I want them to be walking around in a public place, like a grocery store, and suddenly recognize what they did and dissolve into panicked tears. I want them to lie awake at night and spend hours replaying those scenes wishing through choking, pathetic sobs that they could change the endings. I want them to be terrified of being around the opposite sex because it might happen again. I want them to be so deeply ashamed of themselves that they truly believe their own parents would stop loving them if they really knew the truth. I want them to get the cold sweats and shakes whenever someone mentions the word “rape”.
I want them to look at other people who are happy, who have healthy and pleasurable sexual relationships, and feel broken. I want them to feel enraged whenever someone spouts off “just world” philosophy bullshit. I want them to avoid mirrors because they can’t stand to look at themselves. I want them to spend countless nights getting drunk so they’ll finally have the courage to commit suicide only to realize that they’re a coward (just like they already knew). I want them to spend 15 minutes of every hour in the handicap bathroom at work trying to calm themselves down. I want them to feel inescapable panic about half of the time they have sex for years after the fact. I want them to think about my face any time they’re feeling sexual pleasure or getting naked or masturbating and I want that image to crush any hope of arousal.
I want them to explain to a significant other, through hysterics, exactly what happened on those nights. I want them to fear being out in public because it feels like the truth of those experiences is written on their faces. I want them to spend years in therapy. I want people to tell them that their pain is not a big deal and that they should just stop thinking about those nights because honestly, what is it really helping? I want them to feel a deep, unabiding sadness when people tell women not to go out alone or drink too much or wear sexy clothing because they know it’s not going to help a damn thing.
I want them to feel like I know them better than anyone ever could because I was there, I know what they look like when they rape someone. I want them to feel like I’m inside them, all the time, mocking them for every failure, panic attack and sick day. I want them to believe that it’s always going to be like this. I want them to feel like trash, actual use-and-throw-away trash. I want them to feel angry and have no outlet for that anger except their own body. I want them to feel weak and useless. I want them to feel DEFINED by those experiences. I want them to feel like a monster.
I particularly love this one because it’s quintessential Susan (the Green Thumb Goddess). She can always pack a wallop in her poetry but I think she especially nailed this one. The seed planted here is powerful, visual, and easy to relate to.
I would also like to thank my daughter-in-law Lindsay for allowing me to use her beautiful face in this image. While she’s not a victim of sexual abuse…she absolutely ‘gets’ it!
A side note:
Women do not have to be victims of abuse to feel like and see that ‘stranger’ in the mirror…sometimes lost, sometimes less than, too often unrecognizable. Because I know that feeling all too well, not just as a survivor, but as a woman in general, there’s an added incentive to lead by example; to show that we must not be silent; we must not become part of the backdrop of someone else’s life; we must not lose sight of who and what we are…special, unique, and empowered to change the world by virtue of our voices, our minds, and not the least, raising our children.
We must step up and out of the supporting role and take the lead when we need to; show our sons and daughters that just because we plant and tend the garden, it does NOT make us gardeners.
And our choice to be housewives, does NOT mean we are ignorant of the world outside our four walls.
If our choice is to be stay-at-home mothers, it is just that – a choice. NOT an open door to disrespect, condescension, or a sign that we feel ourselves unworthy. If anything…it’s the complete opposite.
Today’s post is the anniversary post I had planned for yesterday. As is often the case, life intervened. And in retrospect, I’m glad it did. Terrified, but glad.
You see, I was prepared to reflect on this last year alone. Lord knows it’s been a year like no other for me. But over the course of the last couple of days, I’ve realized that’s not enough. Not even close. It must go beyond that. It must be shared how a photograph of an eagle…
…a kind word of encouragement from a friend, and a blog can change the world. My world. And I hope, in some way, someone else’s.
I must talk of how my past blew a hole in my present and almost destroyed my future, yet didn’t. And I hope, somewhere in here, before I’m done, I will show too, just how much I’ve gained this last year; in love, friendship, self-esteem, self-reliance, …hell, let’s just say self. That’s the biggie.
The mirror I’m looking in today is one that goes beyond my image. Beyond the face that shows subtle signs of age in the soft wrinkles in the corners of my eyes and mouth, and the 50 shades of gray. This mirror mirror on the wall…tells the secrets, tells them all.
Yes, and it’s been a long time coming. And I’m not alone in my many dimensional mirror. I see image, beyond image, beyond image times a thousand, of half woman/half girl, half man/half boy faces that all have the same haunted eyes, looking back at me, silently screaming.
The screams have been heard. The faces have been seen and are known. The old, the young, the gone, the living…mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, friends and strangers; all once children, young adults, adults, of abuse. They are with me, in front, behind, and beside me. They are me. They are you. But since I’m the one on this side of the mirror, I’ll speak; for them; for me.
Why a dam? It’s built to withstand years of stress and pressure. To give that which is needed when it’s needed, and not before. It’s there to hold back that which is as deadly as it is life-giving. It has a built-in relief system…its flood gates.
We are very like this dam, we human beings. Our bodies and our minds are built to withstand years of stress and pressure. We can take a life as quickly as we can give it. We cater to those with needs, giving what is needed, when it’s needed, and not before. And we too have built-in relief systems. Plural. For we have many. Not all good, not all healthy, and certainly not all lasting. But we each do what we have to do to survive. It’s in our nature. To survive. Or try to. Some do. Sadly, a great many don’t. Some do their best to just survive. Some go beyond, make a difference, help others with faulty or stuck relief systems.
This last year of blogging; specifically, the meeting of a surprising number of kindred souls in this community, has shown me that whatever forces are at work, led me here for a reason. This is no accident. Not even a happy one. It is just as it has to be.
Things happen for a reason? All things in their own time? I’m no expert on the human condition, nor am I a philosopher. But yes, these things I believe. At least, I believe them now. There was a time not so long ago, my belief system was quite different. Why? Because there is no reason in this world or any other I could ever imagine a right reason or right time for abuse. Of any kind. Of any one. Most especially though, child abuse, and God forbid, sexual abuse.
It is of that I speak. Here. Today. Openly and for the first time, terrifyingly public; beyond the false walls I built around myself at a very young age. In this last year, the walls have begun to crumble, and I’ve found that the hands I reached out to others in empathy and compassion, have been taken and touched in kind, and placed safely into a human chain of compassion and support I’d not known until now. Not because it wasn’t there; because I’d never reached before. I was busy keeping my fortress secure. To say blogging helped change my life would be an understatement…it, an eagle, and a beam of light, saved it.
This is the sledgehammer that’s going to take down what’s left. Not just to set myself free, but to reach the one, or the ten, or the hundred, who need to know they are not alone and they are not broken. Bruised, battered, scarred, hurting beyond hurt, and isolated, yes. But not broken, and not alone, and not AT FAULT.
I used to think remembering and reminding myself of the details were important. It’s not. It’s toxic. The devil’s in the details? You’re damn right he is. I kept each detail locked in my fortress, either framed and hanging on the wall like a treasured photograph, hanging on a hook in my closet ready to be taken out and worn like a cloak, or hiding under the bed enmeshed in those evil wind dancing, webs that have been catching and holding years and years worth of dirt; years of details wrapped in a cocoon and saved for later…
…Enough! Walls down. Light in. Broom in hand.
There’s no more room.
I have always wondered, and I know other survivors do also, who I would have been had things been different. Who I was supposed to be. I shall answer the first here…the second, at the end.
Would I still feel the need for approval or validation for everything I do?
This is a hard one. And at this moment, all I can say is definitely/maybe not. I’m not there yet, but the more I learn of myself, the more I know that I am quite capable of deciding if what I’m doing is right, or good, and the only one I need approval from, or validation for my deeds or actions, is me. Same goes for consequences. Mine. As with the devil’s details…blaming the past or hanging onto past hurts only keeps me in the dark and they too need to see the fat end of the broom.
Would I still agree to do things I don’t want to do to make someone else’s life easier or happier at the expense of my own?
I’m hoping I would have been able to find a balance here. I don’t want to cause hurt or pain to others, but over the years this trait has been detrimental to my own sense of self-worth. I do believe this trait will be going out the door with the webs, with a more healthy one in its stead. Not born of conceit or over indulged self importance…one born of kindness and compassion yet with the awareness that I am worthy of the same consideration. This is a big one.
Would I still be empathetic to the point of physical discomfort?
Yes, unequivocally, yes. This will not change. And I don’t want it to. Or it won’t change because I don’t want it to. Either way, it stays.
Would I still be 100% confrontational within my own family circle, yet 100% against/afraid of confrontation outside of it?
As for the family confrontational dynamic…well part of that is genetic (yes it is..we French love to argue).
Kidding aside, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel here. A big part of this trait that can appear akin to someone with a chip on their shoulder; a (disguised) resentment born out of my sense of not being protected. But maybe even more, not being recognized.
For me of course, it was obvious. I knew the taint was visible, I saw it every day. But I know that’s not the way of it. And I will say something about that in a moment…but I do know, without question, it was not from lack of love. Still, I did harbor that resentment and anger for a very long time. Its departure is another recent event, and frankly, one I’m glad to see out the door.
What I wanted…needed…to say about the ‘not being recognized’ is this, and I’m coming at this from both perspectives, my own perspectives; as an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, date rape, and as a parent.
Parents work. Yes
Now more than ever. Yes
One, both, inside the home, outside the home…work. Yes
We have no choice if we are to provide what we need to care for, and make better lives for, our families, if we chose to have children. Yes
Children require work. Yes
Now more than ever. Yes
Day care, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, primary school, elementary school, middle school, high school…sports, jobs, cars, dating, college. It’s never-ending. Yes
What do we need more of? Time? Patience? Energy? Help? Yes to all the above.
What do we do if we are out of/never had any/can’t get any of the all the aboves?
we see a child crying or having a tantrum and tell her to please, please stop or go to her room – we see a shy little boy and make him go outside and play with the kids next door – we see a shy, chubby adolescent and enroll him/her into an activity or put them a diet because no one wants to have their child picked on for being fat – we are at our wits end with the surly teenager who never smiles and can’t wait for him/her to outgrow this phase – we see a young man or young woman making self-destructive life decisions and lecture them about the dangers of sex, drugs, and rock -n- roll (or rap, or heavy metal, or country…makes no difference).
These are all normal, everyday scenarios in the lives of most families. And will continue as long as we have children. So what’s the problem. This…
what if hers is a cry for help without the words to express it – what if his shyness is fear of being away from home or out of your sight because he’s been molested and told he will be punished if he tells – what if the chubby little darling is substituting food for the right kind of attention and hiding their perfect little selves in fat from the wrong kind of attention – what if that surly teenager has a dark secret and thinks no one will understand but knows if you really, really looked, you’d see it without them saying a word, please don’t make me say it – and what if those self-destructive decisions are just that…an attempt at self-destruction for fear of someone knowing, the pain of someone not knowing, and the shame with having said nothing.
We need to stop looking through our children. Stop making assumptions based on our own lack of time, energy, patience, or help. Things are not always what they seem. Sometimes they are just what they appear to be…but the time it takes to really look at your children, talk to them, is worth more than any paycheck.
We talk a lot about bullying. It is rampant these days. But is it really ‘these days’? Or have we just been too busy to notice it before. Bullies are not born. They are made. It’s not a stretch to imagine an abused child becoming a bully is it? Can one who is bullied, beaten, molested by an adult not just as likely to turn his/her anger toward someone weaker or smaller? We don’t always turn inwards. Some cope another way. There is never an excuse for bullying. But I’d be more inclined to ask my son or daughter the hard questions if I ever saw or heard of them bullying others.
And finally, to answer the second of the questions…Who was I supposed to be?
Well, that one is becoming more clear. Me. Right here, right now. Me. And that’s just fine.