Tag Archives: sexual abuse

Brain Damage

I waited a very long time to get help.  This was partially because it took me forever to get to a point in life where I could afford professional therapy.  It was certainly delayed by the pressure  my (then) husband used to avoid involvement, unpleasantness or difficulty.  He told I needed to act “normal” and “keep it to yourself” because he didn’t want to be bothered with the darkness and brokenness inside of me.  It was also somewhat attributable to the heavy sense of shame I carried within me.  Shame for being defective and dirty.  For being repulsive and unsightly by simply being.  Because I wasn’t like everyone else.  And since I was working 10 or 11 hours a day as I tried to prove my worth to various employers, it was also partially due to exhaustion and an inability to make time for myself.

I learned early I was undeserving of space, care and acceptance.  Abuse, particularly when you’re a child, drives that point deep.

In truth, I didn’t make a serious, “all in” attempt at healing until a few months after my father died.  Suddenly, it felt as though the time had come to deal with the festering wounds I continually attempted to hide beneath layers and layers of makeup and masks.

At the time, I didn’t realize there was any need to rush.  I didn’t understand healing might not be attainable if the wounds were left unattended for a long period.  I didn’t know coping mechanisms, shattered perceptions of worth and self were being cemented more permanently into place as I aged.  I thought healing would happen “someday” when the stars aligned and someone finally valued me.  I certainly didn’t know my brain might actually be working against me as I slogged through all the ruin.

Did you know that child sexual abuse actually causes brain damage?

I didn’t hear about the results of this body of research or its implications until I was years into the healing journey.  I was in weekly “talk therapy” sessions with a gifted psychologist, giving the process everything I had to give.  I journaled, prayed, attended workshops, went through a few abuse and sex abuse recovery groups, completed 2 different yearlong Celebrate Recovery groups and allowed a couple of different psychiatrists to experiment on me by prescribing every different antidepressant on the market in various combinations and in ever higher dosages. Nothing worked.

The most frustrating part for me was expending so much effort when I had little energy to spare, yet it changed nothing, in spite of all I put into it.  In spite of the time and money spent.  I became dejected  and deeply dismayed, occasionally shedding a few tears because of the lack of progress or results.  I knew I wasn’t a stupid person, so why couldn’t I grasp the information I was being given and bring it to life in my soul?  Why wasn’t I being transformed?

I’ve always felt damaged.  Like I’m faking it, hoping to someday make it.  But it never occurred to me my brain was the part of me that had probably sustained the most damage because of my abusive childhood.

I was told by my counselor that I needed to reprogram my thought processes.  I tried.  For years.  But I slowly began to realize, what I needed was more encompassing than this.  In actuality, the sexual abuse, in particular, overwhelmed and fried the circuitry in my brain.  What I need is not to be reprogramed.  I can load new thoughts all day long and run them through my head again and again, but it’s never going to make a difference if the program can’t run properly.  And it can’t.  Because the problem isn’t so much the program as it is the wiring.  It’s been incinerated.   Nothing is going to process and transmit the way it should with smoldering, shattered and scorched wiring.

It was a small relief to learn I wasn’t a failure for failing to reprogram my thinking.  Though hard to believe and comprehend, I started to glimpse the real problem.  It was deeper than poorly written and executed programming.  I had experienced a circuitry overload that burned my brain, creating a philological barrier, changing how I process data and interpret experiences.  The two hemispheres of my brain aren’t as integrated as the brains of people who haven’t gone through the trauma I survived as a child.  Perhaps this is due to an engulfing need to compartmentalize and isolate.  Or maybe it’s simply the way brain development is affected by continual trauma, abuse and intense stress during childhood.  Regardless, I have begun to realize I’m not merely fighting old, wrong programming.  I’m fighting a brain that has been singed, seared and annihilated by severe, horrific child abuse.  It’s no longer capable of making the connections I’ve long tried to make as I’ve sought to be healed.

Trauma is biologically encoded in the brain in a variety of ways. Considerable and often negative changes in structures like the hippocampus, and the coordination and integration of neural network functioning have been identified. The nervous systems of children who are abused runs on a constant high because of the continual anticipation of further danger. There are documented alterations in cortisol production in children with histories of abuse and neglect. And this state of chronic ‘hyper-arousal’ persists throughout adulthood, so even when the abuse and violence has ceased and the environment is “safe,” adults who experienced childhood abuse perceive the threat to be present; their fear is maintained and becomes pathological.

The brain is so damaged, it begins to dismantle us.

The experiences of childhood abuse cause changes that are reflected in physiological, psychological and interpersonal experiences.  Adaptation to trauma, especially early in life, becomes a “state of mind, brain, and body” around which subsequent experience organizes. Research has even documented significant changes on a genetic level.  Every function of mind, body, heart, soul, emotions, logic and even cell structure is altered by the abuse experienced in childhood.

The brain governs everything.  And when the brain is damaged, certain functions become impossible.

When I say I was forever changed by the abuse I survived during childhood, or explain that my path was eternally altered, I’m not speaking metaphorically.  The damage is comprehensive, large-scale and wide-ranging.

Who I was and who I was meant to be was obliterated before I entered grade school.  That destruction changed every fiber of my being and shaped me into someone far different than the person I was created to be and become.  My life and an ability to truly live and enjoy life was massacred by abuse.  My brain has been extensively damaged on a physical, as well as mental and emotional level, just as surely as if I had experienced a horrendous car crash that fractured my skull, leaving me barely alive and unbearably traumatized.

Brains don’t bounce back.  Once damaged, the consequences will be noted in various aspects, both minor and momentous.  The entire personality is altered.  Health, both emotional and physical, is compromised as various bodily and cognitive functions are short-circuited.  This is the gift my parents gave to me.  This is what I have been fighting against and attempting to overcome.

No wonder I am weary.  No wonder the results have been limited and the path too difficult to traverse.  No wonder I feel as if I’m damaged goods.   A failure.  My heart knows, even if my brain can no longer comprehend the extend of the mutilation.

My wiring has been short-circuited.  I’m trying to change what has already been radically, fatally altered.  I’m attempting to transform myself into a normal, healthy person, but I am not normal and my health has been broadly compromised.  My brain has been unspeakably damaged.  And it’s quite likely healing isn’t a reasonable expectation or probable outcome.

 

Breaking Chains

Several years ago, I read an article in “Readers Digest” that made me cry.  I don’t often cry.  But the story touched me deeply in a tender place, liberating long overdue tears while providing a minor release of buried pain.

It was the story of a man who was sent to visit his grandfather in another country one summer when he was a child.  His grandfather lived in the middle of nowhere on a farm far up in the mountains.  He was a hard worker, but had little in the way of material goods.  So, he gave his grandson the one thing he had to give.  Himself.

During that summer, he taught his grandson some important lessons.  He spent time WITH the young boy instead of spending money ON him.  He taught him to do things for himself, to take pride in the work of his hands, instead of always buying cheaply made, but expensive, things.  One of the interesting skills he passed along to his grandson was how to make things out of wood.  A flute.  A bird feeder. A boat.  And the boat was the central character in this story.

He was proud of the little boat he made and he sailed it at a nearby lake many times during that summer visit.  But when it was time to return to the US, his father told him he would have to leave his precious craft behind. There wasn’t room in their bags for even one more item.  So the boy reluctantly took the boat to the lake and carefully hid it in a small hole under a big boulder.  Then he said goodbye.

This was in the early 30’s.  His grandfather died soon thereafter and he didn’t return again until the mid-60’s, when he was accompanied by his own children.  One of the first things he did was to search for the boat…and he eventually found it!  He told his children the story of the little boat, then returned it to its hiding place before leaving.  Over the years, they made several return trips and each time, he would pull it out and carve the date of his visits in the wood before hiding it again.

And then, he was the grandfather.  He took his two teenaged granddaughters to the old remote farm up in the mountains where his grandfather had lived and died so many years before.  He retrieved his tiny boat once more and told them the story of his grandfather, the lessons learned by his side, how he made the small craft and what it represented.  His granddaughters listened quietly.  And finally, the youngest one said, “Grandpa, I will come back and visit your boat.  And I will bring my children.”

And so, I wept.  Touched by the chain of love this family had created.  The links over several lifespans that would continue long after they were gone.  The grandfather that started it (or did he?) had been dead for many years before the granddaughters first heard about the boat.  They never met their great grandfather.  But he lived on in the grandson, just as the grandson would live on through his granddaughters and their children.  The love would survive.  Their chain of love was strong and enduring, even though the wood of the toy boat weathered and wore.   There was a legacy of love in this family, passed from one generation to the next as children were nurtured and taught and guided. A beautiful legacy of love that spread and thrived as it passed from father to son to daughter to grandson to granddaughter.  The flesh grew old and failed.  But the legacy of love never faltered.

In my own life, I am part of a chain of abuse.  A chain with steely links of rejection, depression, brokenness and destruction.  This chain binds me as surely as the chain of love binds that man and his family.

I never met my great grandparents.  I have no idea what they were like because their stories were never shared with me.  But judging from my grandparents lives and the legacy they left behind, I can’t imagine they were given enough unconditional love, nurturing or attention.  The thing I have noticed that stops me in my tracks, the really frightening thing is this: whatever is passed along tends to intensify through the years. It grows and thrives, becoming a strong, nearly unbreakable shackle.

My own father was not cared for by his mother when he was a middle-school child.  She suffered a breakdown during a divorce.  The divorce was at least partially caused by a father who chased after other women.  His unfaithfulness nearly destroyed my paternal grandmother and certainly destroyed the marriage.  He was also a drunk.  My own father didn’t drink often, but his need came out in different ways.  He was angry…violently so…and he was obsessed by pornography.  As a result, he abused me sexually and physically.  So the neglect he experienced became vicious, deviant abuse in my life.  The kind of abuse that is criminal and does lasting, deep, horrible damage.

My mother had a grandfather who was diagnosed in later life as paranoid schizophrenic.  My mother was depressed, angry, self-centered, manipulative and felt the world owned her.  She, in turn, abused me physically, emotionally and verbally.  She was never beaten and her own mother loved her, trying to make up for her father’s paranoia.  The “abuse” she suffered was verbal (which is also damaging).  But again, the bad was intensified.  She was far more abusive than her own father had ever been.  The bad became worse.

The chain of love never seems to diminish.  It remains a steady, flowing stream of life, health and stability.  But depravity intensifies and causes more damage with each generation.  When a person is deprived of what they need to become a healthy, whole human being, if the chain is not somehow broken or the pattern isn’t significantly disrupted, the depravity expands and strengthens.  Just as those addicted to pornography have to find more intense ways to thrill and stimulate themselves, the abusiveness seems to grow worse and worse, spreading like a cancer of the spirit and soul.

As much as we may not like it, as much as we may fight against it, the hand we are dealt impacts us.  It doesn’t totally define us.  We can overcome it in some cases if we’re willing to delve deeply into the damage.  With much work and dedication…and maybe some luck…we overcome.  Without significant intervention, we succumb to the hideous chain that binds us to our legacy.  We have a choice.  We can acknowledge it and fight it, or give in to it.  We may love it or hate it, submissively accept it or get mad about it.  But acknowledged or not, our legacy does leave a mark.  It has a positive impact or a negative power.  And that gets passed down through the generations, even if we are able to bypass a lot of the negative fallout.

It is our foundation.  We may build a big, fancy, wonderful life on that foundation and the house we build may survive in spite of the cracks and faults of the foundation.  But the chances of the house making it through our lifetime increase with the sturdiness, solidness, levelness and health of the foundation on which it is built.  If the foundation is bad, the house deteriorates rapidly over time.

I am thankful to have broken the chain.

Fearful of my ability to change the patterns set in motion by my own foundation, wary of the damage my own brokenness might cause a developing child, I remained childless.  I will leave no legacy behind simply because there will be no one with whom to leave it..   There will be nothing of me to pass down, to go forward in the heart and genes of another human being.  No stories of my life, nothing to be remembered…good or bad.  When I die, my lineage comes to a screeching halt.  The only dates that will be carved in memoriam will be those on my tombstone.  A tombstone that will not be visited by children or grandchildren.  The legacy of pain and abuse will die with me.  Laid to rest at last.  Safe beneath the boulder where it will remain forever undisturbed, soon to be forgotten.

Braced for Impact

When I manage to pull memories from the black hole in my mind where flashes of my childhood are deeply lodged, those few I can retrieve are not typically painted by the vision of a moment in time.  The details and images of those childhood events are lost, buried deep, sealed away.  I cannot recall most of them with any specificity.  The scenes themselves are shrouded in fog and blurred by the things that were hiding there, waiting to devour me.

No, what I recall with great clarity is the waiting and watching.  Being frozen in petrified silence.  The tension in my neck and shoulders, even as I played, trying to appear to have fun as would a “normal” child.  I may not see much of the memory in my mind, but I feel what I felt.  The terror.  The dread.  Trying to be invisible.  Being unable to breathe.  I remember the feeling of never knowing when the experience would disintegrate into something so ugly, I utterly lacked words to describe what was happening to me.  I have, in fact, spent my life since escaping the claws of that childhood darkness and fog, trying to explain, define, understand and recover from what happened to me in that ominous gloom.

I was ripped apart one mouthful at a time during that period of darkness.  I was the prey.  My parents were the monsters who hid within the fog and shadows.  I knew they were hunting me.  All I could do was brace for the impact as best I could.

My defenses were not born of my ability to intimidate my attackers.  I couldn’t protect myself with my fists.  The shield I constructed about myself was invisible, a trick of the mind.  I blamed myself for the actions of those monsters, shifting my logic and perspectives, distorting my thoughts and feelings, accepting their abuse as what was due me.  Believing it was what I deserved.

As a result of the soil in which I grew, the thing I remember most about that time is my hypervigilant watchfulness.  Anticipating what was sure to come.  Knowing the worst would soon unfold and slam me to the ground at any moment.

I always had one eye ever on my surroundings.  My antenna was continuously extended, listening for the things not said out loud.  For the things brewing inside my parents’ dangerous minds and twisted souls.  Tapping into what they were feeling, trying to prepare for the blast; the eruption.  Nothing was ever as it seemed.  So I listened, adrenaline coursing, always on high alert.  I waited.  But I never had to wait long.

Even though I braced for the impact, the pain, shame and terror still took me by surprise.  Every single time.

I watched.   I tried to anticipate their actions.  Tried to calculate the moment when the mask would be ripped away and my world would fall apart. When they would turn to devour their prey.  But they were unpredictable.  So I remained in a state of fearful anticipation.  As prepared as I could be, with my mind shield working overtime to deflect their obscene attack.

I was braced for impact, but somehow was never prepared.  I felt it coming, but I could not soften the blow.

This is how I have spent my life.  In a state of hypervigilance.   Neck and shoulder muscles taunt and aching.  Always waiting.  Knowing destructive, dreadful, hurtful things were coming, but never knowing when they would hit me or how much damage they would do.

I have had the lofty goal of surviving the next ghastly event.  And I have survived, for the most part, but not without losing some key and critical parts of my heart.  Yes, I have survived, but there has been an enormous price to pay.  For to survive, I have had to forego living.  And though I have survived, I have never escaped the darkness.   I have never learned how to relax, to let go, to believe something good could happen.  I have never been able to believe I deserved more than the pain and rejection, the abuse and disdain.

I have never been able to let down my guard.  My antenna remains extended and probing.  I am clenched tight and hardened, waiting for the next cruel clash, muscles constricted and painful, no matter how weary my soul has become.

Braced for impact.  Praying I can survive yet another blow.

 

Heartbeat

I do not feel.  Not now.  Not for a long time.  I numbed myself years ago.  To survive the volcanic pain I held in the depths of my heart.  The raging torrent that threatened to overwhelm and drown me.  I intentionally twisted the massive valve inside my soul until the flow of caustic emotions stopped.  Until only a trickle escaped.  Until I was no longer being ripped apart by its sharp talons.  Until the agony no longer crushed me with its unbearable weight.

Once closed, that valve is impossible to reopen.  I did not know this when I shut it tight.  Had I understood, I would have chosen to let the pain take me down and rip out my throat.

I have lived my life in this state of suspension, neither dead or alive.  I have talked about all the things that will never matter and none of those that did.  Or do.  I’ve worn my poker face carefully, as if my existence depended on it.   Said what was proper in each situation.  Laughed when it was appropriate.  Cried only in secret, if at all.  Told everyone I was “fine” and “great” while turning the spotlight away from myself because I feared what it would revel if anyone looked too closely.  I performed.  Kept walking.  Went through the motions.  Amazed by the lack of a heartbeat as I took one step and then another.   And another.

I absorbed each shockwave, each loss and trauma, without reacting.  Took the next step.  Feeling nothing.  Kept moving because that was what I was supposed to do.  What I had to do.  Because it’s what “normal” people do.

No heartbeat.

Empty.  Broken.  Shattered.  My only choice was to keep going somehow.  Or die trying.

But when I am alone, when the darkness of night swaddles me tightly, pinning me in its cocoon, when the silence screams in my ears until I fear I will go deaf or insane or both, when I have nothing to hang on to and hope is a distant planet, I write.  I search for words to tell my story because I have no voice with which to speak.  Nor do I have anyone waiting by my side who will listen.  I search for the perfect words to express all the things I would feel, if only I could turn that massive handle backward, reopening the rusted valve I closed so long ago.  I vent my emotions through vowels and consonants.  I use my pen to exorcize the decaying,  pent up, blunted, deadened feelings.  The words on the page are the only way I know I am still alive.  They speak.  Quietly and falteringly.  They attempt to make sense of the repulsive tale.  They are my tapestry.

I inject all of my buried emotion into those words.  Into each one of them…each word and phrase.  I don’t feel, so much as I write it out, then read what I should or would be feeling if only I could.  I write about what I might be experiencing somewhere deep beneath the surface of my frozen soul.   I pack the sentences and paragraphs full of descriptors, hoping to attain a reaction upon impact.   I long for a response from my destroyed soul.  Any response at all.  But no matter how well I capture the moment or paint the picture or weave the tapestry, my words do not cause so much as a tiny ripple in my heart.

And so, I continue to write.  Trying in vain to uncover even a microscopic sign of life.

I long for seismic activity.  For the volcano to spew forth the hot lava that burns my insides and eats me from within.  But there is no activity to detect.  Nor even so much as a bit of steam escaping from the throat of the volcano.   The fissure does not vomit out its contents.   There is no relief.  Only enduring silence.

I search for words I cannot find.  Attempting finally to release the noxious toxic gasses into the atmosphere.  But the crater is cold, sealed by too many thick layers and far too many years.

No heartbeat.  The valve can’t be reopened.  Time can’t be unspent.  There is no going back to do it differently.  All the paths not taken will never be traveled because I did not choose to walk them.  I did not take the risks I should have taken, nor did I dare to explore uncharted territory.

There is a crater where once was housed a soul.  There is a stone where I once nurtured a heart.  There is numbness and death where once there was breath and life.  And there are now only inadequate, insufficient, unmoving words scattered across the page where once there was a heartbeat.

My heartbeat.  Silent forevermore.

Sacrifice

She thanks me for
the sacrifice
I made
so she could live her life
uninterrupted
by the truth
by consequences
or by pain
she’s grateful
that I kept it quiet
and that I do not
blame
her
or my father

It’s redemption
that she seeks –
she longs to know
they did not fail
and I turned out okay;
at least the parts that show
so they could not
have done too badly
after all
and surely
no one does the job
of parenting
the way they thought they would
surely
no one does it
any better

She claims
she’s always loved me
always will
and she prays
the love she has for me
will fill
the cracks
and wounds
unintentionally
inflicted

It’s in the past
she’s quick to state
where it should stay
but surely God
will use it
to bring good about
of that promise
there’s no doubt
so I should cast
my cares on Him
and let it go
these long ago
dark secrets
and get on with life
I did the right thing
when I made
the sacrifice

Yet –

something in
her rhetoric
disturbs me
in some deep
unsettling way
hard to identify
not visible
to the naked eye
it touches something
buried in my mind

What kind of love
thinks of itself
first
using a child
their own child
to fill their needs
or worse
taking
abusing
never noticing
the devastating blows
it is releasing
the devastating
wounds
it is inflicting

The damage
not intended
surely doesn’t count
against them
does it
I could not
hold it
against them –

and while I don’t
while I have worked
long
to forgive them
still I am a prisoner
of their sordid
ugly
“needs”
twisted desires
rejection and neglect
for I am
yet tangled
in the tentacles
of their abhorrent deeds
done in darkness

This “sacrifice”
she claims I made
was just a child
doing what she had to
to survive
their crushing abuse
a vain attempt
to try
to stay
alive

And even now she cannot see
in truth
they’re the ones
who sacrificed
me

 

 

The Invisible

We walk beside you.  Work with you.  Go to the same class you attend.  Watch the same shows.  Cheer for the same teams.  Drive the same roads.  But you don’t see us.  Don’t notice us.  We are the invisible.

The abused.  Trying to blend in.  To look and act “normal.” To deflect attention. To be noticed is to be scrutinized and judged.  Rejected.  Mocked.  Because no matter how hard we try to be normal, we are different.  We have seen, experienced and felt things that we weren’t designed to see or experience.  We aren’t equipped to handle the gut-ripping emotions; the overwhelming and intense pain of the soul.  Fractured, we become the walking wounded.  One of those pathetic, disturbing creatures who should surely be avoided at all costs.

We try to fit in.  We laugh when you laugh, hoping you won’t notice that it took us a split second longer to react.  The computer in our brain is always analyzing as it seeks to produce the correct response. To find the proper words.  The correct facial expression for the occasion.

If we are good actors, you will never notice us beyond a passing glance.  We won’t stand out.  We will remain invisible.

The old.  We’ve nothing to flaunt.  We can’t shake our head of shiny, thick hair in the sun to demand attention because we no longer have a lush mane.  Our shorts are longer so as to hide skin that has lost elasticity.  Our tops have sleeves to camouflage our flaccid arms.  Parts of us resemble a Sharpei.  Mid-drift tops are shunned and low necklines have long ago been abandoned.  We may still wear fashionable clothing and have a spring in our step.  But your eye will not be drawn to firm buns or toned calves because we don’t possess them.  In fact, it is likely your eye won’t be drawn to us at all.

We move through the grocery store unnoticed.  At best, we do our shopping without leaving a trace of ourselves behind.  At our worst, we are sometimes in the way.  A pest.  Quickly assessed and then disregarded.

The un-pretty.  We don’t fit the proper mold.  Our features are not perfectly symmetrical.  Our eyes may be too close together or too far apart.  They aren’t blue and our hair isn’t full and blonde.  Our legs are too short.  Our feet too big. Our smiles crooked or too generous.  Our ankles too fat.  Our thighs rub together and our stomach protrudes.  We turn heads…in the other direction.  No one smiles when they see us coming.  If they notice us at all, they look away, avert their eyes, find someone more pleasing to watch until we have passed by.  Someone who is impressive.  Who is worthy of adulation.

The abused who are also older and who don’t meet…and likely never have met…our societal standards for pretty – well, it’s a triple whammy.

Silent.  Invisible.  Here and gone without leaving a ripple behind.  We don’t even imprint on your retina.

I’m sure there are others who feel this way.  Refugees.  The poor.  Who can’t afford a cool car or trendy clothing.  The obese.  The unintelligent.  Those who never had an opportunity to go to college.  There is an army of marginalized members of society lurking in the peripheral vision of the masses.  Those who failed the test because of factors that were and that remain far beyond their control.

The invisible sea of individuals who don’t measure up.  Who are odd.  Who have no hope of acceptance because of how they look, what has been done to them and a pathetic lack of resources.

I am adrift in this sea.

I am one of the abused.  Badly abused.  Rejected.  I am older.  Old by the standards of youth.  I have never been one of the beautiful people.

Not only has the outside of me failed to measure up, no one has been able to find beauty in my soul.  Or in my heart.  No one has been able to accept me for who I am.  My warts are somehow far, far worse than those of most others.  My flaws too horrible.  So, I go through my day without acceptance.  Without touch.  Mostly without notice.  Without anyone to care or to assure me the difficulties and hurts I’ve encountered will somehow work out.  That I can and will get through them.  In reality, they probably won’t work out and I’ll only get through them if I can find the strength within me to keep walking in spite of the agony.

You don’t see me, but that slight breeze you felt on your cheek may have been the air I stirred as I walked past you.

We are the invisible.  Imperfect creatures.  Broken.  Not as successful as is expected or required.  Certainly, not as glamorous or physically pleasing.  Our deficiencies are often hard to mask.  And so, people block us from their mind and gush over the more perfect among us instead.  Worshiping youth.  And “hotness.”

It’s actually not too terrible…not be recognized as being a person or of having value.  I’m certainly left alone.  And though no one speaks to me beyond what is necessary, though they cut me off in line and seem surprised to see me standing behind them if I have the courage to speak up, for the most part, life’s transactions can be conducted in the shadows with a certain amount of efficiency.  And without too much hassle.

There was a time when I wanted someone to see me because I prayed there was someone special in the world who would love and accept me despite my flaws and brokenness.  I have learned.  Reality has replaced fantasy.  And reality is empty of most everything, though it is filled to overflowing with isolation.

Now, I am content if people don’t bump into me and knock me down.  If they don’t cut me off.  If they lower their eyes as I walk by.  I am content when no one is hurting me.  No, not content.  But grateful.  Grateful no further damage has been done.  That I have returned safely home.  Have made it through the day without additional wounds and scars.

There is something to be said for being left alone.  There are worse things than being invisible.  I am trying to find the good in it.  Or to at least ignore the bad.

I’m trying to embrace invisibility.  To hold it close, even as I have always longed to be held.

 

The Tree Remembers

There is much truth in the African proverb, “The ax forgets. The tree remembers.”

 

The ax forgot, if he ever acknowledged, the impact of his hands upon my prepubescent body, probing forbidden places; private, sacred places that fathers should never touch on their daughters.  Not in that way.  Not with lust dripping from his penis.  Lust that caused his voice to tremble, his breath to be short and quick, his hands to move with cold deliberation, his eyes to watch greedily.  The ax forgot, if he ever recognized, what it did to that daughter when he forced his hard, swollen penis inside of her as the pain split her apart.  When he came on her, covering her with his sticky goo.  When he came in her mouth, shooting his seed down her throat, causing her to gag.  The ax forgot, if he ever considered her at all, how it destroyed her when he made her strip and dance before him or forced her into the shower with him.  The ax forgot how it hurt when he hit her. When he knocked her across the room or to the floor.  His memory only lasted as long as the marks, if that long.  The ax forgets.  But the tree remembers.  To this day, she remembers.  I remember.

The ax forgot the pain of her slaps on her daughter’s face and the humiliation of her angry, cutting, degrading words.  The fear of being dragged by the hair as that mother raged and ranted.  The ax forgot how cutting her words of rejection and disappointment were to the ears of her eager child; the child who longed to please her, who wanted to be accepted and held and wanted.  The ax forgot what it meant when she averted her eyes, refusing to see, as that same timid child was being sexually used by her husband.  When the daughter looked to her for help, but found only denial, demands and dismissal.  The ax forgot.  But the tree remembers.  To this day, she remembers.  Yes, I remember.

The tree is forever altered.  Laid to waste.  Barely able, if able at all, to remain standing.  The tree no longer flourishes.  No longer lives.  All of its energy and lifeblood is spent attempting to heal the ghastly, horrific wounds that resulted from the ax as it hacked deep into her soul.  The tree longs to forget.  Longs to overcome.  Longs to be whole again. But the wounds of the ax have done the unspeakable.  Those injuries are unbearable, horrifying and atrocious.  The ax has forgotten.  The ax moves on. The tree cannot forget.  Because the tree is not what it was before and it will never be what it would have been had it not been so dreadfully wounded by the vile ax.

The ax will go on to wound again and again in many abominable and staggering ways.  Over time, the scars in the bark of the tree are so many, the tree is deformed, stunted, disgusting.  The tree cannot forget because the tree cannot escape the effects of the ghastly blows.

The tree tries to survive. Gone are the dreams of thriving.  Of providing shade for the birds and shelter for the squirrels.  The broken, wretched tree is ruined.  Injured beyond repair.  The ax forgets.  But the tree, the tree cannot forget no matter how hard she tries.  She lives with the brokenness.  She carries the stink of her defilement.  She cannot leave it behind her because it is woven into every cell and memory.

So profound.  The ax doesn’t have to live with the damage it created.  Its steps, are not hindered by the crippling blows it meted out.  All that came before.  It’s over.  In the past.  But the tree cannot escape the damage.  It cannot leave the destruction in the shadows of yesterday.  It has been shattered and dismembered.  It will never be what it was meant to be.  The ax doesn’t understand why the tree won’t “get over it.”  Why it doesn’t simply go on. But the tree doesn’t know how.  It doesn’t have that kind of magic in its limbs.

The ax forgets.  The tree remembers.  It longs to forget.  But it can’t.  It remembers everything.  In pieces and fragments, like watching a movie, with memories fading in and out of the darkness, but it remembers. 

Oh, how the tree wishes it could forget.

Ghost of Christmas Past

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
For some.
For others, it’s a lonely, painful time.   A haunted time.
It’s a time of unfulfilled expectations.  Of laughter that never reaches your heart.  Happiness that never makes it to your soul.  Because it’s supposed to be a time of families and close friends getting together, celebrating, sharing love, magic, joy.  Perhaps for a lot of people, that’s what happens.  But for many of us, it’s just another empty, disappointing day.  One that feels even more empty than normal because it’s supposed to be full.
 And then, there is the dark side.
I have a memory from when I was a young child.  It’s Christmas break.  My father was a teacher, so he was home with my brother and me.  It was a few days before Christmas and it had snowed…a big, deep, delightful (when you’re a child) snow that turned the world into a wonderland.  My father was born and raised in Michigan.  It snowed a lot there.  And while this wasn’t a major snow by Michigan standards, it was pretty significant for Missouri.  The snow was thigh deep in the shallowest of places.  It was almost waist deep in the drifts.  My brother and I could barely contain ourselves, we were so excited.  We bundled up and rushed outside to enjoy the miracle.
 My father didn’t often play with us.  But even he seemed enchanted by the beautiful snow that shrouded the world in clean, frigid white, like icing on a cake.  Being from a state where snow in the winter was an everyday affair, he knew lots of outside winter games.  He asked us if we knew how to play fox and geese.  We both shook our heads no, shivering with anticipation as well as with the cold.  And so the fun began! He instructed us to clear a big circular path in the snow in an open area of our yard.  We kicked and dug and packed and tramped, working up a sweat.  Once the circle was complete, he had us make an “x” path through the circle, dividing it into 4 equal quadrants. 
 He was the fox first.  We were the geese being chased around and through the pathways we had created in the snow.  The goal of the fox was to catch a goose.  Once tagged, the goose would then become the fox. We ran for our lives!  Laughing.  Falling.  Laughing some more.  It was so much fun!  We played until we were soaking wet and freezing cold and totally exhausted.  Then we all tumbled back into the house to change into dry clothes and warm our runny noses, red ears, and stiff, numb fingers and toes.
 This is where the memory changes for me.  This is where the darkness made itself known.
I was in my room, having just opened the drawer to my dresser.  I was trying to decide what sweater I wanted to wear.  As I poked through the 4 or 5 sweaters I owned, I was startled when the door to my room opened and closed.  My father entered and he was acting strangely.  Playful daddy had turned into what I later came to know and label as “sick daddy.”  He sucked the air out of the room as he entered, breathing heavily.  Quivering with anticipation.  I was enveloped by an overwhelming sense of dread that I didn’t understand.
 “Let me make you warm,” he said quietly but firmly in his new odd voice.
He removed my clothes as I hopelessly pleaded with him.  Begged him not to.  Kissing, fondling, groping, invading me.  And when he was finished, he said, “There, now isn’t that better?  Don’t you feel warm now?  Get dressed and come on out to the kitchen.  I’ll make us all some hot chocolate.”
And he was gone.
I remember standing in my room, unable to move for a time.  Then picking up my discarded clothes and placing them in a pile.  I dressed quickly.  Quietly.  I felt numb.  Frozen by ice that was colder than the snow that covered the ground.  Once dressed, I picked up my wet things to put them in the laundry and cast a glance back into the room before walking out the door.  I wanted to make sure everything was in order.  But what I most remember…vividly remember…is seeing myself still there in my room, hopelessly broken, barely breathing, laying on the floor.  I remember leaving that shattered little girl behind.  I left her there, a pile of gore and broken bones, shattered spirit and heart, where my wet clothes had been laying, hideously destroyed, fractured beyond recognition.  She wasn’t able to walk out of that room.  She wasn’t capable of facing the monster that waited down the hall with hot chocolate and marshmallows.  She couldn’t pick herself up and go on; couldn’t stop screaming.  She was in a million pieces and I left her there to fend for herself, half angry with her for leaving me, for making me go out into the ugly world alone.  I saw her body, ripped, torn, decimated.  And instead of rushing to her side and comforting her, I turned away.  I walked out of the room.  Closed the door.  And joined my brother and father as we sipped steaming mugs of freshly made cocoa.  As if nothing had happened.  As if nothing had changed.
Why do I remember this particular memory so clearly; so vividly?  It wasn’t the first time my father sexually abused me.  Nor was it the last.  It wasn’t one of the worst memories I have.  Certainly there are far more horrible memories of perverted things he did to me. So why is this one day, this one event, etched so deeply and perfectly in my mind?  Why can I still see it as if it happened only yesterday?
Several things seem pertinent.  For one thing, when my father started sexually abusing me, I was probably around 4 or 5 years old.  The memories I have of that time are shrouded in fantasy.  I didn’t have the maturity to understand what was happening.  I didn’t like it.  It scared me.  It felt wrong.  But I didn’t have the ability to grasp or process what he was doing.  Because of this, I created a fantasy world and escaped into it.  As an older child, this was becoming more difficult to execute.  And I believe I had finally reached an age and a point of understanding where it was no longer possible to ignore, warp, or wrap what he was doing to me in a make-believe world. Secondly, having come to an age where I could no longer deny or shroud in fantasy what my father was doing to me, I shattered. Completely shattered.  I believe the memory I have is of the day, the moment in time, when that horrible shattering took place.  So even though what he did to me that day was not the vilest thing my father would ever do, it was a significant moment in time because of the internal impact.  It was the moment he utterly obliterated my soul.
I didn’t stop loving Christmas.  Though I hate snow.  But Christmas was never a carefree or magical time for me afterwards.  I was always looking over my shoulder.  Waiting for everything to morph into that other unspeakable reality.  It was never again wonderful.  There was a hidden razor’s edge, cutting into my deepest and most vulnerable parts and places.  There was always pain mixed with the happiness.  Fear mixed with the laughter.  Terror mixed in with the carols that were sung.  And I stopped expecting it to be special.  Because everything that was special had been taken away from me.
Guarded, posing in front of the Christmas tree at age 12.
Me in front of the Christmas tree at age 12.
Magic no longer existed.  The lights were not as bright, the ornaments weren’t as shiny.  A hideous monster hid behind the bows and colorful paper that covered the gifts under the tree.  I knew the monster.  The monster watched me, waiting, pouncing, taking.  Christmas that year was when I finally understood what he was.  And then, I closed the lid of the brightly wrapped box in which he hid and smiled, carried on, acting as if everything was as it seemed.
He is long dead now, this ghost of Christmas past.  But he haunts me still.

Two Worlds

There are two worlds.  Two worlds that exist side by side here on this planet that revolves endlessly around the sun as it hurtles through space.  A planet that is but a pinpoint of light in a deep and endless darkness.  A galaxy filled with light year after light year of eternal night.

This is where our lives play out.  On this speck of a planet surrounded by a deep airless void.

Two worlds.

One where love is.

One where love is not.

Two worlds.  They exist side-by-side.  But they’re worlds apart. Touching shoulders with each other.  As different as night is from day.  Neighbors.  But not friendly neighbors.  Distant cousins who have never met.  Who don’t want to meet.

I come from the 2nd world.  The really dark one.

In my house, on the side of the street where I grew up, there was a lot of yelling, hitting, anger, pain and rejection.  There were so many expectations, I couldn’t keep up with them.  Fix my parent’s life.  Fix my parents.  Make all A’s.  Be popular.  Be silent.  Don’t cause trouble.  Have blonde hair.  Be cute and petite.  Don’t be a bother.  Don’t ask for anything.  Don’t need.  Do the dishes.  And homework.  Keep the secrets.  The many secrets our house held.  The secrets the curtains cloaked, shielded and guarded.  Don’t tell.  Don’t call attention to yourself.  Act normal.  Do what you’re told.  Make everyone happy.  Make everyone feel better.  Make the hard stuff go away.  Solve all my mother’s problems.  Be her confidant.  Affirm her.  Take care of my little brother.  Shut up.  Smile.  Don’t ask questions.  Don’t stir anything up.

An endless list.  Nothing was ever removed from the list.  Much was added…often daily.  Much was expected without being spoken or defined.

In my world, the world where love wasn’t, acceptance was never achieved.  If I made all A’s, I should have made A+’s.  If I got all the housework done and done well, it was never good enough.  I was  always at fault and deficient.  Because I was defective.  I was a failure.  Flaws could easily be thrown in my face.  And of course, I couldn’t solve their problems, fix their lives or make them feel better.  Nor could I make the darkness go away.  Instead, the darkness swallowed me whole.  And refused to spit me out.

I was fat, ash blonde and getting darker by the minute.  I wasn’t popular or petite.  I didn’t have answers.

I saw the kids who came from and lived in the other world.  I saw them daily at school.  They were foreign to me.  I couldn’t begin to imagine all of the ways in which we were different, but we were very, very different.  They were better.  I was inferior.  I was worthless.

They laughed without restraint.  They had confidence.  A voice.  They mattered.  They were special.  Wanted.  Worth caring for.

I was not.

I did keep the secrets.  That’s one thing I did extremely well.  One area where I exceeded expectations.  The people from the other world never suspected what I endured behind the closed and locked doors of my parent’s house.

Abuse.  Constant.  Abuse.

Where there is abuse, love is absent.  And there was always abuse.  There wasn’t much, if any, love.

They told me they loved me.  Then hit me.  Slapped me.  Knocked me down.

They told me they loved me.  Then demeaned and used me.

They told me they loved me.  Then rejected me.

They told me they loved me.  Then ignored me.

They told me they loved me.  Then neglected me.

They told me they loved me.  Then my loving father sexually abused me.  Raped me.

They told me they loved me.  Then detailed all the many different ways I disappointed them.  How I let them down.

In my world, winning was no more of an option than was being loved.

Two worlds.  Worlds apart.  Vastly different.  Day and night.

My world lacked air.  Warmth.  Light.  The laughter that existed was forced, guarded, cautious.  Required.  No belly laughs.  No joy.  Not even a little sliver of happiness.

Lots of caution.  Silence.  Darkness.  Cold.  Anger.  Disappointment.  Fear.  Anguish.  No one to turn to and no safe harbor.  Danger lurked.  Lunged.  Ripped me to pieces with razor sharp claws.

There was no escape.

I endured.  Survived.

When I left home at the age of 17, I tried to leave that shadow world behind.  But growing up there had damaged me on a cellular level.  There was no leaving it.  I left the slaps, but not the rejection.  I left the sexual abuse, but not the lack of love.  I left the darkness, but the darkness grew inside of me.  It stunted me.  Left me broken and empty.

Two worlds.  I drew the low card.  The short straw.  I came from the wrong one.  I could see the other world, but I couldn’t touch it.  It is and has remained forever out of my reach.

Two worlds.

One where love is.

One where love is not.

My world is the one where love is not.

I Am One of the Old Folks Now

I feel as if I walked a long road from one end to the other, and as I was walking, someone held the ends together.  I stepped from a time far past and distant into this moment today.  Back then, before I crossed the fold, I was one of the younger generation.  Back then, I had years in my pocket and dreams in my heart.

I am one of the old folks now.  My pockets are almost empty.

I remember that past, that past so distant, the one I lived before I took my final step across the fold.  I remember how it felt to live in that world, to have that mindset, to possess time.  I remember it so clearly, so vividly.  I feel it in every particle of my body and deep within my bones.  I remember almost nothing in-between.   I fact, I often wonder if I, like Rumpelstiltskin, slept through those between years, waking old and confused and dreamless.

Back then, my grandparents were the old folks.  At some point, they handed the baton to my parents and they stepped out of the fabric of this world, through the veil and into the next dimension.  I vaguely remember my parents becoming the old folks.  But I am still unsure when most of the generation before me departed or how I came to wear and walk in their shoes.  I don’t recall the moment when the baton became mine.

I believe it has something to do with the way I have survived.  “Let me get through this, and then, then I’ll start living…”  I have hunkered down, braced, shielded myself with mighty walls I built to protect me.  I have guarded my innermost being as I walked through each minute, each week, each month, each year, hoping only to get through what that minute, week, month or year held.  Hoping only to get to the other side mostly in one piece.  But the joke is on me.  There is no other side.  There is only the end.

There is also no such thing as surviving in one piece.  Mostly or otherwise.

How strange it is that I feel that young girl intimately close to me now.  Now that she is so very far away from who I am today.  So far in the distant past.  Yet I feel her breath on my neck.  Her nimble limbs that could run fast and strong stir mine now stiff and weary .  I can almost touch her hope for the future.  A future where abuse would be a distant memory and love would become a reality.  She walks with me, reminding me of all that has been lost.  All that never came to pass.  All that has fallen to the ground in shattered pieces and perished in the dust.  I feel her, but I am not her any longer.  I remember her, but I do not resemble her.  I am one of the old folks now.  My time has come and gone.

Were I given the chance to go back, to become  that young girl once again, I would do a million things differently.  I would not stay with those who told me I had no worth.  With those who hit, rejected, used and abused me.  Those who judged me and found me lacking.  I would not cast my vision toward some distant future where everything would finally be set right and where everything would be set right in the end.  Where happiness supposedly waited.  Instead, I would grasp each second, grasp it with both hands, and milk it for every thought, experience and emotion it held.  I would not stop my eyes from crying or my heart from feeling pain.  Because in numbing the pain and drying the tears, I also stifled the laughter and choked the joy.  I would live the now.  The good and the bad of it.  And I would not seek only to get through to the other side.  I would not so easily be tricked into frittering my hours away with only the goal of surviving.  I would not trade living for existing.  Nor would I walk across the folded ground between then and now to spare myself everything I hoped to avoid between youth and aging.

I look back at this point with the same longing I once had when I was always looking forward.    I look back with such longing because there is so little left ahead.  I am one of the old folks now.  All that is left for me to do is to pass the baton and step over the next wrinkle.  Into that place where time is no more.  Where the old folks go after they reach the end of the road.  Pockets empty and turned inside out.