Sunday, 2 November 2008

The universe unfolds as it will

I just reread all my postings since February. Oh, the typos and I am so hard on my students. One day, I will go through and fix them all, but not today.

Timelines are always a tricky thing. I was struck by my explanations of how long I have been running the therapy gauntlet. Certainly I was trying for years to find someone to talk to who a) would actually hear what I was saying; b) was someone whom I could trust; c) could ask the necessary questions that I had to find the answers to. This is a hindsight moment. Looking back, I can see that that was what I was trying to do. At the same time, I know that even as I was trying to sort myworld out, the memories had their own agenda. It is almost as if they weren't going to let go until I was ready to remember.

When I was at the University of Waterloo (Honours Math & Computer Science, if you will!!), I saw a "counsellor" - what a waste of time and energy. When I finally moved to Ottawa, after a major meltdown with my mother (par for the course - but this one was just too much to take), I started to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Bela Kerenyi. I will remember him forever with great fondness. He gave me one piece of advice that kept me going for years: "Just because they're your parents, doesn't mean you have to love them." I still have a letter he wrote to Canada Student Loans stating that it would not be advisable to depend on my parents for financial support. (I ended up getting married instead of goint back to U of W in French and English [had started to come to my senses!].) When I was talking about the fact that I had no memories prior to the age of 12, he said that there was something there and that when it was necessary to deal with it, he would be there. That in and of itself was enough to relieve me of my discomfort - a security blanket. Looking back on it, do I think that we should have gone willynilly into the past? Given everything that I know about the 70s, and my subsequent life, I am just as glad we didn't try at that point. I certainly was coping well enough except when I had to interact with my parents. And if I hadn't been sexually assaulted in Paris, who knows how long it would have been, if ever, that the past would have intruded into my present. I would have been like my mother - never quite knowing what was driving me [My first husband said to me once that it was a good thing that we never had girls because I would have been way too hard on them - a remarkable insight from him and I didn't disagree with him even when he said it. We will never know, but I still accept that he was probably right.]

So we are overseas and I am sexually assaulted. No Bela to call, just pull up my socks and get on with it. I was in a major PTSD episode (not that there was a name for it at that time). My way out of it was to get pregnant. In many ways, my second son saved my life, just as my first had moved me away from a massive depression after my father died. (again hindsight) I loved children and would have had a gazillion more if things had been different. My children drove my life - most of the positive decisions I have made have been to make their lives easier on an emotional level. [I'll talk about career decisions, marriage breakups and remarriage at another time.] In the middle of the pregnancy, we moved to Australia. Still no therapist. I continued to have the odd nightmare and things were slowly making some sense. When we returned to Ottawa, I had to debrief with the FO's psychiatrist (standard procedure). I used that time to unload everything that had happened in Paris, my nightmares and possible conclusions. He used a personal anecdote as part of the discussion and then talked about the "trickling of the memories through a break in the dam of my walled up memories". I remember the discussion to this day. He was not there as my therapist, but he did say that I was certainly managing well now. [the story of my life, no one can tell - see my first posting "Stigmas"] He reiterated Dr. Kerenyi's point that the memories were so well hidden that it would take another crisis to break down the dam further (to continue with the analogy - this is a paraphrase of what was said in the office).

It was another 5 years before that happened. By that time the marriage was gone, I had my Master's and I had started a serious relationship again. What led to the next episode of PTSD is way to complicated to explain at this point. However, what I had this time was a therapist in waiting that I could trust. He had been our marriage counsellor and we continued to see him over all sorts of issues that dealt with the children and life in general during those 5 years.

I will say that it was almost as if I had put myself into situations that would force me to confront the past and my demons. Every time that I would attempt "normal", it wouldn't work. I just couldn't make myself fit. How I ended up in history of religions only made sense later on. There were the logical reasons and then there were the emotional reasons. The PhD choice seemed initially quite bizarre; nobody in the department thought that there was anything there - were they proved wrong!!

It just dawns on me that I do a lot of my postings on Sundays. The day of rest and contemplation? What I do know is that insights come when they will. When I tried to push myself into remembering, it never worked. I just got frustrated. It is almost as if the brain and the body have some kind of synchronicity that works on its own. That is part of learning to trust one's self. I now believe that everything has its time. My friends all have wonderful ideas about what I should be doing with my life. I take them all under advisement, but in the end, "what will be, will be" and it is seldom what can be planned for.

The adventure continues, and what is becoming my tag line, "the universe unfolds as it will". It is nice to be able to relax.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Past Is

I called my last post "How will we change the past, if we don't know what it is?". I keep looking at that and trying to understand exactly what I meant by that. Maybe what I meant to say was:

"How can we change the present, if we don't know what the past is?" or

How can we understand what we are dealing with now unless we understand what the past was? or

How will we change the impact of the past, if we don't know what it was? or

How can we stop being destroyed by the past if we don't know what it was?

The blog itself explained what I was trying to say. I am now deconstructing my own title. It is kind of interesting. Probably the most important point is that I referred to the past as existing in the present "... what the past is?" The past is always with us. It is. Our understanding of it may change, but if we don't know at least what happened to us, we can't understand and what we don't know, what we won't face can and probably will kill us.

I am right now teaching courses in history, and "the personal is political". My students were having difficulties with the notion of "truth". A postmodern problem??? If we have had one view of history (or a "master narrative"), and find out that there are missing pieces, or that the writer(s) had biases or were bigots or otherwise less than perfect, then does that make the history a lie? I would just say that it makes the history incomplete - it may make it a bit warped. But what is warped? There are facts - x happened. Why it happened, how it happened, the results of fact x are all open to interpretation and understanding. New facts, new information, new ways of looking at the world - all these things can change our understanding and interpretation of the past. The more we learn, the more angles that we use to understand, the better off we will be in the end. The past is; it cannot be changed - what we do with it is what changes.

Do past ways of understanding constitute lies?

It is the interplay between the personal and the "historical" that is starting to interest me. Some of this is not really new. I keep thinking about the old adage - "Those who don't know the past are condemned to repeat it". Can we find ourselves in "microhistories", anymore than we find ourselves in the "macrohistories" or "master narratives"?

There is probably a point to this rambling but I want to think about it some more. This doesn't quite fit everything that has gone before it, but I'm sure that it will connect up at some point!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

How will we change the past, if we don't know what it is?

I have been having a hard time working since Friday. I had the wonderful plan to get a couple of weeks ahead solidifying my lecture outlines so that I could go and see my children & grandchildren. I just couldn't focus enough to organize anything. I spent a few hours with my mother on Friday and again on Saturday morning, but I didn't really want to talk to anyone. My son phoned and I spent an hour talking, the upshot of which was that I sometimes have a hard time believing that both my sons are so "together". It wasn't until a long talk with my sister this morning that I managed to begin to sort through the funk that I have been in. Strange how that works! The topic of the conversation began in a similar vein. The discussion began with "given our mother, it is truly amazing that we have managed to raise four self-sufficient, highly functioning children". This is not to say that they don't have problems, everyone does. Sometimes life sucks, sometimes it is wonderful. It is just that they all have the easy capacity (whether they know it or not) to live and resolve their difficulties when they occur effectively. They are able to move forward and live. [It is hard to write about one's children - but I never cease to be very proud and amazed by them]

I am still not sure what the trigger points were that set off the funk but I know where it took me. My mother is now truly going downhill. She has just moved into a beautiful one bedroom apartment in the priciest senior's residence in town & bought lovely new furniture for it. She is almost 90 and has lived a fairly good life in her 30 year retirement. We have never know about her past, her childhood - this was verboten. We never had grandparents; our paternal grandparents were both dead by the time I was 2. We never met my maternal grandmother because my mother talked to her but once after she left home at 14 or 15. My maternal grandfather died when she was 18. She built a life for herself, had an amazingly productive career even before she met and married my father and came to Canada as a WW2 war bride from Holland. She also worked in her chosen profession for years in Canada. This is to say that whatever happened in my mother's life to make her the way she was & is, is a closed book. I once asked my aunt and uncle about my grandmother when I was in Holland. I finally saw a picture of her (she had died the year before) and was stunned to realize that I looked very similar - there was no mistaking the genetics [it explained a lot about my extremely convoluted relationship with my mother]. I also learned that, not only did I have an uncle but another aunt, as well. My mother was aware of the "half-brother" (or full brother according to my aunt - another part of the story!), but had no idea that there was another sibling. And it was clear that she didn't want to know. I got no answers as to why my mother left home so early and went and worked in a hospital the year before she started training; it was as if her life only began after the Second World War; little but her ties to her sister remained of that life.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, now we get to my father. Without my father, I doubt that we would have had any fun at all. I suspect that despite his temper, this is where my sister and I learned whatever positive child-rearing skills we had that came from our home. He was very easy going most of the time. He spent a lot of time with us, took us everywhere from the library to skiing. He took one or all of us fishing, camping, when he went to work building houses (during periods of lay-offs from the mill). I certainly learned how to fix cars, how to do electrical work, how to use a saw, besides all the female stuff. It should go without saying that I have no brothers! He cooked, he cleaned, he ironed. In other words, before the days of feminism, my mother had an equal partner around the house - particularly, when compared to his fellow steelworkers. He didn't drink when I was growing up - that seems to have changed somewhat later. He loved having people around and he died way too soon from an industrial accident when I was in my twenties. If he had lived, I suspect that my first marriage might have lasted, but he never even got to have grandchildren - and he would have loved the boys. However, he did have a temper and he did beat us. It was inconsistent. About the only consistency that we could ever figure out was if we upset my mother, there was all hell to pay & we could be assured that we would feel the belt. But when it was over, it was over. My father never made us pay endlessly for whatever we had done wrong & there was no doubting that he felt bad afterwards and he could say "I'm sorry". In the end, it has been relatively easy forgiving my father, he was only human and on the whole, the good outweighed the bad - at least for me. I wouldn't presume to speak for my sisters.

But there was another reason why, in the end, the good outweighed the bad. Totally repressing traumatic events as I did as a child can be very problematic. The problem is that I didn't just repress the bad memories, I also repressed everything else within the time frame. In fact, growing up, I had virtually no memories prior to the age of about 12. What I did have were mostly negative and unrelated to the sexual relationship with the priest. During my years of therapy, my father would figure periodically in the sessions - usually dealing with his violence, but sometimes around the fringes of the abuse issues. They were always nebulous. I would wonder sometimes if I had everything wrong and my father was a real bastard - but it never rang true (therapy is a strange beast - never assume you have the whole picture - you get discreet memories that might mean one thing, they might mean something else entirely - like jigsaw puzzles - when you put the pieces in the wrong place, it creates a distorted picture - I had to learn to trust my feelings in therapy - no matter what anyone suggested, if it didn't feel right in my gut, I didn't have the whole picture). Over the years, I would claw away at the walls, I would open the doors a little bit, sometimes the doors and boxes where my memories were gathering dust would fly open no matter what I did. And when the ones that held the role my father played flew open, the adult me could only feel so sorry for him. It was my father who told me that sex between adults and children was wrong; it was because of my father that I "broke up" with the priest; it was because of my father that the priest stalked me and tried to kill me. It was in my father's arms that I cried and cried and cried. It was my father who told me that everything would be all right [just to let the reader know, I am crying right now and reliving all of this one more time as I write]. It is now clear to me why I never had any sexual transference issues with my therapist - he replaced my father in the part of my life that needed to believe that everything would one day be all right - no matter how bad it seemed at the time. In many ways, my father has carried me through a rather raucous life. It also explained why I dreamed of my father after I was sexually assaulted in Paris, but he was too far away to help me - I just couldn't get to him (he had died by this time). I was alone.

You may be asking yourself: "where was her mother in all this?" Well that is a question that I haven't even asked myself until recently. This brings us to the point of "why the funk?" In fact, it is only in writing this that I have found the answer. About three weeks ago, my mother was completely disoriented, she clung to me and was crying and couldn't function at all. There were other people around and when they asked, I said that it was like PTSD - lord knows, I recognize it in others. I don't know what started it exactly but there was no question what it was. Over the last couple of days, she has been somewhat disoriented as well - not as extreme as 3 weeks ago but the look and the feel were there - she was disengaged. That was the trigger for the funk - it just took longer to have an impact on me. Where was my mother when I was eight? Somewhere else in her own world. I can only assume that what was happening to me, had completely incapacitated my mother. She couldn't help me. I desperately needed my mother to hold me and tell me everything was going to be all right and she couldn't do it. My father had to do it. I don't think that it came naturally to him (he was a man after all!), but he did it. He took care of me. The adult me also knows that he must have been taking care of my mother as well. I do know that I never trusted or depended on my mother again.

I have been her "therapist" over the years after my father's death (I'd be a rich woman now, if I had charged by the hour). My sisters and I have done this, probably as long as we can remember. When things would happen, we could not really go to her for emotional support - she never knew how to do that. Along with my sisters, I will support her until she dies (hopefully, peacefully in her sleep). I even moved back home four years ago to support my sister as mother started to fail. One could say that old habits die hard. I rather think that, for my part, this is the least that I can do for my father. He loved and adored her. As much as was possible, she loved him back. My father loved us as we were, no matter what we did, no matter how angry he got. As much as was possible, she loved us, but it was always qualified. Sometimes I think that she needs us; I am not sure that that qualifies as love. It was and is the best that she can do. Do I love my mother? Probably not, if I were to try and explain what love is to me. But I do care about her. She is my mother, and deep down inside, I know that she tried her best. She just didn't know how and I suspect that this is because she never learned how.

Maybe this is finally my eulogy for my father. Unlike my eulogy for god, I still miss my father. I wish he could have lived longer. I wish that he could have known that I have my PhD. I wish he could have spent time with his grandchildren and now, great grandchildren. It was not to be. Without him, both good and bad, my life would have been a lot less happy than it was. Maybe the Mik'maq child-rearing practices managed to work their way down, even to my generation.

One day, I hope I can be as generous about my mother's faults. I am not ready to write about how difficult those made my life. Perhaps this blog is also a start of finally forgiving my mother as well. The past creates the present and the future. Secrets destroy our lives and the lives of those around us. I am often asked whether all this "washing of the dirty linen" (read sexual abuse of children), in public is a good thing. My answer is always an unqualified "yes". I know that there are downsides - e.g., too much fear becomes generated in children and parents - there are, after all, lots of people who do not have this as part of their life story - more of them than us. However, how will we ever change the past if we don't know what it is? I know that I wish that we had all known more about my mother's past. I wish that my mother could have talked about it - it would have helped us, it would have helped my father. Life could have been so much easier for all of us if we had known at least some of my mother's past.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Laughter - the best medecine?

Someone brought up the idea of making fun of/laughing at abusers in your past that was considered to be a positive (I think) part of the therapeutic enterprise and what did I think about it. I really didn't know what I thought about it. My initial reaction was what purpose does it serve? It has been running in the back of mind for a few days now- obviously, because I'm writing about it.

I wrote a note "laughing at our pain by making fun of the abusers". I think that was the answer to my question about its purpose. A story went along with the question, and all I could think of was how that little boy must have felt. I couldn't imagine how even years later, laughing at the abusers would take the pain away in any way, shape or form. I guess that I have also been thinking about my past - could I even begin to find any humour in what happened to me? Even if I could find some kind of joke in there - it would be tinged with such bitterness, that it wouldn't help me. They treated us like we were dolls to do with as they wanted and then abandon when they were finished. We didn't have feelings; we weren't human beings. For me, there is no humour in that.

I think the rationale must be that if you can make fun of them, then you are cutting them down to size. So you become an abusive person. It just bothers me that someone can think that turning us into abusers is a solution to fighting the past. What! We get over being victims by turning into victimizers? This is how we destroy our demons? If we turn into victimizers, then they've won. They've turned us into them - the scale of abuse may not be the same, but it is still abusive behaviour. And besides, they couldn't care less - they didn't give a damn what we thought when they abused us as children, why would they care now (if they knew, of course)? I guess my answer is that it serves no purpose other than to make us like them. Whether we like it or not, they were once children too and look how they ended up (have I mentioned that I think they should all be hung up by their toes and left to rot for longer than eternity - sort of like Prometheus, they would never die, just suffer and suffer and suffer - I only wish I believed in hell - we all have our phantasies!)

I had a decision to make over the last little while. It should have been a very simple decision. I even knew what the right decision for me was. When the decision had to be made, it still took me two restless nights to say what I needed to say. Relationships are a bitch - even the mildest of them. I have never done them well. I second guess myself all the time. It is as if I want them to be different than what they are. What can I say but ...

Yet another legacy of the abuse - for whatever reason, I have always thought that I could handle anything. It was as if I believed that if that priest didn't destroy me, nobody and nothing could - nothing could ever happen to me that was as bad as what happened to me as a child (even when it was hidden in the recesses of my mind, I operated on the assumption that I could do it all). I've made rather a lot of questionable decisions over the years. Even when I knew better, I would walk right into the centre of the hurricane. I would just dive in willynilly, thinking that everything would work out. It always did, but never without a lot of emotional pain and scars and never the way I thought it would and never the way I wanted it to (ask me why my favorite type of music is the blues, second favorite, country).

The bottom line is that "laughter isn't always the best medicine". It can be dangerous. Just look at all of the bitterest of the comedians (e.g., Lenny Bruce, Sam Kinison). When the laughter comes out of emotional pain, it can be destructive. It leads to no good, it just offers a momentary respite from the pain - just as drugs, alcohol, random sex, compulsive shopping and gambling do. And it has the added danger of maybe turning us into people we wouldn't like very much. And it doesn't make the pain go away.

The universe unfolds as it will; we do what we can.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Soul Destroyers Didn't Get All of Us

Something that I have grappled with is how to think about the past. Only sometimes, but it is one of those things that is there. Am I the way I am because of the assault or in spite of the assault? For years I probably would have said in spite of the assault. The implication of that is that I was constantly fighting against the fact of the assault and its impact.

But today it is easier to accept the idea that "I am the way I am because of the assault". I am the way I am because I was sexually assaulted when I was 8 years old. It is a fact. It was part of my life. All the fighting kept me going. My views on people, on justice, on lies, on respect, on sex, on "god" & faith & religion & belief systems are all the way they are because I was assaulted. There isn't one single aspect of my life - from the way I raised my children, to my relationships with family, with friends, with lovers, to the final choice for my PhD dissertation that hasn't been impacted by that fact.

I don't like to use the term, "survivor". It always seems just a little patronizing to me - it gets used so frequently by those who want to "help" - "no, no you musn't think of yourself as a victim, you are a survivor" - as if the labels make one bit of difference in the long run. It doesn't matter what we call ourselves, we struggle and struggle to live without being reminded that the "soul destroyers" almost got us. We box things away in our brains and spend so much of our time trying to avoid the "triggers" that cause the flashbacks. Much of the time we don't even know what the triggers are and we get sideswiped into another crisis until we can figure out what happened. I was telling the story to someone (PLF) about a "Webster" episode that sent me into a major avoidance of a flashback. To this day, I no longer remember what was said by the teacher in the episode (it was about Webster overhearing the sexual assault of one of his classmates by the teacher) but I couldn't breathe. I told my husband and the children that I had to leave the living room. I called my therapist and went and lay in a fetal position on my bed until he called me back. After he pulled me back to reality, and we made an appointment for the next day, I sat down and had a short conversation with my children about how Mom was just having reaction to the episode because of what happened to her when she was a child and I had to talked to the therapist and I was going to be fine. Have I mentioned that my children grew to depend on the fact that they could depend on the therapist to help? It certainly relieved them of any responsibility to do anything, and let them know that they had nothing to do with Mom's emotional state.

That is another fact of life I had to learn - I can't fix problems I didn't have any hand is creating. All I can do is walk with someone as they try to resolve their own pasts, should they want to and the way they want tp. The answers all lie within the memories of the self. Everyone's path is different. There may be commonalities, but there are no set ways to go about resolving the past. I no longer do any counselling. I believe that one has to commit to the long term just as my therapist did. Most of my counselling work was with men many of whom had worked the street and were dying of AIDS before the cocktails began to change the face of that horrendous disease. Once someone asked me what I did for a living and I replied, "I do death". It was something that changed me forever. I heard stories about their life experiences that made mine look like a blip on the horizon. I still had to relive my own hell, but it gave me the understanding that there were things in my life that had made it easier for me to get on with living. In true Canadian fashion, I could honestly say that things could have been worse. That didn't always carry me through my flashbacks; that didn't stop the depression, the panic attacks, the remembering. It just helped me remember that there are reasons why people drink, drug themselves to oblivion - there had been no one there to make any positive contribution to their lives when they were children. This was the only way they could survive.

And sometimes, they didn't survive. Some of their life stories were too much for them. I will never forget one of them - one that the soul destroyers finally got. He kept trying to commit suicide. The second to last time (when he succeeded peacefully), I was called to a restaurant by some high school students. They stopped him from jumping off of a bridge and they took him to a restaurant and called me (24 hour pager) and the police. I worked with him and the police and persuaded him to go to the psychiatric facility in the ambulance by persuading him that he owed at least that to the students. He had scared them completely (I stayed behind after he was in the ambulanced and "debriefed" them). They had known him because he had gone to their high school to talk about the problem of drug addiction. I saw him the next day and the day after that he called me because he was going to discharge himself against the doctor's wishes. What was important to him was that he was going to wait until the doctor arrived and tell her what he was going to do. He told me that if it wasn't for me, he would just have left. I agreed to pick him up and take him "home". My job in all of this was not to talk him out of suicide, my job was to listen to him and respect his wishes. What I did manage to do was get him to understand the impact that his suicide was going to have on the people around him. He was Roman Catholic, and while he couldn't give a damn about the church or god, he cared about his mother and those students. He just couldn't take the final blow of this disease. The soul destroyers (and there were many of them) had taken too much. He finally managed to find a way to die so that most people just thought he died naturally and I doubt anyone could ever argue differently. He had a Roman Catholic funeral and every AIDS day for the next couple of years, I always spent some time with his mother after the service. The Powers That Be, the universe, (whatever we call it) will make sure that his soul now has found its way back to the peace that he had a right to.

If we are alive, they didn't get us completely. If we are still fighting to live, they didn't get us. If we fight long enough, we may regain our souls. If we luck out and find enough friendships, relationships that work even if only for a short time, acceptance from someone else, we can find places to feel safe.

The problem is that they did manage to destroy some of our souls and thus we died.

The problem is that they did turn some of us into soul destroyers. And they are still out there with their souls destroyed, trying to destroy others.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Really!! Honestly!!! Irony isn't dead after all

Well the Pope has now visited Australia and the United States and apologized for the sexual abuse of children by priests and guess what folks, "HE FEELS OUR PAIN" and suffers along with us.

And as all good Christians know, God suffers along with us too. Joy of joys, we have the big guys on our side! And they said that "irony was dead".

There is a Greek term, metanoia. This translates into repentance. However, as many feminist Christian theologians who focus on "domestic" abuse point out, true repentance requires change in behaviour. Do we see this from the Vatican? (Actually that's a rhetorical question - obviously, the answer is no) Hardly! Hand picked "victims" to talk to. Put him in a room with the "victims" of Father Oliver O'Grady and their families. When they made the trek to Rome, they weren't even dismissed, they didn't get to talk to anybody. Everyone should have to watch Deliver Us From Evil and then ask themselves if there has been true repentance. A speech just doesn't cut it for most of us.

So Ratzinger (oops, Pope Benedict XVI) feels our pain. I don 't think so. He was around as head of the Inquisition (just can't seem to get the hang of the new name) as the whole "scandal" came to light. It was a North American problem blamed on western society's "degeneration". No talk of how many of the abusing priests were pre-Vatican 2 trained. No talk of how this is a problem that has existed for centuries.

The Roman Catholic church and others like to focus on homosexuality and celibacy as the problems - although from different quarters. Neither one has anything to do with the sexual assaults on children. Any survivor of incest will tell you very quickly that marriage didn't stop their fathers from abusing them. And homosexuality is a non starter. Priest who sexually assault children (and the other child sexual abusers), assault children, not just male children, but female children (not as many females because, I would suggest, they don't have as easy access to females as to males in this patriarchal religion). There are many priests out there who would never sexually assault children - they are the majority. They may have other problems that marriage and an acceptance of homosexuality as a god given part of humanity might solve, but that is a whole other issue - it has nothing to do with the "paedophilia crisis".

There is something "rotten in the state of the Vatican" and the fish rots from the head down. As the spirit moves me, I will deal with this issue in future posts - but who knows when?

On the whole, I would rather be a Mimbari (see Babylon 5)

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Terminator

A couple of days ago, I was talking with a friend about movies. I mentioned that there was one movie - Requiem for a Heavyweight - that I watched once and couldn't stand to watch again. The first time I saw it, I couldn't stop crying. Even now, I avoid watching it - it is burned in my memory in any event.
However, if you go to my profile there is only one movie there - Terminator. I have lots and lots of favorite movies, but Terminator is the one movie that speaks to me at some visceral level. We also touched on 8MM, another of movies that matters to me more than just as a movie. It must have been the juxtaposition of discussing those movies that made me realize yesterday what purpose Terminator and 8MM served for me and why the other one was an anathema. It is that both Terminator and 8MM are about terror, horror and hopelessness but there is hope - not a happy ending but a future.
Terminator was the movie that kept me from running at times. When the drive to hit something, to blow up the world, to try and keep the demons from overwhelming me, watching the Terminator has always managed to alleviate some of those feelings. It is jolt after jolt, but when Sarah Connor hits that button and screams "Die motherfucker" (that is what I always remember her saying, I think it's a paraphrase) and the awesomely relentless machine dies, it has always made me go "Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!".
8MM is also a relentless movie. It goes from horror into deeper horror. It is so real; it is filled with sad, miserable people and evil, and the banality of evil and the users of people's pain. It has a few flaws like making the murderer of the girl look like George Costanza (there was probably a reason for that & the critic in me can figure it out, but that isn't the point for me). I saw it opening night and was stunned. I needed to go back a week later to get a handle on my feelings. Hope was not a word that I would have attached to it at the time.
But two days ago that was the word I used to differentiate between these movies and Requiem for a Heavyweight - hope. I realized that both Terminator and 8MM were about surviving evil. They are also about how evil changes you. You never see the world the same way again. That is one of things that I have always grappled with. I see the world so differently from most people. It used to upset me so much that the "civilians" just "didn't get it". (Frankly, I don't think that they want to get it - they have to know it's there - ignorance is bliss???)
It took me a long time to name what happened to me as evil. I used other words for it, I analyzed it, explained it in development terms, understood it from the perspective of the "academic". I refused to use the term "evil" because of its Christian use; because I believed that everything is "social construction" and there is no "evil". But I use it now. I don't care to define it. Those of us who have been in hell and survived know what it is. We have a hard time dealing with it. Sometimes I think that I just didn't want to believe it. Because if there are truly evil people out there, then where is the hope - and we are often awash in hopelessness. It feels like it will never go away. I lucked out. I found a therapist who walked the distance with me and I don't believe that it was easy for him. He just knew that the truth was in me, and seldom offered me the platitudes of therapeutic intervention. When I was broke, he didn't charge me; when I could pay a little, he accepted that; when I could pay it all, I suspect his accountant was happier. Not everyone is that lucky. There are bad therapies and bad therapists, there are drugs, there is alcohol, there is sex - they are all ways of surviving. And we want to survive. It is just difficult when the world at large wants to avoid us or at least the truths that we hold in our souls.
I don't have the answers for anyone else. My experience of hell was mine. I don't even know if anyone is reading the blog. It doesn't matter. But I do know that every now and then, I would run across something that helped me. Other people's experiences, the novels of Andrew Vachss (more on that sometime), things that enraged me, and movies like Terminator and 8MM that offered me hope in some unexpected way. May this blog do that for someone else.
It has been almost a year since I needed to watch Terminator. I've stopped running. After almost half a century (believe it!), I feel happy (at least, I think that's what they call it) and am not worried that it is going to go away. It is strange. I can't say that I am used to it yet and I marvel at it. There is a future, it is full of who knows what, and tomorrow will come when it comes.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Anger, Anger and Rage

Another life story about how I got sideswiped into dealing with my issues.

I have a whole section in my dissertation about anger and the Christian god. I suspect that it is probably the hardest part of therapy with which the therapist to deal. I would say that this is particularly true for pastoral counselors who seem to want to get through the anger part really, really fast. This is based on my own experience and the stories told me by many of the people I counseled with "god issues". It is also based on the feedback that I get on the Psalm of Anger. I gave it to one student who was having great difficulties finishing a paper and she gave me some of the story of her life while we were discussing the paper. She sat in my office and read it and just looked at me: "I didn't think anyone else felt that way" was her response. It was like a load was lifted off her mind. We are just not allowed to get angry at our loving god.
I once delivered a paper called "God isn't like that or is he?..." The title echoes what I heard, and what many people with childhood sexual abuse as part of their life story have heard from therapists, counselors, psychiatrists - if they are even willing to discuss the topic. Growing up as Christians, we are not supposed to get angry at God, after all he loves us, he only wants the best for us - essentially we are told that it isn't God's fault, that we grew up with a "distorted" image of God. In other words, it is our fault if we have this distorted screwed up view of a God who controls everything, who is all powerful, who counts the hairs on our heads, who cares about us just as he cares about the lilies in the field, who punishes when we "do wrong" or sin, who loves us when we "do right".

All of that is in the Psalm of Anger. It's not my story, the way that the Eulogy is. I was doing some work for the Church Council on Justice and Corrections and was asked if I would be a consultant at a weekend retreat on domestic violence for Christian leadership. I was also asked if I would prepare a Psalm of Anger for the final worship service. I said, of course, and thought little about it at the time. I went home that night and couldn't sleep. Finally, I got up out of bed and sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote pages of vitriolic anger at my god (once more, a god I didn't believe in). Needless to say, I saw my therapist the next day. He read it and, as is his wont at times,, his first comment was rather understated "you were really angry". I then raged some more and talked about it. The hardest part is trying to explain that I don't give a shit what "god was really like" - this is what my god was like and this is what my god did to me. He let me down, he was the one who should have made sure that this didn't happen to me. And because I believed what the Bible said (I had read the whole thing), and what the adults said and what the ministers said, I was fully justified in believing that he should take care of me - he promised!!! And because I believed, then it truly must have been my fault. I must have done something truly terrible for god to let that priest try to destroy me.

That rage had been buried for decades. Once it was spent, I was able to turn the pages of rage into the Psalm of Anger and broadened it so that it was not just reflective of my experience. Then I read it at the final worship service of a very difficult weekend on a fine Sunday morning in May. It was my first real experience with what was to become a norm when I discuss any aspect of my dissertation. Almost nobody talked to me after the service - dead silence. However, I did sit with my fellow United Church people at lunch. The one truly encouraging comment came from a United Church minister just as I was getting in my car. He called me Black Irish and told me to keep it up. (For those who want a quick idea of what being "Black Irish" means, you need to read the Nuala Anne McGrail series of novels by Andrew Greeley. In short, it means gifted with the "second sight" and yes, Redmond is as Irish [Wexford County] as they come.)
I think that my greatest fear was that if I ever let the rage out, I would kill somebody. There is that old truth that feelings are not "bad", it is what you do with those feelings that can be good or bad. One of the aftermaths of my rage at God was that I was free to vent my rage at the priest, albeit only in my dreams. I dreamt one night that I had a machine gun and I kept killing wave after wave of Roman Catholic priests. It was definitely cathartic.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

I believe in me

I began this blog on the date posted. However, I really wrote it today - June 26, 2008.

Many times, my therapist has asked me what I do believe. The last time I finally had an answer that was simple - I believe in me!

It has taken me years to get here. As I mentioned earlier, we academics live in our heads. It was really easy to tell my therapist what I didn't believe in - to find an intellectual solution to an emotional problem. It was how I had to do things but there is always a price to pay.

The following is an example of how I dealt with (or more correctly, didn't deal with) one of my lingering issues.

In 1996, I published a paper called "God Died and Nobody Gave a Funeral" (it is available through most university electronic publication databases). It is rather good and still relevant - if I do say so myself! Its conclusion was that an effective therapeutic intervention for Christian survivors was to help them grieve the death of their childhood god.

Well guess who hadn't grieved the death of her childhood god? Yes, that's right little old me. By the time I wrote the article, I had finished my dissertation (The Father God and Traditional Christian Interpretations of Suffering, Anger, Guilt, and Forgiveness as Impediments to Recovery from Father-Daughter Incest), published "Christian "Virtues" and Recovery from Child Sexual Abuse", Psalm of Anger to a Patriarchal God (in English and French) and other stuff. By that point, I had had 10 years of very difficult therapy. My life was full of crises between 1992 and 1996 - I was working frontline with PWLAIDS and was also the primary caretaker of my father-in-law who had Alzheimer's, I defended my dissertation, my husband was diagnosed with MS a year after his father died, my marriage was failing, my youngest son was involved in a multi-million $ lawsuit (a fired teacher was suing him and 3 other students for libel and slander - read all about it on the front page of the Saturday Ottawa Citizen & they wanted to put it on W5, something our lawyers vetoed), we had to sell our house, I had to grovel to CMHC to manage to buy another smaller, cheaper one in a rotten real estate market, my husband eventually filed for bankruptcy. I could go on and on - these are only highlights. Through it all, I had my therapist (it wasn't like I was anywhere near resolving the issues of my childhood, although he spent a lot of his time just handling the day to day stuff) and I had my friends without whom I would have found it difficult to keep going on. However, ...

It all took its toll. I slowly sank into depression that was ever pervasive. Then in 2000, I received a call from the Alumni Association. Somebody was looking for me to get permission to reprint my "Psalm of Anger to a Patriarchal God" (its story sometime later) . This started a series of e-mails with Jean-Guy Nadeau at the Université de Montréal's Faculté de Théologie. I had to start thinking about the god stuff all over again (something I always tried to avoid, even though it consumed my life). It was then that the anger, the pain, the loss, overwhelmed me all over again. I went back and read "God Died and Nobody Gave a Funeral" and cried and cried because I really didn't know how to grieve the death of something that I no longer believed in - yet I had written what I needed to do. Have I mentioned that I have my therapist on speed dial (even today)? My therapist's office was the only safe space in my life and that is where I grieved and grieved and cried for everything that I had lost when I lost my god. I remembered all the good things about believing. The most important part was remembering that without that horrid, patriarchal, insufferable, rule making god I never would have survived the aftermath of being in a sexual relationship with a priest when I was 8 years old that ended with a violent sexual and physical assault. That god offered me an answer to why? As my dissertation points out, it wasn't a good answer - but it was an answer and it saved me at the time and nobody else had an answer (or would even talk about it - one of my lucky breaks was that I wasn't Roman Catholic; for that I will be eternally grateful). I believed with all my heart and soul in that god - I got saved, I had the answers, even though I had no memory of what I needed to be saved from. That god abruptly died when I was 12 although I didn't realize it at the time, but he had got me through the worst of that time (trust me, I'm crying as I write). I could now begin to draw on other resources.

As a result of grieving, I was able to write my "Eulogy to a Patriarchal god". That was the beginning of my release. Since that point, I have moved ever forward until finally the devastation that was caused by that priest's abuse is almost wholly integrated and is becoming just a part of my life story - it no more defines who I am than my genetics - it is part of my package - there is no other me. And I believe in me.

Note: The link for the Psalm of Anger and the text of the Eulogy to a Patriarchal god is at the bottom of the blog.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Guess what? Don't worry! We've fixed it all.

On the news, this morning, a man stated that the inquiry in Cornwall Ontario concerning the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests and by social services workers is like "asking an automobile manufacturer to do an inquiry into car problems from the 60s. Everything has changed. The problems have been fixed. Why waste all this money?"

And they wonder why there is still a problem. Outside of the sheer absurdity of comparing the destroyed lives of children to cars, there is the long term generational impact on those children's lives and the lives of everyone that they were associated with - including, but not limited to, their own children. This is not a problem with a quick fix - you can't just give these children pills that will take away the past - there's no faulty steering wheel to fix, no heating coil to replace, then everything will be as good as new. Flashbacks don't respond well to "fixing". Night terrors, fear of relationships, screwed up sexuality, drug addiction, alcoholism, and a host of little day to day little things that just won't go away forever. The worst of it might just be the loss of faith - the thing that leaves a great big hole where meaning is to be found.

Well, exactly what has changed?

Might I suggest a look at Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests ( http://www.snapnetwork.org) or BishopAccountability.org (http://www.bishop-accountability.org).

Saturday, 9 February 2008

What do I do with my journals?

This is a question that I've been asking myself lately. On and off over the years, I have written a lot. Most of it was handwritten and lately I have been transcribing the writings into the computer. I've been asking myself why? Do I think that I will forget everything again? Reading them and then typing them out is difficult. Sometimes, I just have to stop for a long time. Even if I understand it now, it is still painful to watch myself trying to understand myself. And it helped - I can see the changes and watch as I put all the pieces together slowly, but surely. BUT the big problem is that I did forget. I would have to go over the same thing again and again - never the same, but sometimes I just forgot that I had already remembered.

When I was in my twenties, I was sexually assaulted and this started the trickle through the walls that I had built for almost twenty years to survive. I would wake up screaming or so I thought - but I never woke up my husband or my baby, so I was only screaming in my dreams, which I didn't remember. I would get up and write and write and write. This was the seventies - one pulled up one's socks and got on with life. We moved, then 3 years later moved again. At that point, I reread what I had wrote and it upset me so much that I threw it all out. Five years later, I wished I hadn't because when the next episode hit & this time, with such force that I was almost catatonic, I only had some vague sense of what had gone on before.

I was lucky that I already had a psychotherapist in waiting at that point. I was in session every day for about three weeks. Looking back on it, I still am not sure how I survived the flashbacks, the hypnosis, the absolute need to run and run and run but from what? and where to? - who knew?? At that point, there was little rage or anger - only massive quantities of fear washing over me time and time again and a relentless need to know - when we decided to try hypnosis, my therapist asked me if I wanted to remember, see it on the big screen, or forget after it we stopped the session. I needed to know and remember - I'd spent too much of my life with almost no memories prior to the age of 12. The pain, the anger, the memories, the reality all came later, at that point, I needed to know. Needless to say, that I hardly got the whole picture - I spent years ripping apart my life, my dreams, my childhood, my relationships - all in order to understand.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Stigmas

There are many reasons for my writing a blog of this type. One of them: I was looking at a number of YouTube videos and that led me to some of the blogs by survivors. Some were without names because of the stigma attached to being a survivor of childhood sexual assault. I could say that I don't talk about it much because it makes people uncomfortable. But... If we are having a bad day - well, we're crazy. I f we get angry, well, it's because we have this terrible history and that explains everything. If we seem to be perfectly "normal", what happened when we were children couldn't have been that bad. Heaven forbid, if we seem successful, then we have overcome - it all seems so patronizing. We are witness to a world that doesn't want to know that we come from all parts of society; that there is something wrong about the way we treat our children; that we are everywhere and can't be labeled. Some of us don't survive. Some of us never find communities where we can feel at home. And sometimes it is just easier to let it go, not to explain and I don't want to be an example of how well one can "get over it", because it's never really over - it just gets easier to live with. Thirty years of therapy does wonders. Learning how to cope with the anger/guilt/depression/flashbacks and not knowing what triggers the emotions - a song, a phrase, a television show, a certain kind of touch, a smell and finally being able to know that when those feelings come, they will not last forever is the greatest gift I have received over the years.
In 2006, instead of giving an academic paper, I decided to tell my story at a workshop on theology and child sexual abuse, to bring some reality to the proceedings. It was not easy and the aftermath was even worse than I could have envisioned. The stigmatization exists and is couched in many different forms. Academics, myself included, often try to control our emotional existence by living in our heads. Writing this blog is going to be my attempt to get out of my head, and try to write with my whole being. Only time will tell if I can do that.
And just to bring in the Christian angle - god was the biggest obstacle I had to get over - but more of that later!