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.