Saying No -Our Voice
Our Power, our birthright!
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.
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.
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.
A mother who loves her children.
-is a mother who beats her children with her fists?
-is a mother who screams like a wild animal while she beats her children?
-is a mother who calls her children “rotten sons of bitches of bastards” while she beats them?
-is a mother who continuously tells her children that “there is something wrong with you”?
-is a mother who tells her children that she wishes they were never born?
-is a mother who continuously tells her children that they are “disgusting”?
-is a mother who tells her children “you make me sick to my stomach”?
-is a mother who beats her son with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe?
-is a mother who ties her children to a chair?
-is a mother who tells her 9 year old son that she’d kill him if she could get away with it?
-is a mother who unleashes her unbridled rage on her children, and blames them for it?
-is a mother who does all these things countless times, while pretending to be the victim?
Honesty demands that we say “No!”
Honesty demands that we acknowledge that a mother, who does all those things to her children, does not truly love her children, perhaps through injury, she cannot.
All those things are Not Love.
After years and years of “revisiting” my childhood, I am still surprised at how powerful my feelings are when I look back, and at how much I have changed, and at how many “confining” rules I have broken in order to change. I was 35 when I had my first “flashback” of the abuse I suffered as a child. Here I am, sitting in my own computer repair shop, almost 1500 miles from where I started my Journey of Healing, and I am almost 53 years old! My two sons are grown, and I have remarried. I have changed so much, and I yet, I have so much still to change!
One of my three earliest memories is of myself at 4 years old or so. My grandparents, who only visited a few times each year were visiting. I was told to go to bed. Of course I didn’t want to go to bed, and I remember crying, and asking for water, and pleading to stay up. Eventually, my mother beat me because I kept crying, and I remember feeling such a huge rage inside of me. I could not hit her back. I could not protect myself. I could not get what I wanted. I remember biting the sheet on my bed, and growling and screaming with my teeth clamped down on that sheet so they wouldn’t hear my defiant rage. And in my rage, I yanked that sheet, and accidentally pulled one of my own teeth out. When my mother came in and saw what I “had done”, she beat me some more, telling me there was something wrong with me, that no normal child pulls their own teeth out.
Well I have to tell you, that no normal mother beats her child like that, or tells her child that he’s not normal. I believe it was one of my last acts of defiance, with only a few exceptions surfacing until I was 40 years old or more. My defiance was beat right out of me, along with any incentive, creativity, or willpower. I became compliant, and all the “Life” went out of me.
The Hexter Brothers taught me to put a stone in the middle of a snowball. I was 4 or 5. I was so proud of my new talent, and having been shown a secret process in confidence, that I showed my mother the first chance I got. She beat me.
The other “earliest memory” was not too long after the tooth incident. Since we moved when I was 5, I suspect I was 4 1/2 or younger, living at that same house. I had followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of kids down the street, and we ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand that. When they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up or something. Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. Finally, my mother came looking for me, and beat me when she found me. She beat me to make me compliant, then beat me because I was compliant. How crazy is that? I also see how she set me up to fail even then. What parent leaves her 4 year old child outside and unattended? What parent would blame a 4 year old child for wandering off, instead of blaming herself for not watching the child?
When I look back, there are things other than pain. There is also irony. On one side of us lived the Hexters. On the other side were the Beulah’s. You could say we lived between Heaven and Hell, but from my perspective as that little 4 or 5 year old kid, I didn’t have to die to go to Hell, I was already there.
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.
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.
“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.
(first appeared in the Ellsworth American, June 1996)
Everywhere we look, we see newspaper stories or segments on
the local news program about incidents of child abuse. Yet child abuse continues
to happen. Why does it continue? How can we get it to stop? Both of these questions
are huge, but they do have answers! The answers are painful, however.
Locally, we had the Ardolino trial (a little boy was brutally
killed by his father). Dr. Steven Dunton, pathologist and pediatrician, testified
for the defense. He stated that a 9-year-old child is strong enough and quick
enough to elude a person who would repeatedly beat him. Dr. Dunton, a “supposed”
expert, is a wonderful example of what allows child abuse to continue- the complete
lack of empathy and understanding of the plight of children everywhere. .
Children, when faced with someone violent, powerful, and larger
than they are, will often become compliant. They will not even fight back during
the abuse. The abuse is over quicker, and the abuser most certainly will not
allow the least bit of defiance on the child’s part. You see, it is the power
to say “No!” that the abuser is trying to destroy. The ability to
say “No!” is a child’s vitality. With it, he can learn to protect
himself, and later, others. With it, he can learn to tell on his abuser, and
later, he will have the power to confront other abusers. With it he can recognize
that it is the actions of the abuser that are bad, and not himself. Later, he
can recognize abuse when he sees it, even though others may not. I understand
this in a way that one cannot from books. I was that child, I have remembered
how I felt, and I can now say “No!” again.
The answer to the first question (why does it continue?) is
that often, our family histories keep us from seeing and responding to abuse
that is right in front of us. We minimize the impact on the child, because to
recognize his agony, would be to recognize our own, from when we were children.
To continue to feel that as children would have been too much. We repress it,
putting it on the backburner of our unconscious, until we have a safe enough,
and supportive enough environment. Many of us remember beatings, without remembering
their true agony. We walk around feeling like something is missing, never truly
enjoying life, lives of quiet desperation. What is missing is our power, our
vitality, that ability to say “No!”. We see today’s world through
the “filter” of our past. This “filter” is called denial.
We are indoctrinated by other people’s denial, as we grow up. We come from a
society, which has in the past, been built with denial. That, at least, has
changed some, (I emphasize the word some!). To sum up the answer to the first
question: abuse continues because we are not willing to face our own pain. .
The answer to the second question (how do we stop abuse?) is
frustrating and elusive. Abusing, and nonabusing adults must confront their
pasts and heal the pain they carry. Unfortunately, denial keeps them unaware
that they even carry that pain from the past. Many, having confronted some of
that pain, have not yet reclaimed their power- that ability to say “No!”.
But many have, and still more will. We are taking baby steps now, we will take
giant steps as time goes on! There is a quiet revolution going on, and it will
succeed! Its weapons are honesty, openness, empathy, mutual respect, and a sense
of community. Slowly the tide will turn. In the meantime, we must keep speaking
1996 Ken S.
T. told me what your response was to my letter. I am sorry you reacted that way, but it was how I expected you to react. I wanted you to accept it in the spirit in which it was given. Quite frankly, I wrote that letter for you, not for me. I know that you probably won’t be here for too much longer, and I wanted you to have a chance of leaving this life without anger and resentment. You told T. that you were still angry from when I called you “a crazy old woman” during an argument we had. If you believe that I called you that, you have me mixed up with someone else. As an adult, I have never resorted to calling people names, and I have never called you names of any kind. In fact, I have never directly expressed any anger to you that I may have had towards you in any meaningful way. I have also never directly told you how I felt about how you treated us as children. I have only alluded to your anger, and my reaction to it. You called me many names when I was a child, but as an adult, I do not do that to anyone, even to you. I also live by a code of honesty that demands that I do not pussy foot around the truth. When you say something that is untrue, I am not afraid to challenge your version. I don’t resort to name calling.
I told you a long time ago that it was your anger which pushed us apart. I told you that for most of my life I was afraid of your anger. I have chosen those in my life who do not choose anger, and resentment, and negativity as a state of being in their lives. I have done that, because that is what healthy, people do. Healthy people stay away from folks who nurture their resentments, or spend an inordinate amount of time complaining. You have a problem with both. You even chose your anger and resentment and negativity over having a relationship with 2 of your grandchildren, S. and F. . For almost 20 years, I raised my sons by myself. You complained to K. and KA. and T. about how awful it was the way we lived. Yet you chose to take very little interest in your own grandchildren, nor did you offer to help make things better for them. Instead you just chose to complain, and to paint me as the bad guy, who couldn’t do it right, just like when I was a child. You got to feel powerful and righteous, but you missed the lives of your grandchildren. You have no idea what wonderful men they have become, nor have you shown any interest in even finding out! Other folks. who were around all through S. and F.’s childhood could look past the lack of money, and see the fine job I did all through that time, even though we were dirt poor. You choose to see what you want to see despite the facts. I always wished that you wouldn’t do that.
Since I am telling you the truth here, you should know that you have a more negative attitude towards life than anyone I have ever met. I always wished that you weren’t that way. It is such a waste. You just about drive K., and KA., and T. crazy with all of your negativity, complaining about other people, almost to the exclusion of other conversation, but they put up with it. I don’t. I chose to stay away, praying that you would change, so that I could have a normal relationship with you. I will also not pretend that all your violence was OK. It wasn’t. What kind of parent beats her children with her fists, screams at the top of her lungs while doing that, obscenities coming out of her mouth with not the slightest bit of shame or guilt? What kind of parent beats their child with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe? What kind of mother threatens then chases her kids with a butcher knife? Much of what you did to us would put you in jail nowadays and you did more of it, more often to me. K. and T. know that to be true. I know that to be true also, yet I have forgiven you. I know you weren’t all bad. You did many things for us when we were kids, don’t get me wrong. I see how hard it was for you and Daddy, and I see that you took time for cub scouts and brownies and girl scouts. But the hurt that you inflicted on all of us changed us forever. It crippled us emotionally to one degree or another. Just like the hurt that your mother and father and brother inflicted on you, changed you forever. But as adults, we have the power to shape our lives. With God’s help, and only with God’s help, we get to steer our lives, and to make choices that are different than our childhood injuries would dictate, and different than those who hurt us in the past. That is our sacred responsibility in this life. That profound truth has been embraced by all of your children to one degree or another, including myself. You allow your childhood injuries to dictate how you act in this life, and you continue to hold onto anger and resentment at me and at Daddy, which really belongs to your mother, your father, and your brother. And you have so little time left. I know that you do not understand any of this. I pray that God’s grace can allow you to. I am sure that K and T pray that same prayer.
When I was a child, you blamed your rage on our behavior. Did we misbehave? Of course! But no one has that kind of reaction to a child’s misbehavior. Your rage was always there, and was always just below the surface ready to pounce. It was not about any of your children’s behaviors. It kept growing all the years that I was a child. It was so large, and so unrestrained, and unfettered, that it could only have come from your past. Many people understand issues like this. It is self evident to them. They either come from families without the violence that was in ours, or they have recovered from that kind of violence.
Beating your children is violence. It keeps them from reaching their potential. It keeps them from becoming the person that God wants them to be, because it can permanently damage them! It takes most of an adult’s time and energy to overcome that kind of damage. It takes enormous energy to keep from inflicting the same kind of damage to our own children. It takes the kind of honesty that allows criticism, and demands that we own our own anger, and do not blame it on our children.
When you beat us with your fists, and you did that often, and hard, you told us how we were terrible, ugly, disgusting, evil, bad, rotten, and all the other adjectives you used that I won’t repeat here. You taught us to believe those terrible things about ourselves. When a child is taught that they are “bad”, then they act “bad”! When you are taught that you are ugly, and disgusting, that there is something wrong with you, you go through life even as an adult, believing that and reacting to it. You did that to me, to K. and T.. Mostly, you did not do that to KA..
I have been fortunate in my adult life. I have received the help I needed to get past what you did to me. I was able to replace all those terrible, unrepeatable adjectives that you put inside me while you beat me with more truthful adjectives. It has taken me most of my adult life. It has also taken most of my adult life to rid myself of the rage that you put inside me when you beat me like you did. Rage that I had to resist my whole life, the same rage that you never resisted when you beat us. I knew it was wrong to beat my kids, and I resisted all the anger that I carried from your beatings, and didn’t beat my children. You never resisted your rage.
The many counselors and therapists who helped me all the years it took to heal were in every case astounded by the level of violence and mistreatment in our family. No one calls their children what you called us every time you beat us. It is no wonder that we misbehaved. On one hand we were terrified of your beatings. On the other hand we were left with so much fear and anger, and “nervous energy” from your previous beatings, and all the terrible things you called us, that we were bound to misbehave in some form or another.
You may believe that I am still angry at you, and that is why I am telling you this. That is not true. The fact is that none of your children have ever really stood up to you, to tell you how your behavior affected them. We were children, you were the adult. It was your responsibility to protect and nurture us. It was your responsibility to resist the rage that you carried inside yourself since childhood. It is also your responsibility now, before you cross over, to realize your mistakes, to feel bad for all the hurt you have caused others, and to ask God to forgive you. Forgiveness only comes through remorse, and we are forgiven to the degree that we forgive others. The first step is to be able to take criticism, and to use absolute honesty to see if there is any truth to the criticism we receive. If I can embrace this simple principle, you can too. But it is your choice. I pray that you make that choice. Anger and resentment are poor fuel for one’s life. If you embraced a life where the glass was not half empty, not even half full, but mostly full, you would have so many loving people around you, that you would wonder why you had lived over 80 years seeing the glass so empty.
Your son, Ken S
For something that’s supposed to do so much good, Forgiveness sure can be an uncomfortable topic for survivors. I believe too often, survivors are told “you must fully forgive” to heal. When well-meaning folks have told me that, I feel a little bit re-injured, because the inference is that I have not done all I can do, or I haven’t done it right, or fast enough, therefore I am at fault! The last thing a survivor needs to hear, even if it is indirectly, is that they are at fault! I believe, too often, folks who just want us to “stop belly-aching”, and tell us to forgive, are truly uncomfortable with our feelings, the very feelings we are trying to share about the abuse. To truly empathize would be to bring those same feelings up in themselves, and they are invested in keeping those feelings at arms length, at all cost!
Sometimes brothers or sisters want the “fairy tale” ending. In their story, everyone lives happily ever after, if only the victim (their brother or sister) “forgives” the parent for their crimes. In fact, this sibling might avoid the use of words like crimes or abuser when cajoling their brother or sister to “patch” their relationship with the abuser. In their story, everyone loves each other and finally they have the family they always wanted.
I should tell you, that I love my sisters. They are good, kind people, fellow survivors, and each at different places in their journeys. Recently, one of my sisters asked me “to take the high road” and “fully forgive” my mother for her abusive behavior when I was a child. This abuse included threatening me with a butcher knife, tying me to a chair, beating me with her fists, telling me she would kill me if she could get away with it, and constantly telling me that there was something wrong with me, that I was ungrateful, unloving and unlovable. This abuse happened repeatedly, and consistently from the time I was four or five, and continued into my teens. What my sister wanted me to do was go to my mother, fully letting her off the hook for everything she has ever done, and still is doing, and to tell this woman who was never there for me in any substantial consistent emotional way, that I am sorry for not being there for her since my dad died. I don’t have any feelings left for this woman. I have cried gallons of tears for all the hurt and loss, and I have raged on paper, at punching bags and pillows, and with the courageous people who have been there for me during the years of healing it has taken me to get rid of the poison that this woman put in me with her violence and hatred. I have no feelings good or bad for her anymore, and yet I am to approach her as a sacrificial lamb so that she doesn’t feel abandoned, and so that she doesn’t feel guilty for crimes she committed against children that would have put her in jail even 40 or 50 years ago when they occurred!
I felt angry when my sister asked me to do that, and I feel angrier now as the full impact of it sinks in. I ask myself would Jesus let her off the hook like that? My answer is yes, BUT ONLY IF SHE REPENTED. She would have to feel guilty first, her heart would have to go out to those she hurt, and she would have to ask for forgiveness. True and absolute forgiveness only happens through responsibility and repentance. Victims struggle in their own way, at their own speed, and on their own path to find what I call forgiveness. That forgiveness is a result, or a destination that they arrive at, after fully venting, and sharing their feelings of outrage, loss, sadness, and terror with empathetic witnesses, seeing in the eyes of those witnesses, the recognition of the severity of their injuries, and meeting other needs that they might have around those injuries. This is the lonely journey faced by most survivors of child abuse, when their perpetrators are unwilling to face what they have done, or to take responsibility, and to fully apologize with feeling to the survivor for their behavior. The tears shed by a perpetrator who fully acknowledges the injuries they have caused in others might be tears that don’t have to be shed by the victim of those injuries! Instead, in most cases, all the work of forgiveness is left to the victim, and I would assert that it is fully up to them how much, and of what type of forgiveness to dispense. The rest, we leave to God, Who is truly the only One with the Power to forgive..
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.