A Voice

Sitting by the fire the day after cataract surgery feeling forlorn, I sent out this email to Seth. One of three non-abusive siblings. He moved here from California recently. He has been a life-long buddy of Tom, one of the abusers.

Not sure what possessed me to reach out. I needed the comfort from a friend after the first email. Her response was that maybe I needed to. So once it began, I kept going. And for the first time expunged my feelings in a way to feel good about without regret.  

And the words kept coming. My emails are italicized, his are not. The feelings left after it all are that you can’t milk blood from a stone. That what I need won’t be found in what others call ‘family.’

He did finally say he was sorry for what I endured. That may have been what I’ve been looking for all along, but most likely too little, too late. 

Got my eyes done yesterday. Due to the traumas in my childhood he did the rare exception of doing both under General Anesthesia. Every time any medical issue is attended to my body reacts as if it is mortal danger. It takes a long time to recover. Though my body lay still, my heart beat as if running a marathon, which concerned them. They got me out fast.

I would wish for a closer relationship with ‘family’ where support can be felt. But family is just a group of people I was born into. (unfortunately) I have created my own.

I know I’m kept at arm’s length out of fear I may talk about the reality of my life, the damage done that cannot be corrected. Though committing energy, years, and money to therapy, some things broken remain broken.

I was thinking of you wishing I could reach out. But you have said everyone had it so hard, which so quickly silences me. The ones who attacked me had it hard, yes, of course I get that. I think had I never been born they wouldn’t have had to carry it all around all their lives. And no one had to. There is a word, I’m sorry.

Not one ever wrote or called to just say “I’m sorry.” Afraid of my rage probably, that’s not a good reason. I was a little girl. What Danny did is blocked out to this day, though I know it was a violent rape. What Tom did was traumatize me further by put-downs and snickers life-long making me look bad and inconsequential whenever possible. If I am looked at as less than others, than what he did wasn’t so bad.

It worked. It worked. I have and still feel ‘less than.’ He sat around my table here at this house when I was in my fifties putting me down. No one said a word. He snickered at my dumbness at buying this house with a realtor who cut corners. Making a point of how little I knew so that you and Stevie had to help. Cutting me down throughout my life didn’t stop, and he excelled at it.

I am happy now, which translates to being at peace. (most of the time) It is not how most of my life was. Most of it was lived in anxiety and rage.

But I have this time where I am at peace, or as much as I’m able to have.

I think of you often. Too bad it can’t be more than that. You chose Tom. I am just an afterthought, someone to treat well so you don’t feel guilty. That’s OK. I have people who really love me, warts and all. And being an only girl in a family that would attack me rather than love me is something that has made me feel like an abomination. Those that did it, and those that knew and kept quiet.

I was forced to keep it all in, not physical force but many other ways. Everyone made sure of that, even now. Unprocessed trauma(s) does a lot of damage to all systems of the body. But I am strong, I am a good, courageous, and very special person. I also got through yesterday’s surgery which is something I have been dreading the last few years as my eyes became worse and worse, with a dread uncommon to most others. It is a special hell for those sexually abused as a child, to have anyone come close to one’s body. I suppose the repression of the rape has something to do with that.

Patricia

I need to add that is was not love to criticize me for writing a book about the horrors I suffered. Love would be cheering me on. If I had the energy and ability, I’d speak across the country about the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse in families. And those that truly cared would applaud my courage and bravery for doing so. It is well past time for this to be talked about. It isn’t just coaches, priests, and scout leaders.

Patricia,

I’m sorry I’ve been negligent in getting back to you and let me say right from the start that I AM sorry for what you went through, a sentiment I believe I have expressed many times in the past (but maybe only in my own mind). I know if hurts you that I did not read your book. We all have our coping mechanisms, and mine is to box things up and store them away. That’s how I’ve always done it, am doing it now and probably will until my dying breath. Writing it was cathartic for you, and that’s great. I wouldn’t be for me and, I don’t want to know the details. I’m not proud of it, but that’s just the way it is. I can’t make you better. I wish I could, but I can’t and you know I can’t. 

It doesn’t hurt me that you didn’t read my book. It hurt me more than you’ll ever know that I was criticized about writing it…. So much so that I thought I was having a heart attack and went by ambulance to the hospital and spent the night.

Your opinion of me meant more than my own. Not your fault. I needed to grow and appreciate just what is inside me, and it is powerful. My opinion matters to me most now, but it took all that to learn and only just a few years ago. We keep growing as long as we are living… : )

I don’t care if you read it. It wasn’t written for you. It was written for me, to scourge out what they had done which had blackened my insides for decades. Women who have suffered what I suffered do need to hear the details so that they don’t feel alone. That’s how I started to face what was done to me, by reading what other women went through feeling for the very first time less alone, less bad, less an abomination.

You don’t need to read the details. But I also won’t be silenced anymore for another’s comfort. I suffered. I still suffer. I don’t need you to make me better. I am beautiful just as I am. And I am learning more and more about the beauty, strength, and courage that lies inside me.

No not once, did you, or anyone else say you were sorry about the traumas I endured. The exception may be Don. Stevie never knew and now has enough grief of his own to deal with. In that flurry of our exchanges about the book there might have been a line about it, but the defensiveness flung at me negated it.

In this note for the very first time I hear you.

In response to your note on Thursday, I can’t tell whether I’m the one who criticized you about your book or someone else. I don’t remember doing such a thing, but I know I’m often guilty of seeing what I want to see from someone else’s words. 

Something which caused me so much upheaval… you don’t remember.

You said in the email when there was a flurry back and forth after sharing the link to the book, that it wasn’t right to put family dysfunction out there. Or something to that effect. It was a blow to me, devastating.

Your embarrassment about what others had done meant I should stay quiet. It is common in families where this happens. The victim is further victimized, further wounded. The second wounding some call it for those attacked as children, then attacked by families to be quiet about it later on in life when they bravely speak out about it.

That was the criticism. After that I couldn’t hear anything else. But that is exactly how and why it keeps happening in families. The victim is made to keep quiet due to the shame of others. It became my shame, though it wasn’t mine at all.

A child holding all that in? Unprocessed PTSD causes life-long damage. If not processed at the time trauma occurs it can damage many bodily systems permanently… and it has.

You knew when it happened the first time because I told you as a child that Danny fucked me.’ The words he must have used while he did it, though I have blacked it out except the time right before and afterwards when screaming in the bathtub because ‘it stung down there.’

Don came running in to see what was wrong. (I must have been 8 or 9 by the way, just a little girl)

That you didn’t do anything at the time, I don’t blame you, though I wish you had. I wish you stayed home to protect me. Impossible I know. You were a teenager.

But you knew more about the others besides Danny in your thirties when I sent out poem like letters to everyone about what they had done, yet it still didn’t matter. You chose to be closest to one of my attackers. As if it didn’t matter what he did. That I do hold you to. You can’t be on the sidelines. You must take a stand for what is right.

Tom must have been home from college when he crept up in the night to attack me while Stevie and I slept on each end of the couch falling asleep watching the Christmas tree. Attacks aren’t always violent. Some are quiet, waking me from a deep sleep.

The brother I loved and trusted became a monster drilling me down for decades afterwards, making me look bad whenever he could.

He may have done the most damage with his constant campaign to cut me down, belittle me, and make me look inconsequential. He tore me up more than all that happened. No one crossed him, or confronted him in his efforts. You have been his closest ally and buddy.  

Coming out of all that I became much like a hostage bowing to her captives, the group of people most call ‘family’.

 

Comfort and Joy

As my body recovers from the terror of the cataract removal procedure, my hands need busying. Projects on hold are finished; an old jewelry box found recently at a garage sale, painted golden like the sun to match our bedroom walls, gently gluing felt into the tiny drawers– a string of ornaments hung which will be left up all year, and mason jars with a cloth flounce top to be filled for Christmas goodies for both sons and their families.

It is almost a week later and has taken that long for my body to calm down. Waking in the night causes my body to become vigilant, arousing excessively as if on alert. Going through the procedure gave the message to my body it was in mortal danger, and that message has taken time to dissipate—to feel safe again. 

But each night with discipline, efforts are employed to stay in bed with words mentally said to myself; it’s OK, stay, you are tired, you will sleep. It is very hard to keep an agitated body down, but each night improved. It feels almost as if things are back to what they were.

Temps drop, and while sipping coffee fat, white flakes fall against the black morning. Everything is brighter, clearer, and in focus. So is dirt. While mopping, the floor showed layers of it my eyes hadn’t seen. Using a powder not recommended for floors, but worthy of removing just about any dirt, my mop whirled while a sheen of sweat dampened my shirt. .

Down the drain went bucket after bucket of brown water. The floor whitened dramatically. It took three days to come back to the living and stop laying around like a dead fish. Shane and Samuel encouraged me to venture outside before the winter storm hit.

Year-end gardening of emptying clay pots of their dirt saving the bulbs to replant next year was done robotically. Then as movement warmed the muscles, feelings came back with a joyfulness too.

After that laps in the meadow felt doable, but with the dark glasses provided from the surgery. The brightness even then was a lot. Lap after lap with a rest by the swollen, inky creek. The ability to be productive once again brings comfort and joy. .

SURGERY

The rattling that occurred in every bodily system took such a jarring that even days later after cataract removal exhaustion still overcomes me. Each day brings more strength and clearer vision. Due to the traumas of childhood my doctor agreed to remove both cataracts at once, unheard of in modern day American medical procedures.

Others have one done, then go back two weeks later for the other one. And not under general anesthesia where a breathing pipe is put down the throat. That left a sore throat for a few days, but with it a gratefulness to be fully out with no awareness of anything.

Though my heart began pounding when the mask was put on concerning the anesthesiologist because the mask brought in gas to put me out not wind me up. She underestimated the effects of long term PTSD that was not processed at the time the trauma(s) took place.

But then out, and done. Others surely recover quicker, but each day is a slow process of recovery from the anesthesia, even more so, the terror. Tears down my cheeks told the story to others, and each one provided compassion in their own way, wiping the tears, offering words of comfort.

That was good, but no words calmed the terror of the body which believed itself to be in mortal danger. It’s done. I awoke. I’m not blind, both things worried about beforehand.

There is an adjustment to the new lens and the extensive brightness which the cloudy lens had blocked out. And that will take time for the brain to adjust to. Reminder to self; this was done to improve my quality of life. That when walking the meadow the nausea of not seeing well will lift, and that things wouldn’t continue to become more and more blurry.

I know others recoup faster, with so much more zest. But others also don’t come with frightful memories still locked inside making these events so strenuous and exhausting. Allowing myself to take each day as it is at whatever pace is needed with gentleness is the way through this healing process.

 

Little Things

Waking to anxiety and fear is the norm. Go back to sleep. Everything is alright, you are alright, and the calming process needed daily begins. This is especially true during the darker months which have dug in quite deeply, with a 6 pound weight gain to prove it. Where did that come from?

Doing things like eating unconsciously to provide comfort began at age 8 to cope with upheaval when Danny took safety away forever. But that scares me even more, to eat unwisely not providing my body with kindness.

So like roping runaway wild horses, the reining in begins again. Show yourself kindness and respect. When those thoughts sink in, the compulsion to eat away uncomfortable feelings disappears. My soul still starves for the nourishment of self-love.

My mother’s hand upon my fevered forehead. The special times when her love was felt because most of the time my hatred, rage and inability to trust walled it away. It is true with Samuel, my kids, and friends. Love is there, but it is not trusted.

And it is not there for myself, except for glimmers now and then. As the depth of love for myself opens so does love for others, both coming in and flowing out.

Love has always been there for me, around me like soft warm winds but could not enter for fear of betrayal and abandonment. A cat could only open me. And though that remains true, even a cat gets cold rejection when rejection of self occurs during periods of stress and detachment.

Come back to each moment because this is living, not some big event later on. Now is living in this moment. Nothing earthshaking, but life-changing in its quietness.

The cat purring on my lap because I’m aware of her, loving her, the vibrating from her purring matching my own, and she knows it. Taking a garage sale find and making a treasure out of it, day by day, in my own time, and with my own style. It’s OK to enjoy the little things. That is life, all the little things.

HOME

Waking in fear that the clock will say 2 AM, not 5, relief comes to see it close to 5 AM. Unsure why 6 miraculous weeks of good sleep were bestowed upon me, fear ratchets up after a bad night that more will follow. Repeated nights of those are so hard.

I used to think something during the day needing tending to kept me awake, or woke me in the night. That doesn’t seem to be the culprit. What does seem likely is my broken nervous system that catapults into overdrive even with a thought.

And many unpleasant thoughts come visiting in the wee hours of morning, or in the middle of the night. It takes persistent counter tactics to even out those negative messages.

It occurred to me that other things about me will remain broken, especially the feelings of being bad, not good enough, dirty— name whatever a child believes when she has been sexually attacked by loved ones, and that is what I’ve taken in as my fault cementing into part of my personality.

They would have had a chance if I hadn’t been born. (brothers who attacked) They died so young in terms of how long we tend to live today; one at 28, one at 52, one at 66, the last still living is 76.

Why didn’t you just stop having them, especially me?  These are my thoughts upon waking even after a good night of sleep.

Why would you have so many? They were beautiful children, yet she seemed more interested in partying, and being belle of the ball. Seven beautiful boys who needed love and attention, not her scorn, and outright hate because of the work to care for so many. 

Those feelings about myself remain a part of who I am. And that is the work, learning to be kind to myself… making a retreat worth coming into. A soft place to fall inside me. To warm that cold interior where no one would want to be, and make it my haven, my home.

A Sinking Ship

The nurse called Friday. My brain knows she is being helpful, or trying to be, calling because the scheduler hears the terror in my voice as tears fell. But calling a few moments before she leaves for the day, telling me she will call back Tuesday, makes me feel on edge for the days in-between.

One little thing like that disrupted my sleep Monday night after 6 weeks of miraculous, blessed sleep. No coincidence, it lay heavy in my mind jangling my nerves. I woke in the night needing medication to go back to sleep, accompanied by sitting on the couch at 3 AM waiting for it to take effect.

Of course that would happen on the night before a call might come in the morning. But she did not call back until early evening, and that after I made several calls to different numbers trying to find her. Dong so empowered me. I won’t sit back and be quiet. If you say you’re going to call, call. If not I will hunt you down. 

If only I’d asked my one burning question Friday. Can I take Xanax? But not wanting to disrupt her from getting out of work at the end of her shift, the question was left hanging. My corrupt system always at the ready to plow me under kept beating at me, Why didn’t you ask? Why didn’t you ask?

Finally I know it is OK to take it the morning before the cataract surgeries. The weight of the world fell off me, like buckets of boulders rolling down.

A simple little thing such as waiting for a phone call caused me to feel powerless, victimized, and weak with worry and fear. In the interim I dissolved into tears with both sons on phone calls. (Isn’t that great?) And melting with tears when my friends came for the afternoon.

Feelings of normalcy returned, my inner world calm, and the capsized boat turned back around floating peacefully. In the chaos an idea was realized. That the terrified child has lived through it all with resiliency and a strength unfounded.

That the little girl in me is the one sometimes doing the comforting. But the adult must take the reins and use a loud voice to advocate, a voice lost that has been impossible to use except on paper or over the phone. And that may be how it is. Becoming gentler about the deficiencies is where changes can occur.

She asks, “Do you mind me asking what traumas?”

Later I said to Samuel, “She was just being nosy. But I don’t care, I will shout it to the world.”

The shame is not mine.

 

WHOLESOMENESS

There is an ever present belief of ‘not as good as,’ lying deep in my core as if part of my personality like bedrock. Sometimes it lies dormant, only a whisper, and this only after years of internal strife, anxiety, and tearing myself apart with struggles over any interaction with another.

Whatever I did, said, or looked like was wrong, a mistake. That is what sexual abuse within a family does. When a child is forced to stay silent to protect the family’s shame, trauma swims within her like sharks eating her flesh from the insides out. Shame rots all that would blossom.  

I believed I was ‘bad.’ That grew as I grew. Every person who looks at me must be thinking something bad about me. That was a surety in my belief system making any attempt at just about anything supremely difficult and almost impossible.

Those feelings paralyze stunting growth. The body grows, the rest stagnates causing a quagmire of pain rolling like a tumble weed as years passed. As days grow shorter old ghosts rise consuming all rationality threatening to pull me under.

You are as good as others. How absurd to believe otherwise? A voice, soft and gentle is heard. A voice once gagged for the sake of the family. Even now freedom is squelched out of habit, but beliefs and feelings are opening to the stars and the heavens.

You have a right to be here. I suffered despite the so called ‘family’ acting as if I didn’t. The call to them has diminished. The need for it about gone. That need only makes the pain go deeper, but like a moth to flame I kept coming back.

A change has evolved, a quietness, and acceptance of how things are, where I stand, and how to provide for my needs for the very first time, untainted by another looking out for their own interests.

It is freeing. The internal quiet and acceptance so longed for, fought for, and coming into all parts of my being after the weapons are put down. The moments of now are savored instead of avoided.

It comes when least expected, this surprise of wholesomeness.

 

Say NO

“Thought I’d come for tea. Would you like a visit?” Chris asked.

“Oh sure,” I replied, then remembering our outing planned for the gorge the next day I added, “Oh, I forgot, we are going to the Falls tomorrow.”

“Maybe we can come. Jerry might have to work, but I’ll ask him,” she said excitedly, while my mind was immediately yelling what my mouth would not— I didn’t ask you!

Caught off guard without defenses to ease myself out of the situation, the day to come already felt ruined. Enjoying the freedom to do what I want, when I want, was stolen.

Then the reproach begins, adding to the disappointment of having others go to my special place that weren’t asked to come: At your age, you can’t speak up? That thread bangs down heavily making the dissatisfaction of a friend’s overstepping her boundaries particularly jarringly, also making me aware of how easily others take advantage of me. 

I’m a mouse. But another voice breaks in, you were put in a tough position without time to think of way to say no gracefully. How about, FUCK NO! Instead it was a meek, mild, fake enthusiastic OK.

“I’ll ask Jerry, and get back to you,” she says.

“OK,” I respond, my being somewhat fractured, perhaps dissociating. Part of me with her on the phone, another part elsewhere in the magical world where I had a voice.

The usual self-hate crept in for not speaking up, for allowing it, then feeling victimized. For her yet again taking something from me. We’ve had serious friction before. My dignity stolen with the constant swipes, like daggers to my belly being hurled whenever she needed a cleansing.

After years of not speaking up, I finally did. The crack in the friendship since then remained deep. She did not like me calling her out about the snotty remarks.

She phones after more than a year of not calling. We still meet monthly with our little group that travels to each other’s homes for cards, snacks, laughter, and fun. But we stopped doing too much together like we once used too. And we definitely stopped doing things as a foursome.

It was OK. We got through the day without major catastrophes, but I would have rather been on my own. There were specifications about what time they had to be back. A quick peek at another falls on the way home was scraped. On our own we would have.

Going along with something unwanted disturbed my peace. Waking at 4 AM, I was very awake. That has not occurred in over a month, and it’s probably not coincidental. Only this morning have words bubbled up that could have been said; no, we planned this outing just for the two of us. Simple, direct, and oh so easy.   

When my inner life is disturbed it causes this upset in sleep. A voice stolen such as mine was, doesn’t come back, not really. A life where my own needs were ignored while attacks to my body occurred over and over, takes the voice and a life.

I live with punches, whirling around like a dervish just to please others. Giving up what little I have, then nothing’s left. That is not OK. It wasn’t OK to say OK. Rationally it is such a little thing, but looms large because it feels like a repeat of the past. 

The solitude I crave and flourish within has much to do with this flaw in my character. I cannot speak up about my own preferences and needs. Resentment, even hate follows, for myself, and the offenders.

It is easier to navigate life on my own where freedom is sometimes found, luscious freedom oh so sweet. Even in solitude I am captive to my own negativity, but am finding my way out of the bondage. 

It becomes much harder around others, especially those that are so needy and controlling. 

 

Alive and Liking It

 

What can you do to nurture yourself today? The barrage of negative feelings that tend to speak first with volume is ongoing challenging work to confront. Snippets of success here, a backwards landslide next, leaving me discouraged.

But over time a miracle. A voice first heard that encourages, supports and booms louder than the old one once scourging my interior with brash, insidious, destruction… just like Tom.

Assuming the role of the attackers became my way. A life of attacking myself takes time to reverse. And over time, the new me that reflects more truly the original me, flourishes. Being in my own body, mind, and heart feels at home, the welcome mat out.

Doing simple tasks or pastimes is OK. I don’t have to change the world, just my thoughts about myself. Liking myself, being a part of the world with this new liking of myself, feeling just as equal to others instead of less than, so less than I’d think of death, or feel I deserved to be dead, is a gift—to the world, but most especially to myself. 

Maybe for some it is a rite of passage from childhood to maturity. For many, it is not. The work to achieve  a connection to my core when daring to touch it, feeling a bit of awe and admiration for what is there, and has been all along, took time. It took a life, and that work continues. 

EACH MOMENT

The balmy morning, though darkly silent, draws me out on the porch with the cat without shivering from the cold. The flux in temperatures is interesting, nights dropping cold, the sun warming the land causing thick clouds of low lying fog drifting off with the warmth.

Some days slowing my mind to absorb the beauty around me does not come. Walking the meadow, the tall grasses once lush green have dried causing a swoosh walking by as the breeze makes them sway.

Leaves fall in swatches while sitting creek-side making a crunch underfoot grounding me to the earth. Wake and notice. But my mind drifts off elsewhere, and it is hard to stay present. Thoughts turn to the miracle of long periods of sleep, and what has changed since the trip to Cory’s.

Because that is when the miracle of night after night of sleep started. Perhaps the knowledge that the seemingly impossible is possible if enough effort and determination is put forth. That my mind is more powerful than given credit for.

That feelings are welcome, yet some can be turned from gently closing the door on them. Fear? Anxiety? Come to the moment to chase those away. An upcoming call concerning when the eye surgery will be? Dismiss it. There will time to face that fear when it happens. No need to dwell on it now.

Instead offer myself encouragement that it will be handled. And with aplomb. You can do it, and do it with a sense of peace, prayer, and hope when the time arrives.

But other feelings? Those need to run through me, not be avoided, because stuffing them only causes the pain to linger coming out in other ways often by disturbing the body’s physical health..

How to know which ones to keep and which ones to maneuver? That is not a ‘head’ decision, but one of soul. That place is now open, not clogged with hate, bitterness, and oily, tarry hands of what brothers did. Rage like layers of volcanic earth far below the surface needed out.

All that had to be expunged. And what work to excavate. Decades. The work done, joy and peace spread up through over the red raw healing interior like balm.

Enjoy the day. Enjoy the moment, it is finally OK to be in my body; ligaments, muscles, arteries, bones and flesh, moving into the doors of my soul to explore.