In general, a person who acts on the belief that they know the mind of God or of another man, except in the most basic way, diminishes their own honesty and empathy toward others. They may even tell themselves that their criticism of others is Love. They may call it “tough love”, believing their moral criticism of others actually helps them, but I tell you there is only tender Love, that includes empathy, and strives to understand another’s perceived “inadequacies”. More times than not, they turn out to be injuries not moral inadequacy. Love contains no moral judgment! It seeks to find resolution, understanding, and connection. It does not shame or diminish.
Recently someone in my extended family harshly criticized my sister for perceived “ir-responsibilities” over the years, and framed it as a moral issue, shaming my sister, despite the fact that that my sister has struggled with something that looks like depression, PTSD, and panic, because of the chaotic and terrorizing environment we grew up in. I was affected in the same way, because I experienced the same environment. I have struggled my whole life with PTSD/Depression/Panic Disorder. I have been gravely affected by injuries received growing up. My ability to “be like everyone else” striving towards all those things in Life that we want, like a good job, nice home, financial standing, etc. has been sorely lacking. I will never “be like everyone else”! My experience is different. My inadequacy is injury. The perceived inadequacies that come from PTSD are normal reactions to an abnormal experience. We have experience that others do not have, and cannot know from the outside!
Either PTSD is a real thing or not. Either Depression is a real thing or not. Either Panic Disorder is a real thing or not. You cannot have it both ways and make” inadequacies” that come from those very real medical conditions a moral issue.
My sisters and I grew up in a family with a mother who was severely mentally ill. Extreme violence and periodic terrorizing left my sisters and I affected, each of us in our own way. We lived through it, we are the “experts” of that experience and of its effects.
We can still love my mother despite her injuries/medical conditions (she was probably suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder), but we do not have to see her as morally deficient, because the truth of it is, that she had injury or disease as well.
Nor do we make her behavior normal in our minds, and take upon ourselves the effects of that violence and chaos! Understanding and empathy have brought us to this point, not moral judgment. Moral judgment would have interfered with our quest for resolution of our own injuries from her behavior.
I can never be like everyone else because my experience is different. In order to manage my PTSD (manage not control) there are many times when I “look” less responsible than others because I need more downtime than others, or have to withdraw from situations that activate the PTSD. I may be seen as spacey, ir-responsible, confused or lazy. But the truth of the matter is that your judgment of me is all about you, not me. Your judgment of me is none of your business, and the same is especially true for others who grew up in the same kind of environment as my sisters and I did.
Quite frankly, abuse survivors should be seen as having the incredible resolve and courage for continuing to find their way in Life, despite how difficult that quest is and we should seek to understand that. In doing so we grow, both in empathy as well as honesty, finding forgiveness in the process.
I believe answers to our current dilemmas are always found in the present moment through our undamaged, undiluted, unfiltered awareness. I have found this to be true, time and time again. When “things” do not go well, upon reflection, I see that I had lost focus, that I had been focused in my head on either the past or future, or I had blindly accepted some societal or religious “rule”, which means that I was following someone else’s answer, not my own. Fear takes me out of the present moment, out of my body and into my head, out of my other feelings, out of myself, out of the Truth. Fear is the fundamental dishonesty, that we don’t have what we need in any moment. Truth speaks to us from the core of our being in the present moment. It is both nonverbal as well as Archetypal. We put our own words to it, but those words are our words to convey Truth that wells up in us when needed. Words convey things, ideas, experiences, themes, solutions, feelings, states of mind, but are not what they convey, they are less than what they convey. God doesn’t need words and is not less than or separate from anything!
Absolute honesty is the path back to our Birthright, our Primal Awareness. Human beings seem to have a propensity for taking the easier path. We don’t want to do the hard work that Honesty requires. Instead we rely on rules and suppositions and explanations, doctrine, and the descriptions of others of an inner relationship with Truth, with Life, with God. Those descriptions do often have value, but in relying on them exclusively in each situation, we are not trusting ourselves, and we put this precious Gift in jeopardy, giving that Power to others, allowing their descriptions of Truth to over-ride our own. It’s not enough that our Primal Awareness has been diluted countless times over the years through injuries by others who have had their Awareness injured, or diluted, but then, we continue on in their footsteps, and do it to ourselves! We do this unconsciously. Even in the process of recovering access to this precious Gift we often find ourselves replacing this Birthright with something less.
Keeping in touch with this birthright in a group is particularly difficult. From birth we have given up what we know and what we see and what we feel in order to fit in. Our relationships are important to us. When we were little, that was a matter of life or death. To lose the love of a parent or parents, or of the whole family could have meant that we would perish. We knew this Instinctively. To lose the love and acceptance of parents or family would mean that we would be trapped with others who didn’t care about us. Children see this kind of situation as both life-threatening and never ending. To be totally ourselves despite a situation like this is beyond the capabilities of a child. What is most important in us becomes Unconscious. We then carry this learned behavior into our adult lives, so that belonging is often more important than Being Ourselves! And of course, we are not aware of this propensity. This Unconsciousness is particularly active and powerful in all or almost all groups.
A group will have its own story or description of Life, or the part of Life that it is associated with. When we act from our core in a group we are often at odds with this story that everyone who belongs must accept in order to belong. Group stories are often about separation from others who believe differently, and about a focus on “otherness”. Protection of the group becomes more important than the protection of Individuality. Groups gives a sense of safety in numbers, but are often about fear of others even if that is unconscious rather than acknowledged. The injuries of individuals in a group, then act unconsciously to protect the group, and the group story, whatever that may be.
I was born into a particularly fearful family. My mother was the main conduit of that fear and much violence. Later, however it was others outside the family. I was molested by a man who did “volunteer work” with underprivileged youths in our area at 13, and by the parish priest at 14, a scout leader at 15. I have carried those injuries ever since. This year I am 60 years old. I believe that not only do we carry our injuries with us, injuries that need resolution, stories that need to be told fully, but Life moves to heal those injuries at the appropriate times in the appropriate way. Healing is just as personal, as our relationship to Truth, to Life, to God. We cannot fit our healing, we cannot fit our story, into the words, or views, or rules, or stories of others. That healing, that relationship is deeply personal. It doesn’t fit inside Anything else.
I live in The Deep South. Lots of injury. Lots of Unconsciousness. Lots of mistrust. Lots of churches. Much of the work I do is for churches and ministers. My best friend is a minister. Recently I was doing some contract work for a church, and found myself having to constantly set and reset boundaries, explain, then re-explain what I needed to do the job. I really needed the money that was coming from the job, at least that’s what I told myself. Their behavior in terms of providing what was their responsibility to provide, was very out of control. They wanted more and more and more, regardless of the contract, and regardless of what should have been their own later responsibilities. I asked for digital, they’d give me paper. I’d ask for original, uniform, digital pictures, I’d get cropped, cut up, paper copies. They’d call and call and call. They started forwarding email suggestions from 20 different people in their congregation – all with different ideas about what should be despite the contract. I felt like I was being pecked to death by chickens! In me, uneasiness turned to fear, then panic. I knew my reaction was about my past, about being hurt by the priest, although I didn’t know what, specifically, I was recalling. To date, my memories of that particular injury are very dim. All I knew was that the world didn’t feel safe to me anymore. Other people were acting crazy and out of control, and I felt trapped and vulnerable to their craziness.
Then I had a dream. In the dream, the priest who hurt me was a shadow, but I knew it was him. He was reaching for his gun to come after me with it. I told my best friend about this, and having been trained as a minister, he suggested praying for the priest, that perhaps I had not forgiven him. I replied that I was not angry anymore (even if I was, that energy of anger is often the fuel to tell or to say No!). I did not feel animosity, only fear, panic in fact . He suggested that sometimes things are hidden from us. I know that only I hide things from myself. He suggested perhaps there was something underneath that fear. I knew that at least in me there is no other feeling underneath the fear, it is a primal emotion, and panic is about fear for one’s life. I trusted my friend enough to push back with what I believe from my own experience, and I told him I would “take it to God”, withdrawing from our “back and forth”. I also left “room” for what I might not be aware of. I felt strong having stood up with my own Truth.
The next day, I remembered that the priest that hurt me did in fact have a gun. I had known that all along, but did not have access to that. He showed me that gun, in a black holster, the same color as his clothing. Showing me that gun, was his subtle way of warning me that if I told, he’d come after me. That was the story about my past, that Life sought to show me, once I got past other people’s stories, and created both time and space to receive my own. © 2012 Ken Scully All Rights Reserved
The demand for absolute obedience from a child is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Parents often look at children as if they were just “little adults”. They also treat them as if they were all the same, and expect adult reactions from them. But like every color in the rainbow, every child is different, one from another. One child is as calm as a lake on a still, sunny day; another is caught in a storm of frenetic activity. One child listens intently; another cannot because their own internal soundscape is too loud. One child is accepting, never questioning what they are told; another is curious and questioning by nature, and must know for themselves. One child is patient and focused; another impatient and scatter-brained. One child is comical and friendly; another is serious and withdrawn. One child is blindly obedient, so eager to please; another senses injustice and powerlessness, and are confused by thoughtless demands, or enraged by angry, dishonest ones. Some children are sensitive; others are not, but the most sensitive among children, are the ones who float on the stormy seas of their parents emotions. Those children will have a very difficult time, indeed.
Too often parents make their children into servants. That’s different than teaching responsibility. There needs to be flexibility, when we are dealing with children. Parents do this because “That’s what parents are supposed to do!” Gradually, these “jobs” will “belong” to the children, even when it makes more sense, one time or another, for the parent to take care of that particular “job”. Parents often “bark” orders, reminding the child of past “indiscretions”, threatening punishment instead of pleasantly and calmly reminding a child of their “duties”. That sets the child up to fail, and “raises the stakes” in a very disfunctional parental game. A parent sitting next to the front door shouldn’t be demanding that a child on the other side of the room open the door every time, when they themselves are closer. Most children are not stupid, and will see the injustice in that. They will see the inflexibility. Parents who make their children into obedient servants, do this for one reason, and one reason only – because their own parents did that to them. They will tell you otherwise, of course.
“But they have to learn how to obey”, is the usual mindlessly repeated retort by protesting parents. This response usually comes from a place of frustration at the least, anger in most cases, exasperation and rage in other cases. If you feel rage because of your child’s disobedience, and especially if you do not give that child adequate time to respond to your often angry or threatening requests, your rage is not about the child, although you do not know that. You are allowing your own past to interfere with your, and your child’s present. Rage is only a proper response to gigantic loss or betrayal. It’s not a response to a child’s disobedience, unless you want them to be injured in the same way you were. Most of us carry our own childhood injuries so deeply inside ourselves, that often we are not aware of the extent of the damage done to us. Those injuries are not silent, however. Often they are expressed in an unyielding, inflexible, enraged attitued directed at our own children, when that rage should have been directed at our own parents long ago. Some of us were never allowed to disagree, or God forbid, disobey our parents. There would have been Hell to pay! That Hell would have been our own parent’s rage, and its consequences, the same rage, we may be directing at our children! This rage is a jealous rage, because it seeks to destroy in others, what was destroyed in ourselves. Like a wolf in waiting, neither parent nor child will ever know when it will attack. Children are led to right action through a calm, patient demeanor.
A parent doesn’t have to beat the “bejesus” (curious expression!) out of a child to do damage. When a parent is feeling this rage, and their child is experiencing their parent’s inflexible, impatient demands, one child may suddenly feel drained of energy, feel frightened and confused. Another may feel an awful feeling in the pit of their stomach, from the fear of being trapped in an out of control situation, with an out of control adult. (Their awareness is still undamaged, and they see the situation for what it is.) Some children respond “like a deer in the headlights”. One child may blame themselves for the parent’s rage, asking themselves, “Why am I so stupid. Why am I so bad. Why can’t I control myself”. (That child doubts their own awareness, no longer feeling what they truly feel, nor seeing what they truly see. They take on the false story that the parent is telling themselves.) The strongest child may feel rage at the injustice, the dishonesty, the lack of love in the parent’s actions and mood. Woe to that child! It will be “proof” to this disfunctional parent that the child “deserves” this treatment. They believe the child is challenging their authority, when in essence the child is challenging the dishonest story being presented to them. It will then become their quest to convince this sensitive, intelligent child, that what they are aware of is not true, that they, indeed are “the problem”! Awareness is eventually destroyed, perhaps losing an Einstein, a Mozart, or a Michaelangelo in the process! The child’s belief that no matter what, they will be OK is destroyed as well. They may carry these tremendous losses for the rest of their lives.
When I see the absolutely honest expression of anger, fear, determination, and sadness on a child’s face after one of these confrontations with a parent who is out of control, I pray the child can hold on for just a little longer. They still know what is true at that point, and still trust themselves. Their awareness is not yet fully damaged. Eventually, without some sort of intervention, the wolf will get the lamb. The parent’s injury then becomes the child’s, and the child’s birthright of an undamaged awareness is stolen from them.
If you are a parent or child like I describe, I hope and pray that you and they will not carry these injuries for a long time. Although healing anytime is a wonderful blessing, healing at say, fifty, sixty, or even later in life, brings with it, the knowledge, that an integral part of yourself, a powerfully creative, sensitive, empathic part of yourself, has been missing for most of your life. We need the “be jesus” in us.
© 2011 Ken Scully and Lowcountry Survivors All Rights Reserved
Cicadas chirped. Birds and butterflies fluttered. Gravel crunched under his Buster Browns. He smelled the perfume sweet honeysuckle smell in the air, and the fresh cut grass of his neighbor’s lawn too. His Spirit sang the happy Song of Being, as the sun shone down on him from an immaculately blue sky, dotted with small fluffy cotton candy-like Cumulus clouds. He was made of Love and smiles, and an equal measure of contentment, excitement, unrestrained giggles and delight. Nothing had shattered his makeup yet. Oh, there was a tentativeness, and uncertainty that wasn’t in him previously, and there had been cuts and bruises, colds and stomach upsets, times of mild admonishment, and other small losses. Of course, to him, every small loss at the time seemed gigantic and forever, and he would cry with all his heart.. But when they were over, though, they were not revisited. He had not learned to do otherwise.
His mother was in the house, doing whatever she always did in there, when she hurried him outside to play. He didn’t really know what she did in there during the day; he did know that she cooked and cleaned and did dishes in their little five room bungalow, but what else, he didn’t know. All he knew was that she didn’t play, because he had asked her to play with him any number of times until he learned not to ask. He learned very quickly, he was very smart.
He had a “well oiled” imagination, rich, vibrant, detailed, and nearly as real to him, as the world he really occupied. His imagination was a wonderful tool, because he spent long hours alone. When he was outside, both his body and his mind were there. When he was playing in his room, that’s where his mind and body were. When he decided to, he used his imagination. He used his imagination to go to places he couldn’t go to, and to do things he couldn’t do, and everything in his imagination made him happy. He had not yet learned to use it in any other manner. His imagination was probably the best toy he owned, although he didn’t even question having it, or using it. It was just a part of him like his arms and feet, and everything else.
He couldn’t tell you how he felt inside, how he felt about himself, and how he felt in the world. But if he could, he might describe feeling smooth and clean and fresh, happy, and a part of everything he saw, and experienced, especially the sunshine and the beautiful soft blue sky that wrapped around his head and body when he was outside. He would tell you that he just felt like himself, how could he feel any other way? He didn’t question his perceptions, his awareness, his feelings. He felt neither strong nor weak, neither good nor bad. This way of being, this way he experienced his world was completely natural to him, and he didn’t know it, but it was his birthright.
© 2011 Ken Scully and Lowcountry Survivors All Rights Reserved
When I read in The Dispatch, that October is National Domestic Violence Prevention Month, I wanted to write a column about Domestic Violence. When I write, I write from my heart, which means that I feel things intensely while I write. To do otherwise feels like a waste of time to me. So I approached my “task”, looking for my “entry point” into the issue. However, this time I felt stymied. I just felt sort of flat. What specifically should I write about? Then I read Margie Pizarro’s column in the October 16 issue of the Dispatch. I liked her column, she writes very honestly, and I like that. She mentioned the ancient adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.
I cringed inside myself, not from what Margie wrote, but from the misuse of that old adage that many adults use as an excuse for their own out of control behavior towards their children when they misbehave. In families that experience domestic violence, if there are children, they are affected more than anyone else in the family. If that violence is directed at a child and rationalized as “punishment”, it is still domestic violence, in fact worse than if directed towards a spouse.
Years ago I was taught two very important things about that Biblical quote. Both are good examples of what that adage truly means.
Long before the printing press, in early Jewish households, families that were well off enough, had religious scrolls, perhaps a copy of the ten commandments, in a holder above the entranceway to their home. The “rod” may have been a reference to this scroll in a tube above the doorway. In that instance, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” might have been an admonition to teach our children to follow the ten commandments. That makes a lot of sense!
Another explanation that was given to me had to do with a shepherd’s staff. A good shepherd uses his staff to block any escaping sheep, steering them in the right direction, to keep them safe, and close at hand. The sheep learn to follow his direction in time, trying to go off on their own less often. They learn to trust and anticipate him. He does not beat them with the rod out of his own frustration! That would be a bad shepherd!
What I have learned is, that many adults confuse the difference between discipline and punishment. The word “discipline” comes from the Latin root “disciplina” which means to teach, or to lead. To discipline a child, is to make them a disciple! A disciple is lead by example, and they want to be like the one they follow! Discipline is not punishment!
- The purpose of discipline is to correct and promote positive moral and ethical development.
The purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, to exact a “pay back” for wrongs.
- The focus of discipline is positive future behavior.
The focus of punishment is past misdeeds.
- The attitude and emotional makeup of the one doing the disciplining is Love.
The attitude and emotional makeup of the punisher is Anger, or worse, perhaps rage.
- The reaction of the one being disciplined will be security and trust, and a desire to emulate.
The reaction of one being punished will be fear, guilt, hostility, or worse, perhaps terror, shame, and rage.
As you can see, both parent and child fare better in discipline than in punishment. Discipline cannot be commandeered by an out of control parent in order to vent their rage and frustration on their own, powerless children.Â Punishment can. When it is, we make both more victims, and more perpetrators for a world that already has too many of both.
I want to tell you a little about what I know about letting go. When I first heard about this process, (and for me, it does seem to be a process), I was terrified by what I was told. In retrospect, I see that fear was not really warranted, but certainly understandable. I was told about this process, first in a 12 Step Group, flavored with its particular philosophy and agenda, later by various individuals who saw letting go through the lens of religion, native American teachings, new age teachings, probably even other ways that I don’t now recall. Certain ways of seeing this process were less scary to me than others, but all of them attempted to describe something that is very real and natural. I will attempt to tell you about letting go, without those prejudices, or diminishments, as much as I can.
This morning I went for my morning walk. My morning walks are exercises in letting go, in relaxing into the NOW, into forgetting for a few brief moments, all the ways I can see myself; you might say that I’m taking off all the different “hats” I wear at various times. I followed our dirt road out into a very open area. On the way, different things would catch my attention – a squirrel here, a bird there, each vegetable area in my garden, a brief glimpse of blue sky and puffy cloud through the trees, the texture of the gravel under my feet, wild grapes hanging from the live oaks, each holding my attention for a moment each time, while I was still aware of the totality of this setting through which I walked. I walked as slow as a little kid who had much shorter, weaker legs than I have. I didn’t force that, it just came natural. I quit thinking about all that was going on in my life, pulling my attention back gradually to just take in my surroundings. Gradually I settled into the NOW.
I arrived at the field, where I usually “say” my morning prayers. Displayed before me was a beautiful Robin’s egg blue sky, clean pure white puffy Cumulus clouds, that entirely wrapped the scene before me in every direction above. Below that was a still well defined layer of fog, thick, textured, grey, and soft looking. Below that I could see a denser landscape – an uncut summer hay field, horses staring back at me from a farm on the far side of the field, far off farmhouses, barns, fences, the entire landscape wrapped in tree lines of live oak. Depending upon where my attention was, I could say that it was overcast, foggy, or clear with a few puffy clouds. Each would be correct, but only a part of the reality that was true. I experienced the whole scene without prejudice or dissection, just taking it in, seeing the beauty, feeling myself within that landscape, and experiencing a wonder that I cannot quite put into words . For me, all that is part of the experience of letting go and entering the NOW. Along with my sense of wonder, was the knowledge, that the landscape before me represented the Truth about this Life we live.
One might say, “That’s beautiful! It feels like what you say is true, but how could I live my life that way? I have responsibilities! I have a job, and a mortgage, and bills! People will think I’m a loon! I can’t do that! I’m too screwed up! I don’t have time! People depend on me! I wish I could do that, but I can’t!”
I have said all those things, and asked all those questions, and felt all those fears. I was looking at a final destination, rather than a journey. I saw it as something I had to do; something that I couldn’t do, rather than a process I was entering. In truth, “not letting go”, is what we have done to ourselves throughout this Life; that is where “the doing” is. “Letting go” is not about “doing”, although within the process, we may have lots to do. It is more about accepting, awareness, absolute honesty (even about the layers of deception within ourselves that we and others put there), a process of grief for our losses (even the loss of how we have been seeing ourselves), and contact with others going through the same process.
I spent many years in group therapy. I was looking for answers, looking for resolution, looking for a way to be “okay”. I changed and healed more in that group, than I had in all my previous years of “one on one talk therapy”, or all the years of my own effort. The two leaders set boundaries to help us feel safe, but they controlled nothing. That environment helped some of us to practice “letting go”. “Letting go” was necessary to get to our injuries in ways that were experiential rather than just intellectual. Miraculous things seemed to happen on a regular basis. By “letting go”, I was able to find a lot of resolution for my many injuries. Others doing the same, helped me to let go. My “letting go” helped others. Our injuries as well as our indiscretions scream at us for attention, for resolution. They grab and hold our awareness, and pull it from the NOW. In my case, my “Caretaker” role (one of the many hats I wore), and my role as “The Black Sheep” in my family of origin, enshrouded my True Self. Attending to those needs and dishonesties that were vowing for my attention, has allowed me to have a quieter internal environment. It’s easier to let go now, after that practice. I attempt to continue to do what I learned in my group. In a nutshell, I relax enough to let go of my need to understand, and follow my spirit.
I remember during my “crazy days”, where I was most out of control, my friends and I would smoke pot, and listen to an improvisational comedy group called “Firesign Theater”. We’d laugh like loons at their silly antics, and crazy sayings. I’m sure most of us remember some of those episodes. One saying that stuck in my mind, in an odd way was “Everything you know is wrong.” Everything in our culture or society, praises “not letting go”. We are expected by family and friends to “not let go”. We praise control, and see “letting go” as giving up. They are not the same. Jesus said that we must lose our lives to gain them. There is wisdom in those words, because the lives we have built, are based on “perceptions” that are not true. Those “perceptions” are not perceptions at all, but constructs that have been taught to us. They interfere with true perception, true awareness! “Everything you know is wrong.”
You might say, “how can I do this “letting go thing”, when I am married? My wife and I fight, and I don’t want to give up my marriage!” I only have answers within my experience, which work for me. I’m sure you will find those answers that work best for you. However, let me tell you a story. Sometimes my wife and I have difficulties. We get lost in stuff that just isn’t true, despite our best efforts to remain honest and caring, and non-blaming. Relationships are difficult. We have had many ups and downs. During the “down” times, I’m sure we have each wondered if it is worth it, and have despaired. During the “up” times I’m sure we both don’t question whether it is worth it at all. We both were abused terribly when we were young, so we have had significant issues, to say the least. Recently, each time I have experienced one of those “down” times, I have felt some pretty intense feelings of despair, despite a part of me knowing that my experience of despair would pass. I strove to see what we were doing, what each of our reactions was, what was really true, to the best of my ability to know, noticing anything petty or untrue within me about our difficulty. I also saw I had NO ANSWERS, other than my understanding of our interactions. I did not know how to fix what was wrong. I can change what I do, but not others. Many options lay before me, but which one was the “correct” one? So I prayed to choose the “right” way of handling the situation. To my surprise I received no answer. Or so I thought. Each time, I sat with my wife, relaxed, knew I had NO ANSWERS AND WOULD HAVE TO JUST WAIT AND SEE HOW IT ALL CAME OUT (perhaps it wouldn’t come out the way I might choose, and I had to be willing to allow that!). I’d keep my attention on her, not on solutions, or my fears of finding none. My mind would be a blank, until the words were there. The most honest words. The most honest feelings. The most honest unpolluted awareness of us and our situation, because it was all there in the NOW. It all was just there. I don’t think I can find any words to really describe it. It has “happened” many times. It has developed over time from all the little things that I have done along the way, and also, because of all the things that have happened to me along the way as well.
I told a friend recently, that during the “hard times” we let go more, and during the “easy” times, we let go less. Those of us that choose this path of “letting go” may recognize the truth of that. I have noticed in me, that I do that, but I also notice that there are far more areas in my life that I do not control anymore, and am allowing more areas of my life that are like that. I also see that sometimes we will suffer, when we DON’T let go. Suffering is optional.
He sat leaning against the telephone pole, stroking his dog Happy, while he sobbed. It was a late March afternoon, grey sky, the grass not quite green, the ground still cool and damp on his bottom. His most prized possession, a small blue plastic 9 volt transistor radio, lay discarded beside him. He had been holding it near the grounding cable of the pole, attempting to hear stations usually too faint to hear at all without the added antenna boost of the cable. It was his connection to the outside world. Maybe he hoped to find solutions in those faint, static filled AM stations. Maybe he hoped that magically he could be transported, somehow, to where those faint stations were. Anywhere would be better than where he lived, and the people he lived with. He stroked Happy as he cried; telling his best friend how no one loved him. It wasn’t the kind of crying we might do later as young teenagers. It certainly wasn’t the kind of weak ineffective stifled crying we might give in to as adults, (if we ever do at all). It also wasn’t the childishly dishonest crying declaration that a young child might make when they feel slighted, because his observation about his family was firmly grounded in the truth.
Some folks are not capable of Love, or honesty. Love must contain empathy. They might say they love, but love is never real unless demonstrated consistently. Love confessed must never be polluted by demonstrations that undo that “love”, like cruelty, contempt, dishonesty, narcissism, or violence, (all of which he had experienced during his short 10 years of life).
He felt he could not go on, the despair he carried far too large for a little boy. His chest heaved uncontrollably. His heart and throat burned, as he cried, spasms rising from his belly, into his chest, forcing his cry from his throat, while tears flowed freely down the side of his face. There was no terror now, although it had been his companion earlier. Now, despair and sadness so large that they threatened his tender nature was what his heaving chest and tears confided to the soft heart of his four legged friend, and attempted to expel. His friend and protector never flinched, or turned away, accepting the sobs and tears, all part of the many emotional storms lately. Happy accepted unconditionally, because that was his nature, and in this instance, his purpose. He nudged closer, kissing his charge on the side of the face with his large wet tongue. Then the little boy let loose even greater sobs, unloading the rest of the poison that had just been put into him.
I am not always like this, of course. However, in the course of my life, I continue to cycle in and out of my issues to gain mastery over them.
I try so hard to be good. I try so hard, that sometimes, it consumes me. I allow myself no wiggle room, no permission to just be human. Sometimes, I try to anticipate my wife’s bad moods, watching what I say and do, and how I say and do. Maybe I do her thinking for her, so that she doesn’t have those moods, or I might help her do her thinking to get her out of those moods. Sometimes if someone is angry, or going to be angry at me, I do everything in my power to keep that from happening. I am rewarded for this, by others seeing me as “strong” or “together”. I am smart. I am kind. I am respectful. I am attentive. I am empathic, and I am dead tired. Sometimes I am so busy doing all this, and being responsible for everyone else, and everything else, that there is no room for me, inside me. I know why I do this.
In 1955, when I was 4 ½ years old or so, I followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of neighborhood kids down Circle Drive, in our little town of Trooper. We ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand. After an hour or so, when they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up. Now, a 4 ½ year old kid takes something like that seriously! Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. I was terrified! I thought I was going to die there, all alone, that no one would ever find me. I distinctly remember that being my fear.
Eventually, my mother came looking for me, and “beat the crap” out of me as soon as she found me. I could make a hundred excuses for her – she was scared because she hadn’t known where I was, or she was scared that she could be in trouble, or be seen as a bad mother, or any number of other excuses. But the fact remains that at that moment she remained focused on herself, and had no empathy for a 4 year old child’s distress! She put responsibility on me, not herself! She should never have allowed me to be in that situation. Her responsibility was to keep an eye on me, not allow me to wander off with older children for hours at a time! That was her responsibility! This is the earliest memory I have of her beating me. There would be hundreds, if not thousands of more times that her beatings would occur, their force, her rage, my fear, her contempt, and her lack of taking responsibility growing each time.
At 4 years old, I was a needy, gentle, naive, deeply feeling, intuitive, impulsive child “ just the way I was meant to be. I looked to others for their definition of me. Let me say that again: I looked to others for their definition of me. I looked to others for their definition of me, their acknowledgement, love, attention, and reasoning. I looked to others to show me how to fit in, how to express my thoughts and my feelings, to learn what was right and what was wrong. I trusted that what my mother told me was true, and that how she acted was right. There was no argument about that in my little 4 year old mind. I would have to try harder to be good.
My mother’s violence towards me, taught me that I was worthless and defective. Her demeaning words of contempt would eventually solidify my view of myself.
A child has no grasp on their own impulsiveness. They are a cauldron of churning, boiling feelings. Their impulses are fueled by those feelings. How ferociously this cauldron boils is dependent upon their experiences. When they are met constantly with craziness and terror; when their caregivers are dishonest, violent, and impulsive themselves, the “cauldron” often boils over. They are seen as “bad”, defective, or worse, by adults who themselves do not understand either their own or a child’s impulsiveness. They do not understand that children operate by impulse, those impulses fueled by feelings that the children have because of how they are treated and seen by these very adults! How is a child to untangle themselves from such a “catch 22″ situation? They cannot. Often they never will, even as they get older. They mature in years, seeing themselves as these adults have seen them, never understanding the nature of their impulsiveness, seeing themselves as “bad”, defective or worse. Escalation is an integral part of this mechanism. As the adults continue to see these children acting on their impulses, their misguided view of the children is solidified. Their reactions and judgment continue in themselves, and reactions in their children continue to escalate. Often other more favored children are brought into this drama, seeing their brother or sister as the parent sees them. The child singled out for this drama, is completely alone, “knows” that they are different from everyone else, because they see every member of their family treating them that way. Isolated from those who see the child this way, the child is left to their own devices in dealing with the violence and craziness, and more importantly, the feelings they are left with because of it.
All through my childhood, I could never seem to do anything right. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe what I felt growing up with this. I remember feeling listlessness, loneliness, and a tightness in my chest, that seemed to contain something unknown and hungry, something that needed to be filled or satisfied, but never could be. Rather than soft, gentle, warm, fuzzy, happy, content hopeful feelings, I had internalized the TERROR and DESPAIR of being raised by someone who more often than not was out of control. I never knew what to expect from my mother. Sometimes she was childlike and “nice”, while other times, she was like a wild animal, ready to devour me if I said or did the “wrong” thing. It would have been less crazy, if she had been wild all the time.
Over time, I learned to read her moods, in order to avoid her during her worst times, but my own impulsiveness set me up to do things that got me in trouble anyhow. My language skills grew as I tried to talk myself out of trouble. Nothing I said (or did) made any difference with her. I found better more precise ways of saying things so I wouldn’t be in trouble, all to no avail. I tried so hard to be “good”, but my own impulsiveness would get me in trouble. No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. I was never good enough. Nothing I did or said was good enough for her, or later, for me! If only I could just get it right! But always the axe would fall, and I would find myself dealing with an enraged, out of control woman, ready to hurt me. The fact that she could so easily rationalize her own behavior, made her exceedingly dangerous. At any time, she might have killed me. Over and over and over, I was terrified of her, and terrified that she would kill me. Unless you experienced this, you cannot know what it is like. But I am asking you to try.
As a society, we have grown enough to recognize that it is wrong for an enraged husband to beat his wife. “Just a little hitting” is not OK. We even understand the mechanisms in him that allow him to do this. We understand how his abuse affects her. We understand that he is teaching her that he “owns” her, that she is powerless, in fact even defective and worthless! A mother who beats her children because of her own out of control rage teaches these same terrible lessons to her children. She fills their hearts with terror, rather than love, despair rather than hope, worthlessness, rather than integrity and value.
As a society, we must stop making excuses for parents who beat their children. I am tired of all the excuses. The Law looks for marks on the outside, but we must learn to see the marks it causes on the inside! We must stop automatically defending the right of a parent to beat their children by calling it child rearing, or shifting responsibility to the child by seeing them as “difficult” and the parents as blameless. “Just a little hitting” is not OK!
As a society, when we have grown enough to value our children enough to truly protect them, then perhaps, we can turn our attention toward helping so many others, child and adult alike, who have already been injured. That is the one right place to “try so hard”!
Everyday, I hear something on the news that “makes me” mad. Notice the quotation marks around “makes me”. That phrase is in quotes, because it’s something we say in polite conversation, but it’s something that’s totally untrue. Nothing can “make us” feel anything. If something happens to us, one time we might be sad, while another time we might feel angry, depending on what is already going on with us at the time. Our reactions are our own responsibility. We are making decisions to react or not react inside ourselves all the time, even though we may not notice that subtle subconscious landscape. A more honest way of saying the same thing would be: “I feel angry when I hear some things on the news”. That way I “own” my own anger, I am responsible for it, not the news. I use this as an example of how pervasive and un-noticed our dishonesty is. Let me start over –
I often feel angry when I hear dishonest things on the news. I feel angry, when people are being dishonest with me. When people are being dishonest, they are usually attempting to manipulate others, and that is what I get angry about. Manipulation is an attempt to force someone to think, feel, or do something, and I don’t like being forced! They may not even know they are doing it! Folks have a terrible time with honesty. They also have a terrible time avoiding the impulse to manipulate others. Worse than either of those two is the fact that folks often have trouble noticing dishonesty and manipulation. When I watch the news, I see people in power trying to manipulate us, and they succeed handily! Government officials, political pundits, various authorities in religion, education, business, foreign affairs, and economics all push their particular views – or more correctly stated, the views of their organizations. They use faulty logic, lies of omission, and various other techniques, and quote others using the same tactics!
The news is a maelstrom of dishonesty. On every side of every issue, people attempt to manipulate how we think and feel about that issue. Whether the War in Iraq, Global Warming, or the latest mistake made by some politician, people on both sides of every issue tug at our minds and heart-strings in order to get us to “see it their way”. Most of us can sometimes see the manipulation that goes on by “the other side”, but do we see the manipulation that goes on in “our own side” as well.
Advertisers know how easy it is to manipulate us. The more one has been manipulated, the easier it is to be manipulated! Governments know this principle, and use it. Those in power within those governments attempt to make us see things with their particular slant. It allows them to consolidate power, and to do what they want, whether their motives are good or evil. It is a terrible danger to us as a society.
Why are we so easily manipulated? Why do we have such an awful time with honesty? It is because of this rule: The more one has been manipulated, the easier it is to be manipulated! Most us of were introduced to manipulation and dishonesty when we were children! I don’t mean to imply that all parents are “bad”, that all families are “bad”. Many parents are unaware, sometimes, of what they feel, think, or sometimes why they do what they do. What I am trying to say, is that to a certain degree, deep, penetrating, internal self honesty has been lacking in most of our families to one degree or another, and it causes us to become accustomed to manipulation and dishonesty long before we are “out in the world” ready to be influenced by the forces there. We all are still operating in the “trance” that was created in our families. We only see what this “trance” allows us to see, and we react in predictable ways, based on the tenets of our family trance.
For quite a while, many family therapists have been aware of this. In Transactional Analysis, also, therapists have been aware of this dynamic, as well as those therapists who treat addictive disease. We have all heard of the term “denial”, and have heard about how dishonest and manipulative active alcoholics and other addicts can be. Perhaps we have heard that addiction is a “family” disease, that all members are affected. The forces that bind members in a good way can also be forces that bind them in ways that are not so good.
There is a teaching tool that has been used to describe the processes that bind us in families and similar groups, and keep us in a state of denial (keep us dishonest, or unable to recognize dishonesty and manipulation). This teaching tool is called “The Drama Triangle”. The powerful processes of “The Drama Triangle” train us to be victims. I won’t get into The Drama Triangle’s dynamics here in this article, but if you are interested, do a search for it online.
In all families, children fall into roles that provide stability or credibility to the family, and that role then overshadows their “True Selves” (who God wants them to become). A good example of this is when an older brother or sister becomes the pseudo parent of their younger sibling because of some lack in that family. They can become more responsible than a child should be, and lose touch with their own true child needs and desires, because the role that they have to play in the family becomes foremost in how they see themselves, and how they “act”. Now, for the family, and perhaps sometimes for the little sibling, this can be a good thing, but for the one who takes on the role, they become actors in their own lives, completely unaware of that happening to them. They become super responsible, always striving, but completely unaware of their true feelings and intuitions. Granted, it is a good thing to be responsible, but it is a very bad thing for them to be forced unconsciously into that responsibility, because they lose touch with their own innermost feelings, intuitions, and desires, their “True Selves” . Living out the scripted responses of a family role in this unconscious way, is dishonest living, even though the child never chose to be this way. Another good example is the “black sheep” of the family. No matter what that child does, parents and siblings see him or her as defective: stupid, bad, dirty, disgusting, irresponsible, etc. The more they are seen that way, the more they act and see themselves that way, and the more the family continues to see them that way. But it is all a lie, a scripted role created for them by the family! They go on to continue to act out that role in adult life.
I was the “black sheep” in my family. The remaining members of that family still see me that way. So be it. That is a betrayal. I am sad, and I am angry about that. The forces of their drama still control them, and even though they describe me in all sorts of negative, contemptuous ways, I see me differently! Those who truly love me, see me the way I truly am! Although sometimes, I have very strong feelings about the poor treatment I received as a child, and how I am seen by estranged family members now, I am blessed. I am blessed not because of the abuse that I suffered as a child – that was most definitely not God’s Will for that to happen to me or any other child, but because He provided everything I needed in order to start unraveling the extraordinary dishonesty that was put inside me, and has allowed me to see how these fascinating and powerful forces work. I have spent many years of my adult life (in my 30’s and 40’s) in therapy, with some of the most genuine, loving, intuitive folks, who have been able to give me what my parents could not, and I will be forever grateful to them, and to God for that! For a period of 15 years I read everything I could get my hands on, in order to find my way out of the prison that was created for me. You would be surprised to find out how common that is, for abuse survivors to become experts in the forces that formerly bound them!
I speak from experience rather than authority. These forces that are in all our families to a small degree in some, an enormous degree in others, are what cause us to be so easily misled by those who want to manipulate us. When we live in a sea of dishonesty, dishonesty doesn’t catch our eye!
So what do we do about this? How can we undo this tendency in us that allows us to be manipulated into believing what is not true, buying what we don’t need, supporting those who would hurt us or others by their policies? We have to rigorously cultivate deep, penetrating, internal self-honesty. We must learn to question everything, to not take anything for granted. Just because we have “always” believed something, doesn’t make it true. Most of what is in us was put there by others. Much of what we find will be untrue. This is an extraordinarily uncomfortable process, and most people are unwilling to even attempt it. We are not very patient, and find anything that takes a long time difficult. Also, we have been taught to protect our deepest beliefs, but if they are true, they need no protecting! When who we are, what we feel, what we do, and what we believe is truly and authentically our own, what is inside us needs no protection. There is no uncertainty, except that which is supposed to be in us – we are not omniscient! We do not know everything, and never will. We are human, and will always have some vulnerability, but we were not made to be manipulated by others. We need community, but need to be uniquely and authentically ourselves inside any community. We need to be aware of any community that promotes the value of community over the value of the individual – both are equally valuable. Any group or community that sacrifices the needs of the individual for the needs of the group cultivates the same forces that have created these injuries, or vulnerabilities in us.
Those of us who are believers (in God) may be frightened that our relationship with God might be affected. I started out my journey, by trusting God to lead me on this journey, and quite frankly, I never expected that journey to take me where it has. If anything, my trust in God has grown exponentially during this journey. I started out having trouble trusting anyone. Now I trust both myself and God more than I thought I ever would.
Finally, like many things we seek to develop inside ourselves here on this Earth, this journey is a journey without a final destination, and on this journey our constant companion (along with God) must be vigilance. We must constantly watch what we say, and think, to start rooting out anything that is less than honest. As we do this, not only do we find much that is untrue, but we will start to notice how much of what we hear out in the world that is untrue as well!
“God-damn-it! So help me Christ, I swear there’s something wrong with you, you rotten son-of-a-bitch”, she screamed. I see her in my mind’s eye, above me, always above me, glaring at me, red-faced, her mouth full of teeth, sharp and somewhat yellow-stained, ready to throw more bony fisted punches if I dared to challenge her omnipotence. She said things like that to me in a voice tinged with hysterical rage. Actually, not tinged, (if the truth be known), but filled with rage, overflowing with rage.
I never knew how far she would go, how much she wanted to hurt me, how much she would allow herself to inflict on me, or how long she would continue. Her rage became my terror.
Her “disgust” of me was convincing, I know she believed her own lies. Unfortunately, my sisters and I learned to believe them too.
I wonder why she started on this crusade to convince not just me, but the whole family, that I was dirty, defective, broken, lazy, bad, stupid, and maybe even crazy. She started when I was 4 or 5. I was a child, and children do “bad” things, especially when they are getting the crap scared out of them by an out of control adult like my mother. I think she needed me to be “wrong”, so she could be “right”. I had to be scared, so she could feel powerful. I had to be “bad” so she could feel “good”. She must’ve done that to me 10,000 times if she did it once. Back in her childhood, she had felt a lack of power, and she was bound and determined as an adult to feel that power that she had missed.
My sisters believe that my mother loved them (and me). They believe that I should believe that too. They tell me that I should focus on the “good times”, and all the “good” things my mother said. I don’t remember her telling me too many “good” things!
I can imagine that after just one terrifying episode with my mother, I was probably immune to the next 100 compliments (if they would have been available.) That’s not a defect in me, that’s just a fact of life!
I learned to not trust adults because she, quite frankly, was untrustworthy. There has to be trust for a compliment to do its job. A compliment is like food for our emotional system. As children we need many each day for us to feel OK, competent, strong, loving, and calm.
Looking back, I believe often she hated me, and barely tolerated me other times. For some reason, she saw all the bad things in herself, when she looked at me. There was no reason for her to do that, other than the fact that I was an innocent, intelligent, sensitive child, with all the self-centered needs that all children have. She taught me to see myself in the awful way she saw me from the start. I didn’t have a chance to see me any other way.
A mother who loves her children.
-is a mother who beats her children with her fists?
-is a mother who screams like a wild animal while she beats her children?
-is a mother who calls her children “rotten sons of bitches of bastards” while she beats them?
-is a mother who continuously tells her children that “there is something wrong with you”?
-is a mother who tells her children that she wishes they were never born?
-is a mother who continuously tells her children that they are “disgusting”?
-is a mother who tells her children “you make me sick to my stomach”?
-is a mother who beats her son with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe?
-is a mother who ties her children to a chair?
-is a mother who tells her 9 year old son that she’d kill him if she could get away with it?
-is a mother who unleashes her unbridled rage on her children, and blames them for it?
-is a mother who does all these things countless times, while pretending to be the victim?
Honesty demands that we say “No!”
Honesty demands that we acknowledge that a mother, who does all those things to her children, does not truly love her children, perhaps through injury, she cannot.
All those things are Not Love.
I believe one of the most important things in this Life, is learning about ourselves, and wondering what God wants for us. Who does He want us to become? How do we become more than we are?
I also believe that to move forward to become the person He wants us to be, sometimes we need to look back, to see where we have been injured, and to heal those injuries that keep us from becoming more. All of us have been injured, many have been injured gravely.
I believe, that to heal emotional injuries from childhood, we often need to revisit those injuries with others, revisit and share the sadness, or anger, or terror with others, and find some personal resolution within ourselves. For many of us who were gravely injured, this journey takes a lifetime.
I spent my childhood in a very rural area. We lived in a large farmhouse, built before the Revolutionary War. Behind the house were three maple trees, over a hundred years old, too large to climb, although those were the trees I always wanted to climb. They had trunks about 30 inches in diameter, deep ridged bark, the first branches more than 20 feet up. Close to these trees, and adjacent to Brownback Road, hidden in the underbrush, was “The Wine Cellar”. Obviously it was built when the first part of the house was built, but separate from the house, and forgotten for a large number of years, hidden away, waiting for discovery. Covering the outside of this tomb like structure (it reminds me of the story of the tomb that Jesus was in, where he rolled that huge boulder away from the entrance) was an almost impenetrable barrier of Osage Orange. Now Osage Orange, if you’re not familiar with it, is the most lethal thorn bush around. I don’t mean lethal, like it is poisonous or something, but lethal, like a sharp knife could be. Thorns two inches long, needle sharp, and woody strong. Folklore attributes this plant to Jesus’ crown of thorns. This “wine cellar”, that’s what we called it, although it was, in fact, a root cellar, was built with expertly placed stone, to form a Quonset or arch shaped underground room, made entirely of stone. Inside, hundred year old mustiness, the smell of dry leaves, which had found their way in over the years, left over spoiled apple smell, mold, and wet earth smell, like the garden, were prevalent. The stones, perfectly fitted, were kind of white, like quartz or limestone. I kept expecting to find stalactites, or stalagmites, but I never did of course. In the very back of the “Wine Cellar”, about 20 feet back, was a perfectly built stone wall, with a square opening 2ft by 2ft, halfway up the wall. When I was most courageous, I would jump and shinny up until I had my belly on the ledge of that opening, and I would peer down a deep stone lined well, which reminded me of pictures I had seen in fairy tale books. I could see the water at the bottom even though every time I got the courage to look in, I expected to find monsters.
I remember this one time, my father spent a weekend cutting the Osage Orange back, and burning what he cut. It grew right back, though, and he gave up, never trying to keep the entrance to the Wine Cellar clear again. He abandoned it. It didn’t matter that it represented the artisanship and way of life of the past. It didn’t matter that out of the whole property, the “Wine Cellar” had the most character of any structure. It didn’t matter that it was built to last forever. It didn’t matter that it had an aura of mystery and power. He abandoned it. I didn’t. I carry it, and what it represents to me, inside myself. I keep pruning those thorns back, and I’ll never stop like he did! I’ll keep pruning them back so I can keep going down in there, to see if I will find monsters or treasure in that well.
After years and years of “revisiting” my childhood, I am still surprised at how powerful my feelings are when I look back, and at how much I have changed, and at how many “confining” rules I have broken in order to change. I was 35 when I had my first “flashback” of the abuse I suffered as a child. Here I am, sitting in my own computer repair shop, almost 1500 miles from where I started my Journey of Healing, and I am almost 53 years old! My two sons are grown, and I have remarried. I have changed so much, and I yet, I have so much still to change!
One of my three earliest memories is of myself at 4 years old or so. My grandparents, who only visited a few times each year were visiting. I was told to go to bed. Of course I didn’t want to go to bed, and I remember crying, and asking for water, and pleading to stay up. Eventually, my mother beat me because I kept crying, and I remember feeling such a huge rage inside of me. I could not hit her back. I could not protect myself. I could not get what I wanted. I remember biting the sheet on my bed, and growling and screaming with my teeth clamped down on that sheet so they wouldn’t hear my defiant rage. And in my rage, I yanked that sheet, and accidentally pulled one of my own teeth out. When my mother came in and saw what I “had done”, she beat me some more, telling me there was something wrong with me, that no normal child pulls their own teeth out.
Well I have to tell you, that no normal mother beats her child like that, or tells her child that he’s not normal. I believe it was one of my last acts of defiance, with only a few exceptions surfacing until I was 40 years old or more. My defiance was beat right out of me, along with any incentive, creativity, or willpower. I became compliant, and all the “Life” went out of me.
The Hexter Brothers taught me to put a stone in the middle of a snowball. I was 4 or 5. I was so proud of my new talent, and having been shown a secret process in confidence, that I showed my mother the first chance I got. She beat me.
The other “earliest memory” was not too long after the tooth incident. Since we moved when I was 5, I suspect I was 4 1/2 or younger, living at that same house. I had followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of kids down the street, and we ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand that. When they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up or something. Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. Finally, my mother came looking for me, and beat me when she found me. She beat me to make me compliant, then beat me because I was compliant. How crazy is that? I also see how she set me up to fail even then. What parent leaves her 4 year old child outside and unattended? What parent would blame a 4 year old child for wandering off, instead of blaming herself for not watching the child?
When I look back, there are things other than pain. There is also irony. On one side of us lived the Hexters. On the other side were the Beulah’s. You could say we lived between Heaven and Hell, but from my perspective as that little 4 or 5 year old kid, I didn’t have to die to go to Hell, I was already there.
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.
Special Note: My memories of this abuse were triggered by seeing a Myna bird in a pet store, and having one of the most severe panic attacks I have ever experienced. Later, I was triggered when I stood up and set boundaries with someone who reminded me of this priest. When I realized that, I decided to do something more direct for the “kid” in me, and wrote this piece. I am still reverberating inside from writing this.
You do evil things.
I can tell by the way I shiver, and my teeth chatter.
You are cold.
Your actions come from a place with no warmth, a place of ice, not flames.
Hell is a cold place, not a place of flames.
I was taught that you were between God and me.
I could only get to God through you. You were the intermediary.
That’s not true.
But they were right about the first part – you were between God and me.
An obstacle, a chasm, created out of your own selfishness, and condoned by others who cannot or will not know the Truth!
You are the ultimate betrayer!
Inside a religion that made me feel defective, confused, and shameful,
You used the injuries it created, to create more for your own satisfaction!
You are a carnivore that plays with his victims before devouring them!
You are a keeper of secrets!
Secrets are your food.
In the confessional, people confide them to you.
You pretend to be God, and to dispense forgiveness!
Outside the confessional, you pretend to be God, taking what you want, creating more secrets.
How powerful you must be to live in such a shroud of secrecy!
Secrets are your food!
You are so cold, so frozen!
Above it all.
You did not care that what you did, and what you told me would create such a painful wound in me!
You did not care that what you did and what you told me would cause me lifelong problems!
You did not care that what you did and what you told me would cause me to live in despair for most of my life!
There is no justice, and you may not hear this, but I am going to tell you anyhow!
I will make my own justice!
Your power was in your shroud of secrecy, and in your title.
I am taking that away from you!
Your name is Henry S McNulty!
I leave the Reverend off, because you have desecrated that title!
I strip you of that!
You do not deserve it!
You molested me when I was an altar boy, and scared me so bad that I have trouble remembering all the ways you hurt me.
But unlike you, I feel all that is in me, including what you put there!
I will tell people your name, and the more I remember, the more I will tell them!
You had a Myna bird that you kept as a pet.
You taught it to talk, to say your name, and Jesus’ name.
It was as black and cold as you were.
You almost got away with what you did to me.
Your actions almost remained a secret in me.
But I am taking this opportunity to tell you that I remember, because of that bird of yours.
You know that expression “a little bird told me”?
Well in this case, your own bird did.
1998 Ken S.
Special note to readers:
* I wrote this piece quite a few years ago. Mostly, I have left it as I wrote it, with a few, very minor changes. I have grown in remarkable ways since I wrote this, and have found that the little boy in me needs to tell his (our) story less and less as time goes on. He has learned to trust me (the adult), and I have learned to take good care of him. I never would have believed, four years, ago, that I would be where I am today! Warning! This piece is very triggering! I encourage you to pick a safe time to read it, and would also encourage you to use your support network if your “buttons” get pushed. Thanks, and take care!
Break the Silence, Break the Cycle
* I listened to a news report about a neighborhood, in which a number of neighbors called police when they heard a mother screaming and cursing, and hitting her child. The police arrested the woman for assault. I started sobbing uncontrollably when I heard this report, and I realized I was crying both in relief for the child, as well as in overwhelming sadness because no one did that for me, when I was a little boy. I heard also, in the news, that one child every ten seconds is abused in our country. My God!
* I have also read of the growing movement in parts of our country, to reinstate corporal punishment for nonviolent juvenile offenders. I look at those sterile, detached words, “corporal punishment”, with a shudder, and I ache inside, when I think of the number of people in our country, who do not see corporal punishment as violence, or as a violation of a child’s most basic, God-given rights – to own one’s own body, and to expect others to acknowledge that ownership!
* Violence is a coward. It hides inside families that look “fine” from the outside, and causes both victim and perpetrator to hide from the outside world. In reality, both are victims of its clutches. Violence is a liar. It tells both victim and perpetrator, that its use is justified, until eventually, they both believe its cunning lies. Violence almost seems to have a life all its own, drawing others into its addictive and mesmerizing clutches. Violence uses the logic of insanity.
* The continuation of violence in our families can only happen if we keep its secrets, and protect those who wield it. Families heal, only when members speak out, and tell their Truth. Our greatest wounds become our greatest gifts, because in the telling of our wounding, others may be moved toward healing, and perhaps, still more may be moved back into recognizing violence when they see it. (Many have eyes that are blinded by tears that were never shed!). I believe violence is inherently evil. I believe there is a line we cross, when we accept violence in any form other than self preservation. I believe that when we cross this line, we move into a territory that is comprised of greater and greater dishonesty, and less and less compassion and empathy. I believe that violence breeds more violence, and that its use is addictive, and progressively uncontrollable. When violence has been used on us as children, we may not recognize some of its forms, as an adult. We cross a line, leaving the Truth behind, to live in a world of denial. Many of us have crossed this line. I grew up in a family that had. Neither of my parents ever crossed back. But I have crossed back over, by both the Grace of God, and by the enormous strength and courage, and resilience of one very special little boy. A special little boy, who wants you to know how wrong violence in any form is. I know that if you listen to his story without running from his feelings, you will cross back over that line too. Listen to him now. Listen with your Heart!
* My mother was all sharp edges: teeth, and nails, and tight muscles, and clenched fists. She had a rage that consumed her, and turned her into skin and bones. Her rage consumed us as well. First, it was just me, and then it was my sisters too; mostly, though, it was just me. She was quick to go off the handle. It seemed like forever until the first blow, and a year of forevers until the last. Every time, I thought would be the last; not because I thought she’d stop, but because I thought she’d kill me. I lived in that terror for years, until I forgot I was living in it!
* It started when I was four or five years old, and didn’t stop until I was fourteen or fifteen. Ten years of terror and despair. Ten years of loneliness and isolation that turned into forty without my knowing it.
* Other times she took me into her confidence, indoctrinating me into her way of seeing my father, men in general, and worst of all, myself. She had crossed the line, the first time that she hit me, and told herself that there was a good reason for it. At a point in my teens, I realized that she was crazy. That didn’t make it any easier.
* Giving in to violent urges always leads to greater and greater violence. It did with her. The most frightening thing about her beatings, aside from my certainty of being killed, was her shrill, out of control scream: a screeching carnivorous sound. She used her fists, where she had used her open hand. Ten or fifteen blows. I never counted, though, That would have been impossible.
* One thing that was worse than being beaten like that, was not stopping her from hurting my sisters. I have felt guilty for that all my life. First I felt like dirt because she beat me and convinced me that I deserved it; then I felt worse when she beat my sisters, and I stayed frozen in terror. We all believed her that we were no good and deserved this treatment. There were some things that we never did again, because we had been beat, but in this process, whatever was real, and authentic, and spiritual in us, was all but destroyed!
* I remember this one time when my sisters and I were washing and drying the dishes. We were fighting about something, (I used to hate it when we fought). All of a sudden, she came storming into the kitchen. She was screaming and cursing at the top of her lungs. We all backed away from the sink, ready for the first blows, not knowing who would get them. Instead, she grabbed a butcher knife, and came after me! There was no where to go! I thought about the back door, which was behind me, but I didn’t want to turn my back on her. I just stood and faced her, frozen, and ready to die. I knew that she hated me enough to use the knife, she certainly had told me enough times before. I wanted to cover every part of my body, but I only had two hands. She stood above me, teeth clenched, screaming and growling from the back of her throat, arm raised. Every part of her shook. I don’t know how long I held my breath; sometimes I’m still holding it, even now. All this happened in about thirty seconds. She spun around and took off after my sister Karen. Both my sisters started screaming; their screams still echo in my head when I think of it. Somehow my mother never used the knife, but it left a wound in me that is only now healing.
* I believe that the door to my heart was nailed shut, that day. It had been closed tightly from countless spankings, then beatings and other forms of violence, as my mother got worse. I couldn’t remember the terror of that moment until this year. It was too much. I’ll be forty three in July. Sometimes, now, even after eight years of recovery, I may still feel defective. No matter what I do, there are times when my heart is closed. Sometimes, I can lose the ability to feel close to others. Sometimes I lose the ability to trust anyone -even God. Sometimes I can still feel like an outsider, even when I am with trustworthy and accepting friends. I have no control over these things! I especially hate it when these feelings come back, because it feels like evil has won; because the things that I’m feeling, are the very things that I was told as a child (that I was defective, unloving and un-lovable). But, Thank God!, I find that the door was only jammed. I go back to the way I want to be, the way I really am. Eight years of recovery have at least pulled the nails in that door!
* We must remember that violence always echoes forwards in time, to haunt us later. I believe that one of the worst things to come back from years of violent abuse, is the loneliness. So intense, it can push one to the edge of despair. When I was a child, that loneliness pushed me right over the edge. The only thing that took that feeling of loneliness, and of despair away was drugs and alcohol. It is no wonder I became an addict. Loneliness and despair to a child, are a universe unto themselves. A continuum that stretches forwards and backwards as far as one can “see”. At least it was that way for me. I suffered my loneliness and despair in my bedroom, although I carried it everywhere, even, and especially, into every relationship, into all plans or outlooks of the future, into every area of my life. My room as a child was both sanctuary,as well as torture chamber. It was where punishment was doled out. Many of “my” beatings – Hell! – their beatings took place there, and yet it was where I went to escape. My room had no door, which meant that I had no privacy, no boundaries, no rights, and no escape. I’d lay in bed, interested in nothing, knowing that I couldn’t escape them, wanting to escape their violence, desperately wanting some kind of attention or stimulation other than pain, and terror, and gnawing emptiness. Any time they’d start to come up the stairs, I remember my sharp intake of breath, and the jolt of terror that I’d feel, like an electric shock, moving upwards to stop my heart. Beatings were the norm in my house, not beating hearts!
* Eventually, my father was drawn into the violence as well. During those periods of time when their lives were not going well, beatings were an almost daily occurrence. I remember, also, the horrible feelings of betrayal, horror, and sorrow. These feelings merged into something more terrible than anyone could stand. I remember moaning from the deepest part of my belly, wailing with such intensity, that I thought my chest and belly would split open. That sorrow, and betrayal, and horror, were bigger than me, bigger than the room, bigger than the whole world. That is how I experienced it. While I was in this continuum of agony,(for that is what a child experiences when confronted with violence,), writhing, and whimpering, and moaning, and choking, I wanted to die, if only I knew how. I do not know how I survived, I really don’t.
* What I do know, is that now as an adult, these feelings and others come back to visit. Feelings that seem overwhelming, or never-ending, are often messengers of the past. They are a cry from the past, to listen to the story of a valiant little child’s attempts to deal with forces that were overwhelming to him. That little boy tells his story not in words or pictures, but mostly through feelings. Feelings that get more intense, the longer we stay with them. When we stay with them, no matter how painful it gets, in the end we understand the story they tell. Violence does exactly the opposite. It goes contrary to Life and Healing. It is the child that we were that will tell you that! In no other way can you know the true damage that all violence does. The child in you tells you every day that it is wrong!
* A long time ago, the little boy that I was, suffered long, suffered silently, and suffered alone. I lived in a war zone, where there was no cease-fire, there was no Geneva Convention, there were no treaties, no victories and no allies. It wasn’t right then, and it never will be. But the little boy that I was, needs to tell his story. He has every right to tell his story to anyone willing to listen. I have given him that opportunity, and have embraced him and the wonderful gifts which allowed him (and me) to survive. Listen to this child! He has found permanent sanctuary, not in an unsafe bedroom with no door, but in my heart, now beating with Truth, and Life, and Love.
Eight catfish were swimming in circles, in the stationary tubs. Around and around, and then huddling in the corner, over the small round white drain plug, somehow avoiding the chain that was attached to it, and to the side of the tub. The water smelled fishy, and there was the overall background smell of the tubs, which was somewhat like the smell of a wet concrete sidewalk. The fish had come from the Schuylkill River, and I was a little afraid of their whiskers, their black shiny skin, and the fact that my cousin Frankie said that they had some sort of spines that could sting me. It’s hard for me to realize, just how young I really was, when I look back at childhood events. I have to do the math, and I start to remember how I saw things, and what I was thinking. I look at my own son to get a handle on what it is like to be a kid of 8 or 10 or 14. If I am lucky, finally, I can remember what I was feeling at a particular time. When I can do that, my myths about my past can fall away, to be replaced by the Truth. Those fish swam around the stationary tubs, inside our 13 room farmhouse, (my parents counted the foyer, the cellar, and the two unfinished rooms in the attic), between hundred acre cornfields, in Linfield,Pa. The place was really wonderful to grow up in, if it wasn’t for the adults who ruined it. We had Such’s Hill, which was 1/4 mile long STEEP sledding hill. Half way down that hill, was where, at 14, I saw Mitzi Ackerman, and Lisa Bernadini dancing in front of the upstairs windows of Mrs Keene’s in their underware, waving and smiling at us. I was confused the next time that I ran into Lisa, that she really didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with me. Funny, how 14 year old kids think. I know now that she was probably embarrassed by what she and Mitzi had done. At the bottom of Such’s Hill lived Mitzi Ackerman. She moved in when Chip Such and his family moved out. Mitzi was the first girl to actually do anything socially with me alone. We went skating on her pond, and I was terrified. She was one of the prettiest girls in the school, and later became the most popular girl in our junior high, but for that one day, when she treated me as a peer, and a friend, and laughed and joked, and genuinely paid attention to me,I knew I would love her forever. We never did anything together again, after that. I don’t remember whether I was too afraid to ask, or whether she turned me down, or what. I do know that I was heartbroken for a long time after that. I thought that be- cause of her, my life would become tolerable. I’m wondering why my father didn’t go with Cousin Frankie, when we got those catfish. I do remember that we didn’t actually catch them; we had gotten them off of someone else, who didn’t want them. The river was really too dirty to eat anything that that could actually live in it. I’m wondering if my father was drunk again, and that was why he didn’t go with us; maybe he stayed back at the Linfield hotel, which was right by the railroad tracks overlooking the river. I wish I could remember. So much of my history, is out of my reach. I hate that.
I do remember some things though. I remember one time that my father got drunk. He made this sandwich, with liverwurst, and onion, and peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, and mustard, after eating a bunch of salted peanuts, and drinking a whole bunch. I remember playing outside, and seeing him on the chaise lounge, a folding lawn chair, with aluminum tubing frame, and 4″ hard foam cushions, covered with vinyl. It had an adjustable back, and my father had it all the way down, so he could lay flat in it. I remember coming up to him, to ask him something. I remember being terrified, because at first, I saw what looked like “guts” on the ground, and I thought that he was dead, that somebody had killed him. I was 6 or 7, he was drunk, and what I saw on the ground was his vomit. No one explained that to me, and even after I figured out that it wasn’t “guts” on the ground, I still wondered whether he was going to die, because I didn’t understand being unconscious from drinking too much.
Those fish, my mother made me pull the plug on them. I’m not sure whether they had died, or whether they were still alive, and if they were alive, what did we do with them.I do remember being made to scrub out the tub. I hated that, and I remember I believed that I would never finish. That neighborhood, with cornfields, and rolling hills, streams, and farmhouses, and Mitzi Ackerman, went the way of the polluted Schuylkill river…adults out of control built a powerplant, and that entire neighborhood is under the shadow of the cooling towers of the Limeric Atomic Power Plant.
My name is Kenny. I am nine years old. I have a dog named “Happy”, (he’s my best friend). He’s my only friend. He smiles, but I don’t, because when I do, I always get in trouble. He has real short white hair, that’s never out of place, and I’ll lean against him, and hug him, sometimes when I’m sad. I’m sad alot. He listens to me, when I need to tell someone how sad I am, and how mean my parents are. They hate me. They tell me that there’s something wrong with me. They tell me that I’m stupid, and that no one could love me. They beat me, and scream at me, and tell me what a worthless piece of crap I am. Alot of times I don’t know whether I can stand it anymore. I know that Happy loves me, but I wish I had someone else too, someone who could hold me, and comfort me, and tell me that I’m smart, and that I’m valuable, and that I’m OK just the way I am. I want someone to tell me that I am lovable, and to protect me so that at least sometimes I could smile. I need to be safe, at least for a little while. I want somebody to tell me that I’m OK, and that I shouldn’t give up, because someday I will be safe. I want somebody to tell me that someday, people will love me. I want somebody to tell me that someday I will know that I’m OK. I want somebody to believe me when I tell them I’m hurting. I want somebody to tell me that I deserve to be treated better, that I don’t deserve to be hit, and screamed at, and shamed. I want somebody to tell me that I don’t deserve to live with so much fear all the time. I want someone to show me that touch doesn’t have to hurt or feel yucky. I want somebody to tell me to have hope, because sometimes there are heroes and happy endings.