Starting to See

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Please be forewarned that content might include
details of abuse and potentially triggering language.
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If I had a time machine–or twenty-twenty hindsight, I’d go back and chronicle a couple of takeaways from each therapy session so that I could see where I was when I started and how far I’ve come. 

In the blink of an eye, five years have gone by.  Yet like a kid who doesn’t notice how tall he’s gotten because his peers have also grown, I’m not super aware of progress.  I need to see it.  My therapy-session reflections would be like pencil markings on a vertical height chart or perhaps a horizontal timeline.  In a perfect world, I’d record two bullet points for each weekly session:  how I felt, and what I came to understand by the end of the fifty-minute meeting.

Earlier in therapy, I wrestled with the uncovering of a wound that oozed with the feeling that no one had suffered worse.  In part this feeling emanated from the injustice of having been singled out from among six siblings — as a baby — for a specific type of long-term abuse.  There are layers to the sentiment, and I’m admittedly still shedding some.  For one, my mother, for her own messed-up reasons, refused to see me as hurt or hurting.  I envied my siblings for the care they received, but internalized the rejection, telling myself, “I am not worth anyone’s love or attention.” 

Recently, I feel some breakthrough in that I’m no longer trying to claw my way up and out from the bottom of a sibling-rivalry pit my family threw me in; I can see others around me, see that they suffer, and sympathize.  All along, I’ve been able to empathize.  Yet lately I feel a different sort of sympathy, one where my own suffering is more settled, that is, not stirred up when considering what others have been through.  Unfortunately, for now, I am less compassionate toward my siblings for what they went through than I am toward others who have suffered.  In my defense, I’ll say that because each of my siblings at one point or another crossed the line from co-victim into abuser, I see them through a particular lens.

My recent shift in perspective is directly related to the current upheaval in society—it’s as if a fault line that runs through the fabric of the nation ruptured, unraveling a blindfold covering the eyes of people like me.  I’m faced with the previously unspoken reality that I am safe in a way that black people currently cannot be.  What I’m finally beginning to grasp is the difference between fear derived from a present threat of abuse and fear reverberating from past trauma. 

Having been a slave, I have an undertow, still, of “less than.”  I know what it’s like to be treated as less than human.  Having been abused, I tense up, cower, and startle easily.  But my reaction, my triggers, are usually just that:  triggers.  For black people, the threat of abuse still exists.  They do have to be concerned that racist systems, bigots, and people in uniform might do them harm.  They are marked.  As a baby, I was given a slightly disfiguring permanent mark so that child-sex-abuse perpetrators could easily identify me.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like for the mark to be the color of your skin, something you can’t cover up—at least not without drawing further attention to yourself. 

“Healing of mind and emotions” is an interesting arena.  There are scores of textbooks on the subject, yet no clear consensus.  The bulk of my healing has come through the steady influence of my longstanding therapist, through her kindness and expertise.  Her input and the work we have done must have laid a foundation for what I am experiencing now—a groundswell of revelation, of changed thinking, of genuine understanding.  My journey continues, but I’m starting to see.

Revenge Ethics

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It’s an oxymoron; I realize that.  Revenge is a fuse lit, a grenade tossed.  It’s an incendiary response to a slight, whether that offense is perceived or real.  Ethics is a moral code shaped by people desiring the common good for their society.  Ethics looks outward to collateral consequences, to consequences suffered by all.  Revenge says, “It’s all about me.”  “I’m taking my own (counterfeit) justice.”  “I am judge, jury, and executioner.”  Revenge loots—whether it is protestors taking advantage of a volatile situation, or politicians “taking back” inequitable tax advantages by changing laws when their side reclaims power.

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Escaping a Slave Mentality

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1.      Avoid denial / face truth about emotional abuse

2.     Become more consistent in recognizing that his obstinate/defiant stance is about him

3.     Distinguish between need for solitude and desire to not be around him, and own it

4.     In the moment-by-moment, what do I want to do? (not “what will he think”)

In writing a list of steps to take to climb out of a toxic relationship, I realized how stuck I am on number four.  Although I occasionally consider, determine, and act on “what I want to do,” the problem is that I unintentionally spend an inordinate amount of energy focusing on my spouse and what he might want of me. During shelter-in-place orders, I’m doing everything I can to stay out of his way.  Workouts shifted to the now hot, humid garage.  Television off, no music played. Kitchen use, laundry, cleaning timed around him.

It’s not as much about “what I want to do” as it is about unhealthy patterns and mindsets enabling a controller.  I micro-manage what I say—measuring words to not upset him.  Trying to keep the peace at any cost, I avoid conflict and appease, appease, appease.  Just like my father, he bullies me into pretending that I like him and want him around.  Just like my father, he punishes me if he perceives the opposite.

In childhood, my abusers trained me to comply.  But in adulthood, I, the victim, have trained my abuser.  The psychological slavery I practice is chain-hugging fear of what might happen if I am not subject to someone else.  I did not intentionally plot how he would abuse me.  Instead, I unconsciously exhibited behavioral clues that baited him to maneuver, like a mouse seeking cheese, through a labyrinth of tighter and tighter constraint.  And like a lab mouse, he learned that repeat action would produce the anticipated reward. 

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Good Vibes

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Recently while online, I came across a short video that had so much more meaning than the immediate and obvious.  The video shows a single frog in the foreground, silent within the still waters of a creek.  Out of camera range, a chorus of a low-toned croaking frogs swells–then suddenly, as if silenced by a conductor’s baton, pauses.  The single frog begins to vibrate.  A piercing, higher-pitched song from the single frog rises, and the other frogs chime in.  The sound waves released by the single frog press concentric rings of discernible waves out around him.  The water absorbs, then releases the frog’s energy out to the larger body of water. 

The video depicts how one small being can impact his surroundings–virtually changing the atmosphere.  Whether it was the frog’s motion or its sound that moved the water is debatable.  Physics, however, has proven that sound not only affects the atmosphere, but lingers long after initially put out.  Some scientists posit that sound waves remain, echoing for eternity.

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Resuscitate Me!

-At what age does the Right to Life expire?

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I’m a little offended, actually, that after all these years of trying to come out from under the shame of child sexual abuse and convince myself that my life has value, that medical ethicists are telling me, “It doesn’t.”  I was expendable, as a child–made to believe that the men who abused me had greater rights to my body and life essence than I did.  These men had age and position in society.  What did I, a small child, have to offer the world?  Who was I to claim that I had destiny beyond service as a pawn in a kingdom of political, business, and religious royalty? 

The Washington Post reported recently, regarding medical treatment for those suffering consequences from the global pandemic Covid-19,

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Relative Evil

-Article reflecting on religious morality influence and current political climate

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My father, who, though religious, was evil, warned of the dangers of “secular humanism.”  As a child, I didn’t know exactly what that term meant, and tried to ignore his rants anyway.  As an adult with years of therapy behind me, I understand that morality preaching could cause deep conflict in someone the preacher had abused.  That is, my father publicly shamed society for straying from Judeo-Christian morality while privately flaunting his refusal to abide by religious credo, law, or even human decency.  Had his sins – pedophilia, child pornography and child prostituting, among other things — been out in the public eye, he would have been called a hypocrite.  At the very least.

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The Ring

-Excerpt from work-in-progress memoir

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Everything I know, I learned in the ring.  Be tough!  On your toes, ready to handle the next blow.  Don’t run when someone approaches.  You’re gonna have to take it; shake it off and prepare for the next.  Don’t show any emotion–especially if it hurts. There’s no fleeing the ring.

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Venom and Phantoms

-Considers how childhood abuse lays foundation for further abuse

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It isn’t something I ever enjoyed, not even as a child–a haunted house, that is.  I don’t understand the allure.  Why would anyone pay to visit an autumn House of Horror where hellish-looking, mummified actors are there solely to scare the living daylights out of you?   

One thing not so frightening in those seasonal venues, though, was the decorative webs drooping from ceiling corners.  The gossamer silk strung by real spiders must be difficult to replicate on the cheap.  Fat cotton fishnets brushing across bare skin don’t evoke the sticky shudder of freshly-spun spiderwebs, nor do their chunky, knotted strings drape or clingily enshroud like the dusty lace of authentic cobwebs.  Not to mention, why do they bother putting an oversized fake spider in the net?  If it’s a “cobweb,” doesn’t that mean that the spider is gone?

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The Epstein Model

-The Epstein Model addresses patterns and complicity in child sexual abuse

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I initially title this blog “Currents” partly to symbolize under-the-surface pain and trauma, kind of a rip-current emotional undertow, in the life of the typical child sexual abuse victim.  However, in this post I’d like to address something that’s “current” in national news.

If you’ve turned on the television recently, you’ve heard about the arrest, incarceration, and suicide of multi-millionaire (half-billionaire) Jeffery Epstein. Epstein, found guilty of similar crimes a decade ago, had evaded consequences when federal charges were dropped in return for an unprecedentedly light sentence in the state of Florida.  That sentence, 13-months of evening and weekend jailtime, was negotiated by none other than U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, who has since resigned.  Without the #metoo and similar movements raising public awareness of the issue of sexual violence — especially against children – who knows if Epstein would have been arrested, or Acosta confronted with his role in past wrongs.    

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Storms and Sewers

-Storms and Sewers explores honoring emotions, allowing oneself expression

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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.

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