Friday, April 27, 2012

She's a Survivor

My forty days of truth during Lent led me to make some important admissions about myself and my life. During that time, I started a new writing project, which I call my Truth Journal. On the first day, I wrote for two hours straight and then went to bed, exhausted, but feeling as if I had emptied my system of some kind of insidious, slow-acting poison that had been making me progressively sicker and more tired. Even though Lent has been over for almost a month now, I am still writing in my Truth Journal - not always daily anymore - but regularly. A part of that truth-telling led me to admit and understand that I had reached a long barren stretch in my healing and that I needed professional help to progress. So I began seeing a therapist, and in our session yesterday I came to understand that I need to work on healing and accepting and loving the person I was when I was sexually assaulted. That girl is still in there somewhere, thirteen years old and frightened, alone, and confused about why she became a target of so much hatred and violence. I couldn't let her speak then; I couldn't deal with her pain. Acknowledging that pain and the self-loathing that came from the assault is something I will have to do before I can get better.

Yesterday, I spent some time reading my Truth Journal and looking for clues about what the girl inside me needs, what she's saying. I didn't expect to find her, but she was right there, on the first page, in the first entry:

"I don’t know what to say. No one will read this so it doesn’t matter. I hate my life.

No, that isn’t true. I hate aspects of my life.

No, that isn’t true. I hate myself.

Because I hate myself, I hate my life. If I liked myself, I would like my life. I am the part of my life that is wrong.

Why do I hate myself?

Because I'm weak."

I went on to dig into these sentences and find their meaning. I think of myself as weak because of the assault, this life-defining thing that happened to me when I was thirteen. And it was more than one event - it was a chain of events; day after day of being touched, molested, harassed, and bullied. I told teachers and my mother, but no one did anything to help me. Then I lived in the shadow of that event for almost twenty years before I was able to even confront it and begin to heal. And because this happened to me - because my freedom and my choices were taken from me and my body was violated I felt permanently damaged. I was still in an egocentric stage of development and I wondered what I had done that caused or created the assault. As the years passed and I learned more about sexual violence and its causes, I began to understand that I hadn't done anything wrong; the people who hurt me were the ones who were wrong. I accepted that and I began to heal. 

Then came the abusive relationship. I wondered again what I had done to attract this kind of attention, to become the person who would always be battered and used. A part of me - that wounded girl who still lives inside me - believed that this was all she would ever be. She believed - believes - that this is what she is worth, and so she hates herself and her life. She is the one who longs to be loved and wanted, to be thought of as good and valuable. She is the one who can't find this validation in herself and so seeks it from others. She is the one who goes into relationships and gives everything, right away, so she will be loved. And she keeps on giving everything and asking nothing, thinking that this is what she is worth. Nothing. She has no rights. No one cares if she hurts. She is not worth intervention or protection. 

I see her, and I know what she needs - love, acceptance, and peace. I'm just having a hard time giving that to her. The truth is that I hate her too - she's reaching out across the years and she's trying to control my life, and she's weak and she's needy and I am tired of dealing with the issues she creates for me. I have been at war with her - with myself - for a long time. I have fought and kicked and struggled with her, but she's a lot stronger than she thinks; she's a survivor. She isn't going to settle for less than she needs, and I need to give it to her. I have to find a way to love and accept this part of myself, and to put her to rest once and for all.

I often say that in healing we need to find the hardest thing - what ever it is we dread most and of which we are most afraid - and do it. So here's to working on my inner child; it is the part of healing I hate most and have refused to do. I hope I can find a way to bring her peace.

Monday, April 16, 2012

This story keeps getting better

This weekend was the long-awaited Clothesline Project that I mentioned in this post I made on March 30. It was an incredibly good day. The weather was perfect, the location was wonderful, and the people who participated were awesome. I was privileged to spend about 15 minutes speaking to folks about how we live in a culture that promotes sexual violence, what the real cost of that culture is in human terms, and what we can do about it. The speech is here, if you care to read it. It drew from several posts on this site and also tells my own personal history with sexual assault and domestic violence. But no printed words can convey what it meant to me to speak to those folks and connect with a woman on the back row who nodded her head in commiseration and understanding when I talked about how I lost my ability to plan and dream after I was assaulted. No printed words can tell you what it meant to me to have two very good friends attend and offer their support. No printed words can express how I felt when a lovely, white-haired woman who was there to hear her grandson's band perform got up out of her chair and came over to shake my hand and congratulate me for speaking out.

The day was good. The event was great. The work was life-affirming. Does it get any better?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Forty Days

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." ~ Matsuo Basho

This was Easter weekend, and that means Lent is over. The long fast is done, today was the feast day and Christians everywhere celebrated a risen Christ. The folks who gave up coffee or chocolate or meat or sex can now enjoy the breaking of the fast and the end of abstinence. Those who took up a holy practice such as prayer or servanthood can lay it back down if they so choose. For the past few years, I have not chosen physical abstinence for Lent, but emotional or spiritual abstinence. This year, I chose to give up lying to myself.

If I had known how hard, how scary, how life-changing it would turn out to be, I never would have had the courage to give up self-deception. But I am fond of saying to myself and my daughters that we should always do what we are most afraid to do. So I spent the last 40 days telling myself the truth about my life, about my relationships, about my needs. About myself. Ever heard that saying, "the truth hurts?"

It does. Forty days of honesty has been like lancing a new, infected wound every day. It has meant seemingly endless self-examination. It has meant admitting that I need help healing from my PTSD. It has meant facing the unhappiness I've been feeling and mining for its source. It has meant releasing someone from my life without knowing that the person would be safe or happy or healed. It has meant acknowledging the long-lasting guilt I carry for the dissolution of my marriage and giving that resentment and hurt to God in a ceremony of smoke-and-fire carried out a thousand miles away. It has meant admitting that my own foolish pride keeps me from telling God my wants and my hurts and accepting that his forgiveness is more important than my own.

Now Lent is over. Easter is here. Christ is risen and the stone is rolled away. I can go back to my old way of coping; I could turn from the cold truth and seek sanctuary in the many warm, comfortable lies in which I have wrapped myself for so long. In a way it seems safe, but wouldn't it be like turning around and picking up the shroud, walking back into the darkness of the tomb? The purpose of Lent isn't only in sacrifice - the purpose is that we rid ourselves of that which keeps us from being in relationship with God. The purpose is that we emerge on the other side of the wilderness as different people; honed, tempered, with our wounds drained and healed, and our souls so intertwined with Christ that we do not know where we end and he begins. I stand on the edge with so much possibility before me and all the past dark behind me, and I know which way my feet should - must - take me.

Life lies ahead, not behind.