Thursday, November 3, 2011

Confessions of an Incest Survivor: It Wasn’t All Bad

When people learn that I was molested as a child, they tend to say, “That explains it.” The promiscuity, the loose sexual boundaries, the Jerry Springer-like quality of my sexual indiscretions… they all tend to make sense when you look at the fact that my initiation into sex was pretty messed up. I had an ex-boyfriend once who said, with no small amount of embarrassment, that when he learned a girl was molested as a child there was a guilty sense of excitement. Sort of like: “Oh yeah! She’s a freak!” He hated that my innocence was taken from me, but recognized that he benefited from it.

Incest is one of those areas where everyone has an opinion. Most people hate pedophiles; most people feel sorry for children who have been molested; most people are horrified by the thought of relatives having sex. Hell, I didn’t even like typing the words “relatives having sex.” I’m not sure if it was my resistance to equating incest (an act most people see as violently sick and twisted) to sex (something less emotionally charged) or simply a reaction to the social taboo.

The truth is that the trauma caused by experiencing sex with a relative at an early age is so much more convoluted and shocking than most people suspect that they would likely stare in horrified fascination at the bloody emotional wreckage, and then self-righteously blame the victim because they have no clue how to process something that goes against all reason. Allow me to elaborate:

I enjoyed being molested as a child. I liked it. I sought it out. I got jealous if my molester paid attention to anyone else. I was intrigued by being able to do adult things and knowing things that only adults knew. I loved being desired and I found power in my sexuality. I learned to be sexy at an early age and it gained me attention and favor that most women do not fully appreciate until their boobs begin to droop and their waistlines thicken.

While I recognize that my reaction to childhood abuse is not the only kind of reaction—others may act like people expect them to… hating sex, afraid of their sexuality, victim-like—my reaction is not an uncommon one. The true shame of being abused as a child is that you don’t feel about it the way you “should” feel about it. People want to pity you and when you don’t give them anything to pity, they say you are as sick as your molester.

The reason pedophiles get away with their abuse for so long is that they pick their victims well. It’s like they have a homing beacon that lights up when they are near a child who is lonely and neglected and desperate for love. It works because they give the child the very things it craves: attention, support, approval, respect and all the other things we associate with love. It also works because sex feels good. It feels good from the inside out. It doesn’t not feel good simply because you’re not old enough for it to feel good. It creeps most people out to think of a pre-pubescent child experiencing sexual pleasure, but they can and do so all the time… that is unless they get caught with their hands in their pants and get into trouble for it.

That being said, do I wish I hadn’t been molested? I spent my whole life trying to be normal. I had no clue what it was like to have platonic friends because I would wind up fucking them all sooner or later. My identity was so entangled with my sexuality that if you had taken that part of me away, there would have been precious little left.  I lived with the shame of not feeling the way people expected me to feel for so long that I learned to hide the deepest parts of me even from myself. I was conditioned to believe that the truth would damn you and that lies protected the things you cherished.  I learned to lie well.

If you noticed I didn’t really answer the question, you are perceptive.  I don’t begrudge any of my experiences. They have made me who I am and some days I really like that person. Being molested has allowed me to explore issues of sexuality and right and wrong in a way that would have been difficult if I had not experienced it personally. Of course, I would cut the penis off a pedophile in a heartbeat and chop it up with unholy glee into tiny little bits.  I’m just saying.

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The Red Shoes: Fast-Breaking, Cheap Thrills Sex

I bought a pair of shiny red heels yesterday. They are covered in colorful baubles and have daringly high gold heels. They glitter and shine and made me feel racy just buying them. I showed them off to two women in the mall and I was thanked by the salesman on the way out as those women came in and bought some red heels of their own. I showed them off the ladies I work with, proud of my courage to buy such shoes—shoes that some would surely hate for being too garish, too tasteless, too trashy. But they were expensive red shoes, with a label that gave me credibility as someone who was fashionably bold instead of just colorblind. I thought to myself that I loved these shoes.

Then, I became aware that the shoes really meant much more to me than a fashion statement.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of a young motherless child who made for herself some crude red shoes out of scraps of material she saved. An old woman in a gilded carriage eventually came along and adopted the child. Her old clothes and shoes were taken away and burned. She was given new clothes and shiny black shoes, but she longed for the red shoes that she had made and loved.

Eventually, the girl had the opportunity to buy some red shoes and could not resist. The red shoes, however, were cursed and caused her to dance and dance and dance compulsively. She was unable to stop dancing and knew she would soon die. The shoes danced her past the executioner’s cottage and she begged him to cut the shoes off of her with his axe. The only way to do this was to cut her feet off, but she knew her life was more important and made the only decision she could. She gave up her feet and learned to live in the world without them, never again wishing for red shoes.

As I picked apart the story, I couldn’t help but think of my new red heels. I told myself, “Ah hah! I have found again my red shoes that I thought had been burned, the shoes that made me feel strong, powerful, sexy, and bold.” I thought when I saw them that I must have them, certain that wearing them would remind me that I am alive, free, no longer living the life that others expect of me but that I am fashioning for myself a passionate life of my own design.

However, I soon realized that like the little girl in the story grasping at the first thing that reminded her of her homemade red shoes, I had found my way to a trap that had the potential to keep me frantically dancing to a soul-less melody that not even I could hear. I began to see my red heels as the poisonous symbol of fast-breaking, cheap thrills; sex without soul; life without meaning. I sensed deep down that the loss of my handmade shoes as a child, the loss of my self-designed life and passionate vitality, had left a hole in my soul that made me compulsively willing to take something, anything, that seemed similar to what I had lost, good or not, to fill the void.

I tried to remember what my original handmade shoes looked like, where I had lost them, and when I had begun amassing a collection of cursed red shoes that helped to distract me from the pain and grief caused by my original loss. I knew instinctively that my hunger for spirituality, God-learning, and a simple sane sexuality was the result of having my authentic soul-food, my homemade red shoes, taken from me by others who could not see value or worth in my first crude attempts at creation long ago. As I searched inside myself, looking for the child who was, the child who knew and loved the shoes she had made, the memory of a pair of shoes from my past danced in the shadows of my psyche. Was I remembering correctly? Were those the original shoes?

When I was a child, I was obsessed with the idea of horses. Before my obsession with the knight came my seduction by his trusty steed. I pretended and galloped and rode my way through childhood on the broad back of my imagination. Horses were my dreams, my hopes, and my belief that all was magical and possible and beautiful. Horses held the promise of passion and vitality and goodness, they were earthy and raw and unapologetically sexual.

I tore through my house and my neighborhood in my cowboy hat and dusty red boots, riding my broom horse in an ancient and wickedly delicious rhythm that my soul recognized and celebrated. It wasn’t proper. It was scandalous even. A fourth-grader should know better. A child should not be so provocative. I was too old to be acting like that they said; I was too young to be acting like that they thought. You cannot wear those boots to church! Take those jeans off for God’s sake, you wore them yesterday! That hat is filthy, get rid of it!

Little by little, bit by bit, I let go of my red boots, allowing myself to become convinced that it was somehow wrong to revel in the unrepressed sensuality and voracious desire of a soul learning to be itself. And as I shoved the discarded, devalued, and “unacceptable” aspects of my soul and self into the darkness, they conspired about how and when they should make a break for freedom. They boiled down there in my sub-conscience, seething and burbling until one day, they exploded upward and outward in an unchecked torrent with a will of their own, snatching up the first pair of shiny red stilettos they found on their way out. I put on those diabolical red shoes with a vengeance and danced. I felt justified in my rebellion and refused to cringe before the masses in their boring black shoes, tisk-tisking over my shamelessness.

I danced, damn it! And I danced and I danced and I danced. When one pair of cursed red shoes wore out, I traded them in immediately on another, certain that the new pair would be more like my originals, and I danced some more. I numbed myself to the pain. I ignored muscles that screamed in protest and pretended not to notice that my feet were bruised and bleeding. I simply kept dancing, willing myself to believe that dancing myself crazy and living were the same thing.

At some point I realized that enough was enough. I found myself at the executioner’s door and tearfully asked him to cut off my feet. It hurt like hell, but it was what I needed to go back to the handmade life. Psychically, I crawled to a halfway place, a way station, so that I could rest and mend after dancing for so long. I began sewing strips of red material together to fashion soul-nourishing shoes for the amputated stumps at the end of my legs, and I started walking again—albeit with a noticeable limp.

So here I am, with no feet and a shiny new pair of red heels from Dillard's that I just had to have. What the hell was I thinking?!

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

0010 - Hope and a Spider's Web

When I was a child, the thought of suicide never occurred to me, no matter how bad things were.  Hit me, beat me, rape me, lie to me, use me, and abuse me… I always felt like there was hope; that I was here for a reason.  Victor Frankyl said of concentration camp survivors that as long as they felt like they had a reason to live, they would live, but the moment they gave up hope, they died.  For whatever reason, I never felt like things couldn’t get better. 
Then, I met someone who introduced me to a world with no hope.  It was awful.  I remember sitting on my porch in the rain one night, lower than I had ever been, crying sobs that were wrenched from my guts.  Life was meaningless.  I had taken a wrong turn and found myself with nowhere else to go.  I could not see past the pain and loneliness and darkness.  I wanted to end it all.  I thought about ways to do it.  I would have killed myself that night, where it not for a spider.
I remember the rain was pounding on the tin roof and coming down in sheets over the edge of the porch.  The sound of the rain drowned out all other sounds and a mist blew with the wind onto the most sheltered side of the porch.  I sat crouched against the siding, arms wrapped around my legs, as broken as the flowers beaten into the mud by the storm.  The spider was on the porch railing, spinning a web between rungs.  She worked non-stop, methodically creating a pattern that time and time again was torn down by the wind.  Each time part of the web was damaged, the spider simply repaired it and kept working.  She worked for hours.  I watched for hours.  Raindrops formed on the strands and disappeared, the web stretched and moved with the wind, it broke and was fixed.  The spider did not give up.  Sometime before morning, she finished.  Sometime before morning, I decided if she could keep going even when it seemed hopeless, so could I. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

0008 - Sadness

I came up with a solution that will likely keep my staff out of the unemployment line.  It doesn’t change the reality of my situation much, but should radically help them.  It’s amazing how much better I feel knowing that they have options now.  If I were cynical, I’d be asking why it still matters, but it does.  They are good people and the work they do makes a difference.  Now they will have an opportunity to become responsible for their own growth, learning, and success.  Whether they succeed or fail will now be a direct reflection of their choices instead of mine.  I wish I had thought of this sooner, but I know there is a reason for everything.  My ego and need to lead probably would have interfered had I thought of this in the beginning.  It would sure be nice if it didn't seem like I was walking backwards through life, looking at what could have been if I'd only seen things clearly sooner. 
My child and a handful of others now know most of the truth of my situation.  It is so hard to see the pain in their eyes.  My child says it’s not disappointment, but sadness.  That is a good way to describe it – bone deep, weary, gut-wrenching sadness.  I fell asleep the other night thinking of tears, but unwilling to shed them.  I didn’t want to alarm my boyfriend who was spending the night.  I found myself crying in the middle of the night and was able to truthfully tell him that I had a nightmare.  I dreamed that I was flying low to the ground and couldn't remember how to float higher up to where it was safe. I was captured and abused by a gang of children who caught me because I was so low and bound me with ties that I could have escaped, but didn’t.  I was intrigued by the nightmare; it didn’t really make me cry.  Rather, I cried purposefully because I feel so strongly the need to heal.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes says that tears lead to exhaustion, to the disassembling of defenses, to the facing of oneself, and the to desire for both knowledge and relief.  She says that tears change people, remind them of what is important, and save their very souls.  I want a simple, sane, stress-free life.  Can’t I have that and get where I am going, too?  Must I sacrifice one for the other?  I know that the answer to this is that I can have both… but I wonder if I have traveled so far down the difficult path that it doesn’t make sense to turn back now.  Surely, I am almost there?  If I still have a long way to go, please, God, let there be a fork ahead that leads to an easier path, one not so full of sadness.

Monday, July 4, 2011

0007 - Independence Day

Yesterday I rode along the coast on the back of a Harley.  It was a beautiful day and the scenery was breathtaking.  I went with the expectation that it could be one of the last times for a long time that I had the freedom to just experience the joy and beauty of life, to share the moment with friends and loved ones, to feel the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, and to taste a frosty cold adult beverage as we hopped from one quaint watering hole to the next. 
Yet running like a current underneath the experience was the fear and rejection of what my life has become, the knowledge that this was all borrowed time and that my house of cards has already started crumbling.  I smile and I laugh and I take the next sip of the poison that will help numb the cry of rage that threatens to surface at any moment.  How did I let this happen?  I feel the heaviness in my chest, the lump in my throat, the self-pity that threatens to distract me from the fact that I caused this, that this is the reality I’ve created.
I look around.  My present moment is filled with birdsong, the lazy sight of horses grazing in the distance, stillness, peace, perfection.  Why can’t I live in this moment, enjoy this moment, without feeling the ominous presence of doom just on the horizon?  Why must I constantly try to make my life look right, to cover the faults, to conceal the messes?  Why must I compare what I have to a beautifully prepared, perfectly packaged life?  Why can’t I accept that my life is perfectly fine just as it is?  Surely, I can find a way to attain that Zen state where I accept my place in the tapestry of the whole and can come back to just where I am.  Surely, joy, ease, simplicity, courage and the freedom to care and not to care is possible even when all appears to be headed to hell in a hand basket.
Today is the Fourth of July.  Independence Day.  Can I claim my freedom today?  The freedom to dissolve the labels I have put on my experience?  Can I let go of the shoulds and should not haves long enough to accept that this is my life, my complex, topsy-turvy, unfathomable life?  Can I become at peace with the way things are?  No longer struggling against the world or lost in it?  Can I simply rest?  Can I accept the love that others offer me?  Can I accept and love myself?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

0006 – Fast and Easy

In the Buddhist tradition, there are four potential paths to Enlightenment: fast and easy, slow and easy, fast and hard, slow and hard.  Most of us spend our time on the last path.  We live in a society that has conditioned us to believe that fast and easy is somehow inferior to hard work over a long period of time.  We’ve blamed our unhealthy lifestyles on a “fast-food” culture associating quick and easy with obesity, laziness, and poor choices.  Taking “short-cuts” tends to be equated with shoddy workmanship, and the desire for instant gratification is blamed for most of our generation’s ills.  We expect people who experience sharp, fast rises to success to have equally sharp, fast declines, certain that they haven’t earned the right to be at the top.  We tell ourselves that failures are the stepping stones to success and that out of our greatest tragedies come our greatest triumphs.
I realized recently that I was tired of doing things the hard way and decided to pursue the fast and easy path.  You can take a rowboat overseas or you can take a plane.  Although other people will be more impressed if you make it in a rowboat, you have a much better chance of getting there in one piece taking the plane.  I reasoned that quick and easy was simply a thought process.  If I fed the belief system that encouraged the fast and easy way to success, joy and peace, then I would create a reality that reflected fast and easy growth and learning.  I reasoned that the only thing that created resistance to getting there quickly and easily was a belief system that supported slow and/or hard.  Change your thoughts, change your life, right?
I decided to experiment.  I gave myself roughly three years to remove resistance to achieving a life that I was satisfied with and that did not require blood, sweat, and tears to achieve.  I figured I would chart my progress, take note of the beliefs that interfered with and the beliefs that supported my new direction, and make conscious choices that enabled fast and easy success.  So with my resolution, I announced to the Universe my intention to achieve personal growth and learning along the fast and easy path.  Two weeks later, my business had failed, I received a letter stating that I was being investigated for fraud, two other letters stating that I was being sued, and I realized that I was approximately $500,000 in debt with $19 in the bank and no way to pay back what I owed.  Um, wow.  I think there’s been a mistake.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t what I asked for.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

0001 - Inside Out

All of us live in apparent duality.  We are fragmented, outwardly as well as inwardly.  We are separate.  We are connected.  We are one way in private, another in public.  We think things we do not say, we say things we do not mean.  We hide things from ourselves and from others.  We have secrets… deep, dark secrets that we don’t want others to learn and that we don’t want to look at too closely. 
What if our lives were an open book?  No.  Really.  An open book.  What if the things we thought and the things we felt could be put out there for others to comment on and react to without censure?  What if all of our secrets were hung out for anyone to see?  Could we do it?  Could we step away from the need to be seen a certain way, to be liked, valued, admired, and trusted?  Could we do it?  Could I? 
Half of my life has been spent trying to figure out who I am and the other half has been spent learning to like the person I tell myself I am.  For me, the journey has been difficult.  Hell, who am I kidding?  The journey is still difficult, partly because it’s so freaking hard to be honest with myself and with other people about who I am and partly because who I am is so complicated that even Nietzsche would throw up his hands in despair of ever sorting it out. 
My reality is such that my secrets have the potential to cause a lot of harm.  Other people could be hurt, a lot of other people.  I’m not famous or rich; although, I can say that I have managed to accumulate an enormous amount of debt, an almost incomprehensible amount of debt, and that kind of puts me in a category of my own that few people will ever come close to matching in their lifetimes.  Ordinary people don’t usually screw up things as monumentally as I do, so I suppose that makes my life extraordinary or at least not exactly ordinary.  On the surface, things look good, but I know that I live in a house of cards.  A gentle breeze could easily cause it all to come crumbling down… and if it all comes crumbling down, people could get hurt.
So I ask myself, is it possible to be honest with myself and and others and still protect the ones I love?  What if I reveal my deepest thoughts, my deepest fears, my deepest hopes, my deepest dreams, my dirtiest secrets without overtly revealing my identity? 
Can an effort begun in deception result in the discovery of truth, my truth?  Would such a project be doomed to failure, sort of like trying to understand the nature of ice by studying fire?  Or might I find some kind of liberation, some kind of freedom, through the process of throwing darts in the general direction of truth and hoping that some of them will hit the target?  Well, the only way to find out is to try.  I am experimenting. I am turning myself inside out with the hope that catharsis will lead to congruence and congruence to peace.  Here goes...