I believe answers to our current dilemmas are always found in the present moment through our undamaged, undiluted, unfiltered awareness. I have found this to be true, time and time again. When “things” do not go well, upon reflection, I see that I had lost focus, that I had been focused in my head on either the past or future, or I had blindly accepted some societal or religious “rule”, which means that I was following someone else’s answer, not my own. Fear takes me out of the present moment, out of my body and into my head, out of my other feelings, out of myself, out of the Truth. Fear is the fundamental dishonesty, that we don’t have what we need in any moment. Truth speaks to us from the core of our being in the present moment. It is both nonverbal as well as Archetypal. We put our own words to it, but those words are our words to convey Truth that wells up in us when needed. Words convey things, ideas, experiences, themes, solutions, feelings, states of mind, but are not what they convey, they are less than what they convey. God doesn’t need words and is not less than or separate from anything!
Absolute honesty is the path back to our Birthright, our Primal Awareness. Human beings seem to have a propensity for taking the easier path. We don’t want to do the hard work that Honesty requires. Instead we rely on rules and suppositions and explanations, doctrine, and the descriptions of others of an inner relationship with Truth, with Life, with God. Those descriptions do often have value, but in relying on them exclusively in each situation, we are not trusting ourselves, and we put this precious Gift in jeopardy, giving that Power to others, allowing their descriptions of Truth to over-ride our own. It’s not enough that our Primal Awareness has been diluted countless times over the years through injuries by others who have had their Awareness injured, or diluted, but then, we continue on in their footsteps, and do it to ourselves! We do this unconsciously. Even in the process of recovering access to this precious Gift we often find ourselves replacing this Birthright with something less.
Keeping in touch with this birthright in a group is particularly difficult. From birth we have given up what we know and what we see and what we feel in order to fit in. Our relationships are important to us. When we were little, that was a matter of life or death. To lose the love of a parent or parents, or of the whole family could have meant that we would perish. We knew this Instinctively. To lose the love and acceptance of parents or family would mean that we would be trapped with others who didn’t care about us. Children see this kind of situation as both life-threatening and never ending. To be totally ourselves despite a situation like this is beyond the capabilities of a child. What is most important in us becomes Unconscious. We then carry this learned behavior into our adult lives, so that belonging is often more important than Being Ourselves! And of course, we are not aware of this propensity. This Unconsciousness is particularly active and powerful in all or almost all groups.
A group will have its own story or description of Life, or the part of Life that it is associated with. When we act from our core in a group we are often at odds with this story that everyone who belongs must accept in order to belong. Group stories are often about separation from others who believe differently, and about a focus on “otherness”. Protection of the group becomes more important than the protection of Individuality. Groups gives a sense of safety in numbers, but are often about fear of others even if that is unconscious rather than acknowledged. The injuries of individuals in a group, then act unconsciously to protect the group, and the group story, whatever that may be.
I was born into a particularly fearful family. My mother was the main conduit of that fear and much violence. Later, however it was others outside the family. I was molested by a man who did “volunteer work” with underprivileged youths in our area at 13, and by the parish priest at 14, a scout leader at 15. I have carried those injuries ever since. This year I am 60 years old. I believe that not only do we carry our injuries with us, injuries that need resolution, stories that need to be told fully, but Life moves to heal those injuries at the appropriate times in the appropriate way. Healing is just as personal, as our relationship to Truth, to Life, to God. We cannot fit our healing, we cannot fit our story, into the words, or views, or rules, or stories of others. That healing, that relationship is deeply personal. It doesn’t fit inside Anything else.
I live in The Deep South. Lots of injury. Lots of Unconsciousness. Lots of mistrust. Lots of churches. Much of the work I do is for churches and ministers. My best friend is a minister. Recently I was doing some contract work for a church, and found myself having to constantly set and reset boundaries, explain, then re-explain what I needed to do the job. I really needed the money that was coming from the job, at least that’s what I told myself. Their behavior in terms of providing what was their responsibility to provide, was very out of control. They wanted more and more and more, regardless of the contract, and regardless of what should have been their own later responsibilities. I asked for digital, they’d give me paper. I’d ask for original, uniform, digital pictures, I’d get cropped, cut up, paper copies. They’d call and call and call. They started forwarding email suggestions from 20 different people in their congregation – all with different ideas about what should be despite the contract. I felt like I was being pecked to death by chickens! In me, uneasiness turned to fear, then panic. I knew my reaction was about my past, about being hurt by the priest, although I didn’t know what, specifically, I was recalling. To date, my memories of that particular injury are very dim. All I knew was that the world didn’t feel safe to me anymore. Other people were acting crazy and out of control, and I felt trapped and vulnerable to their craziness.
Then I had a dream. In the dream, the priest who hurt me was a shadow, but I knew it was him. He was reaching for his gun to come after me with it. I told my best friend about this, and having been trained as a minister, he suggested praying for the priest, that perhaps I had not forgiven him. I replied that I was not angry anymore (even if I was, that energy of anger is often the fuel to tell or to say No!). I did not feel animosity, only fear, panic in fact . He suggested that sometimes things are hidden from us. I know that only I hide things from myself. He suggested perhaps there was something underneath that fear. I knew that at least in me there is no other feeling underneath the fear, it is a primal emotion, and panic is about fear for one’s life. I trusted my friend enough to push back with what I believe from my own experience, and I told him I would “take it to God”, withdrawing from our “back and forth”. I also left “room” for what I might not be aware of. I felt strong having stood up with my own Truth.
The next day, I remembered that the priest that hurt me did in fact have a gun. I had known that all along, but did not have access to that. He showed me that gun, in a black holster, the same color as his clothing. Showing me that gun, was his subtle way of warning me that if I told, he’d come after me. That was the story about my past, that Life sought to show me, once I got past other people’s stories, and created both time and space to receive my own. © 2012 Ken Scully All Rights Reserved
The demand for absolute obedience from a child is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Parents often look at children as if they were just “little adults”. They also treat them as if they were all the same, and expect adult reactions from them. But like every color in the rainbow, every child is different, one from another. One child is as calm as a lake on a still, sunny day; another is caught in a storm of frenetic activity. One child listens intently; another cannot because their own internal soundscape is too loud. One child is accepting, never questioning what they are told; another is curious and questioning by nature, and must know for themselves. One child is patient and focused; another impatient and scatter-brained. One child is comical and friendly; another is serious and withdrawn. One child is blindly obedient, so eager to please; another senses injustice and powerlessness, and are confused by thoughtless demands, or enraged by angry, dishonest ones. Some children are sensitive; others are not, but the most sensitive among children, are the ones who float on the stormy seas of their parents emotions. Those children will have a very difficult time, indeed.
Too often parents make their children into servants. That’s different than teaching responsibility. There needs to be flexibility, when we are dealing with children. Parents do this because “That’s what parents are supposed to do!” Gradually, these “jobs” will “belong” to the children, even when it makes more sense, one time or another, for the parent to take care of that particular “job”. Parents often “bark” orders, reminding the child of past “indiscretions”, threatening punishment instead of pleasantly and calmly reminding a child of their “duties”. That sets the child up to fail, and “raises the stakes” in a very disfunctional parental game. A parent sitting next to the front door shouldn’t be demanding that a child on the other side of the room open the door every time, when they themselves are closer. Most children are not stupid, and will see the injustice in that. They will see the inflexibility. Parents who make their children into obedient servants, do this for one reason, and one reason only – because their own parents did that to them. They will tell you otherwise, of course.
“But they have to learn how to obey”, is the usual mindlessly repeated retort by protesting parents. This response usually comes from a place of frustration at the least, anger in most cases, exasperation and rage in other cases. If you feel rage because of your child’s disobedience, and especially if you do not give that child adequate time to respond to your often angry or threatening requests, your rage is not about the child, although you do not know that. You are allowing your own past to interfere with your, and your child’s present. Rage is only a proper response to gigantic loss or betrayal. It’s not a response to a child’s disobedience, unless you want them to be injured in the same way you were. Most of us carry our own childhood injuries so deeply inside ourselves, that often we are not aware of the extent of the damage done to us. Those injuries are not silent, however. Often they are expressed in an unyielding, inflexible, enraged attitued directed at our own children, when that rage should have been directed at our own parents long ago. Some of us were never allowed to disagree, or God forbid, disobey our parents. There would have been Hell to pay! That Hell would have been our own parent’s rage, and its consequences, the same rage, we may be directing at our children! This rage is a jealous rage, because it seeks to destroy in others, what was destroyed in ourselves. Like a wolf in waiting, neither parent nor child will ever know when it will attack. Children are led to right action through a calm, patient demeanor.
A parent doesn’t have to beat the “bejesus” (curious expression!) out of a child to do damage. When a parent is feeling this rage, and their child is experiencing their parent’s inflexible, impatient demands, one child may suddenly feel drained of energy, feel frightened and confused. Another may feel an awful feeling in the pit of their stomach, from the fear of being trapped in an out of control situation, with an out of control adult. (Their awareness is still undamaged, and they see the situation for what it is.) Some children respond “like a deer in the headlights”. One child may blame themselves for the parent’s rage, asking themselves, “Why am I so stupid. Why am I so bad. Why can’t I control myself”. (That child doubts their own awareness, no longer feeling what they truly feel, nor seeing what they truly see. They take on the false story that the parent is telling themselves.) The strongest child may feel rage at the injustice, the dishonesty, the lack of love in the parent’s actions and mood. Woe to that child! It will be “proof” to this disfunctional parent that the child “deserves” this treatment. They believe the child is challenging their authority, when in essence the child is challenging the dishonest story being presented to them. It will then become their quest to convince this sensitive, intelligent child, that what they are aware of is not true, that they, indeed are “the problem”! Awareness is eventually destroyed, perhaps losing an Einstein, a Mozart, or a Michaelangelo in the process! The child’s belief that no matter what, they will be OK is destroyed as well. They may carry these tremendous losses for the rest of their lives.
When I see the absolutely honest expression of anger, fear, determination, and sadness on a child’s face after one of these confrontations with a parent who is out of control, I pray the child can hold on for just a little longer. They still know what is true at that point, and still trust themselves. Their awareness is not yet fully damaged. Eventually, without some sort of intervention, the wolf will get the lamb. The parent’s injury then becomes the child’s, and the child’s birthright of an undamaged awareness is stolen from them.
If you are a parent or child like I describe, I hope and pray that you and they will not carry these injuries for a long time. Although healing anytime is a wonderful blessing, healing at say, fifty, sixty, or even later in life, brings with it, the knowledge, that an integral part of yourself, a powerfully creative, sensitive, empathic part of yourself, has been missing for most of your life. We need the “be jesus” in us.
© 2011 Ken Scully and Lowcountry Survivors All Rights Reserved
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.
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”!
“God-damn-it! So help me Christ, I swear there’s something wrong with you, you rotten son-of-a-bitch”, she screamed. I see her in my mind’s eye, above me, always above me, glaring at me, red-faced, her mouth full of teeth, sharp and somewhat yellow-stained, ready to throw more bony fisted punches if I dared to challenge her omnipotence. She said things like that to me in a voice tinged with hysterical rage. Actually, not tinged, (if the truth be known), but filled with rage, overflowing with rage.
I never knew how far she would go, how much she wanted to hurt me, how much she would allow herself to inflict on me, or how long she would continue. Her rage became my terror.
Her “disgust” of me was convincing, I know she believed her own lies. Unfortunately, my sisters and I learned to believe them too.
I wonder why she started on this crusade to convince not just me, but the whole family, that I was dirty, defective, broken, lazy, bad, stupid, and maybe even crazy. She started when I was 4 or 5. I was a child, and children do “bad” things, especially when they are getting the crap scared out of them by an out of control adult like my mother. I think she needed me to be “wrong”, so she could be “right”. I had to be scared, so she could feel powerful. I had to be “bad” so she could feel “good”. She must’ve done that to me 10,000 times if she did it once. Back in her childhood, she had felt a lack of power, and she was bound and determined as an adult to feel that power that she had missed.
My sisters believe that my mother loved them (and me). They believe that I should believe that too. They tell me that I should focus on the “good times”, and all the “good” things my mother said. I don’t remember her telling me too many “good” things!
I can imagine that after just one terrifying episode with my mother, I was probably immune to the next 100 compliments (if they would have been available.) That’s not a defect in me, that’s just a fact of life!
I learned to not trust adults because she, quite frankly, was untrustworthy. There has to be trust for a compliment to do its job. A compliment is like food for our emotional system. As children we need many each day for us to feel OK, competent, strong, loving, and calm.
Looking back, I believe often she hated me, and barely tolerated me other times. For some reason, she saw all the bad things in herself, when she looked at me. There was no reason for her to do that, other than the fact that I was an innocent, intelligent, sensitive child, with all the self-centered needs that all children have. She taught me to see myself in the awful way she saw me from the start. I didn’t have a chance to see me any other way.
Sometimes a news story has the opportunity to teach us that the way we experience the world is enabling terrible things to continue in that world. Often times those terrible things are happening to children. I’m sure you all have heard about the two boys who were rescued last week from the hulking 300 pound pizza parlor manager, turned child kidnapper. This past week, pizzeria worker Michael Devlin was charged with kidnapping Shawn Hornbeck, 15, who had been missing for more than four years when he was found on Friday (1/12/07). Devlin already had been charged with kidnapping Ben Ownby, a 13-year-old who had been missing for four days when he was found with Shawn.
On all the TV networks, commentators kept asking questions about why Shawn didn’t run away, or use the telephone or computer to tell someone where he was. They said that he seemed to make no overt effort to escape, even though he spent a lot of time unsupervised. Commentators had experts on Stockholm Syndrome giving heady, intellectual dissertations about this PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) reaction that is commonly seen in people who have been abducted. I don’t dispute anything that these experts were saying, but they, and most of our society, just really don’t get it. You can’t get it by looking at it intellectually. You have to get it with your heart, and truly “getting it” with your heart is a shocking and overwhelming experience! Most of us just can’t quite wrap our minds around TERROR. To really imagine what a child would feel in a situation like that, to truly empathize, we would have to FEEL those feelings inside ourselves. Either memory or imagination would have to bring those feelings alive in us, if we have the capacity to do that. Most of us can’t do that. We either have never truly felt a child’s terror (if that’s the case, then thank God for that!), can’t imagine being in such a hurtful situation, or we have purposely forgotten, and don’t dare go near the memory of it for fear of feeling it all over again (if we have suffered trauma as children). But I can, I’ve been there. I fully remember what it feels like. TERROR is this sudden lightning bolt, which explodes inside us, shattering everything we know in one single moment of time, and that moment feels like it will last forever. In a sense it does. Time stops, we cannot breathe, move, think, or feel anything but this overwhelming sense of dread and repulsion. We are suddenly locked and trapped in an isolation chamber more secure than any other on Earth. Nothing else exists, while terror is in us. Terror threatens to destroy our very existence. TERROR is the most awful, most absolute, most overwhelming, life-changing, mind-numbing, psyche-shattering, lonely experience that there is to have. It changes us forever, in ways that are both personal and unpredictable. It changes us profoundly at the core of our being. We understand this in only a general way about troops in combat. Even that understanding only just barely touches the surface of the soldier’s experience. A child’s experience of terror is a hundred times more powerful than that! It is as profound an experience as meeting the Devil himself, face to face. There truly are no words which convey the profound nature of the experience of terror by a child. The most important thing I have to tell you all today is that it doesn’t take a kidnapping by a stranger, or anything that seems to us adults as extreme as that, for a child to have the experience of terror. Repeated physical abuse within a family can have the same enormous impact on the child. Adults often do not see this exactly because they cannot truly wrap their minds around the experience of terror. When parents and other care-givers beat their children out of their own anger and rage, their children will most probably experience terror during those beatings. These children will have the same type of personal, unpredictable reactions to the terror that they experience. Some of you will say, “Oh, but I was beat by my parents, and I turned out OK”! Some of you may even say, “I was beat by my parents, and I deserved it”! Both statements are dishonest and arrogant! The first statement is arrogant, because it implies superiority, and knowledge of the unknowable. We only have a very general understanding of how a child reacts to terror. One child reacts one way, another child reacts another way. No one fully understands the dynamics of this, and no one can predict the outcome for a particular child. We often don’t really know ahead of time how we are going to react as adults in certain situations. If that is true, how can we know how a child might react? The second statement is worse. A child never deserves the experience of terror. To say, “I was beat by my parents, and I deserved it”, is to deny either the experience of terror itself, or its effects on the child. It is this attitude, this dishonest, arrogant lack of empathy, which allows child abuse to continue! Allow this discussion about how kids react in extreme situations to touch your hearts. Please know, that without having a similar experience, you can’t really know. Please know that all of us have a certain amount of dishonesty and emotional resistance inside ourselves. No one is exempt from that! Absolute internal honesty imbues us with humility. Humility strengthens our internal honesty, and both help us to experience our world without so many biases and emotional defense mechanisms. Allow your hearts to move you minds. Allow your hearts to change your minds, and change the way you experience our world! As we do this, slowly, our world changes!
I want you to read this. I want all of you to read this. Not because I like the limelight, or relish telling you about my past. I want you to know me, so that you believe me. The power of my words is dependent upon how you judge me. I would rather folks judge me because of the strength of my character, which can only be known by knowing my past, and not because I drive a rusty old truck, am soft spoken and sometimes nervous and self conscious, or because on the surface, I may seem to not have accomplished much by your standards even though I am 55 years old. Judge me by what I have endured as a child. Judge me by what I have accomplished despite my past. Judge me by what I have overcome, by the length and scope of my journey. Then my words will have the power that I intend them to have, because they must convey terrible truths that no one should have to know but that everyone must, so that we might protect the future.
Over forty-two years ago I was molested by a man named Warren Frye. I want to say “I use the term “man” loosely”, but that is the anger in me. He was just a man, nothing more, nothing less, a man who hurt me. He lived in our neighborhood, and took “underprivileged” kids on trips, that their parents could not or would not take them on. He took me and two other boys to the 1964 New York World’s Fair for three days. I was fourteen years old. I’m not sure if he was the first one to hurt me that way, but I do know he wasn’t the last. In the hotel room that he had rented, there were only two beds for three boys and a grown man. When he was in the bathroom, I remember that we boys argued about who was going to sleep with whom. Apparently I lost this tug of war with my buddies, although I don’t remember the details of that loss. I do remember that he had given each of us an ‘aspirin’ to “help us sleep”. Two of us didn’t want to take that pill, because we didn’t believe it was aspirin, but my buddy Glen, always the joker, smiling, tossed the pill into the air and caught it in his mouth and swallowed. I can’t remember if I or the other boy swallowed the pill. I do remember getting into the bed alone, while my two buddies got into the other. I was in my underwear, and I remember the terror that I felt when he got into the bed in his underwear, the kind of terror that makes you feel like there is no air in the room to be had. I couldn’t look at him; I couldn’t look at anyone or anything. At this point, my memory goes blank. The next day, I had excruciating pains in my bottom. It felt like I had a knife sticking into my insides. I also found blood, and I remember that I was afraid I was going to die, but I knew I couldn’t tell anyone, even though I didn’t consciously remember what he had done to me. I just knew to keep quiet. It was a very long day, while I waited in silence to die, and I remember that even though I was in this place that was almost like Disneyland, with all the people, and exhibits about the future, I didn’t enjoy one thing about it. To a certain degree, I have had trouble fully enjoying anything since that day. I don’t think I ever saw him after that, although he haunted my dreams throughout my thirties and early forties. In these terrifying dreams, he was this bald man who kept suddenly jumping on top of my car while I was driving, almost making me crash, and always damaging my exhaust system. I didn’t put the pieces together until sometime during therapy, in my forties, when I remembered how I knew to keep quiet the morning after he molested me. I had never forgotten that next morning.
Later that year or maybe before the trip, I’m not sure which, I had another experience of violation in my Boy Scout troop. An older boy named Oliver; maybe three years older did something to me that for the longest while, I thought I had consented to. All of the older boys, and some younger ones were involved in one form of sexual experimentation or another. I remember tremendous shame, and fear that I would be exposed, yet it wasn’t just me. It seemed like almost the whole troop was doing it. We were all “out of control” when no adults were around. We were given no direction by adults about sexual matters other than in Catholic school where they taught us that it was a mortal sin outside of marriage, and that we would go to hell. Fear of punishment and damnation was not enough to overcome our physical impulses to experience pleasure, especially for those of us who came from homes without much affection, or with a lot of violence. Both were true in my case. No one told us that sexual feelings felt good and might draw us into behaviors that could get us hurt in one way or another! The fact that adults who should have looked after us, but didn’t because they were embarrassed by sexual matters is a glaring fact in retrospect. I can only disclose it now, because I am sure about my sexual orientation, the pressures that existed back then, and know that experimentation like that is fairly common with boys, even in males who grow up to be heterosexual. Anyhow, this guy Oliver had a sort of a “cult following”, because he was older and in the Explorers, and because he wanted to become a priest. He was on the bed with his clothes off while we were at winter camp. He was in charge while the adults were away. He had all of us touching him, but then he tried to do the same thing that Warren Frye had done to me, and was hurting me. I hadn’t wanted him to do that, I hadn’t even thought of doing that. I remember that it felt like he was putting broken glass into me, it burned so much. Yet I didn’t say no. In fact, I couldn’t say no! All I could do was whimper. One of the other boys had to say “stop it, you’re hurting him!” I thought I had agreed to all of it. Now I see it was a matter of peer pressure, and this terrible fatal flaw in my makeup that I could not say “no” to anyone!
Why couldn’t I say “no”? I’ve heard that a lot of abusers “groom” their victims. Was that the case? Was that the reason I never said no to things I didn’t want to do? No it wasn’t, although there were aspects of their behavior that might look like grooming. They went slow. They “sized” their victims up. They wanted to make sure that the victims would be compliant, and that they would “Keep the secret”. But they didn’t do the actual “grooming”. In my case, my mother did.
I know, at this point you might want to turn away from what I have to say; how could I say such an awful thing? I say it because it is the absolute and undeniable truth. Was my mother a sexual predator who groomed her victims? No I don’t believe she was, although she most certainly did groom me to be a victim. I didn’t understand this fully until very recently.
Two and a half years ago, about a year before she died, I wrote to my mother, trying to develop an honest relationship with her, rather than staying estranged, or pretending the past had never happened. I wanted her to acknowledge that her anger had kept us apart, not my inadequacies or supposed faults. Instead she went into a diatribe of disrespectful insults, ones that I had heard my whole life. I confronted her about how her rage had kept me terrified throughout my entire childhood. I was finally able to express to her, how angry I was about how she had kept me totally impotent by her rage. My anger allowed me to stand up to her, to be the real me in her presence, not a pretend me that might win her “love” or acceptance. My sisters may never “forgive” me for doing that (even though doing so was not wrong, and even though my confrontation was RESPECTFUL, despite my mother’s disrespect!). By being honest, and breaking out of the mold that led me to be a victim, (by confronting her), I lost my sisters, and a sizable inheritance. I would do it again! I had lost my sisters long ago anyhow. That loss only came to the surface to be seen. It was already there. My mother got all her “power” by putting others down. By belittling others, she felt powerful. By using the approach of playing victim while putting others down, over and over, she drew others into her web of dishonesty. They got to feel powerful too, or at least, less powerless, and were drawn into her “inner circle”, accepted members of the family, unlike myself, a black sheep, and outside this circle. She didn’t only use this tactic, but violence as well. Her rages were unbridled, hitting me with her fists while she told me how lowly, and pitiful, and dirty, and what a mistake I was; that I should never have been born. She did this, while hurling obscenities in every sentence; spit flying from her mouth, her teeth, sharp like daggers – that’s how I saw her. I knew when she was raging, that I had better be docile and compliant, so that her violence would be over sooner. I didn’t dare provoke her further. I truly lived in a constant state of fear. I became “troubled”, and acted out even more, which brought her rage and judgment to bear even more, and made my shame grow, because I could not be good enough, perfect enough to make her stop, and I did believe her that I was “just no good” at the core. What a vicious circle! What a powerful way to train victims. If I had ever dared to say “No!” to her, I would probably be dead! As time went on, she escalated, her dysfunctional behavior culminating in her threatening me with a butcher knife, when I was 16 or 17 years old. When I was old enough, I finally moved away to keep her and all my painful memories at arms length, strengthening her (and my sister’s) judgment of me as disloyal, uncaring, unloving – “and after all she had done for me!” I moved 700 miles away, taking with me an enormous load of shame and terror.
My story is an extreme one, and I know, difficult to hear. But what I want you to know is this: I know that it takes far less to “make a victim” than what was done to me. A child is an extremely sensitive being, a being that deserves the utmost in respect. Hitting a child teaches them that others may do as they wish with their bodies. No amount of rationalizing or explaining will remove that lesson from their tender psyches. It is their reaction to our behavior and moods, not whether we feel or believe that we were morally or ethically justified in our using physical punishment that creates a victim mentality. We as adults have no control over whether that happens or not, unless we refrain from hitting them. Do you want to take that chance with your child? Remember, “Logic is not truth!” There are all sorts of supposed justifications that allow us to tell ourselves that not only is it OK to hit our children, but it is our duty as parents. Remember again, “Logic is not truth”! You have no control over whether your child will develop a victim mentality, if you hit them! Tenderness, honesty, time and attention, and a positive emotional and mental outlook in parents are all necessary to avoid creating a victim mentality in our children. They give us some control over whether our children become victims or not. Explaining sexual feelings and dangers is an integral part, without so much moralizing as we tend to do, because children really don’t see and experience the world like we do. They don’t think that bad things will happen to them (at least until many do happen). They do not have the ability of abstract thought. Spiritual matters are somewhat or very abstract – they have no way to really wrap their minds around such matters. Most important of all: we must never attack their worth, their right to be here, their “okay-ness”. We must teach them that like us, they are not perfect, but they are not bad, that everyone is a mixture of both “good” and “bad”. We all can be kind or cruel, sensitive or insensitive, happy or sad, peaceful or angry, satisfied or hungry, courageous or fearful. We all are a mixture of all these things at various times, in various ratios. As children, we see all these things in ourselves. If we are told that we are bad or defective or worse because we have these tendencies, rather than offering sensitive empathic understanding about what a struggle it really is to grow into who God wants us to be, then we help to create victims. Finally, teach your children to say “No!” Don’t beat it out of them. Have rules that they must follow (here’s where you model saying “no” to them), but allow them to win an argument occasionally when the situation warrants it. A good example is when a child says “no” to finishing a meal because they are no longer hungry. Allow them to win that argument sometimes. They need to be able to practice saying “No!” to people that are more powerful than themselves! Often parents are dictators in their own homes, rather than leaders. Be a compassionate leader. If a child is allowed to learn to say “no”, they can say “No!” to abusers, and they will also be able to say no to the “bad” things inside themselves, like beating their kids when they are parents.
Special Note: My memories of this abuse were triggered by seeing a Myna bird in a pet store, and having one of the most severe panic attacks I have ever experienced. Later, I was triggered when I stood up and set boundaries with someone who reminded me of this priest. When I realized that, I decided to do something more direct for the “kid” in me, and wrote this piece. I am still reverberating inside from writing this.
You do evil things.
I can tell by the way I shiver, and my teeth chatter.
You are cold.
Your actions come from a place with no warmth, a place of ice, not flames.
Hell is a cold place, not a place of flames.
I was taught that you were between God and me.
I could only get to God through you. You were the intermediary.
That’s not true.
But they were right about the first part – you were between God and me.
An obstacle, a chasm, created out of your own selfishness, and condoned by others who cannot or will not know the Truth!
You are the ultimate betrayer!
Inside a religion that made me feel defective, confused, and shameful,
You used the injuries it created, to create more for your own satisfaction!
You are a carnivore that plays with his victims before devouring them!
You are a keeper of secrets!
Secrets are your food.
In the confessional, people confide them to you.
You pretend to be God, and to dispense forgiveness!
Outside the confessional, you pretend to be God, taking what you want, creating more secrets.
How powerful you must be to live in such a shroud of secrecy!
Secrets are your food!
You are so cold, so frozen!
Above it all.
You did not care that what you did, and what you told me would create such a painful wound in me!
You did not care that what you did and what you told me would cause me lifelong problems!
You did not care that what you did and what you told me would cause me to live in despair for most of my life!
There is no justice, and you may not hear this, but I am going to tell you anyhow!
I will make my own justice!
Your power was in your shroud of secrecy, and in your title.
I am taking that away from you!
Your name is Henry S McNulty!
I leave the Reverend off, because you have desecrated that title!
I strip you of that!
You do not deserve it!
You molested me when I was an altar boy, and scared me so bad that I have trouble remembering all the ways you hurt me.
But unlike you, I feel all that is in me, including what you put there!
I will tell people your name, and the more I remember, the more I will tell them!
You had a Myna bird that you kept as a pet.
You taught it to talk, to say your name, and Jesus’ name.
It was as black and cold as you were.
You almost got away with what you did to me.
Your actions almost remained a secret in me.
But I am taking this opportunity to tell you that I remember, because of that bird of yours.
You know that expression “a little bird told me”?
Well in this case, your own bird did.
1998 Ken S.
Special note to readers:
* I wrote this piece quite a few years ago. Mostly, I have left it as I wrote it, with a few, very minor changes. I have grown in remarkable ways since I wrote this, and have found that the little boy in me needs to tell his (our) story less and less as time goes on. He has learned to trust me (the adult), and I have learned to take good care of him. I never would have believed, four years, ago, that I would be where I am today! Warning! This piece is very triggering! I encourage you to pick a safe time to read it, and would also encourage you to use your support network if your “buttons” get pushed. Thanks, and take care!
Break the Silence, Break the Cycle
* I listened to a news report about a neighborhood, in which a number of neighbors called police when they heard a mother screaming and cursing, and hitting her child. The police arrested the woman for assault. I started sobbing uncontrollably when I heard this report, and I realized I was crying both in relief for the child, as well as in overwhelming sadness because no one did that for me, when I was a little boy. I heard also, in the news, that one child every ten seconds is abused in our country. My God!
* I have also read of the growing movement in parts of our country, to reinstate corporal punishment for nonviolent juvenile offenders. I look at those sterile, detached words, “corporal punishment”, with a shudder, and I ache inside, when I think of the number of people in our country, who do not see corporal punishment as violence, or as a violation of a child’s most basic, God-given rights – to own one’s own body, and to expect others to acknowledge that ownership!
* Violence is a coward. It hides inside families that look “fine” from the outside, and causes both victim and perpetrator to hide from the outside world. In reality, both are victims of its clutches. Violence is a liar. It tells both victim and perpetrator, that its use is justified, until eventually, they both believe its cunning lies. Violence almost seems to have a life all its own, drawing others into its addictive and mesmerizing clutches. Violence uses the logic of insanity.
* The continuation of violence in our families can only happen if we keep its secrets, and protect those who wield it. Families heal, only when members speak out, and tell their Truth. Our greatest wounds become our greatest gifts, because in the telling of our wounding, others may be moved toward healing, and perhaps, still more may be moved back into recognizing violence when they see it. (Many have eyes that are blinded by tears that were never shed!). I believe violence is inherently evil. I believe there is a line we cross, when we accept violence in any form other than self preservation. I believe that when we cross this line, we move into a territory that is comprised of greater and greater dishonesty, and less and less compassion and empathy. I believe that violence breeds more violence, and that its use is addictive, and progressively uncontrollable. When violence has been used on us as children, we may not recognize some of its forms, as an adult. We cross a line, leaving the Truth behind, to live in a world of denial. Many of us have crossed this line. I grew up in a family that had. Neither of my parents ever crossed back. But I have crossed back over, by both the Grace of God, and by the enormous strength and courage, and resilience of one very special little boy. A special little boy, who wants you to know how wrong violence in any form is. I know that if you listen to his story without running from his feelings, you will cross back over that line too. Listen to him now. Listen with your Heart!
* My mother was all sharp edges: teeth, and nails, and tight muscles, and clenched fists. She had a rage that consumed her, and turned her into skin and bones. Her rage consumed us as well. First, it was just me, and then it was my sisters too; mostly, though, it was just me. She was quick to go off the handle. It seemed like forever until the first blow, and a year of forevers until the last. Every time, I thought would be the last; not because I thought she’d stop, but because I thought she’d kill me. I lived in that terror for years, until I forgot I was living in it!
* It started when I was four or five years old, and didn’t stop until I was fourteen or fifteen. Ten years of terror and despair. Ten years of loneliness and isolation that turned into forty without my knowing it.
* Other times she took me into her confidence, indoctrinating me into her way of seeing my father, men in general, and worst of all, myself. She had crossed the line, the first time that she hit me, and told herself that there was a good reason for it. At a point in my teens, I realized that she was crazy. That didn’t make it any easier.
* Giving in to violent urges always leads to greater and greater violence. It did with her. The most frightening thing about her beatings, aside from my certainty of being killed, was her shrill, out of control scream: a screeching carnivorous sound. She used her fists, where she had used her open hand. Ten or fifteen blows. I never counted, though, That would have been impossible.
* One thing that was worse than being beaten like that, was not stopping her from hurting my sisters. I have felt guilty for that all my life. First I felt like dirt because she beat me and convinced me that I deserved it; then I felt worse when she beat my sisters, and I stayed frozen in terror. We all believed her that we were no good and deserved this treatment. There were some things that we never did again, because we had been beat, but in this process, whatever was real, and authentic, and spiritual in us, was all but destroyed!
* I remember this one time when my sisters and I were washing and drying the dishes. We were fighting about something, (I used to hate it when we fought). All of a sudden, she came storming into the kitchen. She was screaming and cursing at the top of her lungs. We all backed away from the sink, ready for the first blows, not knowing who would get them. Instead, she grabbed a butcher knife, and came after me! There was no where to go! I thought about the back door, which was behind me, but I didn’t want to turn my back on her. I just stood and faced her, frozen, and ready to die. I knew that she hated me enough to use the knife, she certainly had told me enough times before. I wanted to cover every part of my body, but I only had two hands. She stood above me, teeth clenched, screaming and growling from the back of her throat, arm raised. Every part of her shook. I don’t know how long I held my breath; sometimes I’m still holding it, even now. All this happened in about thirty seconds. She spun around and took off after my sister Karen. Both my sisters started screaming; their screams still echo in my head when I think of it. Somehow my mother never used the knife, but it left a wound in me that is only now healing.
* I believe that the door to my heart was nailed shut, that day. It had been closed tightly from countless spankings, then beatings and other forms of violence, as my mother got worse. I couldn’t remember the terror of that moment until this year. It was too much. I’ll be forty three in July. Sometimes, now, even after eight years of recovery, I may still feel defective. No matter what I do, there are times when my heart is closed. Sometimes, I can lose the ability to feel close to others. Sometimes I lose the ability to trust anyone -even God. Sometimes I can still feel like an outsider, even when I am with trustworthy and accepting friends. I have no control over these things! I especially hate it when these feelings come back, because it feels like evil has won; because the things that I’m feeling, are the very things that I was told as a child (that I was defective, unloving and un-lovable). But, Thank God!, I find that the door was only jammed. I go back to the way I want to be, the way I really am. Eight years of recovery have at least pulled the nails in that door!
* We must remember that violence always echoes forwards in time, to haunt us later. I believe that one of the worst things to come back from years of violent abuse, is the loneliness. So intense, it can push one to the edge of despair. When I was a child, that loneliness pushed me right over the edge. The only thing that took that feeling of loneliness, and of despair away was drugs and alcohol. It is no wonder I became an addict. Loneliness and despair to a child, are a universe unto themselves. A continuum that stretches forwards and backwards as far as one can “see”. At least it was that way for me. I suffered my loneliness and despair in my bedroom, although I carried it everywhere, even, and especially, into every relationship, into all plans or outlooks of the future, into every area of my life. My room as a child was both sanctuary,as well as torture chamber. It was where punishment was doled out. Many of “my” beatings – Hell! – their beatings took place there, and yet it was where I went to escape. My room had no door, which meant that I had no privacy, no boundaries, no rights, and no escape. I’d lay in bed, interested in nothing, knowing that I couldn’t escape them, wanting to escape their violence, desperately wanting some kind of attention or stimulation other than pain, and terror, and gnawing emptiness. Any time they’d start to come up the stairs, I remember my sharp intake of breath, and the jolt of terror that I’d feel, like an electric shock, moving upwards to stop my heart. Beatings were the norm in my house, not beating hearts!
* Eventually, my father was drawn into the violence as well. During those periods of time when their lives were not going well, beatings were an almost daily occurrence. I remember, also, the horrible feelings of betrayal, horror, and sorrow. These feelings merged into something more terrible than anyone could stand. I remember moaning from the deepest part of my belly, wailing with such intensity, that I thought my chest and belly would split open. That sorrow, and betrayal, and horror, were bigger than me, bigger than the room, bigger than the whole world. That is how I experienced it. While I was in this continuum of agony,(for that is what a child experiences when confronted with violence,), writhing, and whimpering, and moaning, and choking, I wanted to die, if only I knew how. I do not know how I survived, I really don’t.
* What I do know, is that now as an adult, these feelings and others come back to visit. Feelings that seem overwhelming, or never-ending, are often messengers of the past. They are a cry from the past, to listen to the story of a valiant little child’s attempts to deal with forces that were overwhelming to him. That little boy tells his story not in words or pictures, but mostly through feelings. Feelings that get more intense, the longer we stay with them. When we stay with them, no matter how painful it gets, in the end we understand the story they tell. Violence does exactly the opposite. It goes contrary to Life and Healing. It is the child that we were that will tell you that! In no other way can you know the true damage that all violence does. The child in you tells you every day that it is wrong!
* A long time ago, the little boy that I was, suffered long, suffered silently, and suffered alone. I lived in a war zone, where there was no cease-fire, there was no Geneva Convention, there were no treaties, no victories and no allies. It wasn’t right then, and it never will be. But the little boy that I was, needs to tell his story. He has every right to tell his story to anyone willing to listen. I have given him that opportunity, and have embraced him and the wonderful gifts which allowed him (and me) to survive. Listen to this child! He has found permanent sanctuary, not in an unsafe bedroom with no door, but in my heart, now beating with Truth, and Life, and Love.
Riding bikes with my sisters. Rainy day, indoor tricycle marathon. Around and around, how fast can we go? Through the kitchen. Multicolored dots on a blue-gray background, the linoleum gives the illusion of speed. Around the corner, often nicking the white trim of the doorway, and into the small utility room. Past washer, dryer, and gray double utility tubs. Through the doorway, and into the long skinny hallway. Black tiles, twelve inches square form the road surface. Soft green latex paint on porous particle board paneling is our landscape. Past the bathroom on the left, the door is always open. past the door that we don’t use to the basement, always shut. Nailed shut. White, even the hinges are painted white. There is no doorknob, and I always wanted to open it, just because we weren’t allowed. Nearing the end of the hallway, the highway widens, as the stairway over the basement door empties into the hallway. Forbidden territory on the left, THE DINING ROOM. Access to the living room on the right. Dead end ahead if the door to the front porch is closed. We called it the front porch, event though it was on the back of the house. That would have confused alot of people, but we did alot of things like that. A hard turn to the right, brakes, and tires, and vocal cords squealing, then another hard turn to the right, just inside the 24 by 16 living room, the kitchen just in sight. Slower going, off road carpet driving. Past the alcove on the left, where we kept all the books that no one read, past the fireplace that we did all like to use when the fighting wasn’t going on. Past the other alcove with the built in desk. Through the eight or ten foot wide access to the kitchen, back onto the speckled linoleum. Breathless! Excited! Forgetting, especially, any fear or sadness, (and there was enough of both!) Wanting more and more of this drug called fun! Breathless abandon, giddy, don’t have to make sense feeling. Laughing, pretending. Anything possible. Temporarily powerful! YOU KIDS STOP THAT BEFORE SOMEONE GETS HURT! ROTTEN SONS OF BITCHES! I’LL BE DAMNED IF YOU KIDS RUIN TODAY LIKE ALL THE OTHER DAYS! BUNCH OF SCREAMING FILTHY ROTTEN BRATS! STOP ALL THAT DAMN NOISE! YOU MAKE MY LIFE MISERABLE! SONS A BITCHES! ALL YOU DO IS WANT WANT WANT! STOP THAT NOISE! IF I HAVE TO COME IN THERE SOMEONE IS GOING TO HAVE TO PAY! SO HELP ME GOD, I’LL TAKE ALL THOSE DAMN TRICYCLES AND BURN THEM IF YOU DON’T BEHAVE!
KA knocks her head on the doorway, and starts to cry. I’m right behind her. I’m the one who is gonna pay. All Hell breaks out.
I am being propelled backwards. My throat hurts, and I want to choke, where my shirt is pulled tight against the front of my spine. My feet get tangled in the tricycle, and it falls off to the right, knocking over the trash can. Kathy is forgotten, the sound of her crying, mixes with my own, and I am in a land of terror very different from the utility room, I just was in. Pain in my shoulder as she twists me around. Terror squeezes me out of my own experience. I am dimly aware of the excruciating burning on my rear end, but I am very aware of my fear that this time she will kill me. I live with that fear, for an eternity.
YOU GET UPSTAIRS TO YOUR ROOM! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT! GOD-DAMN YOU!
THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU! GET UPSTAIRS BEFORE I REALLY GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!
Up in my room, I am alone, outcast because of my defectiveness. I despair, because I know that this will never stop happening. Nothing will ever change. There is no one to comfort me. I am scared of everyone, and everything. I believed her, when she said that I deserved to be hit. She is right, and I am wrong. She is good, and I am bad. If I am lucky, I quietly cry myself to sleep.
Not even Love to keep him company.
No more ideas to get Love
At least with Them.
Too Hard to get Love from Them.
Too Bad to get Love from Them.
Too Smelly to get Love from Them.
Move, Feel, and Talk too much to get Love from Them.
Can’t Laugh or Cry and get Love from Them.
Can’t Be and get Love from Them.
No one to Listen.
No one to Protect.
No one to Soothe.
No one to Stroke his forehead.
No one to Hold him.
No one to Be Close to.
No one to Stop Them from Hitting.
No one to Stop Them from Screaming.
No one to Stop the Bad Touching.
No one else.
All Others Hurt.
Want. Don’t Want.
Do. Don’t Do.
Give up, Die.
Don’t know how to Die.
Can’t Stand It.
A Psychic Chasm.
But also Waiting.
For the unsuspecting Adult
To Stumble through the Barrier of Pain,
And into the Chasm.
The Extent of his Agony,
And the Measure of his True Strength.
“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.
Why are some of your writings so angry (or sad)?
Isn’t that much anger (or sadness) bad for you?
Isn’t it unhealthy to focus on such negativity?
Can’t you just “move on”, and remember the “good times”?
Can’t you just forgive them, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
But that’s your mother (or father) aren’t you supposed to love them?
Why do you believe you should air your family’s dirty laundry in public?
I’ve been on a path towards Healing since 1986. I never thought so much would be involved, and to be truthful, I really didn’t have much hope of success in the beginning! But I have come to a point where many things are now self-evident. I don’t think that someone could have explained it all to me in the beginning, so that I could have had a clear path ahead of me. The reason for this is in the nature of our childhood injuries. Emotional injuries during childhood rob us of some of our awareness! They give us a sort of emotional tunnel vision that does not allow us to see others being hurt in the same manner as we were hurt. We minimize the pain that we suffered in the Past, so we minimize the pain that others are experiencing in the Present! And those “Others” are usually children! So we may witness life-changing events right in front of us, and never know them for what they are!
So how do we regain the awareness that we lost? Watch a child who falls and scrapes his or her knee. First they cry, and if they got hurt through the action of another, they rage. Their feelings flow immediately and un-fettered. Rage leaves first. A caring adult attends to their needs, both physical, and emotional. Kind words, bandage, and antiseptic are applied. A “fully aware” adult never tells the child that their injury doesn’t or shouldn’t hurt! A “fully aware” adult will never interrupt the child’s tears. Tears may come again if the child bumps the injury. Gradually over time the tears subside. That is how the grief process works, when it is allowed to work. Grief is our built-in process for getting past emotional injuries without permanent damage. It works at the time of an injury, and still works years later, as we ?uncover? childhood injuries that were ?buried? where the grief process was never allowed to complete.
Child abuse causes some of the worst injuries that exist. What is worse than loss of awareness? What is worse than being betrayed by those we love? What is worse than being taught by adults who hit, or sexually abuse us that we really don’t own our own bodies, so that others may do as they please with us? How much crying is justified when we have been raped or beaten, or brainwashed as children? How angry should we get?
The grief process is uncomfortable. We avoid it like the Plague. Society tells us things like “Men don?t cry”. We are pressured to “forgive”. We are told anger is a sin. But the bottom line is that those things that Society tells us about grief are either not true or, at best, half-truths. Society is not made up of a majority of “fully aware” adults, but mostly of “the walking wounded”! Their lack of awareness does not allow a fully flowing grief process in others, because to allow it in others would bring it up in themselves! And like I said before, we avoid it like the Plague.
Why do we avoid it so? Why do we avoid something as natural as our own breathing, a natural process that we were born with? Because we were taught to! By abusers, and by caregivers who couldn’t stand to witness our grief because it reminded them of their own!
There is an important ingredient to this grief process that I haven’t mentioned. A caring, empathetic witness is needed, especially when it is a child who needs to grieve. When the child has no witness, it is not safe enough to allow their grief, because their grief feels much bigger than they are! That experience becomes their own way of looking at their own grief. Every un-grieved childhood injury adds to their avoidance. They become adults who cannot allow their own grief process to flow, nor can they stand to witness the grief of children who need them to be a caring, empathetic witness.
You may ask at this point, “How do I grieve now, for each and every time I needed to grieve in the past?” The answer isn’t black and white. I spent years in therapy, where my biggest injuries “came up”. I grieved, and each time I seemed to be grieving for more than just the one injury I was focused on. I re-experienced the same pain that I felt as a child, and gradually learned that I would always survive my grief. I learned to allow my grief when I felt safe, and to “put it away” when it was not safe enough. My witnesses were my therapists, safe friends, other survivors, my wife, and countless sheets of paper where I have recorded my feelings from being abused as a child. My website allows many witnesses, and my writings are as angry or as sad, or as frightened as I really was as a child. They are an act of defiance in the face of those who would tell me to bury the past. To bury the past is to lose myself forever. To express my grief is to find myself, and to move towards a place where what happened to me no longer pains or angers me. In that place where I have fully found myself, I find forgiveness both for many of those who hurt me, and for myself, having taken so long to arrive.
I had a vague sense of uneasiness when I took my dog, Goldie for a walk this morning. I get this feeling quite often. I wanted to take a deep breath and make this feeling go away, but it never does by just doing that. If I pay attention, there is a burning heaviness in my chest, a sadness, just below the surface. To make this feeling go away, I might want to eat, or have a cup of coffee, or some other such activity to distract myself, but if I did, this vague uneasiness would not go away. Sometimes I might want to drink alcohol to make this uneasiness go away, especially if it has grown more pronounced, but that would only provide temporary respite. The longer I have this feeling but do not pay attention to its meaning, the more it grows. It grows into a hunger that cannot be fulfilled, and I can go through the day with a sense of futility, because no matter what I do the “hunger” will not be satisfied.There were signs that I would be feeling this way just the other day. I attended a neighbor’s birthday party, and felt unusually self conscious during my attendance. I hadn’t met most of the folks at the party before, and those I did know, I only knew in passing. It was a “chore” to be there, even though any other time, I would have enjoyed being there. I realized that “something” with me wasn’t quite right, and I remember thinking that the way I felt, right then and there, was how I used to feel all the time. I remember thinking, that I had “regressed” to a lesser version of myself, that I had lost ground in my struggle to grow and heal from my past. My usual self confidence in social situations was suddenly gone. I absolutely hated that it was gone. I felt “broken”, “defective”, “less than”. My self consciousness, and “brokenness” felt larger than me. I grew up in an extraordinarily violent family environment. Screaming, beatings, put-downs, and near constant terror were the norm in our family, and woe to anyone who would dare speak of such things outside the family! Not only did we not speak of the violence and trauma in our family, but we were not allowed to have or share feelings about it. We were beat if we dared show anger. We were beat if we cried too much. We were beat if we got too loud when we were actually having a little fun. “Don’t tell.” “Don’t feel.” “You are not important.” “You have no value.” “Don”t challenge.” “Never say no.” “You are wrong, bad, ugly, less than.” “Feelings are worthless and weak.” “You are worthless and weak.” – Those are the lessons that my sisters and I learned. Our family was a war zone, and my sisters and I came out of it “shell shocked”, and completely ill-equipped, socially. I came out of my family “marked”, and I believed this “mark” was visible.
I am 54 years old. Since 35, I have been on a journey of healing. I have learned on this journey, to pay attention to what I feel in the present, because oftentimes, by doing so I can learn about my past. Through this discovery, I find needs inside myself which should have been met when I was a child. (needs which were created because of my injuries as a child) A child who is hurt needs to express the injury through emotion. A child who is hurt by an adult needs to tell, to break the rule of silence. These needs and others do not just go away because we gradually become adults. They will remain for the rest of our lives, if they are not met!
Child abuse survivors are often uncomfortable in their own skin. Unacknowledged injuries from the past scream for their attention. Unacknowledged stories of their injuries scream to be told. Survivors yearn to tell on their abusers, while at the same time they are terrified of doing so. They yearn for justice. They yearn for understanding, acknowledgment and validation from others, even though they should have received that from their caregivers decades earlier. More than anything else, they yearn to be “OK”, to be just like everyone else, and not to be the “outsiders” that they consider themselves to be. “If only they could have the peace inside themselves now, that they so desperately needed in their families when they were growing up!”
Therapists who have success in helping survivors fully heal from childhood trauma agree that healing comes in increments, over a long period of time. Healing or “recovery” is a process, not a destination. It comes from allowing the frozen feelings of the past to thaw in the safety of the present, and to percolate to the surface of our awareness. As they reach the surface of our awareness, we learn about the full impact of what happened to us emotionally as children. We learn to appreciate the strength that allowed us to survive the abuse of the past, and start to see ourselves differently in the present. We mourn our losses, rage at the injustice, and exercise newly found muscles of courage to face the fear of breaking the family rules that bind us to our injuries, and keep us from becoming the persons that God created us to be.
As I am walking Goldie down our dirt road shortly after morning prayers, I decide to allow this uncomfortable feeling. I remember that feelings allowed let me learn about my past, and feelings not allowed turn into depression, and later into a hunger that cannot be satisfied. I relax and let the feelings rise up. I am sobbing, and allow the feelings to keep rising, not knowing where they lead. At the same time, it comes to me, how futile my attempts to gain the love of my mother were; that I could never get it right. My mother was my worst abuser, a rageaholic who beat her children severely on an almost daily basis. No matter how perfect I did something, no matter how “good” I was, she refused to love me. I was aware again, how fearful I was every moment of my childhood, that I would do something that would cause her to withdraw her love. But that love was never there to begin with. She was sadly incapable, so full of rage and her need to convince me that I was unloving and unlovable. No wonder I couldn’t succeed. How amazingly long I tried!
This piece is about how I felt as a child, and how I felt about her as I began to see the full scope of her abuse of me.Â Now, I see her as someone who was emotionally unbalanced, and just a sad woman, wasted by her own anger.
She controlled every part of my life, every part of me with no letup. None. Ever. She beat me, and belittled me, and shamed me, and hated me, because I existed, and sometimes I existed only for her sadistic violent pleasure. In me she could find all she hated about herself. In me she could find everything she despised. In me she could find excuses to hurt, to make the hurt in me, not her. She sacrificed me to her god of violence and hate and hurt. The monster god that I saw in her eyes and mouth, and fists. The vengeful god that she paid homage to through her violent rituals that she acted out on my body. Rituals of pain that she embraced. Rituals of pain and hate that had no rules except that I would be the one to feel the pain, she the one inflicting it. She welcomed this monster god into her heart, and embraced its power. The monster god, that is always ready to break free, too large to be contained. She used a communion of pain and blame and shame, to put her bastard monster god in me. It wasn’t enough that she welcomed it into herself. She had to sacrifice me to it too. It demanded its just due. It fed on the fear and weakness of others. Meals of little boys and little girls, so that the monster god could grow. The monster god was everything, we were nothing.
1998 Ken S.
Once upon a time, there was a puppy with long floppy ears, a tail much longer than his body, and legs so long that he constantly slipped and stumbled. He spent most of his time in the corner of the room, staring at the one wall of long metal bars, shaking in terror. He didn’t know his name, and remembered no existence prior to his life at the pound. He really didn’t know much other than sadness and terror, and hunger, (even though he didn’t feel very much like eating). He felt utterly alone, and without hope, even though the pound was “home” to nearly twenty other dogs. None of the other dogs seemed as terrified as he, although once in a while, he could smell their fear, as one of their number was taken from them, never to return.
As time went on, he did leave his corner sometimes, but usually the larger, angrier dogs would send him scurrying back. He was so distracted by these angry, vicious ones, that he rarely noticed the metal bars anymore, or anything else, for that matter. He could never let his guard down. One would nip at his long floppy ears, now in tatters. Another would knock him off his feet, as a third would grab and yank his tail. There seemed to be more vicious ones each day, and these vicious ones would often lead the other dogs to attack him too. Somewhere, deep down inside him, he knew that he couldn’t stand it much longer, that he would go crazy from such sadness, terror, and despair. Finally, one day, all the dogs were after him! He was yowling, and howling, and yiping in terror and misery, stumbling and running in circles. His mind had finally reeled at all the violence, a blank, except for the certainty that they would kill him. In thoughtless terror, he leaped toward something shiny on the wall.
A tremendous crashing sound stopped some of the dogs, and brought them to their senses. Glass shards fell to the floor; some of the dogs already yelping in pain from stepping on the slivers in their frenzy.
Although completely unaware of it, he had landed on something soft and green, after knocking over the metal trash can, its contents spilling out onto the lawn. And then he ran. He ran and ran, and then he ran some more. He ran until he had to give up, exhaustion finally overcoming his terror. He lay, and he slept. He whimpered in his sleep, his sadness coming to the surface in spite of his exhaustion.
Two gentle hands picked him up and stroked him, as they would stroke him ever so gently many times during the next few days…..
He woke on something soft and warm. Someone stroked his ears and forehead, and smoothed the fur on his back. He sniffed and could smell no fear, nor sense any danger. He felt something new and warm in his chest, which seemed to come from his master. He didn’t know the word “master”, of course, or any other words, for that matter, but he knew this one always fed him, kept him warm and safe, and had rescued him on that fateful day. He had grown quite a bit since his escape from the pound. He loved running in circles on the green grass, happy for the grass, the sky, and his new home. His ears had healed, and he liked the way that they would flap and fly as he ran circles around his master. His master smiled at him all the time, and that warm feeling inside kept growing. He was glad that he had such a long tail now, it made bigger ripples of gratitude in the air than other dogs could!