The Grace of Acceptance

photos by patricia

I’ve fought my past as if by doing so it would magically change and I could morph into another family where the little girl is loved, cherished and protected.  My past cannot change no matter how much fighting, drinking, running, eating, or raging. No amount of escape routes take away the pain of my past.

I was born to a family who would attack rather than love me. Once that inescapable truth was accepted the intensely burdensome, heavy load was lightened and settled within where it always had been.

Siblings used my body as if I didn’t matter which became my belief, a view so ingrained vestiges linger on. Their actions and choices caused a life of struggles that made wishes of having no life prevalent.

Acceptance with a voice detailing the brutal acts committed against my child’s body and mind have led to a fuller understanding of just what it took to get here. Rooms open within that offer repose, richness, and depths of quiet joy.

Accepting the truth and the horrific reality of my childhood instead of running is a daily practice. Stay, sit and just be. Work on the grooved pattern that says “I’m no good.” Don’t accept it. 

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DISCLOSURE

How can anyone learn how to react to a child who discloses abuse when we as a society still put our hands over our ears when the subject arises?

One third of all women and 14% of men have been sexually attacked as children. These statistics haven’t changed in decades.

Why not?

Yes, it’s a subject causing disgust, even nausea. So we don’t talk about it, not in public places, social circles, card games or parties. That needs to change.  We don’t talk about it because it’s unpleasant for others. But if we don’t the cycle of pain, destruction and harm to our children ravages on.

What if your child, grand-child, niece or nephew came to you and said, “Uncle Joe fucked me,” or “Grandpa sucked my pee pee spot,” or “Daddy stuck his thing in me?”

Would you be able to contain your look of shock, horror, and revulsion? Probably not without previous fore-thought or training. And how do you  hear that and maintain a neutral demeanor when the subject is horrifying and taboo?

The child absorbs the revulsion and horror into herself instantly. “I am horrible, dirty, disgusting, and BAD.”

The look that naturally comes from hearing such words out of a child’s mouth are immediately internalized within her. The negative thoughts and feelings become part of her identity. What she thinks of herself cements into a life sentence.

And what do you do? Nothing out of fear that others won’t like it, disbelieve it, argue or disapprove? Or will you take action… Take action, do something, do all that you can and have to to protect her. Yes, stick your nose in and tell the appropriate people even if it means that part of the family will abhor you. 

Families hush it up to protect themselves and then require silence from the child compounding her traumas greatly making them impossible to process. Had we a system that talked about childhood sexual abuse outright rather than in hushed tones, along with treatment plans that were also highly vocalized, perhaps families would seek help rather than silence the child.  

If we accept the truth that this happens, and it’s prevalence, perhaps things can change. Perhaps there is hope where for most there is none. She if often further victimized by family who choose not to believe her, and don’t protect her from further attacks. If they were to believe her it means facing their own reputations being destroyed. So the child is additionally dumped on with a killing load. 

She stays silent because she is too young not to. She needs her family to survive because there is no other.  She is silent until she can be no longer. And when she speaks she loses it all…but gains herself. It is a very tough journey and she is all alone. 

If a child discloses, listen with love. Act on it. Protect her. Provide care, sympathy and compassion. Allow the truth to emerge so that she can freely speak of the abominations committed against her. If she can process the trauma, she can heal, and so can the family. 

LONELINESS

photos by patricia

Loneliness can kill. Some die from it. My uncle shot himself in the face after his wife died.

I know loneliness, the depths so deep I ran from the feelings, but it found me everywhere…since childhood. There was no escape.

Keeping secrets not mine to keep made me lonely. Not your everyday lonely but a scraping, clawing pain exacerbated by life events like my children going away to college, a death or any loss.

Telling my story on paper helped remove the cavernous, bottomless, sharp edged well. Peace came, soft and quiet. Being by myself extended moments of peace into hours, then days, weeks, and years. Highs and lows remain but the craving for that place where peace resides helps me find my way back ‘home.’

Pain occurs over painful things but not the sword of loneliness cutting so deeply it felt hard to breathe with no way out. Loneliness evaporated with the written word. As each chapter erupted from deep within that had been held down for fifty years, so did the tears. Good tears that made the word ‘healing’ more than a word, salty tears washing my cheeks and wounds. 

Traumas dispersed into the universe, the black tar gone, the burdens gone and no longer carried like mountainous boulders. Spaces opened where ‘home’ was found.

No longer was I alone.

SENSUAL/SEXUAL TOUCH

There are many shattering losses due to childhood sexual abuse and the lingering ramifications are substantial. One in particular is difficult to talk about, sexual intimacy in a loving relationship. That was stolen from me and I mourn what was lost.

When a child loves and trusts her brother (substitute father, uncle, mother, etc.), the closeness, warmth, and time spent together is not sexual. A hug is benign, just a hug, filled with warmth and love. That’s it. And when she gets older, perhaps adolescence, she might feel a twinge of her sexuality at her first kiss with a boy she likes her own age.

Then she’s a teenager and it’s said the hormones take over, not me. I was scared and frozen when my boyfriend tried to touch me in any sexual way. But this is when one explores happily, both boy and girl enjoying the closeness and exploration.

On to later years, women respond and feel their sensuality, and are able to enjoy the touch of the one they love who loves them back. Not me. I laid there quietly, frozen, afraid to feel, so I didn’t. And I became enraged afterwards feeling like I had been attacked all over again.

I never reached a place where I could be with my husband and respond lovingly during intimate times without fanaticizing being forced. This sweet gentle man would never do that, it was only what my creative mind came up with so that I too could enjoy being together that way. I think that is sad. And not the norm. And not how our bodies, emotions and minds are intended to be. 

But if as a child, a brother, father, mother, or any trusted close family member, attacks a child sexually, they are arresting the child’s ability to develop as they were meant to. If you’re being forced, and by forced that also means, cajoled, tricked, manipulated, coerced, groomed, shamed, terrified, threatened, whatever treachery the attacker uses to silence the child, then you associate all those feelings with sex. You associate benign love, such as what you feel innocently for a loving family member, with sexual feelings.

That is not how it is meant to be. It is much too young to stimulate a child this way. She forever associates sex with force, shame, fear, many things, including warmth and love, because she does love her attacker.

The confusion to a child is extremely detrimental to her well-being, psychological health, and sexual/sensual life from then on. She will associate a sexual response in many ways other than intended. You may hug your children and feel a response within that doesn’t match an unromantic love. And that can happen with all unromantic loving relationships. It’s crossed wires. One need not feel ashamed for what was done to them in childhood. Just note the feeling and move on.

She may look for love in all the wrong places, because that is what she was taught.  Love and sex came from the wrong places, so how does she know where the right ones are?

PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or more commonly PTSD: I wondered if that applied to me after years of overly exaggerated responses to everyday encounters, like my kids, husband, or anyone coming from behind or around a corner. I feel a rush of terror, let out a scream and jump away from the perceived threat as if my life were in danger.

Kids thought it funny and scared me purposely until I turned on them, snapping, “That’s NOT funny, stop it!” I attempted to explain, “I get scared very easily and become extremely frightened when you do that.”

It began to sink in that others don’t react as I do; my responses are out of whack. I read about trauma and its effects. Could this be it, so long after childhood?

Trauma causes post-traumatic stress, and one symptom is an exaggerated startle response. That must be it, but what’s the timeframe? I didn’t read anything about how long it lasts. A lifetime? Mine does. I read about veterans returning from war, the suicides, drinking, and the inability to hold down jobs or their marriages. I have deep empathy for them. But I wouldn’t compare myself to them. War? I can’t imagine what they saw or experienced. It’s no comparison. Or is it? I underestimate what was expected of me, how I was trained to feel, which wasn’t what I really felt. I was trained to act like I loved my attackers, so I lived in terror but had to hide it, even from myself.

Like leaves in the wind, parts of me scattered to places I couldn’t reach. How much energy does it take one’s psyche to repress a violent traumatic event, or more than one of them? I became two selves: one that cannot remember, and one that remembers but remains inaccessible. I broke in two, leaving fragments along the way, hard to pick up and paste back into one, not the same one anyway. I am not the me that I could have been had I stayed whole and safe from attack. Our psyche protects us by splitting our spirit or soul apart from physical and emotional trauma. But then we are left that way, broken, with no clue how to put ourselves together again, like Humpty Dumpty.

Could that explain why I don’t have the energy others seem to naturally possess? Repeated and excessive bursts of the hormone cortisol, meant to give us sudden energy quickly, to move us away from life-threatening danger, would spurt through my veins daily, depleting precious reserves. And draining that substance, which was meant to be used and resupplied much less frequently, took a toll on both my nervous and immune systems, burning them up. Chronic fatigue became normal. Though my body’s systems have healed somewhat, full recovery seems unlikely. The glands under my neck, and most likely elsewhere, pop out after very little stress. If I don’t pay attention and go at my own pace, I could weaken what’s left and cause even more damage. But it’s unfamiliar territory, respecting my own needs, because I tend to compare myself with others, and compared to them, I appear like a slug.

Energy used to protect my inner self from annihilation taxed my emotional and physical being, especially during my years as a nurse. But that didn’t stop me from trying to keep up with everyone, if that’s what it took to be “normal.” Being on edge, watchful, crouched internally and cowering in a defensive position for the next attack, exhausted my already limited energy supplies. Just carrying on a conversation with anyone who felt threatening permanently weakened resources over time—and nearly everyone felt threatening.

I craved social outlets, connections, and closeness, but when around others I buzzed anxiously. That feeling, like the excessive speed I experimented with in college, took precedence. I feared connections, yet needed them. I spent much of my adult life split, pieces flying about me like busy electrons, a carnival game trying to catch them and make them stick in the holes. Meditation began to bring the parts together, the feeling of wholeness brand new and magical, even if only momentary.

Meditating doesn’t take away pain, but rather takes me into it. Creative solutions to everyday dilemmas often occur. There’s new evidence suggesting it can help heal a brain damaged by PTS, (1) but I knew none of the latest research over ten years ago when I began practicing meditation.

(1) See Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius for more information.

KNOW THYSELF

photos by patricia

I pick fights when what I really need is compassion and support.

It takes work to understand my own motives. Is it a knee jerk reaction tainted with jealousy or is the response coming from a place that I feel good about? When my head hits the pillow sleep needs to come but living in a way that is contrary to my character and beliefs will interfere with peace. 

Looking deeply for true motives is not easy nor comfortable. 

It takes time for true insight, sometimes years. Enlightenment occurs and surprise, “Wow! I’ll go to great lengths to push someone away!” Or, “That is immature and not who I want to be.”

In tying a new path look with curiosity,  notice, be open and don’t judge.

When applying gentleness to human foilbles with an accepting, interested nature the possibility for growth and improvement increases greatly. And the opportunity to receive what is needed rather than push it away ripens like warm fruit from the tree. 

 

MEDICAL

Image result for scared child drawing

Dental cleanings, dental work, x-rays, mammo’s, or anything where someone is coming at my body needs pre-thought and adequate sedation when called for. It takes a great deal of courage to lie back in a dental chair or on a stretcher while someone comes at my body. Haunts arise and the psyche doesn’t decipher the past from the present.

Instinct decides that I’m going to be violently hurt.

The effects and damage from childhood sexual attacks committed by siblings leaves life-long challenges. Medical interactions are harder to handle not easier.  Repressed memories swim closer to the surface. All other memories come with a lock and chain; be still, be silent, don’t move, never tell and you are bad.

The need to self-advocate is paramount. Yet years of silence make this a constant struggle and the battles have been lost in disturbing ways. But the adult in me must be put in charge. And the child  I was still clamoring for reassurance need to believe that the adult part will handle things. Too many times this hasn’t happened and the wary child’s fright reigns; the child who so desperately needed intervention during years of attacks, but was completely abandoned. She lies there and takes whatever comes and the adult has abandoned her again.

Adrenaline from the terror boiling up from unprocessed trauma eats up medication that puts others to sleep. The doctor needs to be forewarned. The child needs to know that her panic and terror will be respected and taken care of which translates to a higher a level of sedation. This means meeting with the doctor and staff beforehand and not giving in until both parts of myself agree and are not just going along with others who reassure but don’t know at all what they are talking about.

It sounds so easy yet is so hard for a woman silenced for most of her life. Muteness occurs as if lips are stitched shut.