I feel abandoned by my mother, because I know she doesn’t want to believe my dad could be capable of sexually abusing me. She sends emails that start with what I see as a courtesy disclaimer, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but…” and then tells me all the reasons why she thinks I could be mistaken. It tears my heart out, but I try to be understanding. She has been going through a lot since I broke the silence and told her about the memories I’ve begun to recover, and admittedly she’s in the most difficult position of all.
The little child part of me wants nothing more than for my mother to believe that what I’m telling her is true and choose me over my perpetrator. It doesn’t look likely though, so I tell myself that’s just a childish dream that she could ever choose one family member over another, that she’s built a life with this person, that it’s selfish of me to put expectations on her. But it’s like a knife to the heart. I actually find it hard to value my own life if she doesn’t believe me, and thinking about it too much is the one thing that can send me back into that dark suicidal place I was a few months back. In that place I feel half dead, have rotted, half decomposed, and yet I haven’t taken my life. I am still walking around trying to find a way out that doesn’t depend on her or what she does. Just to feel alive again.
I know on an intellectual level that I can choose whatever experience of this that I want. But that little girl is convinced, “If my own mother won’t believe me, won’t choose me, who would?” She takes it to mean she is worthless, that others’ words to the contrary are meaningless gestures of etiquette, rather than heartfelt truths. The whole world becomes cold and fake to her. This is no way to live.
Accepting that my mother has the right to deal with this situation however she wants has been the most difficult emotional challenge I’ve ever had. The truth is her words and actions have no meaning except the meaning I choose to give to them, so the impact on my self worth comes from my beliefs rather than from her. The clincher is that I know this intellectually, but it still feels like abandonment. It still feels like I have been ousted from the tribe, left to fend for myself, like death is after me, already eating through my flesh.
My only choice is to wholeheartedly accept that only I can give my life whatever meaning I choose, and that yes, expectations and wishes for my mother to do this or that are in fact, just childish dreams, based on the false belief that my self worth comes from her. In truth it never has, and it never will. How much longer am I willing to spend trying to barter for these childish dreams? That I don’t know, but I hope it’s not long. There’s a big beautiful world out there waiting for me.
~ “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery
Every now and then I have a dream that provokes terror or hysterical sadness. It’s more accurate to refer to these dreams as nightmares, or night terrors, but I’ll stick to the term “dreams” for simplicity. There was the dream that was the exact replay of leaving a rapist’s apartment where I was drugged, then there were others in which my father is vying for my naked body and I’m trying to hide myself. There have been others that allude to sexual abuse in more abstract terms, like a baby’s vagina covered in blood and semen, and an old white man with a whip for a penis coming after me and forcing me to carry him on my back. Every one of these had me reeling afterwards, but this is expected given that dreams are a medium through which we can process and address repressed emotions.
Even though it’s obvious to me what the general meaning of these dreams are at face value – rape and incest – it’s interesting to look at some of the research that has delineated some larger overall patterns of how sexual trauma influences the dreamscape. I’ve referred to the book Trauma and Dreams edited by Deirdre Barrett, to see what is commonly observed in the dream experiences of sexually traumatized women. We’ll see that it is usually the emotional reality of the trauma that is replayed to the victim, rather than the actual traumatic event itself. This was certainly clear when I dreamt about leaving a rapist’s apartment, exactly as I had done in real life, but the emotional impact of that dream was devastating.
First, let’s start with the themes usually found in the dreams of women with a history of sexual abuse. Sexual themes are common, not surprisingly, as is an association of sex with negative qualities, such as distrust, shame, anger, guilt, jealously, or anger. For victims of sexual trauma, the sex in their dreams is usually combined with aggression and/or violence, although even in this group, only 15 percent report nightmares where sexual abuse is literally portrayed.
Explicit violence is another common theme in the dreams of sexually abused women, but in contrast to the more general violent themes that are common for many women, sexually traumatized women usually had more details of the violence, like blood or dismemberment present in the dream. There is also more verbal aggression reported in the dreams of this group.
Sexually abused women were also more likely to have a male stranger play a main role in the dream. Often he is faceless, shadowy, or otherwise representative of evil. Many sexually abused women reported dreaming of an evil presence that threatens or succeeds in entering her room or her body. Snakes and worms are also slightly more common in the dreams of sexually abused women, as well as references to body parts or anatomy being more prevalent, especially sexual anatomy. They were also more likely to give more details descriptions of the physical appearance of characters from their dreams.
It’s been interesting to review these themes with the dreams I’ve recorded in the past, dreams that I might otherwise have forgotten because they didn’t seem to have any traumatic significance at face value. It was only after reviewing these themes that the less literal and more symbolic representations of sexual abuse in my dreams became clear, like the dream of the old white man with a whip handle for a penis that was threatening to hurt me. The dreams that most literally pointed to sexual trauma were unforgettable and also tended to be the most emotionally disturbing. No cryptic interpretation was necessary in those cases, and perhaps my propensity to not trust myself has led to a need for more literal representations of the abuse.
Learning to trust myself has been a process I’ve only just begun this year, at thirty years old, and learning to trust my dreams has been a big part of that. It’s interesting that the themes of sexual violence seem to pop up at times when I begin to question my feelings and wonder if maybe I’m crazy for feeling like my dad is a creep. At least this shows me that there’s an aspect of myself, perhaps my unconscious mind, that has my back in all of this and won’t let me deceive myself, because slipping back into the warm comfort of denial tempts me all the time, even though it made my life completely dysfunctional. When you think about how much our unconscious mind holds for us that we don’t “know” about, it’s absolutely amazing that just the right things leak out into consciousness at the just the right time.
~ ” The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul.” – Carl Gustav Jung
I often use the metaphor that my life used to be like a building that was beautiful on the outside, but dark and decrepit and languishing on the inside. Nothing gets spared when you experience sexual abuse as a child or experience being raped. It makes a complete mess of everything and you don’t even know it until you know it.
I was afraid to live because I thought I was a bad person. I was a bad person because of all the things I’d do to cope with feeling bad. I was even bad for wanting love, because bad girls don’t deserve love. People only want them for sex. And women who are good for sex are whores. And whores are bad too. But I was only good at being bad.
I wasn’t brave. I was busy running away from the problems and pain but one day all my demons caught up to me, and it was going to be them or me. I was so sick and tired of being unhappy in this beautiful but languishing building that I finally wanted to see what was hidden inside, so I lit a match to see the horrors for myself. And there they were hiding in the shadows, all of my demons. Everything in my life finally began to make sense, and I could see I wasn’t bad after all, it was the demons, and the demons had to go.
But how does one kill a demon? I tried to chase them out many times before but it was ayahuasca that taught me the only way to kill a demon is with fire. They must be charred into ash and returned to source, and this is how I accidently burned the whole building to the ground.
I watched piece by piece as my life burned up, every piece of what I thought of as “me,” drenched in flame and reduced to ash, crumbled and disappeared, and I saw that the demons I tried to set fire to were just shadows cast by my own structure. I saw that the only thing to fear was myself, and the fire’s transformative alchemy spared me no dust-covered illusions from my attic. It left me naked and nameless and powerful.
Every relationship I had changed, because I had changed, and there was nothing I could do as I watched the old relationships burn, for they were just reflections of me. I was laid off from a job where I was unhappy, I left my showroom perfect apartment, and I began to operate on an unapologetic level where I could just exist and not have to answer to anyone but myself. When I was all that was left, there was no more fear; there was nothing to lose anymore, and that is what set me free. That is what showed me who I am really am and what I’m really made of.
~ “Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” – Jim Morrison
I watched a twenty-four year old woman get raped today.
A man knocked her momentarily unconscious.
She came to with cuffed wrists.
He gagged her.
He whipped her.
He spread her.
He jammed his dick into her asshole.
I didn’t do anything.
I suppose I could make the excuse that it was acting. Hollywood had convincingly “recreated” rape.
I didn’t do anything.
It wasn’t real?
And what of the hundredss of thousands of women being raped right now?
The abused wives.
The ravaged daughters.
Are they real?
Why don’t we speak up, men?
Why are we okay with the rape, the incest, the abuse, the porn, the jokes, the sexism, the objectifications?
You ask me why I would write such a graphic post?
I ask you why you prefer ignore it?
In researching for another post, I came across some interesting data pertaining to rape culture. Since it’s nearly always an exercise in extreme patience when trying to explain to men why rape culture is a real thing, I was relieved to find some qualitative data to back up the important message I’ve been trying to convey to the men I know. It’s not that all men are offenders, it’s just that our culture socially sanctions certain behaviours, which has a disinhibitory effect on those who choose to offend.
Douglas W. Pryor, author of Unspeakable Acts: Why Men Sexually Abuse Children, conducted a pioneering study of thirty convicted sex offenders, and gathered data on the thoughts, experiences, and behaviours of these men. It is the first in-depth, qualitative, and narrative-based study of its kind, and Pryor found some general patterns which explained why some men choose to sexually abuse children, which will be further explored in an upcoming post, Why Men Rape – Part II.
Unfortunately, it did not really come as a surprise to me when Pryor also noted that his data unequivocally state that the only difference between the sexual behaviours of child molesters and pedophiles, and that of the general population of men, is simply that the molesters and pedophiles engaged in certain manipulative and coercive behaviours with children, rather than with adult women. Otherwise the two groups are virtually indistinguishable.
This is quite a bold and unnerving statement, so why would I find it relieving instead of nauseating? Because the idea that we live in a culture that condones rape is simply denied by most men – at least that’s been my experience – so I welcome all the supporting evidence I can find. A man who is willing to let his guard down and really listen to a woman share her experiences of how she is routinely objectified, harassed and violated in society is a rare kind of man. Heated arguments often arise during such conversations, with the men claiming that they have never thought about a child in a sexual way, or have ever entertained the thought of raping a woman. It’s not that I don’t believe them, it’s just that their personalized take of it is meant to be proof that because offending has not been their experience, that rape culture simply does not exist by extension. Pryor noted that, “Interestingly, nearly all the men I interviewed said the same things before they became offenders. It is difficult for men to accept that they might be participants in a culture of rape or sexual abuse.”
Pryor’s thoughtful response to rape culture deniers has been to have the men simply answer a specific set of questions, namely: “Have you ever asked or tried to talk a girlfriend or your wife into having sex when she did not want to? Have you ever looked at a child and thought or commented strongly about his or her looks? Have you ever looked at a group of young females and noticed that some were attractive even though you did not know their ages?”
In answering these questions Pryor hopes to show men that although not all men are going to commit sexual violations, that there is still an existing and very much accepted cultural framework that facilitates offending for those who chose to offend.
So the predominant viewpoint that sex offenders are extremely “odd” or “different” from other adult men is simply not true, and only serves to absolve the entire male gender from all responsibility in facilitating a culture of rape and abuse.
So is it a crapshoot which men end up choosing to sexually victimize children? Not exactly. Pryor further notes that in comparing offenders with the general population of men, “one exception is the data on the early childhood histories of the [offenders], in particular their reports of a greater incidence of childhood sexual contact with adults than is commonly found in the general population.” So there are other factors influencing who offends and who doesn’t, and certainly not all men who are sexually abused as children grow up to be offenders, but the taboo nature of child sexual abuse keeps our perception of sexual offenders and the average man completely separate when there are actually more similarities than differences. By putting all the blame on offenders, by dehumanizing and stigmatizing them, men (and women) in general choose not to take responsibility for their contribution to the ease with which some men can and do sexually offend against women and children.
~ “I don’t believe rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we [women] are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.” – Andrea Dworkin
Every time I start to feel disconnected and alone, I’m going to remember tonight and last week. It’s amazing how many people say “me too” when I mention that I was sexually abused as a child.
Last week I met up with some new peeps who are also interested in German New Medicine. I had met one of them at the seminar a couple weeks ago, and she wanted to introduce me to these four very awesome ladies. We met in a coffee shop, and while discussing how I came across GNM, on one of the many tangents went on was my trip to Peru and the the subsequent address I made to my family regarding the sexual abuse in my childhood. I’ve been talking more boldly about it lately – it puts shame in it’s rightful place, and people never react in the negative or harmful way I thought they might (though ironically it was my own family, the people who are supposed to be there for me the most, whose response to my breaking the silence was the most damaging for me).
Two of the four women said that they had similar things happen in their childhood. It seems that although each story is unique in many ways, we have a common bond over our shared quirks and oddities. Eating disorders all around. Family problems. Learning to trust our own feelings. Revictimization. Problems with authority. Drug and alcohol problems. Sex problems. So much in our existence is the same and yet I often feel like I am out to sea all alone. Like I have to walk this road without help, because who after all is going to know what it feels like to be me. Who else is going to understand what it feels like to have a suicidal hatred of your body because 50% of its DNA belongs to someone who did unspeakable things to said body?
Tonight I met up with someone I haven’t seen in years, and it was the same story. In the process of catching up, I got into the nitty gritty again, and he said “me too.” As soon as he realized I understood what it felt like to be him, he couldn’t stop talking about his pain. He said he never really talked about it with anyone, not like we were talking about it. I could tell that it was an incredible relief for him to finally tell someone what effect the abuse has had on his life, and have them really know what he was talking about!
In talking about my experiences, both those from childhood and those of healing in the present, I have found nothing but relief as well. All the walls that first seemed to separate me from others began to dissolve and I feel I’m free to just be what I am, rather than play at wearing a mask. Keeping the subject taboo, keeps us shrouded in shame. It separates us further from the truth of who we really are.
~ “Honesty is the best policy.” – Benjamin Franklin