Tag Archives: shame

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.

 

Someone Has to Pay

Someone has to pay…and the price is high.

It costs all the years when children innocently dance the days away, safe and secure, chasing after fireflies.  Chasing after dreams.  Laughing from the belly; giggling with a carefree heart.  Running with the wind as it blows through their hair.  Jumping, leaping, straining to touch stars.  Twirling beneath a warm blue sky and falling into the soft green grass.  Life is magic.  Nothing is impossible.  Worries are for another day.

It costs the years when young teens take their first tentative steps into the future, full of a sense of adventure mixed with trepidation, looking forward while still looking back, because “back” isn’t all that long ago.  Reaching for a parent’s hand even as they struggle to let go completely.  Whirling in the midst of all they have been taught, the foundations that have been constructed, carefully and lovingly.  Testing them.  Finding their own way.

It costs all the years of young adulthood, when tentative steps solidify into ever more confident strides. When life begins to come into focus.  When dreams start to mature, decisions are made, hopes are stored into tomorrow’s treasure chest.  Ideas become plans.  Goals come into focus.  True friendships deepen and childish things are put aside, though not forgotten, for old memories are still to be enjoyed as new ones are made.  Meaning and purpose is sought and slowly found.  Life is being built a step at a time.

It costs the years of middle life, times of growing, achieving, gaining wisdom and understanding.  Times of learning what is actually important.  Connections.  The giving of your heart to others.  Commitment to a spouse.  Transparency and joy, raw vulnerability and finding a place of safety within the heart of others.  The birth of children ushers in pain beyond imagining.  And love beyond anything and everything that has ever been before.  Love so deep, your heart aches with it, throbs with it, cries with it, laughs with it, prays with it, embraces it, cherishes it.  You tremble with wonder and the fear of it as you hold it gently inside like a rare and delicate butterfly.  The world is no longer only about you.  It expands.  And the happiness of others becomes even more important to you than your own.

Such a high price.  It costs every hope.  Every dream.  Every joy. Every bit of meaning and all trust. It exacts a price every moment, stealing your soul, infusing your heart with anguish, stripping you of normality.  It purloins all sense of worth.  Damages so deeply, nothing can grow in the wasteland within.  Nothing can thrive or live in that shadowland where all has died.  The wounds and scars will mark the graves forever. The land is left toxic, poisoned and desolate.

When parents take from their children, rape their children, make their children objects to be used and abused, it costs the child everything.  All of this and more.  Though the parents refuse to acknowledge what they have destroyed, what they have stolen away, the child is the one who loses the world.  The child is the one who pays.  They pay with their life, with all they should have had but never knew and all they could have been but will never be.  They pay the price.  They pay with their heart and their soul.

They pay an exorbitant price every day until the day they finally die.

Adrift At Sea

I am adrift.  Floating upon an empty sea.  Beneath my head, a pillow of silence cradles my weary brain.  I lay still, covered by a thick blanket of darkness.

I feel nothing.  See nothing.  Am nothing.

I lost sight of land such a long time ago.  I can barely remember what it was like to walk on solid ground.  Perhaps it was but a dream, a creation of sleep and imagination.  A sweet fantasy I can no longer adequately recall.

I used to feel desire, but now, I have only a gnawing sense of shame.  And devouring regret eating away at my soul.  I used to believe I would write myself a happy ending.  By working hard to overcome.  I believed I could change my path.  I believed all the pain would be worth suffering because of the outcome.  Today, I long for nothing beyond release.  For an end to my story. To be untied from this harsh, ruthless world.

Isolation is a brutal master.  It forces one to build massive walls, cracking its whip to impel you to move faster.  To do more.  To work harder.  To place stone upon stone.  Until you are utterly alone and completely disconnected.  Imprisoned by the very work of your own hands, with no hope of escape.  Defeated.

I am adrift and I have been adrift for a very long time.   Cannot get my bearings.  Left without the strength or will to stand or the hope to swim.  The current takes me where it will and I no longer fight it.  Weakness and defeat tie my wrists tightly, leaving me defenseless and broken.

It used to matter to me.  But now, I can’t even summon the will to care.  I fought long and hard, but I have lost the battle.  There is nothing left to do at this point but to surrender.  And float.  In this empty void, wrapped in darkness, tortured by regret, waiting for the end.  Praying it will come soon.

 

The Ax Forgets

“The ax forgets. The tree remembers.” African Proverb

The ax.  Cutting.  Destructive.  Powerful.

The ax forgot, if he ever acknowledged, the impact of his hands upon my prepubescent body, probing forbidden places.  Touching private, sacred places that fathers should never touch on their daughters.  Never.

The ax stands and cuts, with lust dripping from his penis.  Lust that coursed through him, caused his voice to tremble, his breath to come short, jagged and quick, his hands to move with cold deliberation, his eyes to watch greedily.  Hungrily.

The ax conveniently 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 uncontrollably.

The ax forgot, if he ever considered her at all.  He forgot 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 threw her to the floor.  His memory only lasted as long as he stood in the moment.  Only until he got what he wanted from her.  It lasted only as long as the marks he made upon her body, 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 and told her how badly she failed to live up to expectations.  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 child who sought her love.  The ax forgot what it meant when she averted her eyes, refusing to see, as that same timid child was being sexually used, abused 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.  Though the tree kept the secret, she remembers.

To this day, she remembers.   I remember.

The tree is forever altered.  Deeply damaged.  Laid to waste.  Barely able, if able at all, to remain standing.  The tree no longer flourishes.  No longer lives and breathes.  All of its energy and lifeblood is spent attempting to heal the ghastly, horrific, oozing 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, 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, it is permanently deformed, stunted, hacked apart.  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, now 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.

It is who she has become.

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.  By all that came before.  It’s over and never thought of again.  Everything…all of it.  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.  Misused.  It will never be what it was meant to be.  The ax doesn’t understand why the tree doesn’t “get over it.”  Why it doesn’t simply go on. But the tree can’t undo what has been done or change who the ax has made it.  It doesn’t have that kind of magic in its lacerated limbs.

The ax forgets.  The tree remembers.  It longs to forget.  But it can’t.  It remembers everything.  In pieces and slivers, like watching old, damaged film, memories fading in and out of the darkness.  But it remembers.

It remembers, though it tries to go on as if nothing happened.  How the tree wishes it could forget.

Scarface

In spite of the massive spiderwebs of scars splashed across her face, you could still tell she had been exceptionally beautiful.  Now, misshapen bones formed bulges in inappropriate places.  Even the thickest foundation couldn’t cover the mass of crisscrossed red lines where skin had been sliced to the bone.  Multiple surgeries had pieced her back together as best as they could, successfully returning her appearance to something less hideous than Frankenstein.  But they left her far from her previous beauty queen status.  And though the wreck was her fault, she was angry over the damage.   The unfairness of it.

Years ago, she drank too much, then drove.  She and her little sister in her new Corvette, T-top open, unrestrained by seatbelts.  Typical youth; fearing nothing.  She was driving ridiculously fast, over 100, when she lost control in the sharp S-curve.  Went over the embankment.  Her sister was thrown from her seat and the car rolled over her, killing her instantly.  Beauty queen went through the windshield, then the trees, brambles and rocks, shredding her face and much of her body while breaking almost every bone.  Much later, when she regained consciousness in the hospital, she had no memory of the wild drive or the accident.  They had to tell her she had killed her sister the night she destroyed her face.

Years later, she is still furious over her lost beauty.  Lost supremacy.  Her looks now represent everything that’s wrong with her life.  Before the “accident,” she knew who she was.  Beautiful.  In control.  Powerful. Triumphant.  Confident.  People worshiped her.  Wanted to be close to her inner circle. Wanted to be her!  She was a daughter, sister, graduate about to head to college, life at her feet, waiting to step into a perfect future.  She knew where she was going.  She knew who she was.  She knew how to use her smile.

Now, she is nothing of who she was.  She is nothing like the worry-free “before” person.  And she hates everyone who looks at her, then quickly looks away.  Their glances speak of her losses.

Or perhaps she is the one who cannot bear to look.  Perhaps she is the one who turns away…before anyone else has the opportunity.

The young never believe bad things will happen until they do.  They aren’t wired to believe life will let them down.  Bad happens to others.  To those who are flawed, unlucky and lacking.  Bad doesn’t happen to ruling beauty queens who are adored and worshiped by the world.

Yet, her scars are visible for all to see.  Her tragedy is written on her face.  Plainly telling the story.

I am also scarred.  But mine don’t show in lines across my face.  They are just as red and ragged, but instead, they mar my heart.  My soul.  I have been changed by the wreck that occurred in my childhood every bit as much as the beauty queen was changed by the wreck she had that dark night when she missed the curve and crashed in a ravine.  People seeing her feel sorry for her.  They understand her anger and her loss.  But they do not understand my pain or brokenness.  Because the scars aren’t visible.  They are not physical, so are not an acceptable excuse for my shattered state.

Interestingly, because her story is written across her face with bold red lines and unnatural lumps where once were smooth surfaces, no one dares expect her to put her horrid past behind her.  She wears her tragedy.  It has become part of who she is today.  It is accepted.

But since they cannot see my scars, hidden away deep in my traumatized soul, I am not extended the same courtesy.  My scars are every bit as much a part of me today as are those caused by her night of terror.  That one night that changed her world.  Yet they do not provide an adequate explanation.

My childhood nights were filled with nightmares that couldn’t be escaped.  They did not happen once, but a hundred times, over and over again.  I couldn’t flee the wreckage of twisted metal and begin to heal.  I went off into the ravine night after night after night.  I was broken and ravished and used and tossed into the dirt and stones time and time again.  Healing wasn’t an option.  Yet, I am supposed to get up, dust myself off and walk away as if nothing ever happened.

She is trying to find herself again.  She, the ex-beauty queen.  She had a certain impact, left a certain fantasy in her wake as she walked the halls of her high school.  She knew how to get what she wanted.  And she misses catching her lovely reflection in the glass as she passes windows and mirrors.  She lost her magic wand.  The person she is inside doesn’t know how to respond without her fancy outer wrapping.  So, she wears anger and rejection like a blanket, layering on the foundation, as she struggles to adjust to her new reality.  It is understood.  She has lost much.

But I too have lost.  Much.  Everything.  The world where I lived before is gone.  My childhood, vanished.  My innocence, stolen.  My trust, broken.  My heart, shattered…more shattered than her once-lovely face.  I have died, yet not been reborn.  I was not provided with any restorative surgery.   I’ve not healed.  My pain has not even been acknowledged.   I am the walking dead.  No one will accept my wounds because no one sees them.  I hide them away, fully knowing they are horrifying.  Fully understanding I am to keep them covered beneath layers of smiles and empty, placating words.

We both cover our scars and hide away in shame.  Alone behind the mask.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

But only for some.

For others, it’s a lonely, painful time.   A haunted time.  Haunted by the ghost of Christmas past.  Shrouded in shadows.  Cold and lonely.

It’s a time of unfulfilled expectations.  Of laughter that never reaches the heart.  Happiness that never makes it to the soul.  It’s supposed to be a time of families and close friends joyfully gathering, celebrating, sharing love, magic, joy.  But some of us paint a smile on our face and pretend.  We nod our head and act as if we belong.  As if we “get it.”  Because this wonderful time of the year, for many, is just another empty, disappointing day.  One that feels even more empty than normal because it’s supposed to be full and magical.

Those of us who see the ghost know the dark side.

I have a memory of 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 frosted, glorious 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 knee deep in the shallowest of places.  It was thigh 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 dreamy land that spread out before us.

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 a heavy snowfall in the winter was an everyday affair, he knew lots of outside winter games.  He asked us if we had ever played fox and geese.  We both shook our heads “no,” shivering with anticipation, as well as with the cold.  Excited because he was spending time with us.  At our response, he smiled and 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 two more paths through the circle, dividing it into 4 equal quadrants. 

He was the fox.  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, freezing cold and totally exhausted.  Then we all tumbled back into the house to change into dry clothes and to warm our frosted, 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.  Where the shadows become a heavy blanket of fog that blocked out the sun.

 I was in my room, having just opened my dresser drawer.  I was trying to decide what sweater I wanted to wear.  As I poked through the 3 or 4 sweaters I owned, I was startled when the door to my room opened and quickly closed.  My father entered, an odd expression on his face.  He was acting strangely.  I was confused.  Time stood still.  An eerie silence enveloped me.

 In that moment, playful daddy turned into what I later labeled “sick daddy.”  He sucked the air out of the room with his heavy breathing.  Stood quivering with anticipation.  I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread that didn’t make sense, no matter how hard I tried to understand.

 “Let me make you warm,” he said quietly but firmly with an odd, trembling voice.

Then he removed my clothes as I pleaded with him not to.  Begged him.  But he didn’t stop.  He seemed not to hear me.  He kissed, fondled, groped, invading me.  And when he was finished, he said, “There, now isn’t that better?  Don’t you feel warmer?  Get dressed and come on out to the kitchen.  I’ll make us all some hot chocolate.”

 Then he was gone.

 I remember standing in my room, unable to move for what seemed like a very long time.  I watched the shadows dance all around me.  Finally, I picked up my discarded clothes and placed them in a pile.  I dressed quickly.  Quietly.  I felt numb.  Frozen by ice that was colder than the snow that covered the ground outside.  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. As if anything could ever be put back into order.

 But what I most remember…vividly remember…is seeing myself still there in my room, hopelessly broken, barely breathing, laying on the floor.  Bloody.  Splintered.  I remember leaving that shattered little girl behind.  I left her there, a pile of gore and broken bones, crushed spirit and ruptured heart, dumped 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 walk out into the dangerous 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 that haunt me.  Certainly, there are far more horrible recollections of perverted things he did to me, things I couldn’t blot out or from which I couldn’t disconnect. 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?  Only seconds in the past?

 Several things seem pertinent. 

When my father began sexually abusing me, I was around 4 or 5 years old.  The memories I have of that time are veiled 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 or the implications of his actions.  I was able to create a make-believe world and escape into it. 

As an older child, this became more difficult to execute.  I 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 an imaginary world.  I could no longer deny or fictionalize the abuse.  And when this happened, I shattered. Completely shattered. 

I believe the crystal-clear memory I have, this memory that haunts me still, is of the day, the moment in time, when that horrible shattering took place.  So, even though what he did that day was not the vilest thing my father would ever do to me over the years he abused me, it was a significant moment in time because of the internal impact.  It was the moment my soul was utterly obliterated.

I didn’t stop loving Christmas.  Though I hate snow.  But Christmas was never a carefree or magical time for me afterwards.  I find myself looking over my shoulder.  Waiting for everything to morph into some unspeakable reality.  The holiday has never again been wonderful or innocent.  There remains a hidden razor’s edge, cutting into my deepest and most vulnerable parts and wounded places.  There is now unbearable pain mixed with fleeting happiness.  Fear mixed with the shallow laughter.  Terror mixed in with the carols that are exuberantly sung.  And I have stopped expecting Christmas to be special.  Because everything that was once special has been stripped away.

Magic no longer exists.  The lights are not as bright, the ornaments aren’t as shiny. 

 A hideous monster hid beneath the bows and colorful paper that covered the gifts under the tree.  I knew the monster.  And the monster knew me.  He watched me, waiting, pouncing, taking.  Christmas that year was when I finally understood what he was.  And seeing, I firmly closed the lid on the brightly wrapped box with which he disguised himself, stood, walked on trembling legs, and carried on, acting as if everything was as it seemed.  As though nothing evil lay beneath the tinsel, glitter and lights.  As if nothing foul had happened.  Pretending the Christmas snow was yet unmarked and undefiled.

He is long dead now, this vulgar, unclean monster.  This ghost of Christmas past.  But he haunts me still.

Teacher, Teacher

My father was a teacher.

He first wanted to be a pastor, a revelation that was quite surprising, considering neither of my parents attended church and only spoke of God when they wanted to restrict my behavior or forbid me from participating in some activity.  Everything fun was a sin.  So, at best, I learned of a rejecting and small-minded God.

Drinking was a sin.  Getting drunk was a dire and unforgivable sin. Cursing was a sin.  Disobeying my parents was a sin.  Selfishness was a sin if I was guilty, but oddly enough, it wasn’t a sin when my parents were guilty. Lying, particularly to my parents, was a sin.  As was dancing, skating, smoking, going to movies, hanging out with friends.  Wanting cool clothes and caring about how one looked was also a sin…vanity.  Sin was not permitted.  It was very, very bad. God hated sinners.  He sent them to hell.  He only accepted the perfectly obedient.

Sex before marriage would send you to hell.  But somehow adultery never made the list, perhaps because it was my father’s specialty.  That and a few other sexual sins.

Considering these shaming conversations were the only ones “about” God that were heard in my house as I was growing up, the thought of my earthly father leading a church service was incongruous, to say the least.  Thankfully, the pastor gig didn’t pan out.  And when it fell apart, he moved toward what he considered to be the next best option.  He became a teacher.  Of 7th and 8th grade English.   And when he received his Master’s degree, he added Reading Specialist to his title.

This “next best” option still gave him power and access to fairly young children.

He was a Sergeant in the Air Force and for the rest of his life, everyone who knew him called him “Sarge.”  He earned the nickname.  Wore it with pride.  My father was a man who demanded absolute obedience.  Like God.

Though I am unsure of my age when he first started sexually abusing me (childhood trauma can play havoc with memory…and the soul), by the time I entered elementary school, I was already showing signs of long term abuse.  Torturing my dolls.  Sexual awareness far beyond what was normal for a 6-year-old.  Fear of adults.  Withdrawal.  I carried secrets no little girl should ever have to carry.

My father the teacher taught me many things.

He taught me to fear.  To disregard my own intuition and perceptions. To hate myself.  To despair.  To distrust.  To expect the bad.  For you could always depend on terrible things happening.

He taught me to disassociate.  To hurt.  Feel agony beyond what I could bear.  To hold in my tears, even as they ripped me into pieces.  To numb my emotions. To live in a vacuum void of any life-giving elements.

And he taught me about sex.  He told me he was doing it for my own good.  To help me.

My father the teacher was very, very helpful.  When he wanted something from me.

My greatest fear is that he also taught other little girls.  And if I had found my voice when he was alive, I might have been able to prevent him from taking on other “students.”

I pray I am wrong.  I pray I was the only one.  But the odds are against my prayer being answered.  I wonder often if the day will come when I encounter another child he personally tutored the way he groomed and tutored me.

He was such a “good” teacher, the lessons he taught me have been difficult to unlearn.  The numbness persists.  As does fear and despair.  My memory is full of black holes and brief flashes.  I cannot put the few memories I do have into any kind of order.  They pop into my head and play behind my eyes randomly, then fade away just as quickly.  I struggle to believe I have value unless I prove myself to be useful again and again.  I must earn the right to live and breathe, unsure I am even a person. I see my Heavenly Father through the same lens as I view my earthly father.  I fear Him as I feared him.  I don’t know how to trust Him, just as I knew I could not trust him.  I feel His rejection and displeasure just as I felt his rejection and displeasure.  I feel used by Him much in the same way I felt used by him.  My earthy father broke me, smashed me to pieces, shattered my soul.  My Heavenly Father allowed it…and He has not bothered to put me back together.

Could be the healing I have sought hasn’t come because of the lessons my father taught me.  Such a very “good” teacher.  I can’t seem to change the way I see my Father and I think this hinders me in my pursuit of wholeness.  Not only did my father shatter me with his lessons, he shattered my ability to trust the One who might be able to help me.

He stole my hope.  Derailed my future.  Defiled me.

The problem with being defiled is that I am the one who got dirty.  He walked away unscathed.  Unlabeled.   He got away without enduring a single consequence.

What he taught me did not help me.  It did not prepare me for life.  Instead, it crippled me.  His lessons have been something I must constantly struggle to overcome, not something I can build and stand upon.

But he taught me. Teacher, teacher.  He taught me lasting lessons.  Written indelibly on my heart.  Infused into every cell.   And I walk this dark and empty path he set before me though I have tried desperately to leave it behind.  I walk this torturous, desolate, poisoned path every single moment of each and every day.

I have been perfectly obedient.

 

Broken Body, Broken Mind

Broken bodies are easier to heal than broken minds.  For the most part.

There is a point of no return for both.  Obviously.

But bodies can be horribly broken, yet still heal.  Scars will write the painful story across once torn skin, once broken bones, once mangled ligaments.  But pushed too far, ripped too badly, the pieces can’t be knitted back together.  Loose too much blood, the heart will have nothing to pump.  Lungs will cease to infuse the cells with air. The brain will begin to die without oxygen.  Life will end.

Minds can be terribly broken and sometimes heal.  Sometimes.  But not as often.  Bones are programmed to repair.  From a molecular level, cells are programmed to rush to the sight of wounds like tiny nano-robots, providing whatever is needed to stop bleeding, fill in burnt and missing skin, seal over gouged, ravaged flesh.  Bodies are worth healing.  We will go to great expense and take incredible risks to get our bodies back to a functional state.  Billions of dollars are spent on researching ways to replace limbs, make people walk again, heal brain injuries, replace organs and create artificial skin.

Broken bodies are nothing to be ashamed of.  People may look the other direction because they are afraid if they look too closely, something similar might maim them.  They fear being mugged by fate or bad luck.  But the person isn’t blamed for their injuries or resulting struggle.  It is seen as something that happened to them, something hard to think about, but that certainly isn’t their fault.

But when what is broken isn’t related to the body…it’s a different story.

Broken things.  We throw them away.  We even get angry with them for letting us down.

We view broken things as being unworthy of repair.  Not worth the money.  Not worth the energy.  If our phone is damaged, we get a new one.  If our TV stops working, we head to best Buy or some other electronics store and pick up another.  If our computer crashed too many times, we replace it with the latest, greatest model.  The only things we fix are those big ticket items.  Cars.  Houses.  And even then, they reach a point when it isn’t worth it to us to shell out the funds to fix the damage.

The only things we try to repair, regardless of the damage, are bodies.  If we break a bone, we get it set by a doctor who has spent many years learning how to heal us.  If we have cancer, we undergo extensive treatment to destroy the cancerous cells or have an operation to remove the malignant tumor…or both.  If we are cut, we tend to the wound, be it a large gaping one that requires massive surgery to patch us back together or a minor cut that only needs to be cleaned and protected with a Band-Aid.  We disinfect and tend our wounds to create a healing environment.  We take heroic measures to restore badly damaged flesh.  Sometimes, we don’t know when to let go.

Like old appliances, we throw emotionally damaged people out with the trash.  They are nothing but a ripped shirt.  A broken calculator.  A microwave oven that no longer heats or defrosts.  If the wound is to the psyche, the person is discarded.  They are expected to repair themselves or stay out of sight.

The emotional wound may even have been obtained in an honorable pursuit.  Think of the war hero struggling with PTSD.  Had he lost his legs while serving his country, he would have been labeled a hero.  People would say it was tragic, but they wouldn’t have doubted he was a worthy warrior deserving of a medal; deserving of acceptance and assistance.  But since he “lost his mind”…and his direction…he is considered defective and deformed in a way that simply can’t be tolerated.

We will do what we can to heal the damaged body.  But we shame those who struggle with depression or any of the many other mental and emotional illnesses.  They are too heavy a burden.

I don’t understand this.  But I see it and feel it every single day.  If you have a mental illness, you are shamed into hiding it.  You are told not to talk about it, to snap out of it, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, to get on with your life and to stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Why, if the damage is physical, is it considered a disease or an injury?  Yet if the damage is emotional, it’s considered a defect.

Why is the physically damaged individual not required to hide their wounds, but the emotionally damaged is expected to function normally in spite of theirs?   We adapt the environment to the needs of the physically disabled, but we expect the emotionally disabled to think themselves into being another person altogether.  We expect them to walk without legs.

The abused and broken have had their brains turned into mush.  They suffered a debilitating wound that has changed them forever.  Are they worth less because it is their mind that is broken instead of their physical body?

Broken body.

Broken mind.

One we nurture and embrace.  The other, we shame.

Shame is a very heavy burden to carry alone.

 

 

Walking on My Hands

“Sometimes your world turns upside down and you need somebody to show you how to walk on your hands before you can find your feet again.”  Karin Slaughter

 

I don’t know if it happens to everyone, but it happened to me.  My world inverted in an instant.  “Normal” vanished in one startling moment.  I lost my balance in a frightening flash.  Was never able to regain my footing.  Never experienced solid ground beneath my feet at any time during the years that followed.  The rug was pulled out from under me, sending me cascading unceremoniously onto my butt.

People laughed.  No one reached out with a helping hand.  They turned away instead, chuckling to themselves about how odd I was.  How pathetic.  How lost.  How unworthy of attention.  Or love.

Being a bit of a klutz, walking on my hands didn’t come naturally.  And since I never found my feet again, I’ve spent years navigating life while trying to do handstands, to get up while falling, crawling, sometimes even rolling, but never gracefully moving forward nor even progressing clumsily in a straight line.  Progress has been haphazard.  I’ve half-cartwheeled, flinging my limbs in an uncoordinated spastic seizure in a terrifying attempt to find my way forward.  Out of the mess.  Back to land.  I’ve rolled backwards instead of forwards.  At best, I’ve done a bang-up impersonation of a drunk who is so far gone, they can no longer stand at all…but they keep trying.  It’s not the least bit pretty.  Only the very mean can enjoy watching.  Only they find something so pathetic to be entertaining.

I’m trying to find my feet again.  I’ve been trying to find my feet again since childhood.

Before my age had reached double-digits, the abuse was well underway.  My world was a place of darkness, terror, pain, rejection and chaos.  I never knew when the bottom would drop out.  But even at that young age, I knew it would.  Probably when I lest expected it.  Laughter turned to anguish with the flip of a switch.  Daylight to terrifying darkness in the blink of an eye.  Normal to abnormal in a breath.  Reality melted in an instant and revealed the horror hiding behind the gilded facade.  There was nothing to cling to.  Nothing to stand upon.  Life was a free-fall and there was no parachute.  You knew it wouldn’t end well.

I prayed for someone to save me.  Someone to see what was happening to me behind closed doors.  To see the truth that lay hidden behind the bright smiles plastered on my parent’s faces.  They were good monsters.  Good at disguising themselves.  At hiding in plain sight.  No one ever suspected.  Or if they did, they didn’t care enough to show me how to walk on my hands.  Certainly not enough to rescue me.  Thus, my ungraceful, ineffective efforts to keep going when I couldn’t do anything more than tremble and watch in dread.  Limbs numb and asleep.  Frozen by panic and shock.

I needed someone to see.  To realize my world had been turned upside down and to show me how to walk on my hands until I could finally find my feet.  But I was alone in the nightmare.  Alone in my struggle.  Alone, without air to breathe.  A horrid earthquake was rumbling wildly beneath me, throwing me here and there and upside down again and again and again until I was too dizzy to take a single faltering step.

The earth yet trembles.  Not as crazily now as it did then.  But I am still dizzy.  I still cannot find my feet.  I stagger on my knee, my palm, one shoulder to the ground, trying to find stability.  Trying to turn the world back over.  To right it. To make sense of the senseless.

To no avail.

How can one make sense out of a father who sexually abuses his pre-school, elementary school, middle school aged daughter?  How do you make sense out of parents who strike their child with fists and slaps that knock them to the ground or into the wall across the room?  How do you make sense of parent’s words telling that child they are a disappointment, are letting them down, are a failure, could do better, had better do better? That they are too much trouble, cost too much money, are supposed to make them happy and make their life better, were born to fulfill them, to meet their every need.  How do you make sense of any of it, especially when they tell you this is love?

When your world turns upside down, when your toes can no longer find even a small patch of shifting sand on which to stand, you’re going to go down.

Whether you ever get up again depends on whether anyone notices your fall.  Whether they think you’re worth the time.  The time to show you how to get through the earthquake; to survive until the ground stops shaking.  It depends on whether anyone reaches out a hand to steady you. Whether they believe in you.  Believe you have value.  Believe you matter, even if you’re shaking and can’t stand.  If they show you how to brace yourself with your hands until you can get back up on your feet, your chances are good.  You’ll likely walk again.

But if you are forced to stumble alone, to roll, crash, crawl and careen forward on your own, especially if you are shamed because you can’t find your feet and move like you are inebriated, you may never again find solid ground.  You may never walk another step.

And the shame will make sure you stay down…down where you belong.  Down below eye level, so others are not continually confronted by your hideous, disturbing spasms.  Down and out of sight, so you won’t be a bother.  So you won’t disturb.  So the rest of the world won’t have to acknowledge that monsters roam the earth wearing masks, holding down good jobs and covered in nice clothing.  And that the damage they do to their child may be irreparable.