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
We seem to have a sort of “schizophrenic” relationship with the Grief Process in our society. On one hand we do acknowledge that we must move through the pain to get to the other side. If a loved one dies, or a relationship ends, advice is given that we should “take time to grieve” so that “old doors can close, and new ones can open”. On the other hand, we look at people grieving as somehow maybe “not spiritual enough”, or we might make judgments about the speed with which they progress through their grief, or the kind of grief (sadness might be OK but anger or rage, oh no!). Or – (and this is probably the most common), we look at a grieving person as needing to be “fixed”. Worse, we might give them pills that interfere with their grief. Granted, they no longer feel the full import of their pain, but they most likely will never properly process the event or events that caused that pain. They are separated from their pain, but become separated from their Truest Selves. People drink to keep their pain at bay. Churches tell us we will be “rewarded” in the next life, that suffering in this life is unimportant! In one way or another, other people often get in the way of our feeling and expressing our grief, and our efforts to find meaning in our suffering, in order to move forward. Perhaps they do this because it reminds them of their own grief, which was never “allowed” – and they may have been avoiding their own at all cost, for a very long time. It’s a shame that we see the Grief Process as an indication of “broken-ness” rather than a pathway to the future. It is our process of “Becoming”. It is our Healing Process. It is a part of us.
Recently I was betrayed by my partner, and our fourteen year relationship ended. I experienced this very real loss differently than I ever did before. I gave myself fully – and I mean fully – to my own grief process. I had time, safety, seclusion when needed, support when needed, and an understanding of my own workings that allowed me mostly to not be afraid of the very powerful forces freely flowing in me. I knew that all feelings come and go. I knew that they are the language of a very deep part of myself, and that they tell a story about my loss that can’t easily be put into words, and when listened to give wisdom that no words could ever really convey as clearly. They bring many things to light that were in the darkness, and often help to not only resolve the present injury, but if we’re open to it, past injuries as well. When we fully give ourselves to our Grief, we are fully connected to ourselves and More, in a way that we often do not experience during everyday life. It is a Sacred time.
I learned many things through my grief, over the years. As I said before, often things about the past come up as well as those losses in the present that we are grieving. I have dealt with my mother’s violence and her inability to connect or have empathy for her own son. I noticed that I felt shame, because a lot of other families didn’t have anything like what I experienced. I could see the looks of shock on their faces, when I told others what I had experienced. I felt shame, instead of “giving” that to my mother. That shame was not mine. Shame is about “defectiveness” rather than about making a mistake. I have also learned that PTSD “symptoms” that came from my mother’s abuse are a number of NORMAL REACTIONS to an abnormal event or events, and I have learned to embrace my “different-ness” (the PTSD “symptoms”) to a degree. But telling someone else about them left me feeling shame, and I had to work through that.
This time, I found myself feeling shame about my partner’s very dysfunctional break from our relationship, when I saw those same looks on other people’s faces, as I told them the story of her leaving. I had to struggle to “give” that shame to her, it was her behavior, not mine . We were two individuals responsible for our own behaviors. Relationship breakups aren’t always “caused” by both partners. It only takes one person to do something wrong or hurtful.
During my most recent period of grief about losing a fourteen year relationship, and all the hopes and dreams about growing old together, (even though most of it was in private), I noticed that nearly everyone could not tolerate my process, judged me for it, judged the process itself, or kept responding to me as if I was broken. I knew I was not “broken”. There were some exceptions but they were few and far between. I refused, this time, to be ashamed of my Process.
I gave myself to my Grief. I allowed it as much as I could, and I allowed it to carry me where it would, as fast or slow as it would, however it would. The thing is, though, it isn’t an IT! When I grieve, I feel sadness, and anger, and fear, right from the center of my being, a part of me that is wild and unrestrained, and absolutely honest. This “kid” part of me feels what he feels. Period. No “ifs” “ands” or “buts”. This is a part of us that we keep a stranglehold on for most of our lives. You can’t act “this way or that”. You can’t think “this way or that”. You can’t FEEL “this way or that”. This part of us is attacked by the world over and over, and we try to “civilize” this part of ourselves, rather than find an outlet for this dynamic creative, enthusiastic, passionate part of ourselves. We don’t even notice that we do this to ourselves, because others did this to us, and taught us to do it to ourselves! Most of the time, we live with only a very small percentage of this passion and energy. We wonder why there is so much depression in our society. I tell you, that it comes from binding this wild part of ourselves, this part of ourselves that exists to help us attain our destiny, if such a thing exists, and our highest happiness!
When we “surrender” to our Grief, we really are surrendering to this part of ourselves that is meant to “lead the charge” in Life! Doors to the Old close. Doors to the New open. This part of us leads us from the old into the new! This part of ourselves finds meaning and strength of character in old wounds, and moves us mysteriously forward into the creative unknown. The process is messy, nonlinear, emotional, intuitive, patient, but also sometimes in some of us, more like a tidal wave, than a gentle current. It is as different in one person as in another because it is not a thing. Our grief process is the power of our soul or spirit moving us out of the past, and into the future. Why would we want to hamper this?
A couple of years ago, I was at my son’s wedding. My son has some wonderful friends. One in particular I watched as she danced. I like her because she is very authentic and honest. Many of my son’s friends have those same qualities. I was watching this lady spin and kick and sway with both incredible precision but also with complete abandon. The look on her face is what I have revisited many times in my memory. Pure unadulterated, uncontained, unbridled breathless Joy. How many of us as adults ever feel that? Or notice it in others? Later, she came over to my table. We talked a little about the wedding. I could feel that we were both very “present”. I especially like that, when two people can sit and talk without any hurry or pretense. Then the “kid in me” knows it is safe, and can come to the forefront in me. I asked her if she had ever been to Mardi Gras, probably because of the festive nature of this occasion. She hadn’t, and I remember saying that I would have loved to have gone, back in “my crazy days” because back then I could still “misbehave”. As I told her this, I felt very child-like, and snapped my fingers in an “aw shucks!” kind of kid-like gesture. She smiled and said “You know, it’s OK to “misbehave here”! I have revisited that statement many times as well. I could feel its import when she said it. It was about “allowing” our “wildness”. It was about letting go.
Dancing doesn’t “make sense”. It just is. Music doesn’t “make sense”. It just is. By giving ourselves over to music or dance or any other creative process, we are both transported and enriched. By giving ourselves to “what is” we find all manner of wonderful things. By giving ourselves over to our Grief Process, when that is “what is”, we become more, not less, and find ourselves better equipped to move forward in our lives, discovering new possibilities, new doors that are open to us, as those old doors close on our past. We charge forward on that unbridled Wild Stallion that we find there, towards the future that awaits us.
© 2011 Ken Scully
All Rights Reserved
Sometimes we are called upon to do the very things in Life that we would rather avoid the most. By saying “yes” to these deep emotional and spiritual impulses, we find that the very things that make us believe we are weak or defective, can become our greatest assets.
Many of us feel a deep call within ourselves to “put ourselves out there” to advocate for a particular issue that resonates within us. For those of us who were previous victims of abuse, whether experienced as an adult or as a child, our advocacy is part of our recovery from that abuse.
Over the years I have written many articles about child abuse, and child abuse recovery, many of which are highly regarded. When I write, I move forward. When I don’t, I feel like I slide backwards, because I am not giving voice to a part of myself that will cry out to be heard as long as I live, and as long as there is someone out there who still does not understand the repercussions of child abuse, or the process of child abuse recovery. Even though this voice inside us cries out to be heard, allowing this voice inside us is also sometimes very painful, and seeing the magnitude of denial in our society is daunting. I sometimes despair, not wanting to put effort into something where I may never see results. But giving up on this voice is an abandonment of my truest, most honest self. I will not do that!
For the second time in two years, I have met a local doctor who confided that he advises child abuse survivors that “They just have to get over it” …. “What are you going to do, let it ruin your life?”, he says. I was shocked that I would run into more than one doctor in the same town who thinks this way. Although his statements were not directed at me (I don’t believe he knows my history), I was very uncomfortable. I knew that although discussion of the subject would probably not be very productive, I also felt my silence would convey assent. I waited a while for an opening (and for my own insides to calm down), and gently responded, with an attitude of “waiting to see what would happen”. I pointed out that a person must be careful when dealing with someone struggling with their past, because we may not know where they are on their recovery path, on a spectrum between victim and survivor. He gave only cursory acknowledgment of this, moving quickly to his next point of conversation. His next point was an intellectual remark about percentages of molesters in churches, and why people shouldn’t worry about a particular church. He had no idea that both my wife and myself were abused by priests when we were children, and that safe clergy are extraordinarily important to us when choosing a church. I guess it never occurred to him that we might be child abuse survivors, or clergy abuse survivors. We are both. Ever since that day in his office, I have noticed a need to write about it within myself that I cannot ignore.
Twenty-four years ago, I stood at the brink of choosing recovery. I was drawn out of my protective shell of frozen emotion, self medication, and fear by the weight of the pain I carried, but also by folks who knew how to provide the safety required to draw me out of my self imposed prison. They were proper advocates of recovery. I know absolutely what works because my history reveals what works.
In order to respond effectively to the needs of adult child abuse survivors, a number of things must be present in order to be effective advocates:
From the time I was 4 or 5 years old, I was beaten with an open hand on an almost daily basis. Later, I was punched, kicked, tackled, thrown down, and had things thrown at me. I was yanked by my arms until I thought my shoulders would dislocate. I was tied to chairs, beaten with metal vacuum cleaner pipes, and threatened with a butcher knife. When I was 9 or 10, my mother confided in a rage that she would kill me if she could get away with it. I was sexually abused by at least two men, one of them the parish priest. I witnessed my sisters being chased, screamed at, and beaten. The abuse that I suffered was extreme, but I am fortunate. I entered recovery at a time when we knew very little about how to help victims recover, yet here I am. If you are uncomfortable with what I have to say, then I am sorry, but I think that I have earned the right to be heard.
I am a survivor. I am grateful for all the help I have received. There are others like me. It took me 35 years to get to a doorway that led to recovery. I have been in the process of recovery for 24 years. I look inside myself, and I see the astounding amount of patience it has taken me to get to where I am. We survivors must call upon that same patience when dealing with those who offer no such patience towards us. Nevertheless, we must speak out until there is no one left who does not understand the journey of a child abuse survivor.
©2010 Ken Scully
When I read in The Dispatch, that October is National Domestic Violence Prevention Month, I wanted to write a column about Domestic Violence. When I write, I write from my heart, which means that I feel things intensely while I write. To do otherwise feels like a waste of time to me. So I approached my “task”, looking for my “entry point” into the issue. However, this time I felt stymied. I just felt sort of flat. What specifically should I write about? Then I read Margie Pizarro’s column in the October 16 issue of the Dispatch. I liked her column, she writes very honestly, and I like that. She mentioned the ancient adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.
I cringed inside myself, not from what Margie wrote, but from the misuse of that old adage that many adults use as an excuse for their own out of control behavior towards their children when they misbehave. In families that experience domestic violence, if there are children, they are affected more than anyone else in the family. If that violence is directed at a child and rationalized as “punishment”, it is still domestic violence, in fact worse than if directed towards a spouse.
Years ago I was taught two very important things about that Biblical quote. Both are good examples of what that adage truly means.
Long before the printing press, in early Jewish households, families that were well off enough, had religious scrolls, perhaps a copy of the ten commandments, in a holder above the entranceway to their home. The “rod” may have been a reference to this scroll in a tube above the doorway. In that instance, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” might have been an admonition to teach our children to follow the ten commandments. That makes a lot of sense!
Another explanation that was given to me had to do with a shepherd’s staff. A good shepherd uses his staff to block any escaping sheep, steering them in the right direction, to keep them safe, and close at hand. The sheep learn to follow his direction in time, trying to go off on their own less often. They learn to trust and anticipate him. He does not beat them with the rod out of his own frustration! That would be a bad shepherd!
What I have learned is, that many adults confuse the difference between discipline and punishment. The word “discipline” comes from the Latin root “disciplina” which means to teach, or to lead. To discipline a child, is to make them a disciple! A disciple is lead by example, and they want to be like the one they follow! Discipline is not punishment!
- The purpose of discipline is to correct and promote positive moral and ethical development.
The purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, to exact a “pay back” for wrongs.
- The focus of discipline is positive future behavior.
The focus of punishment is past misdeeds.
- The attitude and emotional makeup of the one doing the disciplining is Love.
The attitude and emotional makeup of the punisher is Anger, or worse, perhaps rage.
- The reaction of the one being disciplined will be security and trust, and a desire to emulate.
The reaction of one being punished will be fear, guilt, hostility, or worse, perhaps terror, shame, and rage.
As you can see, both parent and child fare better in discipline than in punishment. Discipline cannot be commandeered by an out of control parent in order to vent their rage and frustration on their own, powerless children.Â Punishment can. When it is, we make both more victims, and more perpetrators for a world that already has too many of both.
I want to tell you a little about what I know about letting go. When I first heard about this process, (and for me, it does seem to be a process), I was terrified by what I was told. In retrospect, I see that fear was not really warranted, but certainly understandable. I was told about this process, first in a 12 Step Group, flavored with its particular philosophy and agenda, later by various individuals who saw letting go through the lens of religion, native American teachings, new age teachings, probably even other ways that I don’t now recall. Certain ways of seeing this process were less scary to me than others, but all of them attempted to describe something that is very real and natural. I will attempt to tell you about letting go, without those prejudices, or diminishments, as much as I can.
This morning I went for my morning walk. My morning walks are exercises in letting go, in relaxing into the NOW, into forgetting for a few brief moments, all the ways I can see myself; you might say that I’m taking off all the different “hats” I wear at various times. I followed our dirt road out into a very open area. On the way, different things would catch my attention – a squirrel here, a bird there, each vegetable area in my garden, a brief glimpse of blue sky and puffy cloud through the trees, the texture of the gravel under my feet, wild grapes hanging from the live oaks, each holding my attention for a moment each time, while I was still aware of the totality of this setting through which I walked. I walked as slow as a little kid who had much shorter, weaker legs than I have. I didn’t force that, it just came natural. I quit thinking about all that was going on in my life, pulling my attention back gradually to just take in my surroundings. Gradually I settled into the NOW.
I arrived at the field, where I usually “say” my morning prayers. Displayed before me was a beautiful Robin’s egg blue sky, clean pure white puffy Cumulus clouds, that entirely wrapped the scene before me in every direction above. Below that was a still well defined layer of fog, thick, textured, grey, and soft looking. Below that I could see a denser landscape – an uncut summer hay field, horses staring back at me from a farm on the far side of the field, far off farmhouses, barns, fences, the entire landscape wrapped in tree lines of live oak. Depending upon where my attention was, I could say that it was overcast, foggy, or clear with a few puffy clouds. Each would be correct, but only a part of the reality that was true. I experienced the whole scene without prejudice or dissection, just taking it in, seeing the beauty, feeling myself within that landscape, and experiencing a wonder that I cannot quite put into words . For me, all that is part of the experience of letting go and entering the NOW. Along with my sense of wonder, was the knowledge, that the landscape before me represented the Truth about this Life we live.
One might say, “That’s beautiful! It feels like what you say is true, but how could I live my life that way? I have responsibilities! I have a job, and a mortgage, and bills! People will think I’m a loon! I can’t do that! I’m too screwed up! I don’t have time! People depend on me! I wish I could do that, but I can’t!”
I have said all those things, and asked all those questions, and felt all those fears. I was looking at a final destination, rather than a journey. I saw it as something I had to do; something that I couldn’t do, rather than a process I was entering. In truth, “not letting go”, is what we have done to ourselves throughout this Life; that is where “the doing” is. “Letting go” is not about “doing”, although within the process, we may have lots to do. It is more about accepting, awareness, absolute honesty (even about the layers of deception within ourselves that we and others put there), a process of grief for our losses (even the loss of how we have been seeing ourselves), and contact with others going through the same process.
I spent many years in group therapy. I was looking for answers, looking for resolution, looking for a way to be “okay”. I changed and healed more in that group, than I had in all my previous years of “one on one talk therapy”, or all the years of my own effort. The two leaders set boundaries to help us feel safe, but they controlled nothing. That environment helped some of us to practice “letting go”. “Letting go” was necessary to get to our injuries in ways that were experiential rather than just intellectual. Miraculous things seemed to happen on a regular basis. By “letting go”, I was able to find a lot of resolution for my many injuries. Others doing the same, helped me to let go. My “letting go” helped others. Our injuries as well as our indiscretions scream at us for attention, for resolution. They grab and hold our awareness, and pull it from the NOW. In my case, my “Caretaker” role (one of the many hats I wore), and my role as “The Black Sheep” in my family of origin, enshrouded my True Self. Attending to those needs and dishonesties that were vowing for my attention, has allowed me to have a quieter internal environment. It’s easier to let go now, after that practice. I attempt to continue to do what I learned in my group. In a nutshell, I relax enough to let go of my need to understand, and follow my spirit.
I remember during my “crazy days”, where I was most out of control, my friends and I would smoke pot, and listen to an improvisational comedy group called “Firesign Theater”. We’d laugh like loons at their silly antics, and crazy sayings. I’m sure most of us remember some of those episodes. One saying that stuck in my mind, in an odd way was “Everything you know is wrong.” Everything in our culture or society, praises “not letting go”. We are expected by family and friends to “not let go”. We praise control, and see “letting go” as giving up. They are not the same. Jesus said that we must lose our lives to gain them. There is wisdom in those words, because the lives we have built, are based on “perceptions” that are not true. Those “perceptions” are not perceptions at all, but constructs that have been taught to us. They interfere with true perception, true awareness! “Everything you know is wrong.”
You might say, “how can I do this “letting go thing”, when I am married? My wife and I fight, and I don’t want to give up my marriage!” I only have answers within my experience, which work for me. I’m sure you will find those answers that work best for you. However, let me tell you a story. Sometimes my wife and I have difficulties. We get lost in stuff that just isn’t true, despite our best efforts to remain honest and caring, and non-blaming. Relationships are difficult. We have had many ups and downs. During the “down” times, I’m sure we have each wondered if it is worth it, and have despaired. During the “up” times I’m sure we both don’t question whether it is worth it at all. We both were abused terribly when we were young, so we have had significant issues, to say the least. Recently, each time I have experienced one of those “down” times, I have felt some pretty intense feelings of despair, despite a part of me knowing that my experience of despair would pass. I strove to see what we were doing, what each of our reactions was, what was really true, to the best of my ability to know, noticing anything petty or untrue within me about our difficulty. I also saw I had NO ANSWERS, other than my understanding of our interactions. I did not know how to fix what was wrong. I can change what I do, but not others. Many options lay before me, but which one was the “correct” one? So I prayed to choose the “right” way of handling the situation. To my surprise I received no answer. Or so I thought. Each time, I sat with my wife, relaxed, knew I had NO ANSWERS AND WOULD HAVE TO JUST WAIT AND SEE HOW IT ALL CAME OUT (perhaps it wouldn’t come out the way I might choose, and I had to be willing to allow that!). I’d keep my attention on her, not on solutions, or my fears of finding none. My mind would be a blank, until the words were there. The most honest words. The most honest feelings. The most honest unpolluted awareness of us and our situation, because it was all there in the NOW. It all was just there. I don’t think I can find any words to really describe it. It has “happened” many times. It has developed over time from all the little things that I have done along the way, and also, because of all the things that have happened to me along the way as well.
I told a friend recently, that during the “hard times” we let go more, and during the “easy” times, we let go less. Those of us that choose this path of “letting go” may recognize the truth of that. I have noticed in me, that I do that, but I also notice that there are far more areas in my life that I do not control anymore, and am allowing more areas of my life that are like that. I also see that sometimes we will suffer, when we DON’T let go. Suffering is optional.
Not long ago I went to my appointment with a new health care professional. I felt wary and a little defensive because he was new, and I was put into a position of having to trust him. I have trouble with that. He seemed like a nice fellow, with a good sense of humor, and I gradually started to relax. When seeing a health care professional for the first time, I believe it is important for adult survivors to mention that they are child abuse survivors, if they feel that it is important to do so. I attempted to do that, to give him information that I believed was necessary. Survivors often have issues that are reflected in the complaints they take to professionals. Survivors often have issues with touch, with trust, and many have PTSD symptoms that masquerade as physical problems. Survivors often have problems such as depression and panic disorder. Survivors also may have difficulty instituting new habits or regimes, which might affect treatment by a health care professional. Also, because of the non-linear nature of recovery, one time they may be just fine, while another time they may need medication to get through a particularly difficult period, perhaps having panic attacks, severe depression or despair. We can be very different from time to time, although that lessens with the length of recovery.
He smiled and said to me something to the effect that “I tell people that they have to stop thinking about it” (the child abuse). “All they have to do is stop thinking about it”. Without ever having met me before, and without knowing anything about me except from my medical chart, he proceeded to tell me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you might be using the abuse as a crutch.” “Some people use it as a crutch, telling everyone they meet that they were abused”.
I immediately felt exposed and awkward. I had a very hard time wrapping my mind around his uncalled for comments. Unsolicited advice is disrespectful. Interjecting oneself into such a very personal, private area of a person’s life without being invited to do so is extraordinarily tactless and hurtful. It shows a lack of empathy and understanding.
I thought ,”would you say that to a woman who was raped, if she was having difficulty recovering from the PTSD that follows the rape?” I also thought about those who, as adults were hurt in war, and suffer from PTSD and have difficulty recovering from that experience. I knew that it was not ok to say something similar to them. How much more are children hurt than adults! Often the trauma in their young lives happens not just once, but hundreds of times, sometimes more than that. They have neither the skills, nor the understanding, nor the training, nor the stamina that adults might have. The effects are more devastating, and more difficult to recover from, some lasting a lifetime. Often their recovery does not start the next day, but decades later. The fact that survivors are now adults makes no difference, other than the fact that we have more skills and resources. I knew it was not ok to say what he said to me. My anger rose, and kept me from “shrinking” (becoming “less than”).
I handled this experience surprisingly well. Of course I did. I have 22 years of “training” through various therapies, have read as many books as some “experts”, and have practiced what I have learned through my recovery since I was 35. I am 57 this year. I struggled with the fear, shame, and finally the anger I was feeling. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I struggled with the dissociation that threatened to overwhelm me. I took some calming breaths for a few extremely uncomfortable seconds. My response was simple. I said calmly, “I don’t do that. You needed to know because you’re the doctor”. His response was something like, “We’re all the same as everyone else”, as if that was some lesson he was delivering to me. I felt my anger rise again, and felt like I was in a “power struggle”. I breathed again to give me time to react the way I wanted to. I assumed he didn’t mean it in a negative way. We all have equal value in God’s eyes, and we should in each other’s as well. But in a very real sense, some survivors have experiences far beyond what others experience. They have experiences that can teach others about things that can literally change the world we live in. I am more in some areas, and less in others. That has to do with skills, experiences, but not value. I saw that I knew that, and that he didn’t seem to know that. I said, “yes we are”, holding back the rest of what I knew.
I did not “get into it” much further with him. I was surprised and somewhat confused that he didn’t know why that information might be useful, or for that matter necessary. Perhaps he believed that the type of abuse I experienced does not exist, or since I seemed rational, it could not have been severe. He could not have been more wrong.
Many of us have a lack of understanding about the effects that child abuse has on adult survivors. Many of us have a lack of understanding of what “recovery” looks like for an adult survivor. Many of us have no idea of all that a survivor might have to deal with on a daily basis in their recovery, (and inside themselves). Many of us believe that when someone says they are a survivor, that they surely couldn’t be standing intact in front of them if their abuse was severe. Many of us do not understand that recovery is a journey. It is not a destination. Recovery is remarkably personal, and depends on our makeup, gifts and the type and severity of the abuse. Some journey farther than others, some have suffered more than others. There is no abuse that cannot be recovered from. Sometimes survivors “circle” an event or theme of abuse until they are ready to resolve it -sometimes even years. All survivors are looking for resolution, even if it looks like they are not moving forward! Who are we to judge what a survivor’s recovery should look like? Who are we to tell them that we know when it is time for them?
Another misconception is that if only a survivor changed his or her thinking, then they could get past the trauma. Although how we think, and what we think about, does play a large role in our daily attitudes, thinking mostly is not where we were hurt, and might be described as being in an “outer layer” of our being. Our emotional nature, and our acceptance of how we are, who we are, and where we are on our journey, is what are most damaged. Survivors are always looking for resolution. When they are focused on the past, they are doing so because they have not found resolution, and are looking for their own personal resolution, not someone else’s! Often our thinking reflects what we are feeling, even if we do not know that. Many Survivors have “frozen feelings”, meaning that they cannot get in touch with their deepest wounds. It takes sustained focus on the past to get to these feelings. Unless we go through the pain, feel it and share it, we will not get to the other side of it. It will sit in us festering, looking for expression in our daily lives, rather than describing the events of the past. In this way, the past contaminates the present. Although our outer thinking may influence our outer feeling, it does not affect those feelings near the core of us. In fact, much of our thinking is driven by feelings from our center. Some call this “primacy of emotion”. In my experience, no amount of thinking or not thinking will heal the wounds of the past. Discovering the frozen feelings from our pasts, giving voice to them, fully feeling them, having empathy for how vulnerable we were, and how tenacious – these are the things that lead us into the journey of recovery – no matter how long it takes us!
I stand before you in a process of recovery, even though I started that recovery 22 years ago. I stand before you relatively intact, although at one time I was completely crippled. I stand before you imperfectly healed. I stand before you not as victim, but as survivor, there is a difference. I stand before you sometimes with a cauldron of feelings that threaten to overwhelm me, feelings that most would recoil from, yet I do not fall apart, nor do I deny or avoid them. I am a survivor, and I am responsible for my own recovery. No one can do it for me, although I have invited God into the process of my recovery. I am proud that I am a survivor, because it embraces all of my past, not just the “acceptable parts”. I stand before you, and I tell you that I am both more and less, not the same as those who have not been abused. I am less in those areas that still interfere with what I want to do, and I am more, because I have experiences that can teach all of us how to behave with each other, so that no one gets hurt like I was. I stand before you so that you may hear my voice. I use my voice so that others may know it is ok to do so also. I use my voice so that others may start their journey of recovery. I use my voice to bring empathy into areas where we have none. I stand before you as a survivor, and it is a badge of courage and accomplishment, not some sort of excuse or crutch to gain sympathy.
Gary Tool’s Column Terribly Wrong in last week’s Community Times Dispatch got me thinking. Two people can witness the same event, and each may see it in a totally different way. Native Americans say that each of us sees from a different place on the Medicine Wheel. I like that imagery. I agree. We each experience life through the lens of our histories, training, strengths, weaknesses, and most of all, our fears.
Now, I saw the same commercial that the good Reverend saw, yet we each saw two different things. The commercial in question is the one where a little boy shakes a bottle of soda and accidentally sprays his momma, who then joins in with the sprayer from the kitchen sink.
The good Reverend sees this scene as an example of a dysfunctional family behavior, and as an example of the devil using technology to destroy folks. Now, I don’t want to get into a tug of war over which one of us is right. I do not disagree that evil operates in this world, as well as Good. I do not disagree that folks watch too much TV to their own detriment. Nor do I disagree with the good Reverend’s prescription for better living. However, we did see that same commercial with different eyes.
As the 2 liter bottle explodes a plume of soda towards his momma, shock and surprise are very apparent on the child’s face. My imagination tells me that he is waiting for the axe to fall’. He knows “he is in trouble now”! As my attention turns towards his momma, I see a look of shock and disbelief on her face. I expect anger next. In fact, I don’t just expect anger; I expect rage, because of my own personal history. But I’m surprised. Her look of shock gradually melts, and is replaced by amusement, as she reaches for the sprayer from the kitchen sink. As she sprays him back, her amusement blooms into full blown childlike glee. His expression of shock and fear is abandoned to one of total playful glee as well. There is no screaming, no tears, no bruises, nor any childhood trauma. There is no adult, anger driven over-reaction that we see so much in our violent society. There is no shaming. There are just two souls, letting go to their playful spirits. How wonderful!
Now, in my imagination, after all is done, his momma talks to him, and tells him not to shake soda bottles, because even though they had fun this time, next time he would be in trouble. (After all, it is a commercial about paper towels, and whether we know it or not, we have been using our imaginations all along!)
What I saw in this commercial, was far more functional than what I experienced as a child. I saw real connection between the child and his momma. I saw two souls, who felt safe enough to let go, and really have fun. Granted, we don’t see the lesson “don’t shake the bottle”, but I believe, we see an even more important lesson, despite any evil influences that may or may not be involved.
I had a wonderful Christmas holiday. My son, Shawn and his girlfriend Rebecca visited from California, where Shawn goes to Stanford University. Actually they had visited for part of the week before Christmas, and had to leave right before the actual holiday. I couldn’t shut up the whole time they were here! I found myself more enthusiastic and boisterous than usual. I couldn’t seem to contain myself! My son played the guitar and sang one evening, and I was moved by how unbelievably good he was! It had been years since he had last played for me. Rebecca is an opera singer. That same night she brought us all to tears, so beautiful was her rendition of “Oh Holy Night”! I have never heard a voice like that! We all talked about “real” things, you know, those things that we care deeply about, are deeply moved by, etc. We allowed space and safety (lack of any judgment), so each of us could be fully authentic, playful, and open. It was wonderful! Continue reading
“The New Testament is always calling us to do what we cannot do. No, we ourselves cannot forgive, but as we strive to forgive we are given God’s forgiveness as a gift. We are not called to create forgiveness; that is beyond us. We are called instead to participate in a forgiveness given to us as a gift. … Do not ask the wounded to forgive.
Do not ask them to completely heal the relationship, to withdraw all of the painful memory and to extract any lingering poison. Civility is within our grasp; but forgiveness, true, deep-down, New Testament forgiveness, is not a human possibility.”
An except from Thomas G. Long, “To Err is Human; to Forgive?” in Forgiveness, Christian Reflection (Fall 2001): 29-35. Copyright © 2001 by The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University.
I wrote this in response to a minister’s newspaper column in which he promoted the view that people shouldn’t listen or seek out therapists, that all they need to do is read the bible.
“Be afraid, be very, very afraid”. That is the “mantra” of folks who want to control us, to have authority over us, for us to “stay in our place”, and to think “inside their box”.
I have often said that I am a voice of experience, rather than one of authority. What I mean by that is that I write about my direct personal experiences, what I”ve learned by my experiences, rather than what other people have put inside me. That does not mean, that I do not listen to what others say, or read what others have written with honest appraisal, or to take in the gift of their experience. Nor do I automatically disregard tradition, culture, or religion. I am a very good listener, and do not automatically discount what anyone else says, nor do I automatically believe what I hear either. I have faith. I believe in God. I believe God, and this journey I am on, have made me a good listener. My history of experience far outside normal experience gives me a unique perspective. For many years I have struggled to develop a rigorous honesty that questions what is inside me, how it got there, and whether it is true or not. In truth, I do not do this alone, but ask God to guide me, because quite frankly, alone, the task would be too daunting and lonely. I started on this journey many years ago, for my own survival and sanity. My trust in God has grown exponentially over the years, but also, surprisingly, my trust in myself. I do not mean that in an egotistical or narcissistic way. What I mean is that I accept that I know what I know, feel what I feel, and am starting to accept myself as I am at this point in my journey, knowing that there are still many miles ahead on this journey. I do not want power, or riches. I simply want the truth.
I”m sure you have heard of the term “thinking outside the box”. Often those who “think outside the box” accomplish great things for our human family. Sometimes they see what others don”t see, or have a unique perspective or approach to problems that we have that helps us solve those problems. Sometimes they come up with completely new explanations, inventions or theories that shake up the prevailing culture, and its attitudes and beliefs. I believe that this is part of God”s great plan for us. I believe that change is one of the only constants in our experience here, yet we want to hold onto things so tightly out of our fear of change, a fear that is intrinsically dishonest. To be able to think outside the box, we must find our True Selves, that part of ourselves that is underneath what others have put inside us. This part of ourselves is honest and perceptive, beyond what we usually experience in daily life. This part of us lives within the moment, absolutely embedded in the present moment, receptive, and without fear.
Fear is a great thing when it makes us run from a fire, or keeps us from falling off the edge of a cliff. However, too many of us are stuck in our fear, and don”t even know it. The fear that we are stuck in is a dishonest fear. It tells us that God has no power, that He does not protect us, or provide for us, or guide us. It fuels our black and white thinking, and takes us out of the present moment. Black and white thinking sets us apart from each other. This person is good, while that person is bad. Democrats or Republicans are bad, while their counterpart is good. Baptists are good, while Mormons are bad. Rich people are bad, while poor people are good. The more we see this group as bad, while the other group is good, the more we lose our perspective of the vast majority, the shades of gray between the black and white. We limit our empathy, our compassion, to the limited few.
Sometimes even our ministers resort to this black and white thinking, using fear to motivate us into living correctly, yet I have the suspicion that God intends us to live our lives with Love as the fuel that drives us, not fear. When fear is a filter through which we see the world, our true perceptions are altered, and we cannot experience the gift of living in the present moment. When we are in the present moment, we are teachable. When we live in the Now, we are good listeners. When we live in the present moment, we have true, non-judgmental compassion for others. When we are in the present moment, we are being as honest as we can be. We see all the shades of gray, not just black and white. We have everything we need in the present moment, because God is there, and we are receptive.
Miraculous things happen when we are in âthe present moment. I have written on numerous occasions about abuse I survived as a child. I am sure that the abuse I suffered as a child, was never God”s Will. I am sure that He did not condone what was done to me, but I do know that He has used my experience for good. I do know that He led me to the help that I needed. That help included group therapy with others who suffered similar abuse, and two therapists, George and Theresa (a husband and wife team), who I will forever be grateful to for helping me on my journey. During our therapy sessions, I felt God’s Presence many times, and watched Him work miracles in our group. These two wonderful therapists had 25 years of experience, had their Masters Degrees, and all the training that entailed, but allowed their impressions and direct experience to guide their actions during therapy. They did not let their training get in the way. They dropped their fears as best as they could, allowed themselves to relax into the Now, and were guided by honesty, and letting go of control. They let go and let God without any religious pretense, and miracles happened in every session. I cannot tell you how important they were to me, or how important what they do is. I hate when I hear someone proselytizing to folks that are hurting, that they don’t need therapists. God saved me through them. The black and white thinking that presumes to know the Mind of God is arrogant, irresponsible, and ignorant. George and Theresa taught me that absolute internal honesty is how we navigate the maze of prejudices and black and white thinking that we find inside ourselves. In removing more and more of this dishonesty, we find ourselves. In trusting God, we disarm our fears. As we drop our fears, we find the always present Now, and find that we have everything we need. We learn to think outside the box.
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”!
Welcome to LowcountrySurvivors.com!
The purpose of this website, and my writings, is NOT to imply “I am good, and they are bad”. It is not about character assassination, disrespect, lack of boundaries, irreverence, put-downs, name-calling, or other disfunctional behaviors towards abusers, or others for that matter
Simply put, my writings have been a gateway to feelings I had when I was hurt as a child. Feeling these feelings in their most honest and powerful form, sharing them with others, unlocking deeper, more repressed feelings about my experience as a child, and finding myself going through a very long grief process that had been interrupted as a child; all this has brought me to have empathy for the child I was, to be able to see myself now as I am, not as others saw me long ago, and to gain empathy for children today, in a manner that seems not present in our society at large, a society that in some ways, still condones certain forms of child abuse.
I believe this process of healing that I have experienced, is a natural process that we are born with, but tend to ignore. We are taught to ignore our inner feelings and processes, and our reaction (as children) to abuse reinforces that separation from our feelings and processes! It is very uncomfortable, sometimes, to be in touch with our deepest feelings, but doing so allows us to notice subtle reactions in others, to notice when we hurt others, especially children, which is the way we are meant to be!
Some writings are VERY angry. Some describe my TERROR. Some describe tremendous sadness and despair. Some have a lighter emotional texture. All are expressions of the child I was, so long ago. I have been taught that ALL emotions are OK, they are neither good nor bad, they just are. These are about how it was for me as a child. There are also many pieces that are about therapy, parenting and child advocacy. Some pieces are about spirituality and awareness, which grow naturally out of healing.
The more I write, the more I discover about myself; the more I discover, the more I keep changing. Change is good, even though I tried to avoid change for half of my adult life. Change keeps me moving forward, towards whatever God has in store for me. For me, real change only comes after navigating the seas of emotional upheaval. The rise and fall of the waves in this sea are part of daily life, and will forever be a part of daily life. Larger waves were created far in my past, and tell me about how I felt during those past events, and why I am the way I am today. By allowing this natural process, I become more than I am today, because I recover pieces of myself that were lost. There are always treasures in the sea, after a ship wreck! Ken S
A word of caution: Many of the pieces that you find on this site are triggering. You may find after reading some that feelings arise that you weren’t quite ready for, or didn’t know that you carried. So please be careful, and make sure you have a good support system. Many of the pieces here convey feelings I had as a child, feelings that I went through in my healing, and don’t necessarily represent how I feel now. I had to go through the Rage, Sadness, Terror, or Despair to get to the other side. These are here to help you get in touch with those frozen feelings from the past.
Therapists are welcome to use my writings with their clients, but need to contact me for use in books or any other publication media, including other websites. Those of you who have already asked and received permission in the past, I thank you for showing respect by asking, and I am honored in that request!
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!
The stories of our Lives start and restart at many places during our years on this good Earth. Each is a complete story within itself, as well as a part of the whole story.
My story starts in 1951 in a suburb of Philadelphia, although I have only just a very few details of that, and don’t even know the name of that suburb. My story also starts in Trooper, and Linfield, and Randy Run, Royersford, Spring City, Pennsburg, and Sumneytown, all in or near Montgomery County Pennsylvania. My story also starts in Unionville, part of Steuben Maine, just miles from the Canadian border. In that remote corner of the country, my wife’s story, and my story merged, making a larger more detailed and dramatic story that belongs to both, even though we still “own” our original parts. Finally, the story of my life, in a very real sense starts in Ruffin, South Carolina. That’s where my wife, Susan, and I live and love, where we sometimes struggle with Life’s dilemmas and have to lick our wounds.
Ruffin is where we grow vegetables and flower gardens, and continue to grow and heal ourselves. Here we walked my faithful dog Goldie, before her story ended, unleashed on the dusty sand of Rogers Lane. Here in Ruffin we have made many changes in our lives, learning to eat healthy and to exercise in order to control our diabetes, as well as to just feel better, and so that we might live longer healthier, happier lives. We live directly below the Winter migratory flight path of countless bird species. For weeks, tens of thousands of their members completely filling the evening sky just before sunset looking for a safe place to bed down at night in the numerous horse pastures just to our South. My wife and I have “settled here”, and that’s far different than “settled for”, because we love our home here in Ruffin, and although many things will probably change for us here in Ruffin, we don’t plan to move ahead. We don’t see Ruffin as one of those horse pastures that the birds use for just a time before moving on once they are rested, even though there have been many of those “resting places” in our Lives. We feel this is our home, and the last stories of our lives will be written here, many and happy, we hope, becoming part of our larger stories.
It’s easier to talk ABOUT the inner child than to actually define him/her. (since we are talking about a part of ourselves I won’t use the word “it”). When we come into this world as babies, we have no language per se, but we do have Feelings right from the start. Feelings are closer to who we are, and what we “are made of” than thinking. Thinking is what we do. Feelings are more about who we are, and usually precede our thoughts and actions. Feelings convey meaning, and therefore can be seen as a form of language that precedes verbal communication. So feelings are how a baby experiences the world, and expressing those feelings is how he/she communicates with the world. However, we still use Feelings as a way to experience the world and to communicate, even though we have other forms of communication that we use. Now that we are adults, Feelings are a form of experience and communication that comes from the core of who we are. That is the Inner Child, or Magical Child, and is more like our Spirit or Soul.
When we talk about the inner child we may be referring to more than one part of ourselves. In someone who has never been gravely hurt emotionally, or has healed from their hurts, the above explanation fits. For folks who have been victimized as children, and most of society for that matter the explanation would be more like what follows:
This is a more “mechanical” explanation. Try to think about it this way. The person you are today becomes a part of who you are tomorrow, next week, next year. The person you are today doesn’t just go away. The same is true for every day you have ever lived. We are a continuum. Now, when we are injured as children, you might say this transition process of “becoming” gets affected. Instead of it being a smooth process where who we were becomes a perfectly melded part of who we are – instead, who we were gets “charged” , doesn’t “mix” properly, “stands out”. Instead of being a “well mixed” continuum, a perfect mixture, we end up with parts that have more autonomy than they might. Sometimes, in a very few, the schism is so great that multiple personalities occur. The inner child is fully us, though, not some other personality. As you experience the inner child, which will happen as you have empathy for the child you were, this mechanical explanation will be less important, and your inner child will become much more real.
The above is a description of Injured Inner Child, and as we heal, the kid in us becomes more like the first example than the second.
As to why we should care for the kid in us as some of us have alluded to? How about because it works! All I know is that IF we treat this part of ourselves in a manner that would be good for a little child, not with the kind of treatment that our parents or other abusers taught us, but in a truly loving and respectful way, aknowleging the reality of who that child is (which we never got as kids), then that inner child becomes more like the first example, which is the way God intended us to be!
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.
On my daily walk this morning, I noticed nothing new along my route; nothing new, that is, in the physical sense. Usually I will discover a rabbit on the run, an injured turtle, a basketball in a ditch, certain plants or trees that I especially enjoy or that grab my attention, and are symbolic of a theme or idea that I take home to write about. This morning, my whole attention was directed toward my inner “landscape” instead of the outer landscape. Last night I watched the 5th episode of “Into The West” on TNT. It is a powerful historical drama that I have made every effort to follow. Deeply moving and historically accurate, its many stories within a larger story grab one’s attention fully during each 2 hour presentation. Last night’s episode was no exception, and it was my memory of a theme in last night’s episode which had grabbed my attention during this walk.
The scene I see in my mind’s eye is that of a young Lakota warrior at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879. Fierce in spirit, his strength and rebelliousness are apparent. The idea of the school was to “civilize” Native American children, so that as adults, they would have the skills necessary to cope with an ever expanding white society. The idea however was far removed from the reality. The first step was to crush the wills of these young children and take what was most unique and intrinsic out of them, to be replaced by the prevailing European “Christian” values. The logic of this approach seemed apparent at the time to even those among the White settlers who still had some degree of empathy and compassion left, but that logic removed them from their empathy. Logic is not Truth. Native Americans of that era saw the White settlers as having a culture that seemed crazy and out of control. However much their Native American Hearts told them to protect their children, to keep them away from the encroaching settler’s culture, the logic of the idea that their children could do better than themselves by learning the White man’s ways obscured what their Hearts told them. They also fell for the trap. Logic is not Truth!
The scene that kept playing and replaying in my mind has this young warrior, (and I call him a warrior because he fought on with such Heart in the face of impossible odds), this 11 or 12 year old warrior struggling to keep some small part of his dignity. He has been forced to take a name that is not his own (George). He has been forced to wear uncomfortable, foreign, clothing that has no meaning or use to him. He has been beaten, screamed at, and has been placed in a world in which none of the rules make sense to him, and where there is not the smallest amount of support, comfort or compassion. It is a world of rules, with no true Love, compassion or empathy, which have been overshadowed and dulled by the logic of the quest to “Civilize” these children. His very psychic emotional and spiritual life is at stake. Each male child is having his hair cut, not with the goal of refinement or presentation, but to “kill the Indian in them”. He watches each child’s tears as their hair is cut from their heads without the slightest bit of care or tenderness. It is a violent act being used to crush each child’s spirit, to break their will. It is a type of rape, although the instrument of that rape is the barber’s shears. It is too much for “George”, and he bolts. After a prolonged chase he is corralled by all the adults at the school, and sits down in defeat and exhaustion on the grass. A few of the adults of the school seek to comfort this child warrior (those who have empathy returning to their Hearts). But the Headmaster makes those few compassionate adults leave. This child warrior sits alone for hour after hour, hurt, angry, afraid. His tribal elders had sent him to the school to protect the other younger children. His grief is not just his own, but for all the children! He realizes that he receives no compassion from any of the adults at the school. He is alone in his misery. Hours go by, and yet he sits, staring at the sky, waiting. Finally it is night. He sings his heartfelt prayer, to God, over and over “God, be compassionate to me, God, be compassionate to me!” Then he cuts his own hair in his grief, the way his own people do. He acquiesces to their demands, but on his terms, without giving up that which was most important to him. (Native American warriors only cut their hair at times of tremendous grief). He acquiesces, in order to survive, but in a way in which he keeps a small bit of his own heritage, power, and dignity. All the other children watch through the windows of the school, and are moved by his strength. The two empathetic teachers watch, and are moved by his strength. The Headmaster watches and is furious. Both my wife and I sobbed during this. I have not been able to shake the need to write about it. I have not been able to shake the feelings that it has brought up in me.
This was a despicable time in our history. Yet it is one story inside a larger story. We never truly consider that our entire present civilization has been built upon the evil that was done in the past. There are not many of us who, in our daily lives, consider and remember that Logic is not Truth. This lack that we have, this “Hole in the Heart” that we collectively have is in every part of our society, it is in our dealings with other countries, and it is in our own child rearing practices that seek to perpetuate this same “Hole in the Heart” on new victims. I wonder how many folks out there who watched this episode, who watched the atrocity of what we did to those young children, and did not weep. Or if they did weep, how soon was their empathy lost and forgotten? I wonder how many of us see that so often we do the same monstrous things to our own children, with this idea of crushing their Wills.
A child’s willfulness, when directed with empathy for their struggle, and their dignity, preserves their will, which becomes their perseverance and strength later on in life. A child’s willfulness when crushed by power and control, or by violence and lack of empathy becomes despair. That despair later becomes depression. Then the anger and rage from that experience goes on to destroy other wills in future children. Yet those in Authority still argue that we must break the wills of our children. They argue this only because their wills were broken when they were children, not because it is true. Logic is not Truth!
I empathized profoundly with that young warrior. A husband and wife at the school found their empathy and helped direct his willfulness. They helped him find compromise. They helped him see that it was important for him to survive, so that he could pass on his people’s history and traditions, and so that he might tell his story. They acknowledged his struggle, and tried to help him “steer” or moderate his will, rather than crush it. They allowed him to be who he was, and to remind him he had a voice, even if it had to remain silent for a time. They did not try to “kill the Indian in him”.
Although separated by a century and a half, his story and the stories of many children today have the same themes. This young warrior’s story is a small story inside a larger story. Every child today, or yesterday, or tomorrow, who has an adult in their lives who believes a child’s will must be crushed or broken is a small story inside the larger story of our society and its “Hole in the Heart” and it’s need for power, and its lack of empathy.
I know that it is especially easy for me to identify with this young warrior, having been abused so violently when I was young. I also know that silencing the victim is especially symbolic of the conquest of a person’s will. You will see this in every type of abuse, even today. Finally, I also know that giving “Voice” to the child I was has been the key to regaining much of what was either broken or taken from me, and that ability in me has allowed me to survive. You see, the stories are the same, only the characters are different. Also, speaking the Truth about what we do, gives us a chance to stop those practices that still hurt others. Doing that is a moral mandate! A mandate from the Heart.
In the last scene of this episode, the young warrior sits at the typewriter, giving “Voice” to his soul, and telling the stories of his people. We sobbed even harder.
We hear adults talking about self esteem. You talk among yourselves, and say that We the Children must have successes in what we do, to feel good about ourselves. You equate what you do, with who you are. We wonder why we were not welcomed and accepted fully, when we came into your world. We wonder why We the Children should have to do anything in order to be loved. In truth, your love was dependent upon what we could do, and you taught us to do the same thing to ourselves! You taught us to love ourselves, according to what we could accomplish! How could you do that to us? To be accepted and loved just the way we are, was God’s plan for us here! We came here to follow our deepest inner promptings, for the good of all, but those promptings are lost to us if we are constantly self monitoring, in order to receive your love and acceptance, and later, our own! How wonderful our world might have been if we had been allowed to unfold, becoming ourselves, instead of what you wanted us to be! We the Children wonder if we were not allowed to become ourselves because you were not allowed as well. You believe that the children you once were are gone. That is untrue! We still exist! We were forced into hiding, some of us deeper than others, but we exist! Indeed, some of us were forced very deep into hiding by the violence of adults. When we the Children saw that some of our caregivers would choose to inflict physical pain, while witholding their love, the horror of such a notion was too much for our gentle and sensitive spirits! Now we reside behind a protective psychic wall within you, whispering to you in moments which you often consider “weakness”! Like angels’ breath, our voices speak to you from deep within your secret heart. We speak to you of hopes and dreams, and connections lost or yearned for. We are your connection to desire, emotion, and intuition. We help you to connect to that part of you that helps you know what’s true, and revels in the artistic and spiritual. We are your potential, waiting to be. We are the children of God. We the Children live inside of you. Listen to our voices. Acknowledge our presence, and protect that same presence in those who are children in body, as well as spirit. So much is at stake!
1996 Ken S.
(previously published in the Dissident, 11/96)
“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.