The Miracle I Never Expected

July 18, 2011

For years now, “family” has been “the f-word” for me.  As is experienced by many incest survivors, family consists of perpetrators, co-dependents and stealth assassins.  I’d already confronted my living perps (the last one died about seven years ago).  I avoided most family members but dropped my guard with one, my mother’s youngest sister.  It seemed she was “on my side” and we spoke every Sunday for more than five years.  I thought we were secure with each other.

Then she came to visit for my 60th birthday parties (yes, plural: I had two).  She convinced me that another cousin, close to me in age, would love to come out and celebrate with me, and bring her adult son as well.  Long story short: everything seemed fine until the day of my first party, when the sabotage began.  By the time they were through, all the joy had been sucked out of my two celebrations, they maintained a unified hostile front towards me for the SIX days they were still in my tiny home, never bothered even a rudimentary “thanks for the use of the hall” — meaning my bed, car and good will — and we’ve severed all ties.  In the wake of that, suffering from adrenal exhaustion that almost killed me and deeply depressed, I just figured I was one of those people who had no family and that would have to be just fine.

Then a funny thing happened: On June 20, I got an email with the subject line, “I always wanted to know my aunt.”  I thought, “Oh, great – another Nigerian chain letter asking for money!” and would have deleted it unread except I always like to check, just in case.

Good thing I did.  The first line read, “I am your niece.”  Not just any niece: the one who I caught my brother with when she was seven years old.  His actions would have flown below the radar of anyone not a survivor and not attuned to his behaviors.  That’s because he always made the abuse with me playful… until it was not.  And I saw him place his hands inappropriately on his daughter and then make it a game between them… just the way he did it with me, conditioning me to more and more intrusive touch until the one night he miscalculated, crossed an incontrovertible line, and my life changed forever.

All of two months into Recovery, I confronted him that very day. I told him what I saw him doing, that I recognized his pattern, and if I ever found out he had done anything to any of his children, I would show up unannounced at his front door with an axe and chop “it” off. Within five minutes, he’d told his wife, she’d exploded at me on his behalf, and dragged the kids away.  I knew I’d never see them again.

It took me two years of healing and strategizing before I felt strong enough to lodge a complaint against my brother with Child Protective Services.  They did not keep me informed as to what happened as a result, but I know it came down in a very messy, protracted way.  As a result, the family closed ranks against me, my mother disinherited me, and (as I’ve learned) my name became more forbidden to mention than the worst of curse words.

At my mother’s funeral, no one would talk to me… except this one niece, now in her early teens.  Our paths crossed in my mom’s house, and as we walked in opposite directions she shyly looked up, caught my eye and said, “Hello” as she continued to walk by.  I held onto that moment, that single word, as a sign that maybe my prior action had done some good and not everyone hated me for it.

Fast forward to June 20.  I’d heard not a word about this niece — or indeed, anything at all about my brother’s family, other than his death from lung and bone cancers.  Suddenly, here was this astonishing email – long, articulate, direct, not hurtful, well-written, correctly spelled and punctuated (these things are inordinately important to me), containing more information about my family-of-origin than I’d received in the past 28 years.  At the end, she offered me unconditional love, family, friendship.

I wept.

Even more astonishing, she wrote in this email that her father “was not a pedophile.  He never laid a finger on me.”  She also revealed that after the investigation came down, “it ruined my relationship with him.  He could never look at me the same.  I reminded him too much of you.”

So.  My brother, who never got any help for his tortured history and experiences (my father set him up for such an ugly set of dysfunctions), changed in his relationship with his youngest daughter because, she believes, she reminded him of me… and my promised axe (which she did not know about).  He never touched her in a way that crossed the line.  She was safe.

Oh.

For all my facility with words, I do not have the right ones to explain the way this made me feel.  Were my actions the reason why he stopped what seemed to me to be inevitable behaviors against at least this one daughter?  I don’t dare claim it (there may have been a world of other factors, you never know), but it’s a logical assumption that my actions made a difference.  So I lost the rest of my family?  An inheritance?  My “good name” within that hereditary clan?  WHO THE FUCK CARES?!?!?????  I spoke my truth — awkwardly, with fear and difficulty, but directly to the perpetrator — and a child grew up without being sexually abused by her father.  Truly, that is worth anything up to and including life itself.

In the ensuing weeks, we’ve been sharing a lovefest through a cascade of email revealing so many parallels in our lives, we couldn’t have been more alike if she’d grown up in proximity to me.  Her husband has written directly to me and revealed himself to be a loving, open, clear-minded, creative and funny man who adores his wife and kids and welcomes me without restriction or limitation.

And the girls!  I went from having no family to having a niece, a nephew-in-law… and TWO GRAND-NIECES!!!!!  I’m awaiting a package that contains pictures of the entire clan (they’re not very digital) so I can walk around showing them and bragging – a “grandparent” demographic I never thought I would be able to enter.

Lest you think I’m making the same mistakes I did with the pseudo-loving relatives, we’re taking this slow.  In close to a month, we’ve emailed repeatedly but not yet talked on the phone.  We’re either both shy or both sensible, with maybe a hefty dose of both.  They’re talking about taking a road trip out here this winter in a big RV.  (The girls are home-schooled, they do crafty-type business that’s highly portable, and this would just be a field trip of sorts… a really, really big field trip <g>.)  We’re talking honestly in our email, have covered world news, recipes, conspiracy theories, wildcrafting foods, family history as seen by us (very different from the accepted spin) and just the excitement of finding like minds in the most unlikely of places – within our gene pool.

I don’t know where this is going, but I know that having family members who wants to know who I am and not try to make me who they need me to be is an extraordinary experience, unprecedented in my life.  I don’t know who might be lurking around the edges of your gene pool, but if it’s appropriate to your heart, I wish you a comparable miracle.

In the meantime, I’m awaiting the package of a lifetime, filled with love, good intentions, home made habanero pepper marshmallows <!>, and hearts willing to reach out and touch mine with gentleness, humor, respect and joy.

Yeehah.

TSA = Government-Sanctioned Child Abuse – I am a No-Fly Zone

July 8, 2011

I’ve been distracted for the past three+ months by Fukushima and nuclear radiation issues (See: Nuclear Hotseat on Facebook), but I had to respond when Boycott Flying on Facebook posted the story of a Wichita, Kansas County Commissioner taking a stand against the TSA… and the attempt of the Chairman of that commission to limit his free speech while the commission is in session.

In writing to support Commissioner Richard Ranzau, I put forth the perspective of an incest survivor.  He wrote back and asked if he could read what I wrote in his next meeting.  This is what I wrote:

“I believe it’s no accident that sexually charged imagery and direct bodily violation are the weapons of choice for the TSA to intimidate the public.  Experts in the field of child abuse estimate that one in three girls and one in five boys was sexually molested at least once before the age of 18.  (Note:  Survivors consider these numbers low.)  That’s an enormous population of abuse survivors, most of whom have not done any appreciable healing work.

The smarmy, sexually lurid, irradiated imagery and the physically/sexually invasive pat-downs can trigger not fight/flight but freeze/freak reactions in abuse survivors.  It’s no wonder there has not been much dissent of the TSA tactics; many women and men are frozen, triggered into memories of abuse either long-forgotten, or conscious but still charged with pain and helplessness.  As for children, it violates their sense of safety in the world and goes against everything we’ve been teaching them about the sanctity of their bodies.  It makes even the thought of flying traumatic.”

I will not fly under the current conditions.  This decision caused me to give up my commitment to lead the writing workshops at Camp Cadi this summer (the camp for girls who have been sexually abused).  I was not happy to go back on my word, but the thought of being at the whim of the TSA pervert/perpetrators was too much like my childhood to be tolerated.  I became so obsessive and upset contemplating that flight months before it was supposed to happen that I knew I could not do that to myself.

I realize this limits me in the world.  It also prevents me from having to compromise my deepest-held beliefs.  For now, that’s a trade-off I’m willing to take.

 

p.s. – For the full story of Comm. Ranzau’s statement… and the anti-free-speech response of his Chairman, here’s the link:  http://www.kansas.com/2011/07/06/1923490/sedgwick-county-commissioner-questions.html

Incest Recovery: The Power of the Tribe

April 28, 2011

In the wake of my upset over Fukushima’s ongoing radiation leaks and the danger posed to the life chain of the planet, I isolated so completely within my fear that I made myself sick with upper respiratory guk.  It gave me time to think, pray, accept and release the fear enough to reach out to others.  With that outreach, I was given direction to contact my therapist (I’ve worked with her on and off for 20 years) and talk it out.  She helped me see the absolutely parallel issues of incest and nuclear reactor/radiation.

She also gave me marching papers: find people with whom to have this conversation, people capable of hearing me.  In other words, find my tribe.

I already knew that my personal friends, business associates and online cohorts were ill equipped and couldn’t bear to engage in that conversation, so I went to a group for incest survivors.  I was grateful to be able to join with them and share my concerns, but quickly recognized that no one I met there had enough healing from their own childhood wounding to be able to meet me where I needed it.

Then I read an email about a gathering last Tuesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl.  It consisted of a showing of “The China Syndrome” and then a discussion with nuclear activists, including a woman who had been at Chernobyl.  Wow.  Despite the drive to the west side (a fate I wouldn’t wish on an enemy), I determined to be there.

Maybe 30 people joined together at Vidiots, an alternative video store in West Los Angeles.  Not the mobs I’d projected or anticipated, but at least everyone shared the same anti-nuke perspective.  The movie proved even more powerful and prescient than I had recalled.  When it first came out, 12 days before Three Mile Island and running for many months thereafter, I couldn’t watch it.  Maybe seven years later, around the time of Chernobyl, I finally did — and it re-activated all my unhealed wounds, including the ones from the incest.  It literally wiped me out.

This time, with increased awareness and self-education in the wake of Fukushima, I could marvel at how relevant the information was, how the issues had not changed, how absolutely right they got the science of it, how Jack Lemmon’s nuclear plant supervisor conveyed the knowing terror of what was happening.  While others around me flinched, I found myself nodding in agreement and acknowledgment.  The movie put me at peace, not upset.

The first speaker afterwards was Natalia Love-Koteva.  As a child, she lived in Bulgaria and was toxed by radiation in the wake of Chernobyl when the Russian government failed to warn its citizens.  She developed thyroid disease and the first child diagnosed as having been a victim of the Chernobyl radiation.  She now works in holistic physical therapy in the Los Angeles area and has a vast background in public health.  She spoke calmly, scientifically about the radiation damage she suffered, statistics on illness and death in the wake of Chernobyl, and radiation issues.

Then Dr. Sheldon C. Plotkin, an engineer and long time anti-nuke activist, talked about radiation levels out of Japan, that radiation half-lives need to be computed through ten cycles to come up with the actual span of toxicity (e.g., half life of 8 days for radioactive Iodine 131 means it is toxic for 80 days).  I heard from him aspects of my hidden conversation that I’d not heard from anyone else.

In the discussion that followed, I heard more about my inner fears coming out of the mouths of numerous others.  I spoke up and had others catch my eye, nod in acknowledgment.  Instead of being shunned or avoided for the truth, I was saluted and embraced.  I broke out of my fear-induced isolation.

By the time the evening ended, I’d made eye and heart contact with many people in the room.  I could engage in my conversation and be acknowledged with intelligent listening followed by intelligent feedback.  I’m already scheduling a one-on-one with some of the participants and look forward to including them as I draw up plans for some online info sharing and anti-nuke activism.  None of these people avoid the conversation that I most need to have.

As a result, I left the evening more boueyed up, energetic and enthusiastic than I’ve felt for years.  A giant weight lifted off me and I felt — is it possible? — excited and optimistic.  How could this happen?  The same way that incest Recovery and activism supported me, elevated me, made me feel tremendously alive.  I went through Three Mile Island and its aftermath absolutely alone, much as I went through the incest and its aftermath. Now, I’m not alone.  I’ve found my people.  I have my tribe.

Or rather, I have another tribe that relates directly to my most deeply wounded places.

Perhaps that is the definition of “tribe” in these tumultuous times: the people who can listen to your pain without flinching, have wisdom and knowledge of their own to offer, and help you feel better about yourself just by being able to hear you.  Community based on shared wounding.  Incest, nuclear reactors — it’s all about crimes of power over our bodies committed by people in a position of power and authority over us.

With this acknowledgment, I feel like I’m finally whole.  I’m at peace.  I’m smiling much of the time.  There is actually a little bounce in my step for the first time in decades.  You see, finally, I’m not alone.

Neither are you.

And of course, the activist response I’m planning doesn’t hurt my ebullience, either. <g>  More will be revealed, and soon…

Japan, Radiation and Incest: An End to Isolation

April 13, 2011

I’ve been trying very hard to keep my incest issues and my response to the ongoing radiation disaster in Japan separate.  But it’s a fool’s errand.  The abuse is the same, society’s response is the same, and I’ve been going down the rabbit hole of fear alone – the same way I got through the abuse.

The child me had no one looking out for her, protecting her, listening to her, asking for her truth.  Any sign of upset and my family stomped down, hard, so I lived the lie of the “good kid,” never making any problems that would risk further alienation from those I thought loved me.   I suppressed my feelings with food, drugs and stupid sexual relationships.  I hid my true self from myself and other people.  If you asked, I’d say I was “fine.”

When I found myself one mile from Three Mile Island, for the first time I faced a situation I could not talk, argue, cajole or pretend my way out of.  I was nailed by something bigger than myself, so big that my life and personality mark time as before and after it happened.

In the wake of this experience, I reverted to my incest survival instincts.  I lived alone, stayed alone, spoke about my experience with no one, even as I wrote and published about it.  I went through intense mental games to divert myself from the terror, once spending a full day figuring out what the letters of the alphabet mean.  Only after I moved to kibbutz in Israel – where I was forced to interact with people every day – did my isolation end, the conversation commence, and the healing begin.  People over there didn’t have a hard time listening to my story; they had lived through much rougher experiences.

When Japan’s nuclear nightmare began, I stomped onto public stages to speak, write, publish, post what I could, and people listened.  I didn’t consider my incest-based love/hate relationship with visibility, the retraumatization of reliving Three Mile Island every time I wrote or spoke, what this experience was doing to my precious inner child.

In the wake of this intense public exposure, it’s no accident that I developed an upper respiratory illness.  I believe I became ill in part because I could not speak of my pain (In Chinese medicine, the lungs are connected to grief).  I did not trust anyone to be able to take this walk with me.  I isolated, diverted myself with meaningless videos, online Scrabble and sudoku, endless Facebook updates.  When these coping mechanisms failed, I fell into blackest reverie about what we’ve finally done to the planet.  I felt intense anger, despair, sadness, disconnection, like I’d finally crossed the line into madness and truly belonged there.

I acted just like an incest survivor – isolating rather than reaching out, asking for and receiving help, putting the blame where it belonged.

Leave it to the Los Angeles Times to smack me out of denial.  This past Sunday, it had the gall to publish a story with the title: “Why Nuclear Power is Still a Good Choice.”  My fragile veneer of functioning imploded.  Hands shaking, I dashed off a post to the Times website labeling insistence upon nuclear energy as mental illness.  But that did not help.  I felt myself falling over the edge into a mental abyss.  In despair, I finally picked up the phone and called a dear, supportive friend (why I hadn’t called her before is the hallmark of an incest survivor).  I left a long, tearful message; she called me back within an hour and suggested I contact my therapist.  I did and – miraculously – got a session within two days (it can take up to two or three weeks).  This woman saw me through the depths of my incest recovery and knew exactly what to ask, what to say.

Here is what I learned, what I finally got clear on:

  • Now is not the time for isolation.
  • Now is the time for reaching out, building communities, taking care of self and others.
  • Now is the time for us to all be a little more Japanese in terms of respect, support, doing what we can.
  • Now is a time for holding close to those we love, granting forgiveness, acting with kindness and generosity.
  • Now is the time to speak our truth; there’s no time for anything less.

This may be the start of the true end times — not faith-based, as the Christians believe, but in terms of the planet and its teeming life.  If that’s true, I cannot stop it… but I also do not need to beat myself up because of it.  I refuse to identify with the perpetrators and take their crimes against humanity as my own.  Further, I will not be a mute victim to the perpetrators of nuclear energy.  I may not be able to stop this runaway technology that has stolen all our futures, but I can stand up for what I see as the truth and continue to put it out into the world.

Here’s the real kicker: I don’t have to do this alone.  I’ve begun to reconnect with incest Recovery groups, to seek out others who can engage in the deeper conversations, who understand the intimate link between abuse of a child and abuse of a planet.  I seek my people and trust that there are others.  I do not have to be alone.  Neither do you.

I welcome your input.

Japan, Three Mile Island and the Incest Connection

March 21, 2011

Ten days ago, the 9.0 earthquake and 30 ft. tsunami wracked Japan and triggered partial nuclear meltdowns and radiation releases at two nuclear reactors at the  Fukashima Daiichi power plant.

Why is this important on this incest survivor’s blog?  Because incest is defined as “a crime of power over a child that takes a sexual form and is performed by someone in a position of authority over that child.”  The release of nuclear energy is a genuine “crime of power,” it is committed on the bodies of children, adults and other living things, supported by the authority of government and big business.  In other words, looked at from the perspective of an incest survivor, radiation is a form of incest.

I take all this personally because I was one mile from the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island when that nuclear reactor malfunctioned.  The full story is detailed in my two YouTube videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yHXCTgkn0c and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK9dnrkEpTM&feature=related.  I won’t go into details here.

I was unaware of the incest/Three Mile Island connection in my psyche until six years after the event.  At a rage release retreat for women incest survivors, I beat on a phone book with a rubber hose while screaming at an absent perpetrator.  Suddenly, my focus shifted to Three Mile Island – and I kept screaming. It all felt the same.  A perp is a perp, even in governmental guise.  My body was assaulted by radiation, stress and post-traumatic stress without my permission.  Neither the government, Babcock & Wilcox – the company that built the reactors, the state of Pennsylvania, nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ever acknowledged what they did, let alone apologized for it, and they sure as hell never even mentioned potassium iodide.

Ain’t that just like a perp?

Only after my rage released passed did I see how I’d been living in daily fear, convinced my life was shortened, my body damaged, my future diminished.  This awareness changed my life: I could finally name all my perpetrators, which allowed me tono longer fear them.  My life crept back towards a shaky version of “normal.” When Chernobyl happened, I ignored its daily details, the horror expressed by my friends and associates.  I’d already lived it through, only from a front row center seat.  I wasn’t ready for the reminder.

With this latest nuclear disaster, I have paid very close attention to the event as well as the response of the population and the government.  There was the reasonable spike of fear in the populace… and then the “managers” came in to convince us that it’s nothing, just a little blip on the other side of the ocean, nothing to do with us in the US, blah blah blah.

The danger is that disinformation and distraction may take our eyes off this particular ball.  We as a population have a short attention span.  The new war in Libya (oy!) has already knocked Japan out of the top headlines.  As we move away from the horror of the initial events and into the more mundane ongoing story of “you mean it’s still leaking???” amid negative economic forecasts, the perps have been busy discounting American fears about radiation and nuclear energy.  “We need the power!”  “We’re safe; Japan was a fluke.”  And my favorite disinformation piece: “Radiation exposure is good for you and prevents cancer!”  Just like a perp saying, “I was sexually initiating you; you should be thankful!”  (I invite that blond sociopathic disinformation specialist for all things right of right wing to take her  skinny butt to northeastern Japan to get a “nice, healthy” radiation-based tan.)

Here’s the point for our attention deficit disorder culture:  there are long term effects created by exposure to low levels of radiation.  Leukemia shows up in 5-7 years, hard tumors in 12-15 years.  How like sexual abuse this is, that the assault happens and then it takes years before the effects surface, create problems, and maybe only then are connected to the initiating event. Less often recognized are the effects of the stress, the sense of vulnerability, the doubting of one’s own body.  Wait — am I talking about the incest or Three Mile Island?  Alas, it’s both.

When I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue 18 months ago, one diagnostic question hit me in my gut: “When is the last time you can remember feeling completely well?”  My answer?  More than 30 years ago… right before Three Mile Island.  Adrenal fatigue/exhaustion is caused by cumulative stress, often initiated by a major emotional blow.  I lived with incest buried in amnesia and managed to have a pretty energetic life until the additional stress of Three Mile Island knocked me over an edge.  I’ve never recovered, and I’ll never know how much life I did not live because I was too tired to live it.  Thus my initial suspicions about the effects of Three Mile Island proved true.

We’re all at risk.  Earth is a closed system, a rock in a bubble in the middle of space.  The radiation plume may not make it to American shores, but that radiation has to go somewhere.  It falls into the ocean where plankton absorb it, then krill feeds on plankton, small fish on krill, big fish on small fish — and who eats the big fish?  Us.  Or radiation falls into the soil, gets taken up by grass, eaten by cows, concentrated in dairy — you get the picture.  Yes, all of it eventually degrades into harmless compounds, but no one is mentioning how long it will take for the various forms of radiation that Fukushima Daiichi has been leaking.

Then there are the fuel rods.  The half-life (meaning how long it takes the radiation to decay by half) of the spent fuel rods has been estimated to be as long as 24,000 years.  That’s 24,000 years.  We have no plans in existence for eliminating the menace of these toxic time bombs.  They are merely warehoused (as in Japan) or proposed to be buried under currently-obscure mountains in the western US.  Do we honestly think we have the wits or knowledge to safely contain that crap for even a fraction of that time?  Do we believe that the earth will never quake, tectonic plates shift, containment materials erode?  The containment structure built around Chernobyl is already cracking and that’s only been 25 years.  Are we as a species mad, stupid, or merely self-destructive?

Crimes of power over the body by someone or something that has authority over us.  Incest.  Nuclear energy.

Pay attention.  Please.

Socializing with the Perps (gak!)

March 11, 2011

Recovery from childhood sexual abuse goes through many stages.  Early on in Recovery, we may still be living with our perpetrators, or in extended family/community with them, so we see them, hear about them, they continue within our lives, if only on the edges.  We have our fears, suspicions and history — what do we do with them?  How do we co-exist in a way that doesn’t open us up to more perpetration and trauma?

The first rule is to be safe.  Avoid this person whenever possible.  Don’t allow yourself to be alone with them, no matter who they are or what the circumstances.  If you’re in a social situation (family gathering, school reunion, party), keep your keys in your pocket, your wallet/money on you, carry your purse at all times or use a fanny pack.  This is to allow you to know that you can leave at any time, no explanations required, and have everything you need to get away from them.  The choice is then completely yours as to whether you stay or leave.

If you have someone with you who understands about your issues, let them know and be vigilant on your behalf.  Work out a signal that means “Get me out of here!  Interrupt now!” or whatever else you need to have them stage a mini-intervention to get you safe.

If you think they may still be perpetrating on children, don’t let them be alone with a child if you can help it.  At a family gathering when I was three, I had an adult cousin entice me into the bedroom with all the coats on the bed with the promise of a bright, shiny quarter.  He then molested me and no one suspected a thing, not even after I went crying to everyone there and showed them the quarter.

You might want to float a query or two to the mother or other hopefully sympathetic family members, like, “Don’t you think Uncle Joe is acting weird around the kids?” or “Do you think it’s a good idea to let Bob be alone with your daughter?”  Do so privately, not in front of others.  You may have someone attempt to snap your head off because their denial system is on high alert, but think of what you would have wanted an adult to do for you when you had no defense and then be that person for the child.  You may make a huge difference just by letting another adult know that this is an area for concern and can be discussed openly with you.

If you can avoid being around any of your perps for now, do so.  Stay home, watch a movie, write in your journal, be around people you love who genuinely love you.  Don’t risk the re-traumatization that comes with being around our perpetrators.  Confrontation is difficult and fraught with emotional dangers for the survivor.  Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into one on the perp’s terms and timing, or risk it taking place by accident.  A successful (that’s a relative term) confrontation takes planning, strategy, support, script and a back-up plan for when you crash… and you will crash.

In my experience, I have NEVER heard of a survivor confronting their perp and getting back anything like, “Gee, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what I was doing but that doesn’t get me off the hook, I know I was wrong, what can I do to make amends to you?”  The experience of their denial, threats and/or outright gloating can be devastating to the survivor.  Until you’re rock solid with your Recovery, with a support system and a plan, hit the pause button on this one.  (I’ll write about structuring a confrontation in an upcoming post.)

Any time you find yourself in proximity with your perp, it’s always a good idea to immediately plug into your support system.  Step out of the room with your cell phone and call a Recovery buddy. Set a session with your therapist, go to a 12-Step meeting — whatever you do to keep your healing going, do it.  Don’t underestimate the power of laying eyes on or even hearing recent information about someone who sexually assaulted or manipulated you.  When the emotional reservoir of pain gets stirred up, do what you need to in order to get safe, as long as you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else.

My thanks to A. for inspiring the post on Overcoming Sexual Abuse that inspired this column.

The Return of the Incest Hangover

March 7, 2011

In my ongoing quest to untie the knots that holds my ability to be visible, make ample income, be in a loving  relationship and feel at one with God, I went to my hypnotherapist last week.  We’ve worked together over time, so she knows how to meet my energy and issues and lead me towards finding my solutions.

It was a deep session, focusing on bringing forward vague feelings of restriction and nausea that lingered in my body when I thought about the problems I’d been facing.  As those feelings became strong, I was able to expel some of them through guided imagery, personal healing processes, some shamanic actions, and just plain release through emotional expression (e.g., crying).  We made important progress.

Still, there’s a limit as to how much work can be done in a 90 minute session.  We had to hit the pause button before everything got released (though there’s no guarantee even a 10 hour session would allow for that).  She got me as grounded as possible, but as I left the session I felt disoriented, dizzy, sleepy, dissociated, and several of the other dwarfs (survivor humor there).  I walked right past a friend/client of mine without recognizing him.  Then, even though I consciously worked to ground myself before I got in my car, I backed it into a tree and broke the cover on a tail light.

This disoriented feeling persisted, knocking out much of the rest of that day and the two that followed.  Even now, three days later, I can feel that yawning maw of pain and history inside me threatening to overwhelm my intent to get work done today.

Welcome to the Incest Hangover.  That’s what we used to call it, years ago, when we’d break through to a new memory or emotional energy cyst and be devastated by yet another reminder of how awful things had been, what we had survived, how it had tied our lives in knots.  It was the recovery and re-balancing of self that followed a release of toxic information we’d kept hidden from ourselves for the sake of survival. In clearing out the toxic emotions connected with a memory or awareness, we needed to take time to let the debris leave us or settle in to where we could live with it again, if only temporarily.

During this time of rebalancing, it’s as if we’re drugged: balance can be off, we fail to see what’s directly in front of us, can’t concentrate, may have difficulties sustaining ourselves in the full upright position.  Whatever our personal frustrations with that state of being, we can do nothing but be kind to ourselves and that inner child who survived to this moment where s/he could release another aspect of our darkest truth. This sluggish time of coming back to ourselves felt just like an emotional hangover, hence the name.

It’s been a while since I’ve been here.  My last major incest release was maybe ten years ago — a memory that I’d been slowly uncovering for years finally made itself known, triggering an enormous emotional release.  It took me about 10 days and some major therapy to get myself back in balance; that’s what happens when what you think is your emotional bedrock turns out to be made of clay and gelatin and lies.

I honestly thought I was done with major memories and this kind of an energetic back-thwap.  After all, it’s been so long, I’ve been healing for more than 25 years, aren’t I a bright shining beacon of R*E*C*O*V*E*R*Y!!! online and in my personal life???

Yet there it is, all over again, only at a deeper level than ever before.  The Issue.  The “Big ‘I’.”  How it still impacts so many core aspects of my life.  The hidden pieces it has taken me THIS long to be healed enough and willing enough to access.  Okay, I’ve found it.  I know it’s there.  But… it’s STILL THERE… and now I have to face it to get it out, ’cause I know it ain’t goin’ away on its own.

This weekend, I was digging in my garden, preparing beds and planting seedlings.  I have a very small space available and I want to make complete use of it.  While digging down, I discovered a rock.  (Actually, I re-discovered it — found it last year and wasn’t up to digging it out, so I quickly covered it up and planted atop it.)  As I tried to dig around it, I discovered it was large, heavy and unwilling to move, more of a small boulder than a manageable stone.  It remains exposed in a hole in the yard, awaiting the help of a young male friend who has a good back and a crowbar.

That’s what this additional pending awareness is like: a long-buried boulder, one that I’ve had thoughts about but not been willing to access directly and dig out.  Now it’s visible down in a  hole, but the hole is open and the memory/emotional compensation stuck in place.  Meanwhile, its toxins swirl around me and get in the way of my forward motion, which it will continue to do until and unless I remove it completely.

Until that happens, this toxic emotional Incest Hangover will persist, perhaps diminishing but never going away.  The only way out is through.

Time to call my hypnotherapist for another session…

Detoxifying from Incest: Sometimes Recovery Feels like Hell…But It’s Worth It

March 4, 2011

An online friend of mine posted her despair over having lost parts of herself to the Recovery process — her ability to think, write, exercise, experience herself as being a strong, independent woman in the world.  Here’s what I wrote to her in response:

You haven’t lost anything; you still have all those parts of you, they’re just taking a back seat to the immediate process of Recovery.  Think of yourself as detoxifying from deep emotional poisons that have been locked away in your body for all these years. You were able to keep them in place, keep them from destroying you, in part because you developed the use of all those pieces of your “you-ness” including the brains, the writing, the fitness, the strength.

Recovery means you’re reversing the process of suppressing those pains and allowing the memories, the feelings, to release.  It’s like you’re taking out the abscess-causing splinter of experience that caused all these years of festering.  By letting down that barrier, you are letting the abscess drain. Feels like hell, I’ll give you that.

But then, so does ANY detoxifying process. When I detoxed from heavy metals, about a week into the process I felt like I had the flu — fever, no energy, terrible taste in my mouth, dull skin, guck coming out from all over. But in a few days that passed and suddenly I felt better than I had in years because I no longer carried that invisible burden of toxicity.  That good feeling persisted and became the basis for the rest of my life.

So it is with recovering from incest. I know, because my life exploded into tiny pieces when my denial cracked (I had submerged my truth so deeply it had been held in amnesia for 34 years).  The only remaining constant in my life was a day job where I was forced to impersonate a normal person for nine hours a day. Everything else was up for grabs. I dropped away from friends, family (of course!), activities, anything that wasn’t directly involved in recovery after I discovered the truth of the abuse. My money went to therapists, workshops, Recovery literature and art supplies. My true life resembled nothing of what had been and nothing of what it appeared to be on the surface.

And then came the day when I began to come back to myself. It happened soon after a major breakthrough in my memory process, when I solved a piece I’d long intuited but had never directly accessed. From that point on, my life again became my life… only better, because I no longer carried a hidden burden that kept my authenticity away from everyone, including myself.

Hang in there, my friend. Keep raging, writing, posting, examining, complaining, thinking, reaching out — just keep moving forward and reclaim your authentic self. As a wise woman workshop leader told me in early Recovery: “This is by definition an awkward process. There’s no way you can do it easily, gently, gracefully. Once you accept that, you’ll be fine.”

She was right.  So go be your awkward, beautiful, Recovering self, keep moving forward and heal, heal, heal!

Emotional Equations: One plus One equals Two is the Essence of the Healing Process

March 2, 2011

Emotional intelligence is the key to healing. We are the sum total of our emotional experiences and what we did with them (the spiritual/past life component is another discussion).

Emotionally, one plus one equals two.  What that means is, if we’re having a behavior that we want to change but can’t, it’s a symptom of a deeper unresolved emotional upset and held energy around self-judgment (e.g., the judgment, “when I’m around fat bald men [like the abuser] I am not safe”).  Emotions help us discover what we’ve buried away from ourselves.  Once we access the old emotions and release their energetic patterns, we are at choice where we used to be locked into an old, unconscious, knee-jerk behavior.

Here’s an example from the arts world:  I’ve been an award-winning playwright for more than three decades.  I’ve taught both playwriting and musical theatre libretto writing.  One of the key factors that make all the difference between a successful dramatic work and a flop is the depth of each character’s backstory.  Backstory is the emotional history created to guide the psychology, interactions and emotional evolution of the character through the show.  Traditionally, plays have presented those moments where a person has been confronted by their backstory assumptions and either changed h’ orientation to life and created a different future, or slipped back into being stuck as they’ve always been and now always will be.

As I like to tell writers who are stuck with their creative project:  if you can’t go forwards, go backwards.  What that means is, if your character does not organically move to the next moment in a logical, natural way, you need to go back into their history and discover what might have happened to them that would cause them to act in the way you want them to act.  With a character, you can always invent and insert an incident/interpretation/belief that will naturally make them act in the way you need to act.  In doing so, you play out the emotions of their past in the present on-stage moment and everything they do makes perfect sense.

That’s what it takes to heal from incest as well. Our current blocks, fears, knee-jerk reactions, avoidances, hot buttons and whatever else you want to call them all stem from the accumulated emotional experiences of the past, how we reacted to them in the moment, and the conclusions we drew from them at the time and which control the way we act today.  No matter how odd the behavior or response, on an emotional level it makes sense… given our experience of the abuse.  The way to access information from the past is to feel the emotion in the present, then use that feeling to connect with earlier times we felt the same way. In other words, if you can’t go forwards, go backwards.

Done properly — with safety, support, the means to process whatever feelings and memories come up — we can access those emotional “splinters” stuck from previous trauma and remove them, initially by releasing the emotions in whatever sfe way we can.  With this removal, we can move forward in healing this portion of our past. As a result, our behaviors and reactions in the present will have changed.  We may have to struggle with a habit of behavior we’ve become used to, and the healing never happens as immediately as we would like, but by doing this work we’re no longer locked in by forces we cannot access and do not understand.  We’re on the healing journey.

Remember: emotionally, one plus one equals two.  Emotions make sense and have an intelligence all their own. By paying attention to your emotions, tracing them back to point of origin and releasing them safely (through art, writing, talking with a therapist or support group, facilitated rage release, etc.) you can develop an emotional intelligence that puts you at choice, not automatic reaction.

This is the essence of the healing process for Incest Surivors… and everyone else.

p.s. — I have an entire program of healing on adult survivor issues that I’ve been very shy about putting out into the world (my olde love/hate relationship with visibility).  If you’re interested in learning more, let me know; I could use the support.

Incest Recovery and Dangerous “Friends”

January 21, 2011

A Facebook friend of mine, another survivor of sexual abuse, has been dealing with a digital attack that quickly escalated to alarming proportions.  As she reached out to her community of FB friends for support as she determined what action(s) to take, some people otherwise respected in the online survivor community not only did not offer support, but criticized her for her feelings and actions.  She expressed shock and confusion at this betrayal of trust in the face of her expectation of unconditional support.

I was not shocked.  Indeed, some of the worst betrayals I’ve experienced came at the hands of other incest survivors.

Here’s the problem: as we work on our issues in community with others, we develop a false sense of intimacy.  After all, we’re sharing information that stems from our deepest pain and wounding, and exploring how we’re working to get out of that pit and into the Light.  Others do the same and we have the illusion that we’re all on the same page, working our process and healing.  Of course that feels like the most intimate kind of friendship, and in many instances that’s exactly what it is.

However: we’re all still healing.  That means we aren’t “healed.”  When something intrudes upon the sharing of “here’s what happened way back then / here’s what I’m doing to heal from it now” and a new trauma/abuse/challenge takes place, we cannot rely on everyone in our community to take this new information in benign or loving stride.

We all have buttons.  We all have places that haven’t been healed.  I know I can go for months, even years thinking “I’m Healed!”  And then something comes up that makes me realize there is yet another, deeper, unresolved part of my behavior and/or belief that stems directly from the incest.  And I have to get back to work again to clean the emotional toxins out if I’m to reclaim yet another piece of my birthright.

The problem with expecting other survivors to support us unconditionally is that if you’ve triggered their issues, they’ll fight back.  This counter-attack is not necessarily conscious; it’s just an auto-response, part of how they survived.  Something deep in their psyche now interprets you as a threat to whatever’s in their Recovery blind spot.  They respond by instinct, often with cunning and viciousness, to take you down and out so you’re no longer a threat to what they’ve not yet healed.

What makes this betrayal so awful is that these people know you, know your issues, weak spots, challenges, history.  That means they know exactly how to hurt you to make you back off.  The results can be devastating.

I shared many years of Recovery with one such woman, who became my closest friend. At some point, she decided to lose weight to appear more attractive to a man and went off her meds.  I didn’t understand what that meant in terms of her stability, as I’d only known her while she was taking these meds.  At some point, I had a conversation with a mutual friend and mentioned something about her.  Nothing bad or inappropriate, just conversation.  But my friend interpreted it as a threat and lashed out viciously at me, ultimately damning me as someone who didn’t understand love, had none to offer, and anything I offered was damaged and unacceptable.

Wham.  A bullwhip across my most vulnerable places, my deepest fears.  I sobbed over this for months and it took the better part of two years for me to erase the damage done.  During this time, she got back on her meds and apologized to me.  I cautiously took her back as a friend… only to experience the same behavior from her within a few months, this time without the meds as an excuse.  It didn’t hurt as much this second time because I was still dealing with the deeper pain, but at that point, I accepted that I could no longer trust her and banished her from my life.

(I’ve since learned that she makes jokes about this incident in a college course she teaches in psychology.)

So what’s a survivor-in-Recovery to do when support is wanted and needed?  Definitely reach out to your community.  Ask for the help you need.  And realize:  Some will be able to give you parts of what you want; some will not be able to respond; and a very few might be triggered into their olde defense mechanisms and launch an attack upon you.  At that point, hit “unfriend,” block them, and avoid them in the future.

Simultaneously, talk with your therapist and any other healing professionals with whom you work.  Release the new emotional toxins as quickly as you can and keep the focus on your own healing.  Do what you need to do to handle whatever caused you to reach out for help in the first place.

Know that we’re all capable of being triggered, given circumstances that echo unresolved aspects of the abuse.  We can only dismantle our known psychological mechanisms; the difficulty lies with the parts for which we don’t have conscious awareness.

The good news in all this is that if and as we find ourselves triggered by unexpected negative response from other survivors, we discover and identify another piece of the abuse upon which to work.

Excuse me, did I say “good” news?  Well, at least we’re no longer struggling with a hidden emotional splinter festering in our hearts.  We know it’s there, we know it’s a splinter, we know it’s toxic and that we need to get out.  Then it’s just a matter of doing the work to clear it in order to claim another piece of our lives for ourselves…

and while we do so, staying away from those who have proved unsupportive, if not dangerously reactive to our issues.


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