I just took a good long walk in this beautiful day and even though I was listening to a book on CD while I walked, my mind was racing. I realized I felt stronger than I've felt in a long time and I know that every time I allow myself to talk about sexual abuse OUT LOUD, I feel lighter, better. I no longer feel that I must remain silent, of course, but there are cultural mores about such talk. There is even the threat of sounding self-indulgent, self-pitying.
Self, self, selfish.
The book I'm listening to was in itself a catalyst to my thoughts. It's not Great Literature and I've almost abandoned it several times but the narrator is good and there's just enough to keep me going. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is the title and it's about a little girl who ends up being her crazy mama's caretaker until the mother dies and then she goes to live with a great-aunt in Savannah and it's got every goddam southern stereotype in it and every cliche, but honeychile- you know a lot of those things are based in reality.
And there is some wisdom in it, even if it is delivered too sweetly and too neatly and too lovingly to resemble real life as I know it.
But as I was listening, there came a part in the book where CeeCee is able to remember some very good moments with her mother before her mental illness took her over and that made me wonder why I have no good, magical mother-daughter moments in my memory bank. I swear, I do not. I know there must be some. There must! My mother loved me. I know she did. But every memory I have is tinged with fear and sadness. And I know that a lot of that fear and sadness came from her and her life which was filled with both of those things. And yes, she suffered depression deeply and although she did not do things like CeeCee's mother did to publicly shame me, she did things that I could not fathom. She said things that scared the living shit out of me.
I do not think she could help it. I swear. I don't.
But it happened. That's life.
But I wish I had one memory, just ONE of pure joy in my mother's love. I yearn for that with all of my heart.
And I was thinking about that and then I was thinking about my damn need to suffer. My inability to accept the joy and light my life is quite frankly filled with now. I have always pondered this question. Why do I feel the need to suffer?
And I think I answered it in this morning's earlier post. And filled in the outlines on my walk.
First, there was the example of my mother who so obviously suffered. She lived with a dangerous alcoholic. She suffered poverty with him and probably abuse and she suffered shame, too. The shame of having a husband who was a bad, bad drunk. The neighbors knew. I know they did. I remember at least one time being sent with my little brother to a neighbor's house when my daddy was on a tear and had been screaming at her.
And then when she left him, finally, she suffered from the depression and surely grief at the loss of a marriage, even such a bad one. She suffered from the shame which was then put on women who were divorced. She suffered from having to go back to her father's house and protection. She suffered from being miserable in her vocation. She suffered loneliness.
Suffering was obviously what women did. That's what I learned.
And then when she married my stepfather and the abuse began, I, who had been her caretaker (and there is no other way to put that- I had been her confidante and caretaker from the age of six) found myself in the unthinkable position of protecting her from knowing what her husband was doing.
I honestly believed she would kill herself if she knew.
She'd threatened suicide on many occasions so I had reason to believe that. I was nine years old- what did I know? And so my pain and my fear and my confusion became my way to keep my mother happy. Or, at least alive. Add that to the fact that I was so filled with shame from the abuse that there was no way to speak out anyway. I didn't have the words. Quite literally. The only other example I knew of a father doing such things to his daughter came from the Bible when Lot "laid" with his daughters after they got him drunk in order to be impregnated by him.
But. Back to the point. My suffering kept the family together in my nine-year old brain. And in my ten and eleven-year old brain. In my twelve-year old brain.
If I told, the shame would be too much for anyone to bear- I had to keep it all INSIDE OF ME. And, Mother might well just fulfill her suicide promise if I allowed it to leak out.
And so, in some sense, I became a true martyr. I suffered for a cause. Happiness was not an option. Freedom from fear was not an option. Relief was not an option. One moment of inattention was not an option. One night of peaceful sleep was not an option.
Not moving away when I was eighteen was not an option.
I had to do it.
I finally had to save my own life and don't you know I felt so much guilt? Not at abandoning my mother, but for abandoning my baby brothers because by that time, they and their lives felt like my responsibility too.
But you don't just walk out a door and move across a country and take a deep breath and become a happy person after a lifetime of that sort of suffering and pain and martyrdom. Oh hell no. You may have slipped the traces of the home but you carry the messages and the beliefs with you.
You do not quit believing that your own suffering is personally and universally protecting the world. It makes no sense, but there it is.
And, AND, you have no sense that you deserve anything BUT suffering. It is not, at this point, just your job in life to suffer, it is your heritage, your training, your very sense and essence of self.
Okay. This is what happens when I have time to think about things for more than twenty minutes at a time. Occasionally, I have, if not an epiphany, at least a small break-through. And, if you are like me, you might have to write this shit down and put it out there because that's what you do. You send it out to the world and you hope that maybe one other person who can't drop the pain and suffering and doesn't know why might be able to crack a little light onto their situation. Because if there is one thing I learned all those years in a sexual abuse survivor group it is this- no matter what happened, we all came through the abuse with certain things that were the same.
Shame, guilt, fear, depression, a proclivity towards substance abuse, sexual problems, relationship problems...the litany is long but we all shared it.
And I know that just because I now have a better answer as to why I need to suffer, that need will not disappear. But. Perhaps with the knowledge of where it came from, it might lose its almost totemic role in my life. Perhaps, when I feel it most strongly, I can examine it from a different angle now. Perhaps, over time, it will fade.
As Owen says, "Maybe!"
At the very least I feel lighter right now than I have in ages. Lighter and better. As I said in the very beginning of this post. The feeling may not last too long, but I'll take it for this moment. Oh hell, YES, I will take it. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon where it is so quiet in my beautiful house and my beautiful yard and in my beautiful life.
I can accept the light and the deep satisfaction of my life within it. For this moment.
I still have a lot to think about, a lot to process. But it's a start.
Wow. Maybe I don't have to suffer.
Does this mean I could maybe be...happier?
Lord. I'm not even going to go there. Baby steps.
Now. Off to the garden. Out to the yard. With lighter steps.