Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gloom & Doom vs Sunshine & Roses

When I previewed my previous blog entry, I took one look at the picture I had chosen (a pensive girl) and thought, "Gee, that's really depressing."  I removed the picture.  I realized that by  writing openly about the realities of childhood sexual abuse, you could get the impression that every minute of my childhood was full of fear and dread.  And it really wasn't.  The human spirit (and body, I guess) won't let us stay in that place for long. We protect ourselves by hiding the reality away, out of mind and sight, and we find ways to laugh, wonder, imagine, and create.  We find ways to be children.

My brothers and sisters and I went on adventures, climbed trees, and had secrets.  We ran and laughed and fought, like all kids do.  As we got older, we learned things from our parents.  I learned about carburetor's and spark plugs, growing carrots and rhubarb, ironing and hanging clothes, and making bread.  We had friends, favorite clothes, dreaded chores, and foods we either loved or hated.  Yes, the "bad" stuff was there but, in between, there was "good" stuff as well.

I had been thinking about this for some time and was planning to write about it here on my blog.  But, what motivated me to actually begin writing, was a dream I had last night. In the dream, I was at some kind of gathering, like a family reunion, and I was having a really bad time.  I wanted to shut out all of the people and the commotion, so I curled up on the couch and put a blanket over my head (something I've been doing in "real life" some lately).  My siblings were attentive and wanted to understand what was going on, and even my psychologist was there.  I wanted to to tell them how I felt and that there was nothing to fear, but I couldn't express my feelings. I wasn't afraid or despairing, I was just so very, profoundly, sad.  At the end of the dream, someone touched my hand, soothingly, and I immediately had an image of that touch on my vulva.

I woke up fine, not upset, but thinking about the dream and how I might write about it.  I realized what a great counterpoint the dream was to my earlier thoughts.  As a child, I survived by shutting out the fear and pain and, by doing so, I was able to have times of joy and laughter.  As an adult, having looked the monsters in the eye, I no longer need to hide from the the traumas of past events, and I feel pretty safe and content.  But, as my dream shows, the core of the trauma, the reality of it, is still deep within me.  The bittersweet truth is that I will always carry, within myself, both the horror and the joy of my childhood.   

Today I'm very comfortable with my psychological and emotional status, and I'm grateful that I had the help and encouragement to be at peace with myself.  I know I'll learn and change and grow for the rest of my life.  I also know that my past, and all that I've lived through, has made me who I am today.  It's given me depth and compassion and helped to form my own personal style, perspective, and magic.

Life is such an amazing gift.  In spite of all the struggles and traumas, I'm glad to be alive, and I'm very glad to be me!  If you've had similar insights, or if my experience resonates with you, I'd love to hear your comments.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Finally Believing That it Wasn't My Fault

During the time when the minister was actively abusing me, two of my best friends confided that our new pastor had approached them sexually. The three of us were church buddies who shared all of our secrets.  Both girls said they had rebuffed the man's advances, but had not told anybody else about the incidents. When asked, I lied and said that he hadn't approached me, but I felt awful! Why hadn't I fended him off like my friends had done?  What was wrong with me?  Of course, we were little kids and had no real power over the adult abuser, but apparently they were able to do what I could not.  That may have been the beginning of me blaming myself for the horrors that followed.

When my father took up the abuse, this conviction was reinforced.  I felt powerless.  Apparently, everyone wanted to use me for sex, and I couldn't stop it.  I didn't even try to say "no" to my dad.  Years later, as a young adult, I was raped at knife-point in an empty lot near where my husband worked.   Even then, I didn't put up much of a fight.
I've read stories from other survivors who were also victimized repeatedly as young people.  I wonder if they also thought, as I did, "Why does this keep happening to me"?  "Do I have a target on my back"?  "Do I carry an invisible sign that says, 'rape me, abuse me, beat me, demean me'"? I suspect that we have all wondered, "WHY ME?  I MUST BE DOING SOMETHING TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN!"

I recently got a great new perspective on this topic from this quote (which I lifted from the very excellent website, TAALK):
In her book The Socially Skilled Child Molester, Dr. Carla van Dam states that “Child molesters [also] gravitate to those people who are most likely to be too polite to fend them off, too shy and anxious to tell them to leave, too dependent to be assertive, and too impressed by rank, power, status or money to do the right thing. Child molesters deliberately associate with adults who cannot address these issues. They seek out adults who worry about hurting people’s feelings. They charm adults who do not believe it could happen.”

When I read this and other passages from the book, I realized that I had been set up!  My parents fit this profile perfectly!  Dad wanted desperately to be revered as an intelligent and godly man, and Mom wanted desperately to be accepted by Dad and so reinforced his empirical rule. Our family was the perfect target for sexual predators!  We children were to be deferential to all adults.  We were not to say "no", not to ask "why", and never to disobey!  We were not to express our own preferences.  In our family we drank our coffee black, we ate our eggs sunny-side up, and we liked our steaks medium rare. If someone dared to show individual opinions or tastes, they knew that the punishment would be a lifetime of shunning and ridicule.

Enter the pedophile.  And then enter the empirical  and deluded father. And then enter the rapist.  It wasn't that I had a target on my back.  I didn't have a certain look, a precocious manner, a fatal flaw.  I wasn't too pretty, too sexy, too clever.  I was the perfect compliant child.  I was smart enough to know the rules and to play them to perfection.  And, in doing so, I became the perfect target.

My previous post was about anger.  I feel anger as I write this.  I also feel grateful that I had the skills and found the people who were willing to help me escape, to be safe, to grow, to mature, and to heal.  I now know, in a deeper and more liberating way that, truly, IT WAS NOT MY FAULT! 
Parents, civic and church leaders, and helping professionals might find "The Socially Skilled Child Molester," helpful.  I know that that there are many other great resources as well, and I'd love to have you share ones you have found with me in the "comments" section.

The TAALK website is also a great source.  The more we know and the more we share, the more able we will be to stop the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Years ago, before therapy, I would tell folks that, "I never get angry".  And I'd mean it.  There were only 1 or 2 incidents in my whole life in which I had raised my voice to anyone.  I couldn't remember a time when I had even openly disagreed with a person.  It wasn't my style.  "I was just an easy-going person". 

However....whenever my therapist heard me say this, I'd get a raised eyebrow, a small smile, and sometimes the comment that, on the contrary, I was a very angry person.  I didn't argue with him (because, as we all know, therapists can see into our souls), but I totally disagreed with him.  I really never felt anger! I just didn't get "mad" 

So........from early childhood, I had been raped, abused, lied to, and manipulated by those whom I should have been able to trust...and I felt no anger!  How could this be?  Why didn't I feel this most understandable emotion? 

One of the reasons is that anger, as well as other strong emotions, was forbidden in my family.  In our household, only a "bad" person showed strong emotions, and only a foolish or stupid person strayed from the family paradigm.  In either the case, the punishment was to be shunned, rejected, and ridiculed.  Even as adults, all of my siblings and I get extremely uncomfortable around boisterous or outspoken people.

Of course, the anger was inside of me.  It manifested itself as sarcasm, "sniping," secretiveness, manipulation, self harm, and sickness.  I was passive-aggressive.  I would guard myself against intimacy and maintain a secret world, hidden even from my own conscious mind, of mistrust, anger, hatred, fear, and silence.  I would look for people's weaknesses so I would have a bit of power over them if I felt threatened.  I was a very angry woman!  It was very difficult for me to admit to this and to and accept this side of myself.  It brought a lot of shame and a lot of fear.  Anger equals bad, right?  If I was angry, I must be bad.  The old family rule. 

Slowly, I learned about degrees of anger and how to manage my feelings and how to allow ever stronger emotions into my comfort zone.  I learned that to be angry at someone is not to hate or despise them.  The emotion of anger passes, it can be resolved. 

I still have a tendancy to turn my emotions inward and to keep my opinions to myself, and I pay for that physically.  My immune system doesn't like that at all!  But, I'm learning.  Most of the time, I like myself just fine.  I even admire myself at times.  I would no longer characterize myself as an angry person. 

But now, unlike before, sometimes I just get mad......for a while. :-) 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Looking in the Mirror

While watching a show on TV this evening I was reminded of a conversation I had with my therapist a few years ago.  I made some off-hand remark about being old and he, in typical fashion, asked if I was afraid of aging.  I told him no, I wasn't afraid of getting old - in fact, I planned to live to a ripe old age as my relatives have been wont to do.  I told him, however, that when I looked in the mirror and saw myself as a "mature" woman instead of a young and beautiful girl, I invariably felt ugly and unlovable.  I said that, as a child and young woman, I had  come to believe that my only value was in my beauty and youth. If I wasn't young and attractive, I was of no value at all - I was nothing
It was, and is today, still jarring to see my reflection in the mirror. 

I know that being "selected" by my father and the minister, being used by them to satisfy their own needs, is what brought my young mind to these conclusions.  What I wonder about now is, why have I held so doggedly to those "lies" all these years, after so much introspection, therapy, and healing.  I know the truth -that I am innately beautiful just being myself - so, why is it so hard to let the old ideas go and embrace the truth?

Am I afraid? 
I don't think so. 
I think I'm just "comfortable."  I know that sounds silly but don't we always tend to stay with what we know?  I know that it will take effort to change my perceptions of myself.  Every day I must look in the mirror and make peace with what I see - admire my attributes, forgive my shortcomings, and claim MY SELF.  It's the same with other feelings and perceptions (lies) that were fed to me as truth by my abusers.  It takes work to move away from them and toward the truth.

So, am I lazy?
I don't think so,
In order to survive as a child, I withdrew inside myself and made the best of a bad situation.  I didn't fight, I didn't think, I didn't feel.  So now, I have to learn how to fight.  I have to use my mind and my energy and my emotions to notice and challenge the lies that I took to be truths.  I'm not afraid and I'm not lazy.  But, now and then, I have to shake myself out of my comfort zone and break down the lies and learn to live in my own truth.

I write these feelings as an encouragement to myself, and also as an encouragement to others. I suspect that these struggles are common to all survivors of abuse and trauma.  Fighting for the truth my be difficult at times, but it's sooooo much better than being lost in the lies.  Hang in there with me - we're not alone - and it's worth it!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Avoiding What I Want and Need

Did you ever start out to do some"dreaded" task and then get sidetracked by a completely different chore, like cleaning out a closet or straightening up your music CDs?  I think we've all done that at some time or another.  It's perfectly natural .  We put off the thing we don't want to do by substituting another useful job in its place. 

I've just become aware of something in myself that's related to this idea.  I was recently encouraged to ask myself what I really wanted - what I wanted to be, to do, to become. I had never really asked that question before. I had always asked what others wanted for me.  I had tried to measure up, to be adequate, to produce what was expected.

So, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and consulted my inner self .  Here's what I came up with.  My body is built to be sturdy and strong.  I want to be that.  I have a playful, curious spirit. I want to play and explore, to make things and do things. My personality is one of giving, caring, listening, supporting.  I want to be that.  I want to draw and paint.  I want to write.  I want to be calm and centered.  I want my own personal beauty to show through.

However, although I love baked fish and fresh veggies, I choose to eat pizza, snacks, and massive amounts of sweets.  My "strong and sturdy" body is overfed, underexercised, and plopped in front of the computer for hours on end.  Instead of taking the time to draw or write, I watch TV with my husband in order to "be with him" - a noble idea, but one he does not require.  I make excuses to my friends when I'm invited out.  I declare myself too busy or too tired to explore new activities.  In other words, I'm replacing what I WANT FOR MYSELF with meaningless or harmful activities.  WHY???

Have I given my real desires the label of  "dreaded tasks?"  Sort of. 

More accurately, I think I have labeled them as "you don't deserve this" or "only bad people want things for themselves" or "you're being selfish" or "you have no right to be yourself."  So, for all these years, I've muddled along instead of enjoying my life. I was believing and internalizing dreadful lies which caused me to fight against myself and deny myself  what I needed and wanted. 

Thinking about what I really wanted for myself was a new experience for me.  I suspect that many (most?) people affected by childhood sexual abuse or other forms of trauma have felt this way.  But, once we see the lies, we no longer need to accept them.  How to challenge these deep-set beliefs?? I think that the strongest way to attack them is by concentrating on the truth.  I'm going to remind myself daily of the things that I really want for myself.  I may have to close my eyes and look inward again each time in order to know the truth, but I'm willing to do that so that I can become ME!!!  All of me--as God intended. 

As always, share your thoughts and questions if this was meaningful to you.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lost Innocence? Lost Hope?

Drifting toward wakefulness, I found myself thinking about my grandmother. At 5' tall and 300 lbs. she was very soft to hug. She was also crude, snappish, and prone to cursing. She was kind of strange, but she wasn't scary - at least not to me. She had songbirds in cages at her house, and I thought that was very cool!

Then I thought about other memories of my early childhood. I liked the red-headed girl in first grade, and I introduced myself to her the first day so we could be friends. I was sad to find a beautiful little dead bird in the yard and I took it to school for "Show and Tell." I contentedly drew streets in the dirt and played with little cars with my brothers and sisters. Daddy put us up on his shoulders, and read the "funnies" out loud. Mommy sang when she ironed, and laughed when my aunts and uncles visited.

By the time I was fully awake, I was profoundly grateful for those early childhood experiences. I realized that I had been a truely innocent, happy, carefree child, full of wonder, energy, and curiosity. I can actually look back and see what I was - my potential, my magic, even my style. Wow!

Of course, things changed. My father "got saved" and my mother followed (sort of). Suddenly, there were no more kitchen-table card games, no Saturday night beer with uncles, no dancing, no movies, no smoking.........and no laughter. I don't think religeon was to blame. I think the church atmosphere just happened to be fertile ground for the fear, anger, confusion, insecurity (and who knows what else) that had always been there. Mom continued to smoke and curse --and she tried desperately to please Dad. Dad constantly demeaned her, making it clear that she would never measure up -- and he became more and more imperial and dictatorial. Before second grade was over, before any overt sexual abuse, I had already become secretive, guarded, and grasping for approval.

But, what about the children who were rejected, raped, tortured, when they were 6 months old, 2 years old, 4 years old?  Because they were too young to develop memories of innocence, are they now doomed to go through life wondering who they are and why life is so difficult?  How do these children, now adults, find their way out of the maze of feelings, misperceptions, and lies that where there as far back as they can remember? I ache for those children - for the "grown ups" they have become. I want to tell them that they too were innocent, open children once, even though they can't remember it.  I want to tell them to keep trying to find their own path to healing.  I want to tell them that it's not too late to to claim a new life of wonder, energy, and curiousity - to discover their potential, their style and their own special magic.    

I'm grateful that I can remember an innocent time in my life. I cannot go back to that time or that innocence. But I can give to myself what I wish for others.  I can embrace the potential, the magic, and the style that is uniquely ME, as best I can.