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.

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