Embodied Heart

Centering Survivors: #WhyIDidntReport and #WhatItCostMe

I’m finding myself feeling ambivalence in response to the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag. Survivors do not owe anyone their stories, and they should not feel compelled to be trotted out as political pawns. At the same time, moronic statements such as expecting a teenage girl to alert her parents and law enforcement after a violation, as if the onus is on her, rile me up beyond belief. This is a time for allies of survivors to show their solidarity, and, for survivors who wish to engage, to be surrounded by support if and when they choose to share their experience.

I’ve been scared to talk to others about the current political controversies, unless I already have a good sense of where they stand. A part of me doesn’t want them to fail at giving space and grace to the stories of survivors, because, by default, they are revealing their heart if they do so. Even in my nascent limited discussions, one inevitable aspect of the fallout has been to de-center from survivors onto perpetrators. “Why did they act like this?” “What about his career?” “Should someone’s “antics” as a teen define them?” and so on in defense of violence. I’ve written about expectations of forgiveness toward perpetrators as well as how allies can stand in solidarity, both of which are not purely survivor-focused topics. I want to center my story as a survivor directly here, instead of only engaging the periphery. To that end, for today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, here’s why I didn’t report:

  • I was violated by family members, including my parents.
  • I was silenced by the cruelty of witnesses.
  • There was no safe place to turn.
  • I was a preschooler when it started.
  • I dissociated until I escaped.
  • Shame is powerful.

It feels like an act of grace to myself to leave the list “unexplained.” Most survivors will likely be able to resonate with the unspoken details. The main point of my ramblings here is that survivors do not need to convince anyone who doesn’t “get it;” 100 to 1 they don’t “get it” because they don’t care or can’t be bothered, not because they fail to understand on an intellectual or emotional level. If you are a survivor, you deserve to be seen, heard and held without a laundry list defending the little self or selves who did whatever they needed to do in order to make it through.

When someone wishes to disavow a survivor’s story, there seems to be a limitless buffet of “no-see” available. If the survivor didn’t tell, it doesn’t count. If they told but it didn’t make it to court, it doesn’t count. If they made it to court but lost, it doesn’t count. If they won their court case, justice has been served and there is no reason to feel like a “victim” left. There is no space or grace created, no green forest left untilled, in which a survivor’s story can take root, be witnessed and around which others can rally. Survivors are left to hold each other and ourselves up in communion.

I think we need to go far beyond attempting to justify our lack of reporting, an act which needs no justification, to defining the price of survivorship (#WhatItCostMe) (the “it” is the abuse itself, not the failure to report). I feel self-pitying to tie some of my failures to my trauma, but, in reality, they are definitely related. The impact has been so pervasive and profound that I have no sense of who I’d be without having had the trauma I endured; I feel certain my life would have been more meaningful, impactful and happier. I reject as utter nonsense the musings of anyone who tries to tell me the violations I encountered “taught me lessons” or “were my destiny” or “made me who I am (in a positive light).” Invent a time machine, get sexually assaulted by your relatives, including your biological parents, at 3 at 4 at 5 at 6 at 7 at 8 at 9 without anyone to turn to, within an oppressive family system and religion, and then come back and tell me what a “blessing” it is.

The abilities and experiences it’s cost me:

  • Seeing humans as anything other than threats unless, over a long period of time and with much evidence, they earn my trust.
  • Screening out environmental stimuli such as smells and noises.
  • Thinking clearly under any level of stress.
  • Feeling hopeful for the future or content in the present.
  • A coherent and integrated narrative of my past.
  • A healthy and joyful sex life.
  • Self-regulating my eating, sleeping and spending behaviors.
  • My family, my religion, my community and culture of origin.
  • Nearly every close friendship or romantic relationship I’ve ever made.
  • A healthy relationship with my body.
  • A clear and consistent sense of the passage of time and memory for recent event.
  • An integrated inner world.

This is a cursory list I threw together quickly. I think I’d take up many pages if I really spelled it out. The exact price of being a survivor varies based on the severity, intensity, pervasiveness, etc. of the abuse itself, as well as the background of the survivor. Any cost exacted at the expense of another is too high. If you are a survivor, what has been taken from you and what have you missed out on as a result of your experiences? We often shy away from this (at least I do) for fear of complaining or being negative, but stories of triumph and “it was all okay in the end” can be used to keep us silent rather than to help us heal. Acknowledging pain is not the same thing as dwelling it in it forever. We’ve reached the point as a society that I think the cost needs to be amplified and the burden of bearing it redistributed to everyone who perpetuates rape culture, misogyny and patriarchy, rather than only on those onto whom the debt has been cast.

© 2018 All rights reserved, Suzanne Tidewater, Goddessing From the Heart

Embodied Heart, Surviving & Thriving

The Wasteland and the Dandelion

I’ve felt inspired to write several posts this spring with hints of weeds in them. My reality has begun to match my imagination as dandelions have overtaken my front lawn. I felt only the slightest embarrassment about the unruliness until one of my neighbors commented on it in a negative way. It was at the end of a long and stressful week, so, in my anger, I immediately got a weed-wacker and started hacking at them (my mower is hand-powered so it doesn’t do much). I felt exhilarated by the fact that my “solution” to the issue was only making the problem worse by neatly disseminating the seeds in every direction.

As I sat with the situation and how I handled it, I felt a budding sense of recognition of my old friend shame. When someone judges me, I tend to move through a place of humiliation so quickly that I don’t realize what I’m feeling, and I then either berate myself or behave defensively. Someone else’s reaction to us is secondary to the meaning we give it internally—we only feel shame when we purchase what they are proffering. For today’s #SurvivingnThriving Tuesday, I want to spend some time uncovering the roots of our shame as trauma survivors and relating the specific experience I had in this instance in tending it.

That Which Secrets Hold

Shamefulness births lies and deceit. In the case of childhood trauma, this may take the form of hiding our suffering from ourselves. When we are unable to connect to a part of our experience, we release it into an inner wasteland where it metastasizes and spreads. The more we disown who we are or what we’ve experienced, the more inner control it takes to restrain the outgrowth of our horrors. Through aches and illnesses, our bodies often begin to articulate that which we cannot acknowledge.

Childhood abuse of the physical or sexual nature involves bodily violation whereas mental and emotional abuse violates us psychologically. These defilements, particularly when they occur without an affirming and protective adult to intervene, produce shame. It is in a child’s nature to eat shame as deserved; after all, if the abuse is committed by a loved one, the alternative is to reject the very body and being of those to whom the child is closest.

In some cases of abuse, abusers may be making manifest their unprocessed and shamed traumatic past. I believe this can heighten the chances that the individual who is acting in an abusive manner will, in the moment, deliberately induce shame in the child as way to further distance themselves from their past. Only my body knows what this really means–it is too painful and difficult for me to put into words what it feels like to become a conduit of another’s self-hatred. If we have no other reason than this to work on our own shame, I think we have reason enough.

But It Blossoms Into Tears

So, if we are trauma survivors, it is likely shame has gained a foothold. Should we, as my neighbors clearly expected of me, head off for pesticides and torches and get it gone? If only it were that easy. Shame is a cancer that splits each time you cut into it, resilient and resistant. We can’t weed-wack our way out of it.

I believe the function of internalized feelings of shame is often to hold back grief. Rejecting a part of ourselves as sullied and vile because of what happened to us allows us to break the timepiece and stay in the moment of terror, rather than to move forward to face our little self and grow. Who are we with the inclusion of all of our scars and sorrows? Every time we pause to allow another’s judgment to creep in to how we picture ourselves, we disallow ourselves comfort for whatever we are appearing “less than” in comparison. I pride myself on respecting other’s boundaries and needs, so my neighbor’s observation on the state of my patchwork-grass exposed a lack of attention that didn’t fit with how I wanted to be seen.

Going further into the wasteland of shame, I find the aloneness with which I cope each day appears as a scrubby tree whose branches crackle in reminder that if I had a partner or a child or family, my lawn would be nicer because there would be someone to remind me about it and to help me maintain it. A Cheshire-grin jackrabbit hops by, noting that I also “should” be productive and work hard and never stop moving. This is a trauma-time loop where I believed I could prevent the next incident of abuse by staying ahead of it; knowing when it would occur could stop it, so I thought. Finally I arrive at my destination, a small pit of murky water. Here I find my grief. I feel outside of time as I pause in this place. What arises is an awareness that I felt “safe” because I perceived myself to be following the rules of being a good neighbor. By doing so, I thought I would be able to maintain positive relationships with the neighbors I like. The humiliation of shame-induction rises up and the water goes black. The sense in me is that there is no safe place, no way to undo it, no path through which I can go where I won’t be hurt. I am trapped, helpless and alone. My best effort wasn’t good enough and when the cost is body and psychic violation of the nature I experienced as child, failure really matters. Shame, reaching out into oozy mud, covers me. Shame is a tar pit and grief is the only water that dissolves it.

I see her finally, the little self who doesn’t know how to maintain a lawn because she was never taught how to do so. The little self who thought being quiet and staying inside her plat of land would be enough to win favor. The little self who just wanted to have her own home where she wouldn’t be hurt, and who marveled at the dandelions because they made her happy. One tiny moment—a ten second interaction—cast me into the wilderness of my shame and it took me hours to find my little self and transform tar to water. Tears finally come. Judgement is irrelevant when I know I met myself today in this exploration and it was worth it. Sure, I’ll buy a stick to dig out some of the blossoms, but I’ll leave plenty there to mark the pathway out of my shame and back to myself.

Goddessing Self Care

No Permission Needed

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

Do you know yourself wholly? Do you fully inhabit your body? Are you who you believe you have to be, or are you settled into yourself? For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on self-care through the lens of freedom from shame.

Perhaps you find yourself boxed in by the “should’s”–the limits others place on us in order to define their own needs through our self-abdication. The messages they relay are that you should behave, belief, feel, want and look the way another wants you to. Or, the mustn’ts: don’t do, say, emote, think or appear in a displeasing way. Over time, if we order ourselves by these commands, others need not state them overtly; we self-shame our being into tiny compartments.

The religion of my youth taught me that I was bad, and that my inherent badness separated me from the Holy. There was nothing I could do to remove this stain; I had to accept another’s sacrifice in my stead. I was unworthy. I find myself contemplating whether, for some people, this dichotomization of Holy and unclean then becomes an inner separation into parts. Some parts are pure and some parts are tainted. Within such a system, I could never become whole because half of me was unwelcome.

As I’ve exercised my heart through Goddess spirituality, I’ve found release from some of these restrictions. I suspect that the belief that Goddess is both in me and in everything helps to diminish my personal shame. Nothing in me is off bounds or unneeded. Should’s and mustn’ts can be replaced by invitations and openings to Divine in myself and in all there is.

I find myself wondering, though, what to make of the malevolent forces both inside and outside of myself. Our desire for accountability, sought by wishing for karma and trusting in human systems of justice for transformation of these evils often falls short, holding only the weakest and poorest in us and others to disproportionate punishment. In compensation, I’ve gripped ahold of the idea that Nature takes back her own as a concept of justice, of righting wrongs. It may take a minute or millennia, but eventually those who occupy their lives with conquests and domination endanger both themselves and their descendants through their selfishness. All the monstrous human beings who’ve ever existed died within a century or so. I’m not convinced we need heaven and hell; our molecules will eventually be repossessed by Nature in particle form. We are already Her’s as we cannot live without Her breath, Her warmth and Her liquid. She will be here, with or without our species. For now, each generation birthed from Her womb has an opportunity to unscript the destructive norms of its parents and to gentle the earth with its presence.

We need no one’s authority but our own to inhabit the full breadth and width of who we truly are. To honor the existence of Source in each of us, even if some are dispossessed of our awareness of Her.  To allow Goddess to soften, in Her gentle way, the calluses with which punching at life has left us. The more I permission myself whole, the more I extend that freedom to others in their Inner Being.

Where do you need less self-constriction? In what ways have you internalized shame from others? To what extent does the concept of Nature holding the cards at the end of it all satisfy your desire for justice?

Embodied Heart

Who Is a Woman Without Family?

Single. Estranged. Childless/child-free. No one word sums up my experience living as an adult woman without being in relationship with my family of origin, a romantic partner and without having had a child. It is a formless, unutterable identity that consumes me and yet I nearly never give it voice, mostly because I’ve allowed it to cause me shame. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I explore some possible answers to the question my title posed.

An Orphan to be Pitied

What does a woman without family feel? In my case, lots of loneliness and longing. Desire and rejection. It is hard to fully articulate the bittersweet tang of watching others for whom I care start new relationships and give birth. I wouldn’t call my feelings jealousy in most cases, as I also often feel contentment on the path on which I’m walking, but I do experience sadness mixed in with the joy.

At times, I’ve received pity as a response when I’ve shared my identity. Usually followed by a rush to wish things would be healed with my family or that I’d find love. I think I’ve internalized a deep bucket of shame around this way of being in the world, one to which scoops are only added when people pity me. Not only do I experience shame, but I also distance myself from my own wishes for family. If I don’t “want” it, it won’t hurt not to have it.

People are often surprised at the ease with which I interact with children, perhaps mistaking my lack of energy towards producing or procuring one of my own through adoption as a lack of desire. In truth, I think I’ve simply given up on love stories and tiny toes. I’ve failed repeatedly when it comes to familying and it’s failed me. I believe the only rational responses to defeat, once one acknowledges its existence, are to try again after altering some variable, or to come into a place of acceptance of it. Right now I am noticing and being with my failure, rather than trying to turn it into a success.

A Witch to be Feared

Being too different, being too loud, not following the rules enough. These are the charges often hurled at women society sees as “witches.” Women whose eccentrics show a smidge too much of their own defined sense of being. As I’ve begun to move from young into middle adulthood, this is the place I find myself sitting more and more. I am no longer only a shy teen with downcast eyes waiting for someone to notice her, I am also a warrior singing her call regardless of who approves.

I cannot tell how much this impulse comes from within me and how much it is projected on to me by others, but I sense a woman alone after a certain age somehow appears more threatening. All the caretaking roles I “should” be fulfilling are going unanswered. There isn’t an easy shelf on which to place me of mother, devoted daughter or wife. My oddity feels like a cloak in which I wrap myself to hide but by which I instead end up revealing more than I intended.

A Spinster to be Discarded

As I age, I anticipate moving into the role of the old maid if I stay unfamilied. As such, I will eventually be in a place of  needing instead of giving. Can I endure coming physical frailty without acquiescing or diminishing? Our society expects those who are old to silence their cries. What if I do not behave this way?

Several books I’ve read lately, including Belonging and The Body is Not an Apology, allude to the question of whether we have worth if we are unable to contribute anything of value to others. I struggle with this query from both sides, as I anticipate judgment of my failure to caretake my abusive, aging parents, and as I must also face changes in how others perceive me as I get older. Shame again takes hold. I feel a frequent need to apologize to my wizened crone self for my family failure, and to gift her an offering of my sovereignty as a person, won at a terrible price.

A Person to be Humanized

The themes I’ve identified—abandonment, eccentricity and worth—are by no means limited to individuals who fall into my particular demographic. Rather, I think nearly everyone who has an honest and deep relationship with themselves could connect to aspects of them. I so often feel apart from being a “regular human” when in fact I am a part of being a regular human. That is who I think a woman without family is; she is simply one blend of pigment in the rainbow of the human heart. She has every right to exist, to voice, and to move the world as best she can.