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Day 146 “The Spiral”

“Remember that night I went missing when I was a teenager?” 

“Yes,”  my mother replied. “You went off with a man.  Your father was so livid.”

“What you don’t know is that I never went voluntarily.  I was abducted and raped.”

Mom let this sink in.  

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

I have wondered the same thing.  In retrospect, I must have been severely traumatized and was likely in shock.

“I was just glad to be alive, I guess.  I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.”

“He penetrated you?”

I felt my ire rise.  My mother’s attitude towards inappropriate male behaviour was that boys will be boys.

“The memories of that night are only starting to surface, Mom.  I don’t remember it all.  He took me to a deserted farm house, and assaulted me over and over.  I remember shaking uncontrollably, and having an asthma attack.  I wondered if I was ever going to get out alive.”

“But he didn’t penetrate you?”

“Mom, this man took me against my will and forced me to repeatedly commit sex acts.  That is sexual assault.  Do you think it’s only sexual assault if there is intercourse?” 

“Why would you dredge this up now?  Why not just leave it in the past?”

I couldn’t believe what my mother was saying.  I had disappeared one night fourteen years ago.  After being left at the side of a highway, I walked miles to return to my sister’s home where I had been staying.  The police were waiting for me and knew the perpetrator.  They asked me if I wanted to press charges, but I was tired and just wanted a bath.  One of the officers told me frankly that I had asked for it, given the tight jeans and halter top I had been wearing.  I had no fight in me at that moment.  They put me on a bus for home instead.  When I arrived, my parents expressed their anger and disappointment in me and I was grounded for a week.  There was no discussion.

“It hurt me that you and Dad never asked me what happened.  You just assumed I was at fault.”

“Your father was so upset, he never thought you were that kind of girl.  It broke his heart.”

His heart, I thought.  What about mine? 

“Well, I just wanted you to know what happened to me, Mom.  I needed to clear the air.”

“I don’t what difference it makes now.  It’s in the past.”

“Because whatever happens to us remains a part of us.  It is important to understand in order to heal.”

* * *

Two days later my mother dropped by.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said,”  she started.  “You think that what happened in the past can continue to affect us?”

“I think that what we experience and how we react to it creates patterns that repeat themselves until we learn to break those patterns, yes.”

“Well, I’ve never told anyone this, but I was assaulted, as you say, by an uncle when I was six.”

I waited for her to continue.

“Mom and Dad got a new car, and they took me for a ride with Dad’s younger brother.  Dad was so proud.  My uncle and I sat in the back and he pulled his penis out of his pants and made me touch him.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because I knew that my mother would blame me.”

“What!  Why?”

“She always said that boys will be boys, and girls are responsible for not inviting trouble.”

“Mom, that’s terrible!”

“I can’t believe I’m telling you this.  I’m sixty-three years old and never told a soul.”  The eyes that met mine were troubled, full of pain.  “There’s more.  Grandma and Grandpa lived in the little house on the farm and we kids would have to go visit them, but I hated it.  Grandma would be cooking at the big woodstove, and she’d tell me to go on back to the bedroom and check on Grandpa.  Grandpa would want to do things to me.”

“That is sick!”

“It was sick, but Grandma just said that was Grandpa’s way of loving me.  He dragged my sister out behind the barn and raped her one day.  My younger brother tried to stop him – got a gun and everything, but it didn’t do any good.”

She continued:  “Even my older brother Leo was a bugger like that.  He’d try to get in bed with us girls and have sex.  We were always pushing him out.”

“And no one protected you?”

“It was just our way of life.  Neighbours were the same.  We had to run past the farm next door to us every day on our way back from school, in fear that one of the boys would catch us.  My little brother got caught one day, and the boy made him perform oral sex.”

I wanted to throw up.  “I don’t understand how nobody did anything.”

“We lived on a farm.  We saw animals doing it all the time.  I guess we just thought it was part of nature.”

“But you do understand that it’s not right, Mom?”

“I guess I always sort of knew that, but I couldn’t talk to anyone about it.  I thought it was my fault.”

“You were a kid!  How could that be your fault?”

Mom pondered this as if it had never occurred to her before.  “Do you really think talking about it can help?”

“I think understanding what happened to us can help us break cycles.”  I could see that you she wasn’t getting it. “For example, Mom, you thought that you were to blame for what happened to you.  How many times in your life have you accepted abuse because you couldn’t stand up for yourself?”

We both knew the answer to that one.  Two abusive marriages in which my mother was always willing to take blame for what was done to her. 

“How do I break the cycle?” 

“By catching yourself before you go into It’s my fault mode.”

* * *

“I did it!”  my mother’s triumphant voice rang out at the other end of the phone.  “I was at the doctor’s office and he told me I have cancer.  I immediately thought of all the stupid diets I’ve done and that I probably brought this on myself, when I remembered your words.  I stood right up and said:  “It’s not my fault!  I don’t deserve this!.”  You would be so proud of me.”

“Good for you, Mom.”

“Now what?”

Mom told me that the cancer was in her bowel, and that they were going to do emergency surgery.  She’d suspected cancer for sometime, but hadn’t told anyone.  Unable to stand up for herself against my father’s constant abuse, she had contemplated letting the cancer take her life.  Our recent conversations had helped her see new possibilities. 

“Mom, you need to come through this surgery with a new determination to live – for yourself.  You deserve to do all the things you want to in life, and you don’t need to put up with abuse.   Choose life, Mom, and when you get better….. take assertiveness training.”

As a therapeutic touch practitioner, I was allowed in the recovery room.  When Mom awakened, her eyes immediately locked on mine.  “I thought about what you said! I am going to live for me!  No more blame or shame!”

* * *

Life is a spiral dance.  We don’t leave the past behind, we circle back around to the issues and patterns that have been a part of our experience – always from a new perspective, and always with a new opportunity for understanding and healing.

 

 

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Day 144: “Seamless Deeds”

The woman on my treatment table was incredibly tense.

“You okay?”  I asked.  We were exchanging treatments, and this was her turn.

“No,” she said.  “I am upset and I don’t seem to be able to shake it.”

“What’s up?”

“I feel like I give and give and I get nothing in return.  Do you ever feel that way?”

“Sure.  It’s called being a mother.”

We both laughed.

“But actually, that’s not true,”  I added.  “Children give back in other ways. Are you thinking of someone in particular?”

“My sister.”

I knew the story well.  Carly’s sister was a single mother, who didn’t always make the best decisions in her life.  Carly was always bailing her out, babysitting her kids, or having them all over for dinner.

“Just for once, I’d like it if she did something for me…. or even acknowledged what I do for her.”

I was reminded of my older sister, also a single mother, and someone who took advantage of others.  “Some people are just like that,”  I suggested.  “At some point I guess we just have to let go of our expectations, or not offer help.  You can’t change them.”

“No, you can’t, but it seems like I’m always the one giving and seldom getting back.”

Carly was one of the most giving people I knew and I told her so.  “I have always been impressed by how compassionate and helpful you are – almost tirelessly so.”

“But where does it get me?”

Carly’s comment surprised me and made me think.  How many times had she done things for me and I hadn’t reciprocated?  Was she keeping score?  I could see the physical agony that this perceived injustice was causing my friend.

“I always do the right thing, the good thing,”  she went on.  “When is it my time to receive?”

Carly’s outpouring of emotion made me question why any of us extend kindness.  Is it only for reward or acknowledgement?  Are we always expecting something in return?   I felt sad for my friend, not because her sister was self-serving, but because Carly was so attached to outcomes.   She wasn’t able to give just for the sake of giving.

Carly decided to withdraw her support of her sister, and let her struggle on her own.  Then she dropped another friend, who she felt was just using her.  None of these actions made Carly feel any better.  She grew more and more resentful of others.  Even her own husband became a target of her score-keeping.

Carly and my friendship also ended abruptly a few years ago.  She sent me a letter asking me never to contact her again – no explanation given.  I can only assume that I had wronged her in some way.

Carly taught me an important lesson in life.  She taught me first the art of giving – as she was an incredibly gracious person – and then the importance of seamless deeds:  giving without concern for anything in return.

 

 

 

aging · culture · nonfiction · spirituality

Questioning

Every Sunday, dressed in our church clothes (matching dresses that mom had sewn herself) we girls were ushered off to service.  Dad rushed us so that he could get a decent parking spot – one that would permit a hasty exit when it was all over.  He didn’t want to waste his day hanging around that place any longer than he had to.

At eight years of age, I marvelled at how different everyone was on this day.  The crabby old lady from next door, who spent all week terrorizing the children of the neighbourhood, arrived in formal attire, with her little pillbox hat and matching gloves, and sweetness plastered across her face.  Another neighbour, who everyone knew drank too much and beat his children, was greeted as if he himself was free of sin.  On Sundays, I observed, we all became new people.

I chose to sit in the main church for the sermon as I never quite got the concept of Sunday School.  Seemed to me we never learned anything, and most days we just coloured pictures related to some story that made no sense.  That’s not to say I understood the sermon either.  The minister kept referring to God as He, which would set my mind to wondering.  My experience of God existed right back to my earliest memories, and that being was more feminine than masculine.  I could not relate to the He the minister kept talking about.  Could I have been so wrong?  Is it possible that the minister had it wrong?

“What is the point of church, anyway?”  I asked my parents one day.  “Seems to me it is hypocritical.”

“Sunday is the day that we worship our Lord,”  my mother said.  “We dress up and show respect in His name.”

“Well, what about the rest of the week?  Is it okay to be nasty the rest of the week? Doesn’t God watch us then? Shouldn’t we be living in respect of God all week long?” I didn’t mention the gender thing.

“She makes a good point,” my father added.

“That’s the way it’s always been done,” my mother shrugged.

We stopped going to church, but my quest for spiritual understanding didn’t stop there.  I invited myself to my friend’s churches, and discovered stricter creeds, and attitudes of superiority and exclusiveness.

Organized religion, from my perspective, tells one what to believe, rather than encouraging one’s own relationship with the divine.  As a child, I had a deep and very real connection with something that was beyond the ordinary – a loving, yet omnipotent power.

Now, I seek a return to the sense of wonder of life, to the simplicity of knowing that there is a presence or meaning that transcends the mundane, and the security of believing in that force.  I crave goodness, and a harmonious state of being.  I want to know inner peace.

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Day 139 “The Sovereign”

While Thor recovered from his fifth surgery, I returned home for a short respite.  Thinking I could catch up with sleep and household chores, I welcomed the break.
I looked forward to some ‘me’ time.

What I encountered instead was a tsunami of emotions – anger, grief, disbelief, desperation, and depression, among others.  Caught off guard, I fought to keep them under control, distracting myself with mundane activities, trying to run from feeling.

I called up any available friends, and when that failed, I collapsed into myself.

What I couldn’t shake was the idea that my depressed state was completely selfish.  The voice in my head said:  “You have nothing to be upset about”, and I agreed.  It was Thor who was in hospital and who would have to endure more procedures.  It was Thor who was living through pain and myriad doses of medication.  My job was to support him, and in my current state of emotions, I felt ill-equipped to do that.

Derek Lin suggests that we have power over ourselves, as our own sovereign.  He suggests that when depression sets in we have to “(r)ewrite the meaning of the event.”

It will take me some time to work through this possibility.  What I feel now is compounded not only by the reality we face, but also the extensive guilt that overwhelms me.  My anxiety has clouded my ability to think clearly and cope with everyday tasks, sapping great amounts of energy, and as a result, I am off work.  I am not accomplishing the things that I believe I should be able to do.

Thor will be having surgery number six before I am able to bring him home again.  In that time, I need to find a constructive way to deal with my emotions.  He doesn’t deserve, nor should he have to feel responsible for my emotional turmoil.

 

 

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Day 138 “Cloud Hands”

Cloud Hands, Derek Lin explains in The Tao of Joy Every Day, is a tai chi technique which represents the proper way to deal with confrontation – with “softness and deflection”.

Today’s reflection brings to mind a funny story about Thor, who I consider to be an expert at diffusing and managing difficult situations.

My eldest daughter, Marie, lived in a cheap basement apartment during her last year of college.  The building was not well maintained, and the landlord was haphazard about paying the utility bills.  As a consequence,  Marie and her roommate came home twice to discover that the hydro had been shut off and the food in their fridge was ruined.  To complicate things further, the heat was shut off in the midst of a cold snap, and the two girls were beside themselves.  They refused to pay any more rent until the situation was resolved.

Thor advised the girls to take the matter to court, and allow a judge to decide how they should proceed.  He and I were dating at this point, and Marie did not know him very well.  He offered to accompany the two young women, which they readily accepted.

Mid-morning I got a frantic phone call from my daughter.  “Mom,”  she blurted.  “I think Thor is about to beat up my landlord!”

I could not imagine Thor beating anyone up, so I asked her to explain further.

“When we got to court, it turns out that Thor knows our landlord.  They exchanged a few words, and then Thor asked him to step outside so they could settle it.  He’s going to beat him up!  What should I do!”

“Calm down, Marie.”  I assured her.  “I am pretty sure he is not the fighting type.”

“Mom, you are not here!  You didn’t hear it!”

“I know, Honey, but I know Thor.  There is some misunderstanding.  Call me back when you know what is going on.”

I hung up, wondering.  “Step outside and we’ll settle this” is an invitation to fight; had I misjudged Thor?

Thor himself called me when it was all over.  “Everything is settled,”  he said.  “The girls will be reimbursed for groceries lost, and he is giving them a break on the rent.”

“Ah, Thor, how did you get him to agree to all this?”

“When we got to court, I recognized John immediately.  I didn’t know he was their landlord.  I knew John and I could sort it out; we didn’t need the court process, so I asked him to step outside….what’s so funny.”

“When Marie heard you say “Let’s step outside and settle this”, she thought you were going to beat him up.”

Thor joined in with my laughter, as did Marie when we explained it.

“Violence doesn’t solve anything, Sweetie.”  Thor told Marie.  “It only compounds the problem.  I really just wanted to step outside and settle the issue. And that’s what we did.  Reasonably, as two adults can.”

 

 

 

abuse · creativity · Family · life · nonfiction · recovery

Criticism Be Gone!

I was forty before I could finally ask my mother about her constant criticism of me growing up.   We were alone together, in the car, driving out of town.  I had her undivided attention.

th-4“Help me to understand, something,” I prefaced the conversation.  “When I was young, you always told me no one would ever love me.  What was that about?”

“I didn’t say it to be mean,”  she explained and I believed her.  My mother was not typically a malicious person.  “It’s just that you were so different from your sisters, and I was afraid for you.  I thought I was helping you by preparing you for the inevitable.”

“But why, Mom?  What was it about me that you thought was unloveable?”

“You were just so smart, and independent minded……”  she trailed off.  “I guess I thought that men don’t like smart women.”

“Do you understand that I heard what you said to mean that I was impossible to love?”

“Oh my God, that is not what I intended at all!  Of course you are loveable.  You are compassionate and kind, and you deserve to be loved.  I thought I was preparing you, that’s all.  You were just so different,  and I thought I had to protect you.  I never meant for you to think you weren’t loveable.”

She paused in reflection.

“When the school came to us and told us they had done some testing and wanted to send you to a special school for the gifted, I was scared.  I didn’t know how to handle it.  Your father was all for it, but all I could think about was how would you fit in, and who would ever love you.  I guess I thought I was helping.  You were an enigma to me.”

Mother’s criticism of me was born out of fear and ignorance;  my acceptance of her harsh words was a reflection of my need for her approval. 

I understood.  Within the context of my mother’s upbringing and beliefs, I did not fit the mold.  She was merely expressing fear related to her own limitations.  Unfortunately, for the first forty years of my life, I lived out my mother’s legacy, choosing partners who were incapable of loving me.

My mother was not the only one to be critical of my intellectual abilities.  “Everyone hated you,”  a drunken cousin once confessed to me, then added, “but I don’t know why – you’re so nice.”  Classmates called me Browner, implying that I only got good grades because I ‘kissed up’ to the teachers.   Even close friends have commented that I’m not really that smart.

By listening to the criticism, I began to devalue myself.  Driven by a need to be accepted, I started to act dumb.  Better to deny self than to be criticized, right?

Wrong!

Embracing criticism and taking it to heart is ultimately a sin against the self.  We are each uniquely created, and destined, and it is only through accepting our differences, and nurturing them, that we can truly be fulfilled.

th-3Rejecting criticism is the first step to living authentically, and the only hope for living purposefully and to full potential.

Armed with this new understanding, I will stop apologizing for who I am.  I will let go of the need for praise from others, and recognize that their criticism is more about their process than mine, and let it be.  I will celebrate who I am by committing to my own process, and focusing on my goals and gifts.

I will finally start living.

 

 

 

 

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Day 136 “The Strong Wind”

Thor and I were attempting to settle into sleep the other night when he mentioned that his back was hurting.  As I applied ointment to soothe his aches, I noticed that he was quite warm.  Despite the antibiotics, he had spiked a fever.

We contacted the doctor and made our way back to hospital, where Thor has just undergone his fifth surgery in five months.  Unbelievable!

As if battling cancer, then a torn quad, is not enough, Thor will now have to do battle with this insistent infection.  In the next little while he will need surgery again to close up the wound, and likely again when he gets transferred to another hospital where they specialize in wound care.

It feels as if Thor and I are currently living inside a little bubble which exists alongside the rest of reality, but is not part of it.  People come and go within the bubble, however, Thor and I are the only ones who have to live it and face it every day.  Even I cannot begin to understand what must be going through Thor’s heart and mind.

I do know this: Both of us are exhausted and discouraged.   There is some situational depression, many tears, and bouts of anxiety.  There is anger and frustration.  There is never a thought of giving up.

I also know this:  We are doing everything that we can to seek professional help and take care of ourselves.  It isn’t always perfect, and no doubt there is always another way, but we are coping.

While we are grateful for the many heartfelt expressions of caring, I ask that everyone remember our bubble, and picture how fragile and vulnerable is to be existing like this right now.  Let us know that you care, but please do so gently.

Be the whispering breeze that soothes us, not the strong wind.