not keeping the abuse a secret

a child-sexual-abuse survivor's blog


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hard chain to break

I’m single.  Not in a relationship.  (For, years and, years.)  So, my son has urged me to try online dating avenues.

This is the thing.

What being sexually abused as a child does to a woman… — What being sexually abused by an older brother you used to look up to, does to a child… — What seeing your father r-e-g-u-l-a-r-y steer your sisters into his bedroom to sexually abuse them does to one… — What being roofied and raped as an adult does to a woman — What being raped by a guy you meet in a club and make the mistake of inviting home does to a woman…

Gosh, how to say this?

Um, there’s a lack of trust that ensues??  (Righteously so, folks.)  (Common-sense logically so.)  (Like, one would have to be an idiot or, severely dissociative [<- Been there, too…] to “trust normally?”  I mean, C’mon.)

cartoon, your worst fear, by matt bors--fr dailykosDOTcom
Your Worst Fear
Not all men.  Just some.”
— Matt Bors cartoon.
Find political cartoonist Matt Bors on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mattbors ,
on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MattBors .

 Hard chain to break…

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the dress girl and other mes

I honest to goodness thought there was just one of me.

I won’t go so far as to say, I thought I knew me…  Before my breakdown and even in the early years of my work with Carol-the-trauma-therapist, I often felt quite befuddled by me (although, I admit to having regarded “the many sides” of me as “quirky” and, a plus?  I.e., I was probably, not boring?).

But I did not think there was “more than one of me to get to know,” so to speak, so imagine my surprise when Carol mentioned nasty phone calls I was making to her.

“Horrible,” she referenced them with a surprised face and knit brows.  I had laughed — ME?  I don’t think so.  Not my style.  I hadn’t made any phone calls to her let alone mean or nasty ones, good grief; What was she talking about?!

“So it wasn’t you,” she said.

“Nope, nada.  Why would I even do that?  I like you.”  (Well, most of the time.  True, she did tick me off now and then.)

“It sounded like you,” she persisted.  (And apparently the content was relevant.)  “Has this ever happened before, has someone ever ‘thought’ you’d made calls to them that you had no memory of?”

Now I’m just merrily giggling away.  Hee hee hee.  What a concept. 🙂

We talked a little about dissociative identity disorder (DID).  I had never had any experience of any other mes but me running the show, nope.  Well, okay, Dr.-Josephson-the-psychiatrist I’d seen a couple times way back in the early 1970s had one day questioned a casual statement I made that I’d walked to his office from campus “on auto-pilot,” no memory of what I saw or heard along the way — this was in response to his asking me about “the weather out there” or some such, I forget — leaning back in his chair and hooting with laughter, saying, “Not possible.”  To which I, genuinely puzzled, had replied, “Oh, possible; I do it all the time.”

All the time?!”

I revised this.  “Maybe half the time, but at least half.”  Good grief, like, doesn’t everyone?  You know, sort of highway hypnosis but on foot.

Josephson answered in the negative.  Smiling at me though, like, What a neat idea, so when he next asked, “And just out of curiosity, where are you when you’re on auto-pilot?,” I didn’t feel threatened and confided, “You know, just, not there.”

Well he just seemed to love this.  What a creative girl I was [as opposed to, Oh gosh, we just might need to lock her up in the loony bin?]

“You’re simply ‘not there’ ,” he repeats.

“Ya.”

“For about half the time.”

“Uh-huh.”  I shrug my shoulders.  Big deal.  Like, who needs to “be there” to do a simple task like walk down the street, or, sit in a really boring class, or, just sit with people somewhere?

“I do,” he says.  “Most people probably do, or they’d walk into a tree or a parked car.”

Huh!  I guess I was more graceful than I thought.

“So, you’re not there in classes too, and social situations?”  He was thoughtful.  “What kind of grades do you get in the classes you’re not there in?”

“Yes to the first part of your question, and, As or Bs — you have to be there for hard classes; I’m never not there except for easy ones.”

He regarded me thoughtfully.  I can still see his face puzzling away.

Josephson was a good doc.  Smart.  If I’d had health insurance or could have otherwise afforded it, I would have continued to see him.  His was a wonderfully easy-going manner, and, although male, he behaved in such a completely non-threatening manner that I felt safe.  I bet he could possibly have helped me.

I can’t even count the professionals I saw who were as helpful as a rock and, knew their business half as well.

But back to Carol-the-therapist and the bad phone calls.

“I didn’t do it,” I protested, laughing.  Gosh — who was this rogue client of Carol’s?  “I’m always ‘present’ on the phone.”  Oh wait a minute — Was I?!?  Drat.  Wow, if I could walk places and, sit in classes and get As & Bs yet not “be there,” Shoot…  Maybe I could do other things, too, “not being there” — like making phone calls?  But it seemed so far-fetched that I was still mentally merry, thinking things like, Quite the accomplished gurl here, could this be showcased somewhere?  Ha ha ha.

Okay, there was that weird time in the Rathskeller when brother Pete’s then-girlfriend Christine had claimed I’d said, “I wish I was dead,” to which Christine had turned to me and said, “I’m glad you’re not dead;” to which I’d replied in irate astonishment, “Well Jeez Christine I’m glad I’m not dead either!  Where the heck did that come from?!;” to which Pete had said very gently, “You just said you wished you were dead.”  Which was preposterous, I had said no such thing.

Or, Had I?  What was going on here?  And it all stopped being funny.

Weeks, months, years of therapy with Carol pass and I work up the courage to indulge my love of dresses.  (Long ago I used to make them.  In my late teens, early 20s.  I sewed a lot back then.  Even on consignment for a local boutique, at one point.)  I buy a dress, at the Gap.  I decide to return it though:  It really needs a belt, I decide, yet I don’t have one that quite works and, I don’t feel the dress is much of a bargain if I have to spend more to belt it.

So a week or so later I head back over to the Gap.  I’m at the register and I tell the cashier, “I’d like to return this, please,” and I hand her the dress and the receipt and, hum dee dum, she’s processing my return and, another clerk whispers (loudly) to her, “She’s worn that!  She was just IN here, IN it, the other day!”

Well I never!  I am quite indignant.  “I have not worn the dress,” I say firmly, with a glare in the direction of the offending clerk.  But as the words come out of my mouth I suddenly know they are not true, as, like a deck of cards fanned out in front of me, I see a series of snapshot-like images in my head.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  Memories, clear as day, but in weird snapshot format.  Me, standing in my apartment-complex driveway about to cross the street, wearing the dress.  Me, browsing at the Gap, wearing the dress.  Me, in a dressing room at the Gap, taking off the dress so as to try on a different one.

Oh my Lord.  I am blown away.

Thankfully, my cashier just pooh-poohs the other clerk and speedily processes my return and I am able to leave the store, because, I need to sit down somewhere, man.

So:  Dress girl.  Phone girl.  Girl who wishes she were dead.  (Person or persons “present” when “I” walk places “on auto-pilot”…  Person or persons “present” getting those “As & Bs in ‘easy’ classes” when “I” am “absent?”…  [Complicated, huh? 🙂 ])

Carol-the-therapist and, literature on the subject calls these “discrete alters.”  This seems a misnomer to me — I would have to classify most of my own “discrete alters’ ” doings as quite indiscrete, i.e. imprudent, lacking good judgment — but ordinary discretion, or lack of it, is not, of course, what “discrete” here references.

One website reads pretty generically but clearly on the subject, “In some people, dissociated memory and experience fragments are organized…into discrete ‘personalities’ or ‘identities’ which can be experienced internally as having separate experiences and histories.  Often personalities are so compartmentalized that they are not aware of each other’s existence.  This is called an ‘amnesic barrier,’…”

Aha.

I can especially relate to the amnesic barrier idea, as, I tend to experience my life memories as, snapshots here, mostly brief videos there — i.e., in pieces, not as a continual flow, which certainly is suggestive of something amnesiac going on.

Meanwhile:  the Dress Girl wants to wear dresses (and makeup).  I’m pretty easygoing, so, I’m working up to accommodating her on that.  (In fact, more & more, I’m thinking, I might like to wear dresses & makeup, too. 🙂 )  The Phone Girl doesn’t feel comfortable? safe? whatever, expressing anger at? dissent with? confronting?, people, so, I practice that one in the safety of Carol’s office.  (And interestingly, no more nasty phone calls to Carol…)  The Girl Who Wishes She Were Dead:  my last suicide attempt was in the mid-1990s and, it will stand AS my last:  I’m here for the duration now.  “You tried to murder yourself!,” Carol sputtered.  Angrily?  With tears in her eyes.  (This moved me greatly, notwithstanding that my first reaction was a giggle.)  Yes, I did, I register in surprise.  Horrified, Gasp.  Yikes — I never looked at it that way before.  (And, let me tell yoU, I am no murderer!  Indignation.)  The person or persons “present” when “I” walk somewhere “on auto-pilot,” and, who gets the grades in the “easy” classes when “I” am “absent:”  for these, I work on what may seem simple to some but has not been for me — “being present.”  Being more mindful, across the board:  mindful of where I am; mindful of my feelings; mindful of what I say; mindful of what I do.  Mindful, mindful, mindful.

~~~

I like to think of it all as a “What About Bob” [the 1991 comedy starring Bill Murray & Richard Dreyfuss, directed by Frank Oz] thing:  Baby steps, baby steps…  They’ll get you there. 😉


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i don’t wear makeup. i don’t wear dresses.

I don’t wear makeup. I don’t wear dresses. I laughingly tell people, “Hey, I grew up with three older brothers, got used to being ‘one of the guys,’ what can I say…;” or I grin and go, “I came of age during the Woodstock era, we hippie girls shunned makeup and that headset just stuck, I guess;” or, I smile broadly and say, “Once a tomboy always a tomboy…”

What I don’t say is, I’m afraid if I look too girly I’ll be assaulted.

What I don’t say is, Well actually, truth be told, The Dress Girl once [once that I know of anyway…] put makeup on and wore a dress to the mall some years back – I don’t know what all she did there though except that, she did go into the Gap.

What I don’t say is, I want to wear dresses and I’m working up to it, I have two right now in my closet plus two skirts…

What I don’t say is, I would like to wear makeup if I feel like it but, it draws attention to a woman and that might increase my chances of getting assaulted.

At the same time, if anyone tries to sexually violate me again I swear to God I’ll take his eyeballs out with my bare fingers.

You could say I have mixed feelings.


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memphis, part 4 of 4

Next stop, the duplex on the corner, about a mile & a half from Graceland, empty lot filled with dandelions across the street, blacktopped street in front.

Where my sisters would completely stop being my sisters and become instead, helpless zombies of their master our father. Where I would resist our father with an iron will yet pay for it regularly and learn to internalize all emotions lest they appear on my face where he would become enraged at their judgment, assessment of him.  Where the childhood of my youngest brother/sibling, Phil, would for all practical purposes come to a halt.  Where older brother Pete, my sometimes protector and only “ally,” would run away from home.

As I write this my body fidgets and I find my head turning here, there, in avoidance, wanting to look anywhere but at my laptop screen and keyboard, all these decades later.

Fight or flight response.  All these decades later.

The monster is dead — 2002 — but still he has power over me, although much-much less after 20 years of therapy with a thankfully-excellent trauma therapist.

~~~

In the duplex our father shared a bedroom once more with Pete and Phil.  One bed.  I think there might also have been an overstuffed chair in there that one of the three used as a bed.

My two sisters and I shared the other bedroom.  One bed, the three of us sleeping together.

I can’t remember the early days but once Pete ran away it pretty much went like this:  our father would come into our room in the middle of the night and “select” one of my sisters to take back to bed with him.  Me, I had loudly & resolutely fought him off one night during the last nine months? year? of my mother’s life, whereupon he irritatedly got out of my top bunk bed and simply climbed down into one of my sisters’ lower ones.  (“Leave them alone!” I had then shouted, him furiously shushing me.  “Leave them alone!!,” louder this time.  More ornery shushing.  “It’s okay, Susan,” one of my sisters had said.  I was beside myself.  It’s okay?!  “No, it is not okay, tell him no!  There’s three of us and only one of him!”  I was ready to take him on physically with their help; he may have been built like a big-chested silverback gorilla, but at the 10-years-old I was at the time, I fancied that the wrestling & boxing techniques my brother Pete had taught me would, with our numbers advantage, carry us through.)

It was the most awful, most helpless feeling that I could not stop his evening forays into our bedroom.  For his prey.  My sisters.  Willing him away or, for a hero to rescue us, I would say Our Fathers and Hail Marys until I finally drifted off to sleep, but still the next night and the next and the next, he would come.

Weekends, when he was off work, both girls spent pretty much the entire weekend in his bedroom.  As did poor Phil.

Other than that, my memories of those 12 months in Memphis while we lived in the duplex are incomplete, lacking chronogical cohesiveness:  they’re more like a stack of photos tossed in the air that fall to the ground in random order.

One memory has my father coming out of his bedroom in only hole-ridden, saggy white briefs, walking to the bathroom.  A similar snapshot-memory is of my father coming out of his bedroom nude, walking to the bathroom.  Sometimes, in both “outfits,” also strolling around the duplex.

Often he was drunk.  Much of the time he was angry.  He would frequently become angry with me, for, looking like my mother:  he’d drunkenly assault me for dying — “You bitch!” — and, leaving him “with all these kids,” pinning me against a wall with a forearm against my throat ’til I thought I would suffocate.

Or he’d say out of the blue, “Wipe that look off your face,” and, unable to make my face blank enough to appease him, I’d be told by a growling him that he could kill me without leaving a mark.  “I could kill you so they’d never know what happened,” he once bragged.  “Ever hear of burking?”  I had not, at 11, no.  But I did know that flattery was effective with my father, and I was learning “managing him,” so at this I murmured, “I bet you could.  You’re strong,” and he smiled, laughed, said yes, well, that was true, and I was on good ground again.

‘Til the next time.

He was fond of waking me up in the middle of the night to a choke-hold around my neck, my feet dangling above the ground.

Memory snapshot:  I am with my father at Vanucci’s restaurant & bar.  (He liked to take me for company.  I liked to go because, if he wasn’t at home he wouldn’t be able to molest the kids.)  “Have something to eat,” he says.  “Great Italian food here.”  I smile, “No thank you.  Just coffee please.”  Not because I was not hungry — we were always hungry, so much so that for the most part I didn’t even feel hunger pains anymore — but because, it felt unfair to the kids unless he would also get some to go for them, and he would not.

Food seemed luxurious:  we simply got that little of it.  (First official foster home I lived in, when I could nonchalantly slip one into a pocket?, I took dinner rolls to bed with me the first few weeks…  I felt like Heidi.)

Sometimes Phil would cry when he was hungry.  I would die a little more inside.  Helpless.  I hated feeling, so helpless.

Except for Pete, we were not allowed to leave our house unless to school, with our father, or to our fenced-in side yard.  Even though I was now in 7th grade and then, eighth.

Once, before Pete ran away, a neighbor boy he was playing basketball in the boy’s driveway with, asked if I could come play too.  My father said no.

We had only one or two changes of clothes.  The kids, no toys to play with.  No raincoats, no outerwear like cold-weather coats?  We just got wet on the way to school if it was raining.  We got colds and, “tonsillitis” (per my father’s diagnosis), a lot.

“Was it really that awful?,” I’ve actually been asked by a few people over the years.  “I mean, weren’t there fun times in there too that you’re maybe forgetting?”

I find questions/comments like that so stunning that I am usually left mouth-open speechless by them, which a few people have equally stunningly taken to mean, I am acknowledging that, Yes, blush blush, there were fun times too, what a whiney girl I’m beingAre we kidding?

Y-e-s:  it was rEally, that awful.

~~~

Then one dark night when our-neighbors-the-duplex owners were away — coincidence?  I don’t know — our father says, “Put your things in the car, we’re leaving.”

“Leaving for where??”

“Back home.  Wisconsin.”  No explanation.

Oh happy day.

In my mind’s eye I can still see lights illuminating snow-covered Madison the evening Gertrude crested a hill and the city came into view.  It looked  s o  w o n d e r f u l.

~~~

Although I didn’t know it then, I would only be living with my father for a couple more months.  My sisters & Phil?  For several more years before Social Services would wake up/take action to what I had already, three years earlier, told them was going on.

And then?  This is hard to even write:  Social Services would place my sisters in the custody of yet another family pedophile — my 2nd oldest brother Paul — in spite of, what I had already, those same years earlier, told them was going on.

Phil would live in 12 different foster homes yet nevertheless take his aged father in when the old man needed assisted-living care in his 80s.


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Thoughts about DID, Diagnosis, and Parts

What a beautiful blog-post on dissociative identity disorder (DID)! When I reached this line (fourth paragraph), my eyes actually teared up: “In my opinion it’s an amazing act of love and courage that deserves our deepest respect.” Thank you gudrunfrerichs!

Me, I am so tired of* the lack of understanding on this one, from the reaction that DID is “just an excuse” — for “bad behavior” or, not remembering, or, whatever — to, it’s “imaginary.” (I.e. we who have DID are “certifiable,” call us “crazy,” it’s “official.”)
*[I almost said “sick of” up there but, took serious exception to that word, “sick”…]

Gudrunfrerichs writes,

“….How can you capture the miracle of the creation of a new part of a person’s personality, a part that has been created by or within the mind of a…child, for example? Think about it! A child who is in need of care is able to ‘create’ as it were a copy of it’s Self that will take care of the child’s needs, whether that is need for love, for containing the hurt, for keeping the thread of consciousness, for learning, being angry, being social, performing every day tasks, and so on, even with it’s limited ability for understanding, reasoning, and conceptualising. That is a miracle! Is that not what the prophet Kahlil Gibran means as ‘Life’s longing for itself’?”

Amen!

Multiple Voices

Faces You might have noticed that I started telling the story of Anna, a person with multiple parts to her personality. If you want to know how Anna’s parts came to exist, and why, you will find many books, websites, and articles that talk about DID and alternate parts. I am getting a bit tired of all these clever explanations like the one in Wikipedia: “a single person displays multiple distinct identities or personalities (known as alter egos or alters), each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment. The diagnosis requires that at least two personalities routinely take control of the individual’s behaviour with an associated memory loss that goes beyond normal forgetfulness”.

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