Tag Archives: family violence

Living Openly at Safe Space Day

wp0fc6e8a2_06As much as I’ve come to love all the writers, bloggers, advocates as well as the extraordinary people I’ve met online, there is nothing as sacred as the face to face contact that I experienced this week as I travelled 6 hours from my home to attend a day conference, full of people whom I’d never met, at Safe Space Day.  Full of trepidation, I willed myself to take the risk, knowing that this vital step of “coming out” was the obvious next step in my recovery.   To say that I’m glad I attended is truly an understatement.

I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of love I witnessed.

I wasn’t prepared for the courage of each women I spoke to, cried next to or shared an auditorium with.

I wasn’t prepared to meet anyone as anxiety ridden as I, anyone else who had travelled the day prior in sheer terror to an unknown destination that called so directly to me, nor was I expecting to feel, once I’d arrived, such a kindred meeting of souls.

Souls who struggle with silence, victimization, depersonalization, isolation, mental illness, physical health issues, anger and gut wrenching sadness.

Yet, these same brave souls simultaneously expressed undying hope not only for their futures but for future generations as they sang bravely, spoke loudly, laughed spontaneously.  They offered humor, comfort and a space so special that we, as survivors of childhood sexual abuse and incest, assembled courageously to entertain and embrace the concept of living openly.  In essence, we had come to heal.

Dr. Rosenna Bakari is a survivor, educator, poet, visionary and the creator of Safe Space Day and Talking Trees Survivors. She defines living openly as this;

Living openly as a survivor means that survivors no longer deny or hide the fact that they have been sexually abused. They are willing to speak truth about the trauma of childhood sexual abuse from their own personal experience. 

This may include identifying their relationship to the perpetrator(s), age abuse started and ended, attempts or non-attempt to disclose and emotional experiences associated with the abuse.

Disclosure never has to include specific details about type of physical contact, degree of physical contact, or frequency of contact. Living openly as a survivor creates space to let go of guilt and shame and walk proudly with other survivors to move humanity forward by shedding light on an ugly issue that plagues our society. The shame of incest and the ugliness of sexual abuse must be redirected back at the perpetrators rather than remain lodged within survivors……Read more

Dr. Bakari has taken the concept of “living openly” to create a safe space for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and created a community.  A community where safety replaces fear, acceptance diminishes shame and the groundwork of true healing is established.

 

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The day was filled with oozing love and valuable information.  Speaker after speaker empowered us on political and legal issues, healing our bodies and minds, all things related to the specific and unique characteristics of a sexual abuse survivor.  For one glorious day, we tossed our shame aside as best we could because in that Safe Space, we weren’t the outcasts or the ones ostracized.  We were the ones that were honored.

The absolute icing on the cake was the evening theatrical performance of Talking Trees.  I’d felt very content and pleased with the day’s events, as many of us were, and looked forward to an entertaining nightcap with my tribe of new friends.  All I knew was that Dr. Bakari had written and directed this theatrical performance based on some of her poetry and writing. I figured we’d have a relaxing evening concluding the day’s events, maybe some poetry or personal testimony. Nope, not even close.

Again, let me say, I was not prepared for this.  This was freaking powerfully intense.  It was like a poetry slam meets The Vagina Monologues meets Roseanne Barr combined with Madea on steroids.  I was captivated and mesmerized that the performers were speaking from me, like me, as me.  And judging by the audience response, they were speaking for many of us.  I tumbled from silent and spellbound to yelling “yeah”, “testify” and other various words I didn’t know I possessed.  My feet stomped as Dr. Bakari preached poetry like I’d never heard it slammed before…she stomped and I stomped.  A young woman lurched for the door sobbing.  College students were wide eyed.  People grabbed out for each other. Sniffling was everywhere.  It was an hour of emotions ricocheting throughout the performance space.   I thanked God for intermission to go outside and collect myself as many of us did.  We stood as we shook off the emotions while mumbling repeatedly…WOW…WOW…WOW.

I left that day feeling more happy tired than I had in a long time.  I had a notebook stuffed full of business cards and e-mail addresses of new friends and notes from the day.  I’d been hugged on and loved on. I felt a certain glow of acceptance radiating within me.  I felt full.

I have no doubt that I will return next year to experience another Safe Space Day.  In the meantime, I follow the suggestions of Dr. Bakari to create my own safe space at home, in my community, for others who have had similar experiences.  I gratefully extend my hand to others because in their healing I will find more of my healing.

I invite you to visit Dr. Rosenna Bakari on:

Facebook – Talking Trees: Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Website – Talking Trees

For the complete video of this performance – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7Bo8xBog7c

 

 

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“the boy” drunk dials me….

“the boy” called me today which he does periodically.  The younger generation call it drunk dialing but I know this pattern from a historical perspective and know he just needs to make contact with a person from that time who understands him.

Certain phone calls I rarely answer but his I do every time.  This was the first time that he was stumbling, almost incoherent drunk and to top it off, he was driving.  After extracting the information that he was minutes from home, I kept the conversation light until he reassured me that was in his driveway, out of the car and inside his house.

“When are you coming home?”, he slurs into the phone.

His voice was an immediate shock of familiarity even though its been a year since I’ve heard from him.  His pleading words took my breath away.  I didn’t expect him to call let alone ask me this tough question.  He misses me, he says.  He doesn’t want anything, just to visit with me.  Even now as a full grown man, his deepest wishes are to have companionship, connection, family.  Our sober conversations where his feelings are sufficiently stuffed down, wouldn’t have revealed his pain. But today, his emotions unleashed and fueled by alcohol, they came tumbling out.

My heart is immediately beating with his. The rhythm synchronistic and strong.  We are small children again marking time as the cycle of physical, emotional and sexual abuse alters us forever.  It changes who we might have been and steals all opportunity for joy in our future.  We are branded, he and I, with trauma.  Deep, imprinting, searing scars.

I tell him that I’ve been taking care of myself and that I miss him too.  I hear relief in his voice at my words that I’m doing good.  He wants to know that I’m okay and that I can always call him for any #%&!ing thing I need.  His voice is urgent as if he’d been thinking those thoughts all afternoon at the tavern and had to purge them quickly.  His courage coming from cheap rum and cokes.

As children we were there for each other.  We were handed a situation that no child should ever have to deal with.   5-yr olds should never have to know how to defend against raging, drunken, ignorant adults wielding their pathology on them, but this is, in fact, is what we had to do.  We became expert ninja fighters at a very tender age.  In fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fighting.  The sensation of burning slaps, welts and impact upon our small bodies is a feeling that has always been present.  Back to back, we would stand, flailing hopelessly against people 10 times our size.  But we always, always tried.  Defending each other was the only dignity we had in that cruel world we grew up in.  An earlier post tells a more complete story. https://rescuinglittlel.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/boy-torture/

I tell him that soon, I promise, I will come visit him.  I do not ever use the word home as it is not.  My home is where my beautiful husband and daughter live with our dogs, our garden, our family here.  But I know what he means, he’s asking me when am I coming back there to help him defend against the demons that are in his head.  The ones that huge amounts of alcohol consumed in the middle of the day can’t even come close to drowning out.  He wants to know if there is any peace beyond the crazy, futile gyrations that he takes himself on.  He wants to know, what Van Gogh perhaps imagined when he created the series of paintings near the end of his life.

Van Gogh’s image “Worn Out”

Vincent Van Gogh, himself,  wrote in Van Gogh: The Life. VanGoghBiography.com

I was trying to say this in this print — but I can’t say it as beautifully, as strikingly as reality, of which this is only a dim reflection seen in a dark mirror — that it seems to me that one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the existence of ‘something on high’ in which Millet believed, namely in the existence of a God and an eternity, is the unutterably moving quality that there can be in the expression of an old man like that, without his being aware of it perhaps, as he sits so quietly in the corner of his hearth. At the same time something precious, something noble, that can’t be meant for the worms. … This is far from all theology — simply the fact that the poorest woodcutter, heath farmer or miner can have moments of emotion and mood that give him a sense of an eternal home that he is close to.”

This is what “the boy” wants to know in his moments of emotion and mood.  Where is his eternal home?

And reaches for the closest anchor he can think of.    Me.


shining Father’s shoes

This is going to be one of those stories that makes me queasy to put down on paper.

I already have a tightness in my stomach and my head is starting to swim.  I don’t feel eloquent and words are not flowing from me.   I  feel little, vulnerable, and so desperate. But I need to write about this and force myself to go forward with it because to truly release the hold that trauma and shame have on one’s soul, you must drag it into the light no matter how difficult that is.  It must be removed from the rat’s maze in one’s head, doomed to run the same rutted path.  Once its out, you can look at it, dissect it, let your loved ones look squarely at your worst fears and help reassure you.  Otherwise it stays inside and festers into illness of your body and soul.

Somewhere as a little girl of 5 or 6, I got the idea that men liked having their shoes shined.  I’m thinking that during the 40 and 50’s that may have been true when men dressed more formally and wore dress shoes as daily attire.  I’m sure it was considered a treat to sit at one of those stations and have someone spiff up their shoes a bit and most people’s houses I knew had a tin of shoe polish and a shining cloth as part of their household items.  I must have seen these items lying around or saw a scene in a movie of men having their shoes shined and internalized this thought.

This is where my thinking goes astray.

Why on earth, would I consider myself to be so subordinate and subservient to put myself in a position that I would kneel in an attendant position in front of my father, voluntarily lower myself to an inferior status, is a question that I haven’t completely answered yet.  I  know that I would practice on shoes that he wasn’t wearing, rubbing vigorously as if on a time schedule, practicing my efficiency. I don’t remembering him ever asking me to shine his shoes, I just wanted to. I’m guessing I thought it would gain me some approval from my ever distant father, the father whose only attention came at night, in secret, in the dark.  

I wanted to do anything, including prostitute myself to gain his affection and admiration.  This I know for sure, my motivation was his approval.  I would wait for him to come home, having rehearsed and practiced my craft and convince him to sit on the upper part of the picnic table while putting his feet on the seating area.  It was there that I would kneel in front of him, apply the polish and pop the buffing cloth showing my expertise until he would smile at my skills.  Even at those moments when  had his approval, I found it still wasn’t enough and proceeded to spend my lifetime trying to fill that leaking sieve of a psyche that would spill its contents as fast as it would come to me.

Adding insult to injury, my family, so very cruel with words, reinforced my shame by reminding me that I was a deplorable, pathetic girl who couldn’t get enough attention.  “you are a spoiled rotten child who always has to be the center of attention”  echo in my mind. Those types of scenarios set the stage for a lifetime driven to fill the emptiness by doing anything to gain approval from my father and subsequently other men throughout my life.  Shining shoes was just the beginning.

My daddy taught me to be comfortable kneeling down in front of him, being servant-like in my approach to him, letting me humiliate myself with so little regard for my dignitiy.  Weren’t you the one who should have instilled a sense of myself instead of teaching me to be your dirty little slave child?  You had already stripped me of the innocence  of my body and now you were closing in my soul.  Damn you.  I hate you so much right now.

I see that beautiful little girl with her rag and polish, waiting for you to come home so she could endear herself to you by lowering and subordinating herself and all the while you were perfectly, fucking fine with it?  How come I can look at her and see her beauty and you can’t? 

Thank God for my anger because it is my fury that sets her free.  Here’s where she and I rewrite the story.  I tell her to get up and I hold her tight, whisking her away to a place where she is honored and cherished and not depersonalized.  I set her down in a soft place to heal and teach her ways to find her beauty.

You never thought I would grow up to be intelligent and courageous about all of this dysfunction, did you?  You never thought that I could outsmart and outwit you by escaping far into my brain only to thaw out later.  You had not idea of my strength as I tackled all the screwed up thinking given to me by you. BUT I DID.  Guess what? You are dead and I’m over here finding and claiming my power.  Little by little, memory by memory, I am blotting you out, I’m blotting out all of the men you let near me, I’m reprogramming my brain, one tiny detail at a time until soon, I will have a completely new way of seeing myself and the terror I grew up with.

So yeah, I knelt before you, like you were some savior or God to me.  I did that.  I was a child that didn’t know any better and relied on a monster for a father for some shred of attention..

But that was then and this is today, I’ve long gotten her out of that cesspool of existence.  

Kiss my ass and shine your own fucking shoes.


drowning kittens

Kitten Love

i scare myself alot when i remember too hard or too much.  i would prefer that i see tapes of waltons mountain or disney movies played across the insides of my eyelids but instead i see roaches crawling out my skin or shadows of a fiendish demon child.  this particular one drowns kittens.  so removed from her beautiful gentle soul, she finds a litter of kittens recently swept away from their mother by a powerful rain storm and attempts to hold them under the water until their eyes pop out and they stop struggling.

i watch myself as i fade back and forth from me to the one watching me.  the ground is soggy and full as i walk across the yard, puddles everywhere, my shoes are already full and the water up to my mid calf.  i hear the kittens before i see them and make gestures toward saving them, plodding toward them, hearing their tiny mewing, no mother in sight.  i’m suddenly impacted with what they feel; lost, too small to make it on their own, disoriented from recent events.  i gather them up in my dress holding them close and think about starting back toward the farmhouse.

i stop and look back over my shoulder for several reasons.

i couldn’t be more than 4 and yet i’m out here far from the house and no one notices.  for a brief moment i’m wondering if i am in trouble for being gone too long or too far.  yet i remind myself again that i am invisible.  its not a new feeling; one that will continue through adulthood;  i will always remain invisible to my family.  for one to be noticed, one would have to see or have vision, and neither of those characteristics my family possesses.  to put it another way, more accurately, children are simply livestock; at least in my world they were.

stripped of any unique characteristics of our personhood ,we got fed and clothed.  then the adults waited for us to grow up to become worthwhile in terms of our service to them.  time couldn’t be wasted on companionship, reading, learning, talking; our worth was determined by the chores we do, meals we prepare, amount of vegetables picked from the garden, or for our bodies given to the men for their lowly and despicable gratification.  for generations, this family has failed to make any movement from even the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; its been this way always.

the shadow clouds my memory here, the heaviness spreading across my eyes leaving me with the quick, kick in the gut feeling of a memory so painful that my conscious just erases it.  selectively my brain intuits the bad information and the door slams shut. i suspect the little girl feels the kittens have no future without their mother and death seems the humane option.  the child’s reasoning is black and white only; no mother for love and protection equals pain.  death is preferred over that fate.  as an adult, it is so difficult to hold and speak for this tortured child whose brain has been forced to cope more in the dark side than the light and cannot see options other than provided by the ignorant.  her act of drowning the animals was a merciful one meant to relieve the inevitable suffering.  and even though her sweet gentle soul has already been splintered into a million tiny shards, she is unyielding.  she won’t stop sending messages through the mundane or the divine to get the help she needs to achieve grace for her broken soul; this lifetime or the next twenty, it doesn’t matter.  and that’s what i’m here for; to put us back together and stop this insane cycle.

i snap back and i’m holding a kitten under the water in the deep puddle.  it struggles with all its might, scratching my small hands and writhing for air.  i watch myself bear down on it harder and push down further, seeing small red lines appear on the backs of my hands, listening to the other kittens mewing hysterically.  i feel nothing.  absolutely nothing.  i should but i don’t.  i want to vomit while i write this because it isn’t me, not really me but yet it is and this is my attempt to let her tell her most awful secrets.  now she gets to say that things happened to her that made her do awful things that she so desperately wants forgiveness for, to be entirely heard and understood.  i will let her tell her story to me and i’ll repeat it for you.  i was and still am her host.  she lives within me.  her hands are my hands and we did this together, we tried to drown kittens. she must say it over and over because to know what it would take for a little girl to be so spiritually devoid of feeling, because the men continue to leave her in such intense pain that her brain splits only to return to take the tiny innocent creature to its death, making it part of the cycle of pain and relief.   i’m gone again.

my sister slaps me across the face and grabs the kitten from my hands.  i’m glad.  i look up at her with my face burning but am still glad, the hot pain of the slap is so insignificant.  the kitten is saved and for this one moment there is a presence out there who is monitoring us.  my sister in on guard and taking action.  not sure how she got there, but feel that i can rely on her for the moment to carry us through this.  she is so angry and annoyed with me but i don’t care, it doesn’t matter what she feels toward me as long as she continues stay present as i attempt to make sense out of me coming and going in the hellish existence of my brain.  i realize that my clothes are soaked and i’m shivering from the cold but still no one notices. my small shaking body are of no consequence but i do have the presence of mind to consider that i might be yelled at for adding to the laundry pile should i decide to change from my wet clothes.

my sister has the kittens wrapped in a blanket and is attempting to feed them some milk.  she will do this for weeks until they grow strong and able to make it on their own.  i join her in warming them and feel a strange spark of compassion that keeps me present while i nurture the feeling of wanting them to live.  i’m shaken to the core at the gigantic swing of my emotions; from dead and unfeeling to sobbing for them to live.  my actions are coming back to me, washing over me in hot waves and i begin the familiar routine of hating myself.  the heaviness is here, the type that comes from emotion so exhaustingly polar that i feel the sudden need for sleep.


boy torture

i am ready to channel and write down one of the most painful, repetitive childhood traumas that i actively remember.  none of this is speculation as i have it locked in my memory, ready to replay over and over , which it does often.  i also have it on a DVD by a fool that actually included it in a home movie collection because my family of origin suffers from ignorance that would be unbelievable by most.

this memory is one like a swirl, a whirlwind kind of feeling, a merry-go-round that you run around and around and then just jump on.  it requires me to consciously summon up a place that is dirty and haunting, a place that i hated then and hate going back to now.  when i do go there, its effects are immediate. i feel them instantly and completely.  this memory has many facets to it; betrayal, child abuse, powerlessness, ritualistic and premeditated cruelty.  there aren’t enough vile words to describe how i feel about these occurrences; evil, ignorance, insane, devoid of any conscious, sociopathic in nature…

my nephew was only six months younger than me because my oldest sister got pregnant young and my mother got pregnant old.  that put us less than a year apart even though i was technically from the generation above him.  none of this mattered because he was my little brother, my buddy and pal, my best friend in the whole world, an extension of myself.  i can’t remember a time without him, i felt the feelings that siblings feel of just always being there.  i mothered him and clucked over him as we grew up together and he loved it, he was kind and sweet, would play any game that i thought of because i was the thinker and he was the doer.  boy innocence wrapped up as a gift to me, i couldn’t get enough of him and he loved me the same way.  sometimes, we would just walk through the yard holding hands because that is how life felt the best to me…

somewhere around four or five something different started happening around us.  a switch flipped and suddenly we weren’t being left alone to explore the world together, we were being prepped as if our status had changed.  the men from the farms around us started paying attention to us, i suppose because we were no longer babies and under the care of our mothers but now separate beings left abandoned for younger babies in need; small persons for the men to amuse themselves with.

in the farming world, late afternoon meant coming in from the fields, taking a break from the heat; a pattern that i knew well and even though i knew it was coming, would fill me with dread as the summer sun started to make its downward turn.  these vile, sweat stained animals called men would stomp in from the barn where we would hear the tractor engine turn off, the instant silence of that engine noise fading left an eerie void,  giving me a cold tremor up my spine.  then came the beer can flip tops hissing, they would guzzle one down quickly and have the next one ready to sip with not much conversation at first.  they had to catch their breath which they eventually did by leaning up against the car or a tree, then slowly they migrated toward each other usually forming a semi circle and facing one direction.  looking toward the field or standing with their backs to the sun, these vile men would look for a distraction to the chores that they had been paying attention to all day.

i’m not sure why they picked us to torture and tease, i suppose because there wasn’t anything else for them to do.  their lives were farming, drinking, sex with their wives or the current woman they were cheating with, sleeping and eating.  too early for dinner, the wife wasn’t finished with her chores yet and couldn’t be distracted, they turned to the children who held a status barely above a farm animal.  

as the beer began taking effect, it gave them a glazed, snarly kind of aura.  one of them would start picking at something about us, noticing us, summoning us over to their circle citing some random offense in their ignorant backwoods language…”look at that sissy boy picking flowers with the girl, he’s not a real boy…come over here boy…somebody oughtta teach that boy to toughen up”. . .it would go something like that, my sensitive friend and brother, demonized by his own father and laid out as fodder to the neighbor men;  the father maintaining his loyalty to the adult men over his own son.  slowly they would taunt the boy in, pulling on his good nature and willingness to obey his elders.  verbally they would begin to laugh and snicker at him as he stood before them, eyes filling with tears and head hanging low. i will myself to help but i can’t, i’m already frozen;  my body knows this scene too well from experience and has reacted accordingly.  i know they would soon escalate their taunting so i try to get my body to move, to stop being paralyzed and immobilized by what i knew was coming.  if i could provide a distraction, if i was bigger, if i could only stop them…but i was a very little girl, one tenth of the size and weight of these full grown men.  once they started it would be almost impossible to stop them but then again, i had never really seen anyone try, except me.  

when they bored with verbal taunting, hungry for something bigger,  they would move on to shoving the boy baby from one side of the circle to another, sometimes hitting him around the circle with switches from a nearby tree, and sometimes, when they were feeling particularly cruel, they whipped him until he got his own bundle of switches gathered to be used on himself.  my boy angel would grow wilder and wilder as the shoving and laughing continued; the more frenzied he got, the more frenzied they got.  when he fell to the ground in the powdery dust, they would kick and poke at him to get up and he would shoot up, full of rage, fists flying at the men one of which was his father.  they would hold him out at arms length by the hair on his head and let him flail the air with his rage.  once he was in a full blown hysteria, they might slow down a bit because the howling shrieks of the boy child had alerted his mother inside the farmhouse…or sometimes it alerted his grandmother whom neither would do anything to stop this horror but whose presense seemed to slow the men down.  maybe in some way it took the  fun out of it for them.  i’m not sure at all because try as i might,  i can’t begin to think like these animals do.  even as an adult, i can’t wrap my head around such evil.  

the one person would defend the boy at all costs to life and limb, was me.  i would flail myself at these men as i didn’t care if i got hurt, that wasn’t important.  i would throw myself between him and the men trying to shield him from the shoving and kicking, both of us getting covered the dirt that would puff up everytime we hit the ground. the laughter seemed far off in the distance and the only sounds we heard were that of our bodies thudding against the ground and the breath leaving our bodies….it seemed to go on forever, time stood still…. i would bite the nasty, sweaty flesh of those man arms that would hurt my friend…. their slimy, slick arms picking me up and throwing me in the air…my beautiful summer sundress falling over my head and blinding me…the smell of beer, stale breath, grimy sweat that hadn’t been washed off for days, lingering, lingering still, to this day.

at some point, they would grow tired of the game or the mother/grandmother would give them the look that said “even though i won’t protect these children you should probably stop doing that to him but i know you are the man and i shouldn’t question you because its just not done so instead i will just light a cigarette and avert my eyes from looking at my very own child being actively tortured.”  they would eventually shuffle off, throwing their beer cans at the dog, finding something in the barn that needed to be done next while i gathered up my boy child;  my tear stained, dirty friend who had wet his pants. we would go as far from the house as we could. sometimes i would sneak back up to the house to the water spigot and find a way to bring back a drink or a wet rag to clean him up a bit and hold him until his sobbing and gasping turned into a quiet blank stare.


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