So I had an interesting day today.
I was thinking that I should post something, since I’ve been trying to do so every couple of days, to stay on top of the blog. I was going to try for humor, a post about how I never keep any promises to myself about dieting, fitness, etc., just talk about someday and overeat while dreaming about being thin and fabulous, and giving myself another excuse to hate myself.
But then I logged on to Facebook, and someone had posted this: http://magazine.nd.edu/news/40695/. As a cradle Catholic, my reaction to this is what it always is, something to this effect: “I honestly don’t understand why this is even a question. If these were not priests, but just guys in your neighborhood that were abusing children, no one, and I mean NO ONE would be trying to protect them. How can the church have any authority on moral issues of any kind when it has taken such a firmly immoral stand on this for so long? And only God knows how long it went on before it came to light.” This reaction is in quotation marks, because I actually typed it on the Facebook post. Then I decided not to post my thoughts on this for fear of offending my Catholic friends, or risking their disagreement with my opinions. It didn’t occur to me to not care that much about what offends other people. I mean, if they are offended by my opinion but not by the criminal, immoral activity of the church, then I’m not sure I have any reason to care what they think. Other than habit, of course—the habit of caring more about what other people think than what I think.
I’ve always wondered why the child sex abuse scandal in the church bothered me so much. I was never abused by a priest. I don’t practice the religion anymore and have long since abandoned my belief in many of the doctrines. Why do I care? My experience with priests and the Catholic Church was almost entirely positive. So I didn’t want people to think that I had been a victim of child sex abuse by a priest. I mean, the only people that are entitled to be outraged by this are the actual victims of it, right? That’s an argument I’ve actually heard, by the way.
Before I could analyze my own ongoing reactions to various child sex abuse scandals, I continued to peruse the Facebook page for the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse (https://www.facebook.com/AbolishCSA), and came across this article, which cut much closer to the bone: http://goodmenproject.com/on-rape-and-sexual-violence/the-good-life-what-my-sister-did-surviving-inces/2/ (WARNING: this article is graphic and may trigger your own traumatic memories. Please proceed with caution.)
You see, I too was molested by a sibling. My older brother, who was five years my senior, but still a child himself. This was a fact of my life that I never repressed or denied. I only minimized it. I just decided at some point that it wasn’t a big deal. Even in the face of loads of evidence to the contrary. That whatever trauma I experienced as a result of it was just something I needed to shake off and pretend it didn’t matter. I re-traumatized myself every single day by doing that.
He was also physically abusive. The sexual stuff was never violent. It was gentle, almost like love. But it often followed a beating or a terrorizing event. It was almost like an apology for what had come before.
That screwed with my definition of love, too, by the way. Love and gentleness is wrapped up undeniably and inextricably with threat and fear and rage.
The problem with an incestuous abuse relationship is that you don’t just fear the abuser. You also love him.
I only remember a few actual specific incidents. But they were spread out over several years, and I also remember a feeling of dreaded familiarity every time, so I know it went beyond the specific incidents I remember.
My brother was a child himself. I never tried to hold him accountable for harming me. Because he couldn’t have known the damage he was doing. He was not an adult, charged with caring for children. He was a child with that charge, and that charge turned out to be too much for him. I blamed myself. I blame myself. Not only for the things that happened then, but for my inability to overcome them like good and strong people do. Only weak people, only victims, only people who want to stay stuck in their stuff don’t overcome. Only stupid people don’t overcome.
So I must be weak, a victim. I must want to stay stuck. I must be stupid.
I didn’t tell because I didn’t want to hurt my mother. She had been hurt enough. I didn’t want the burden on me of putting that burden on her. I told her when I was grown up (18) and she said it was between him and me. And let’s face it, at that point, she was right. I’m the one who wasn’t brave enough to tell at the time. I shouldn’t punish her for that. But somehow, I do. I knew it would hurt her, so I didn’t tell. It didn’t matter that it was hurting me. I also feared she would blame me. Or tell me I liked it and that there must be something wrong with me. As if I needed her to tell me that!
I rolled my eyes at all the celebrities and wanna be celebrities that came out and confessed their abuse as if they were doing something brave instead of what they were actually doing: telling the secret they swore they never would. What the hell is wrong with me that this is the way I thought for so many years?
I judged others for not being as “strong” as I was, and then I systematically began to destroy myself. I didn’t do it by cutting myself or doing drugs or drinking too much or attempting suicide. I did it with food and isolation and verbal and psychological self-excoriation. I was too lazy to kill myself quickly, so I’ve settled for destroying myself the long way. This has led me to a fat, unhealthy middle age, a skin condition that is the modern day leprosy, and a self-image that I fear will never, ever be healthy. I do not believe that telling my story here will lift all these burdens immediately. Maybe they will never be lifted. Maybe I’ve destroyed myself enough that I can never recover a sense of true well-being. And that might be a fitting punishment. But I have absolutely no hope of ever getting healthy on the outside until I’ve let go of my self-blame for this festering wound. I told myself that everything that went wrong in my life, every bad choice I ever made, every defense mechanism I ever used, was all my fault. There was never any blindness to me. I was 100% awake and I did it anyway. Well, no one is 100% awake to everything. No one. And trauma survivors likely less so.
“Throughout my teen years, I had the normal thoughts and desires of boys my age, but when I got attention from girls, my feelings and reactions were far from normal. Kissing triggered flashbacks and touching made me wince and flinch. I was backwards. Physical gestures that gave others pleasure or comfort made me want to cry…” Nathan C. Daniels
In a few words, he has managed to describe the dilemma that I’ve lived with my whole life. Add to “teen years” the phrase “and throughout my adult life” and you pretty much have my reactions to sexuality to this day. How do you let someone love you if you are afraid to be touched? How do you allow yourself to be touched when it is the only thing you want and the thing you fear the most?
When I was in my 20’s and still a virgin, I had friends laughing at me or telling me what a freak I was. All those years trying to explain it. Trying to make others understand, while all the time berating myself for being afraid, for not being able to let it go. For not being tough enough, when so many children went through so much worse and were able to overcome it. I mean, I didn’t dissociate or self-harm (at least not in any obvious way), so doesn’t that mean that what I endured wasn’t that big of a deal? Add to that the backwards feelings and lessons from my mother and grandmother (my parents) about sex and the fact that “good girls didn’t do that” and I just believed that my reality was that a healthy sex life was not in the cards for me. And that too was my fault.
So many people have done so much more with their experiences than I ever have. By denying them, I have not only punished myself, but deprived others of any potential wisdom or strength I might have been able to provide. Some people have come through and been stronger than ever. I have allowed myself to stay stuck and weak.
I don’t know where to begin to change that.