what you did to us would put you in jail nowadays and you did more of it, more often to me. K. and T. know that to be true. I know that to be true also, yet I have forgiven you. I know you weren’t all bad. You did many things for us when we were kids, don’t get me wrong. I see how hard it was for you and Daddy, and I see that you took time for cub scouts and brownies and girl scouts. But the hurt that you inflicted on all of us changed us forever. It crippled us emotionally to one degree or another. Just like the hurt that your mother and father and brother inflicted on you, changed you forever. But as adults, we have the power to shape our lives. With God’s help, and only with God’s help, we get to steer our lives, and to make choices that are different than our childhood injuries would dictate, and different than those who hurt us in the past. That is our sacred responsibility in this life. That profound truth has been embraced by all of your children to one degree or another, including myself. You allow your childhood injuries to dictate how you act in this life, and you continue to hold onto anger and resentment at me and at Daddy, which really belongs to your mother, your father, and your brother. And you have so little time left. I know that you do not understand any of this. I pray that God’s grace can allow you to. I am sure that K and T pray that same prayer.
When I was a child, you blamed your rage on our behavior. Did we misbehave? Of course! But no one has that kind of reaction to a child’s misbehavior. Your rage was always there, and was always just below the surface ready to pounce. It was not about any of your children’s behaviors. It kept growing all the years that I was a child. It was so large, and so unrestrained, and unfettered, that it could only have come from your past. Many people understand issues like this. It is self evident to them. They either come from families without the violence that was in ours, or they have recovered from that kind of violence.
Beating your children is violence. It keeps them from reaching their potential. It keeps them from becoming the person that God wants them to be, because it can permanently damage them! It takes most of an adult’s time and energy to overcome that kind of damage. It takes enormous energy to keep from inflicting the same kind of damage to our own children. It takes the kind of honesty that allows criticism, and demands that we own our own anger, and do not blame it on our children.
When you beat us with your fists, and you did that often, and hard, you told us how we were terrible, ugly, disgusting, evil, bad, rotten, and all the other adjectives you used that I won’t repeat here. You taught us to believe those terrible things about ourselves. When a child is taught that they are “bad”, then they act “bad”! When you are taught that you are ugly, and disgusting, that there is something wrong with you, you go through life even as an adult, believing that and reacting to it. You did that to me, to K. and T.. Mostly, you did not do that to KA..
I have been fortunate in my adult life. I have received the help I needed to get past what you did to me. I was able to replace all those terrible, unrepeatable adjectives that you put inside me while you beat me with more truthful adjectives. It has taken me most of my adult life. It has also taken most of my adult life to rid myself of the rage that you put inside me when you beat me like you did. Rage that I had to resist my whole life, the same rage that you never resisted when you beat us. I knew it was wrong to beat my kids, and I resisted all the anger that I carried from your beatings, and didn’t beat my children. You never resisted your rage.
The many counselors and therapists who helped me all the years it took to heal were in every case astounded by the level of violence and mistreatment in our family. No one calls their children what you called us every time you beat us. It is no wonder that we misbehaved. On one hand we were terrified of your beatings. On the other hand we were left with so much fear and anger, and “nervous energy” from your previous beatings, and all the terrible things you called us, that we were bound to misbehave in some form or another.
You may believe that I am still angry at you, and that is why I am telling you this. That is not true. The fact is that none of your children have ever really stood up to you, to tell you how your behavior affected them. We were children, you were the adult. It was your responsibility to protect and nurture us. It was your responsibility to resist the rage that you carried inside yourself since childhood. It is also your responsibility now, before you cross over, to realize your mistakes, to feel bad for all the hurt you have caused others, and to ask God to forgive you. Forgiveness only comes through remorse, and we are forgiven to the degree that we forgive others. The first step is to be able to take criticism, and to use absolute honesty to see if there is any truth to the criticism we receive. If I can embrace this simple principle, you can too. But it is your choice. I pray that you make that choice. Anger and resentment are poor fuel for one’s life. If you embraced a life where the glass was not half empty, not even half full, but mostly full, you would have so many loving people around you, that you would wonder why you had lived over 80 years seeing the glass so empty.
Your son, Ken S