Another natural process.
I believe answers to our current dilemmas are always found in the present moment through our undamaged, undiluted, unfiltered awareness. I have found this to be true, time and time again. When “things” do not go well, upon reflection, I see that I had lost focus, that I had been focused in my head on either the past or future, or I had blindly accepted some societal or religious “rule”, which means that I was following someone else’s answer, not my own. Fear takes me out of the present moment, out of my body and into my head, out of my other feelings, out of myself, out of the Truth. Fear is the fundamental dishonesty, that we don’t have what we need in any moment. Truth speaks to us from the core of our being in the present moment. It is both nonverbal as well as Archetypal. We put our own words to it, but those words are our words to convey Truth that wells up in us when needed. Words convey things, ideas, experiences, themes, solutions, feelings, states of mind, but are not what they convey, they are less than what they convey. God doesn’t need words and is not less than or separate from anything!
Absolute honesty is the path back to our Birthright, our Primal Awareness. Human beings seem to have a propensity for taking the easier path. We don’t want to do the hard work that Honesty requires. Instead we rely on rules and suppositions and explanations, doctrine, and the descriptions of others of an inner relationship with Truth, with Life, with God. Those descriptions do often have value, but in relying on them exclusively in each situation, we are not trusting ourselves, and we put this precious Gift in jeopardy, giving that Power to others, allowing their descriptions of Truth to over-ride our own. It’s not enough that our Primal Awareness has been diluted countless times over the years through injuries by others who have had their Awareness injured, or diluted, but then, we continue on in their footsteps, and do it to ourselves! We do this unconsciously. Even in the process of recovering access to this precious Gift we often find ourselves replacing this Birthright with something less.
Keeping in touch with this birthright in a group is particularly difficult. From birth we have given up what we know and what we see and what we feel in order to fit in. Our relationships are important to us. When we were little, that was a matter of life or death. To lose the love of a parent or parents, or of the whole family could have meant that we would perish. We knew this Instinctively. To lose the love and acceptance of parents or family would mean that we would be trapped with others who didn’t care about us. Children see this kind of situation as both life-threatening and never ending. To be totally ourselves despite a situation like this is beyond the capabilities of a child. What is most important in us becomes Unconscious. We then carry this learned behavior into our adult lives, so that belonging is often more important than Being Ourselves! And of course, we are not aware of this propensity. This Unconsciousness is particularly active and powerful in all or almost all groups.
A group will have its own story or description of Life, or the part of Life that it is associated with. When we act from our core in a group we are often at odds with this story that everyone who belongs must accept in order to belong. Group stories are often about separation from others who believe differently, and about a focus on “otherness”. Protection of the group becomes more important than the protection of Individuality. Groups gives a sense of safety in numbers, but are often about fear of others even if that is unconscious rather than acknowledged. The injuries of individuals in a group, then act unconsciously to protect the group, and the group story, whatever that may be.
I was born into a particularly fearful family. My mother was the main conduit of that fear and much violence. Later, however it was others outside the family. I was molested by a man who did “volunteer work” with underprivileged youths in our area at 13, and by the parish priest at 14, a scout leader at 15. I have carried those injuries ever since. This year I am 60 years old. I believe that not only do we carry our injuries with us, injuries that need resolution, stories that need to be told fully, but Life moves to heal those injuries at the appropriate times in the appropriate way. Healing is just as personal, as our relationship to Truth, to Life, to God. We cannot fit our healing, we cannot fit our story, into the words, or views, or rules, or stories of others. That healing, that relationship is deeply personal. It doesn’t fit inside Anything else.
I live in The Deep South. Lots of injury. Lots of Unconsciousness. Lots of mistrust. Lots of churches. Much of the work I do is for churches and ministers. My best friend is a minister. Recently I was doing some contract work for a church, and found myself having to constantly set and reset boundaries, explain, then re-explain what I needed to do the job. I really needed the money that was coming from the job, at least that’s what I told myself. Their behavior in terms of providing what was their responsibility to provide, was very out of control. They wanted more and more and more, regardless of the contract, and regardless of what should have been their own later responsibilities. I asked for digital, they’d give me paper. I’d ask for original, uniform, digital pictures, I’d get cropped, cut up, paper copies. They’d call and call and call. They started forwarding email suggestions from 20 different people in their congregation – all with different ideas about what should be despite the contract. I felt like I was being pecked to death by chickens! In me, uneasiness turned to fear, then panic. I knew my reaction was about my past, about being hurt by the priest, although I didn’t know what, specifically, I was recalling. To date, my memories of that particular injury are very dim. All I knew was that the world didn’t feel safe to me anymore. Other people were acting crazy and out of control, and I felt trapped and vulnerable to their craziness.
Then I had a dream. In the dream, the priest who hurt me was a shadow, but I knew it was him. He was reaching for his gun to come after me with it. I told my best friend about this, and having been trained as a minister, he suggested praying for the priest, that perhaps I had not forgiven him. I replied that I was not angry anymore (even if I was, that energy of anger is often the fuel to tell or to say No!). I did not feel animosity, only fear, panic in fact . He suggested that sometimes things are hidden from us. I know that only I hide things from myself. He suggested perhaps there was something underneath that fear. I knew that at least in me there is no other feeling underneath the fear, it is a primal emotion, and panic is about fear for one’s life. I trusted my friend enough to push back with what I believe from my own experience, and I told him I would “take it to God”, withdrawing from our “back and forth”. I also left “room” for what I might not be aware of. I felt strong having stood up with my own Truth.
The next day, I remembered that the priest that hurt me did in fact have a gun. I had known that all along, but did not have access to that. He showed me that gun, in a black holster, the same color as his clothing. Showing me that gun, was his subtle way of warning me that if I told, he’d come after me. That was the story about my past, that Life sought to show me, once I got past other people’s stories, and created both time and space to receive my own. © 2012 Ken Scully All Rights Reserved
We seem to have a sort of “schizophrenic” relationship with the Grief Process in our society. On one hand we do acknowledge that we must move through the pain to get to the other side. If a loved one dies, or a relationship ends, advice is given that we should “take time to grieve” so that “old doors can close, and new ones can open”. On the other hand, we look at people grieving as somehow maybe “not spiritual enough”, or we might make judgments about the speed with which they progress through their grief, or the kind of grief (sadness might be OK but anger or rage, oh no!). Or – (and this is probably the most common), we look at a grieving person as needing to be “fixed”. Worse, we might give them pills that interfere with their grief. Granted, they no longer feel the full import of their pain, but they most likely will never properly process the event or events that caused that pain. They are separated from their pain, but become separated from their Truest Selves. People drink to keep their pain at bay. Churches tell us we will be “rewarded” in the next life, that suffering in this life is unimportant! In one way or another, other people often get in the way of our feeling and expressing our grief, and our efforts to find meaning in our suffering, in order to move forward. Perhaps they do this because it reminds them of their own grief, which was never “allowed” – and they may have been avoiding their own at all cost, for a very long time. It’s a shame that we see the Grief Process as an indication of “broken-ness” rather than a pathway to the future. It is our process of “Becoming”. It is our Healing Process. It is a part of us.
Recently I was betrayed by my partner, and our fourteen year relationship ended. I experienced this very real loss differently than I ever did before. I gave myself fully – and I mean fully – to my own grief process. I had time, safety, seclusion when needed, support when needed, and an understanding of my own workings that allowed me mostly to not be afraid of the very powerful forces freely flowing in me. I knew that all feelings come and go. I knew that they are the language of a very deep part of myself, and that they tell a story about my loss that can’t easily be put into words, and when listened to give wisdom that no words could ever really convey as clearly. They bring many things to light that were in the darkness, and often help to not only resolve the present injury, but if we’re open to it, past injuries as well. When we fully give ourselves to our Grief, we are fully connected to ourselves and More, in a way that we often do not experience during everyday life. It is a Sacred time.
I learned many things through my grief, over the years. As I said before, often things about the past come up as well as those losses in the present that we are grieving. I have dealt with my mother’s violence and her inability to connect or have empathy for her own son. I noticed that I felt shame, because a lot of other families didn’t have anything like what I experienced. I could see the looks of shock on their faces, when I told others what I had experienced. I felt shame, instead of “giving” that to my mother. That shame was not mine. Shame is about “defectiveness” rather than about making a mistake. I have also learned that PTSD “symptoms” that came from my mother’s abuse are a number of NORMAL REACTIONS to an abnormal event or events, and I have learned to embrace my “different-ness” (the PTSD “symptoms”) to a degree. But telling someone else about them left me feeling shame, and I had to work through that.
This time, I found myself feeling shame about my partner’s very dysfunctional break from our relationship, when I saw those same looks on other people’s faces, as I told them the story of her leaving. I had to struggle to “give” that shame to her, it was her behavior, not mine . We were two individuals responsible for our own behaviors. Relationship breakups aren’t always “caused” by both partners. It only takes one person to do something wrong or hurtful.
During my most recent period of grief about losing a fourteen year relationship, and all the hopes and dreams about growing old together, (even though most of it was in private), I noticed that nearly everyone could not tolerate my process, judged me for it, judged the process itself, or kept responding to me as if I was broken. I knew I was not “broken”. There were some exceptions but they were few and far between. I refused, this time, to be ashamed of my Process.
I gave myself to my Grief. I allowed it as much as I could, and I allowed it to carry me where it would, as fast or slow as it would, however it would. The thing is, though, it isn’t an IT! When I grieve, I feel sadness, and anger, and fear, right from the center of my being, a part of me that is wild and unrestrained, and absolutely honest. This “kid” part of me feels what he feels. Period. No “ifs” “ands” or “buts”. This is a part of us that we keep a stranglehold on for most of our lives. You can’t act “this way or that”. You can’t think “this way or that”. You can’t FEEL “this way or that”. This part of us is attacked by the world over and over, and we try to “civilize” this part of ourselves, rather than find an outlet for this dynamic creative, enthusiastic, passionate part of ourselves. We don’t even notice that we do this to ourselves, because others did this to us, and taught us to do it to ourselves! Most of the time, we live with only a very small percentage of this passion and energy. We wonder why there is so much depression in our society. I tell you, that it comes from binding this wild part of ourselves, this part of ourselves that exists to help us attain our destiny, if such a thing exists, and our highest happiness!
When we “surrender” to our Grief, we really are surrendering to this part of ourselves that is meant to “lead the charge” in Life! Doors to the Old close. Doors to the New open. This part of us leads us from the old into the new! This part of ourselves finds meaning and strength of character in old wounds, and moves us mysteriously forward into the creative unknown. The process is messy, nonlinear, emotional, intuitive, patient, but also sometimes in some of us, more like a tidal wave, than a gentle current. It is as different in one person as in another because it is not a thing. Our grief process is the power of our soul or spirit moving us out of the past, and into the future. Why would we want to hamper this?
A couple of years ago, I was at my son’s wedding. My son has some wonderful friends. One in particular I watched as she danced. I like her because she is very authentic and honest. Many of my son’s friends have those same qualities. I was watching this lady spin and kick and sway with both incredible precision but also with complete abandon. The look on her face is what I have revisited many times in my memory. Pure unadulterated, uncontained, unbridled breathless Joy. How many of us as adults ever feel that? Or notice it in others? Later, she came over to my table. We talked a little about the wedding. I could feel that we were both very “present”. I especially like that, when two people can sit and talk without any hurry or pretense. Then the “kid in me” knows it is safe, and can come to the forefront in me. I asked her if she had ever been to Mardi Gras, probably because of the festive nature of this occasion. She hadn’t, and I remember saying that I would have loved to have gone, back in “my crazy days” because back then I could still “misbehave”. As I told her this, I felt very child-like, and snapped my fingers in an “aw shucks!” kind of kid-like gesture. She smiled and said “You know, it’s OK to “misbehave here”! I have revisited that statement many times as well. I could feel its import when she said it. It was about “allowing” our “wildness”. It was about letting go.
Dancing doesn’t “make sense”. It just is. Music doesn’t “make sense”. It just is. By giving ourselves over to music or dance or any other creative process, we are both transported and enriched. By giving ourselves to “what is” we find all manner of wonderful things. By giving ourselves over to our Grief Process, when that is “what is”, we become more, not less, and find ourselves better equipped to move forward in our lives, discovering new possibilities, new doors that are open to us, as those old doors close on our past. We charge forward on that unbridled Wild Stallion that we find there, towards the future that awaits us.
© 2011 Ken Scully
All Rights Reserved
It’s easier to talk ABOUT the inner child than to actually define him/her. (since we are talking about a part of ourselves I won’t use the word “it”). When we come into this world as babies, we have no language per se, but we do have Feelings right from the start. Feelings are closer to who we are, and what we “are made of” than thinking. Thinking is what we do. Feelings are more about who we are, and usually precede our thoughts and actions. Feelings convey meaning, and therefore can be seen as a form of language that precedes verbal communication. So feelings are how a baby experiences the world, and expressing those feelings is how he/she communicates with the world. However, we still use Feelings as a way to experience the world and to communicate, even though we have other forms of communication that we use. Now that we are adults, Feelings are a form of experience and communication that comes from the core of who we are. That is the Inner Child, or Magical Child, and is more like our Spirit or Soul.
When we talk about the inner child we may be referring to more than one part of ourselves. In someone who has never been gravely hurt emotionally, or has healed from their hurts, the above explanation fits. For folks who have been victimized as children, and most of society for that matter the explanation would be more like what follows:
This is a more “mechanical” explanation. Try to think about it this way. The person you are today becomes a part of who you are tomorrow, next week, next year. The person you are today doesn’t just go away. The same is true for every day you have ever lived. We are a continuum. Now, when we are injured as children, you might say this transition process of “becoming” gets affected. Instead of it being a smooth process where who we were becomes a perfectly melded part of who we are – instead, who we were gets “charged” , doesn’t “mix” properly, “stands out”. Instead of being a “well mixed” continuum, a perfect mixture, we end up with parts that have more autonomy than they might. Sometimes, in a very few, the schism is so great that multiple personalities occur. The inner child is fully us, though, not some other personality. As you experience the inner child, which will happen as you have empathy for the child you were, this mechanical explanation will be less important, and your inner child will become much more real.
The above is a description of Injured Inner Child, and as we heal, the kid in us becomes more like the first example than the second.
As to why we should care for the kid in us as some of us have alluded to? How about because it works! All I know is that IF we treat this part of ourselves in a manner that would be good for a little child, not with the kind of treatment that our parents or other abusers taught us, but in a truly loving and respectful way, aknowleging the reality of who that child is (which we never got as kids), then that inner child becomes more like the first example, which is the way God intended us to be!
I believe one of the most important things in this Life, is learning about ourselves, and wondering what God wants for us. Who does He want us to become? How do we become more than we are?
I also believe that to move forward to become the person He wants us to be, sometimes we need to look back, to see where we have been injured, and to heal those injuries that keep us from becoming more. All of us have been injured, many have been injured gravely.
I believe, that to heal emotional injuries from childhood, we often need to revisit those injuries with others, revisit and share the sadness, or anger, or terror with others, and find some personal resolution within ourselves. For many of us who were gravely injured, this journey takes a lifetime.
I spent my childhood in a very rural area. We lived in a large farmhouse, built before the Revolutionary War. Behind the house were three maple trees, over a hundred years old, too large to climb, although those were the trees I always wanted to climb. They had trunks about 30 inches in diameter, deep ridged bark, the first branches more than 20 feet up. Close to these trees, and adjacent to Brownback Road, hidden in the underbrush, was “The Wine Cellar”. Obviously it was built when the first part of the house was built, but separate from the house, and forgotten for a large number of years, hidden away, waiting for discovery. Covering the outside of this tomb like structure (it reminds me of the story of the tomb that Jesus was in, where he rolled that huge boulder away from the entrance) was an almost impenetrable barrier of Osage Orange. Now Osage Orange, if you’re not familiar with it, is the most lethal thorn bush around. I don’t mean lethal, like it is poisonous or something, but lethal, like a sharp knife could be. Thorns two inches long, needle sharp, and woody strong. Folklore attributes this plant to Jesus’ crown of thorns. This “wine cellar”, that’s what we called it, although it was, in fact, a root cellar, was built with expertly placed stone, to form a Quonset or arch shaped underground room, made entirely of stone. Inside, hundred year old mustiness, the smell of dry leaves, which had found their way in over the years, left over spoiled apple smell, mold, and wet earth smell, like the garden, were prevalent. The stones, perfectly fitted, were kind of white, like quartz or limestone. I kept expecting to find stalactites, or stalagmites, but I never did of course. In the very back of the “Wine Cellar”, about 20 feet back, was a perfectly built stone wall, with a square opening 2ft by 2ft, halfway up the wall. When I was most courageous, I would jump and shinny up until I had my belly on the ledge of that opening, and I would peer down a deep stone lined well, which reminded me of pictures I had seen in fairy tale books. I could see the water at the bottom even though every time I got the courage to look in, I expected to find monsters.
I remember this one time, my father spent a weekend cutting the Osage Orange back, and burning what he cut. It grew right back, though, and he gave up, never trying to keep the entrance to the Wine Cellar clear again. He abandoned it. It didn’t matter that it represented the artisanship and way of life of the past. It didn’t matter that out of the whole property, the “Wine Cellar” had the most character of any structure. It didn’t matter that it was built to last forever. It didn’t matter that it had an aura of mystery and power. He abandoned it. I didn’t. I carry it, and what it represents to me, inside myself. I keep pruning those thorns back, and I’ll never stop like he did! I’ll keep pruning them back so I can keep going down in there, to see if I will find monsters or treasure in that well.
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.
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.
You live in my throat, my chest, my belly.
Where you are, there is a lack, a pressure, a tightness, a blockage.
Where you are, there is fear, shame, sadness, confusion, not knowing, not remembering.
Who are you, and what did you take from me?
You wake in dreams, and keep part of me asleep in Life.
Who are you and what did you take from me?
You block my love, my courage, my knowing, my serenity.
Who are you and what did you take from me?
You are an eater, a bury-er, a banisher, a ruin-er, a stain-er, of little boys.
You ate my innocence, buried my memories of what you did, stained my sense of purity, wholeness, and wholesomeness, and went on to savage other little boys.
Who are you, and what did you take from me?
You are the evil one, in a thousand guises.
Visiting young boys when they are most innocent.
Visiting young boys when they are most loving.
Visiting young boys when they still own their feelings.
Visiting young boys when they still own their lives.
Visiting young boys when they still own their bodies.
Visiting young boys when they still own their souls.
Visiting young boys when they still own their history.
Visiting young boys when they still own their future.
You tried to take from me all that was given me.
You tried to take from me what was my right to have.
But you never took ME!
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.
Since I wrote this piece, I have found a lot of empathy for my father, and what made him so unapproachable.Â However, I needed to write this the way I wrote it at the time. :) KS
I wanted to write about the fact, that in some way, my father and Father McNulty were like twins. That’s what my kid is telling me. Both Irish, Catholic, unemotional, judgmental. Neither one was loving, even though they professed to be. Both were angry men with few social skills. Both had a huge amount of power over me and misused that power. Neither one was truly my father, even though both demanded to be called “father”. Both of them hid behind their religion, and behind alcohol.
What this has to do with the wine cellar, I don’t really know just yet. My kid wants me to tell you about the wine cellar, so, that’s just what I’ll do. Back in Linfield Pennsylvania, when I was a kid, we lived in a large farmhouse, built before the Revolutionary War. Behind the house were three maple trees, over a hundred years old, too large to climb, although those were the trees I always wanted to climb. They had trunks about 30 inches in diameter, deep ridged bark, the first branches more than 20 feet up. Close to these trees, and adjacent to Brownback Road, hidden in the underbrush, was “The Wine Cellar”. Obviously built when the first part of the house was built, but separate from the house, and forgotten for a large number of years, hidden away, waiting for discovery. Covering the outside of this tomb like structure (it reminds me of the story of the tomb that Jesus was in, where he rolled that huge boulder away from the entrance) was an almost impenetrable barrier of Osage Orange. Now Osage Orange, if you’re not familiar with it, is the most lethal thorn bush around. I don’t mean lethal, like it is poisonous or something, but lethal, like a sharp knife could be. Thorns two inches long, needle sharp, and woody strong. Folklore attributes this plant to Jesus’ crown of thorns. This “wine cellar”, that’s what we called it, although it was, in fact, a root cellar, was built with expertly placed stone, to form a Quonset or arch shaped underground room, made entirely of stone. Inside, hundred year old mustiness, the smell of dry leaves, which had found their way in over the years, left over spoiled apple smell, mold, and wet earth smell, like the garden, were prevalent. The stones, perfectly fitted, were kind of white, like quartz or limestone. I kept expecting to find stalactites, or stalagmites, but I never did of course. In the very back of the “Wine Cellar”, about 20 feet back, was a perfectly built stone wall, with a square opening 2ft by 2ft, halfway up the wall. When I was most courageous, I would jump and shinny up until I had my belly on the ledge of that opening, and I would peer down a deep stonelined well, which reminded me of pictures I had seen in fairy tale books. I could see the water at the bottom even though everytime I got the courage to look in, I expected to find monsters.
I remember this one time, my father spent a weekend cutting the Osage Orange back, and burning what he cut. It grew right back, though, and he gave up, never trying to keep the entrance to the Wine Cellar clear again. He abandoned it. It didn’t matter that it represented the artisanship and way of life of the past. It didn’t matter that out of the whole property in Linfield, the “Wine Cellar” had the most character of any structure. It didn’t matter that it was built to last forever. It didn’t matter that it had an aura of mystery and power. He abandoned it. I didn’t. I carry it, and what it represents to me, inside myself. I keep pruning those thorns back, and I’ll never stop like he did! I’ll keep pruning them back so I can keep going down in there, to see if I will find water, or monsters in that well. And I’ll find out why my kid keeps telling me that Father McNulty and my father were twins.
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!