-Storms and Sewers explores honoring emotions, allowing oneself expression
Please be forewarned that content might include
details of abuse and potentially triggering language.
As the familiar 70’s song claims, it never rains in California—until it pours. That tune from another era somewhat misled me; when I went to Southern California several months ago, it rained a lot. It rained and it poured. Locals said that there was more precipitation that weekend than what they’d usually get over the course of an entire year.
On the final day of that California trip, the sun finally began to break out just before I had to leave. I opportunistically pondered packing in a long weekend’s worth of fair-weather sightseeing into my last couple of hours. Yet the sound of the waves crashing against the nearby harbor jetty drew me out to the beach beckoning from outside my B & B window, and I quickly settled for a walk along the shore. I only made it as far as the near end of the jetty, where nature’s beauty stopped me in my tracks. Mesmerized, I observed as rocks bowed in succession, succumbing to seemingly rain-overloaded ocean swells. I caught an off-center picture of a half-swallowed rock; when I got home and flipped through the photo stream, I noticed that the image actually centered on a whirlpooling eddy. The photo’s centerpiece, a swirl of effervescing ocean, crept up past high-tide-marked sand, catching seaweed, shells and other storm debris in its shepherd’s crook embrace. Like a gambler reaching across a table to pull winnings into his chest, the ocean swept an arm out and over the soaked cedar sand to reclaim its treasures.
It got me thinking. As I’d walked down the hill to the harbor below, I heard the rumble of rushing water pulsating through several pipes injected into the rocky hillside. At the bottom of the hill, clean rainwater filtered out through perforated PVC-pipe drains cached amidst craggy rocks at the base of the bowl-like harbor cliffs. Wow! I thought. The ocean itself recovers what nature scatters on land during storms. And the earth then sheds the overflow of rainfall, giving back to the body of water it drew from in the first place.
Watching the engineer-aided environmental system for clean, pure rainwater to flow through a storm drain spotlighted a misconception I have long held. A shame-vexed lens had predisposed me to see my anger as sewage, as an unholy byproduct of the abuse. Like many victims, I was on the receiving end of my abusers’ rage. Often, they blamed me for “causing them” to do the despicable acts that they alone are accountable for. Dirty, shameful words and deeds from my abusers, things I was forced to take in as my own, commingle with righteous rage that I was never allowed to feel or express. Like bits of mixed-stream garbage compressed in a trash compactor, my anger was stuffed down along with the rubbish I took. I rationalized it. Faulty reasoning deep within says, “Were I to become that enraged, wouldn’t I be just like them?” In turn, again, like many victims, I did not learn to express — to have healthy outflow — of strong emotions. One problem with that dynamic is, the anger I harbor isn’t just NOT expressed, but its fermented fumes turn their fury back on me in the form of self-abasement, perfectionism and a tendency toward depression.
A tangent with a point: if someone were to enter your house, deposit a load of garbage or dirty laundry on the floor, and then leave, would you just ignore the mess and stench, and pretend it wasn’t there — stepping over it, adapting your routine — instead of dealing with it? Maybe some people would, for a little while, but not many would last forever ignoring that pile. They’d trip over it. And even if not intended or desired, that pile would eventually spread into other areas of the house.
A load of . . . expletive deleted. That’s how I feel about people’s advice for me to just “get over it” when it comes to childhood sexual abuse. I’m tired of stepping over the smelly pile. Of pretending, for their sake, that it isn’t there. Because 1) attitudes, 2) beliefs and 3) behaviors are formed so early in life, it is highly likely that abuse deeply impacted how those three core elements developed. The neglectful, abusive treatment I endured in childhood is something that had spread into every mindset. Eventually, I decided to deal with it and its accompanying denial—to stop pretending it isn’t there. At one extreme, complete denial is the antithesis of truly “getting over it”. At the other, superficial forgiving and forgetting won’t fix my flawed self-concept or magically enable me to trust again. The only way to get over it – get past it, really – is to go through it.
Safechuck quote from HBO’s Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland
Given my Southern California storm experience, I’d rather define the anger I still need to sort out as a natural consequence of refuse deposited in times of storms. There were many such storms in my life. I’ll have to trust that “the process” (coming out of denial, journaling, therapy, etc.) can unburden me in a natural, unforced, circle-of-life type manner. As it is, blocking the storm water from flowing out only further hinders my ability to “return to sender” the anger and shame that I’ve harbored. At least I can recognize, if not accept, that the rage I need to express is a form of natural matter, not pollutive waste. I tell myself: just because I was defiled doesn’t mean that emotional discharge associated with it is. I know implicitly that beyond the anger I still need to release lies a flood of tears that must flow. I promised not to tell. And I learned to say “No” if and when they asked if it hurt. The tears I haven’t yet shed will be healing waters to wounds I far too long pretended weren’t there.
Website has comprehensive resources