I have no idea where my story began.
The problem with growing up inside the world of abuse is: it is how you are growing up, so you have no idea it is abuse. Oh sure, you get hints that bad things are happening by the reactions of others, the secrets being required, the lies being told. But you are a child, and adults are the authorities on right and wrong so you simply accept that they are right and you are wrong. You also accept that you are dirty and need to be kept a secret. Thus, I have no idea where my story began because I have always been a secret, even from myself.
The brain remembers more easily what was different than normal or expected. I remember with perfect clarity that day my parents liked each other. They even seemed happy. For ten blissful moments they held hands outside the parliament buildings in Ottawa. At one point they even looked in each other's eyes and smiled. I remember the smell of the air, my plaid knee socks, my mothers lipsticked smile, my fathers bouncing step and my fear of when it would end, and what the fallout might feel like. Even so, it was a good day to hold onto because it cleared away my confusion when, at fourteen, mom told me she and dad would be having another child. Weird! I guessed they had managed more than a ten-minute session of holding hands.
I have no idea when my story began, but I know when it fell apart. It was the day my daughter told me that my husband had gotten into her bed and touched her while she feigned sleep, twice.
It is amazing what a belief will do. In the moment she uttered the words every cell in my body knew she was lying, she had to be, because I had always believed I could keep my people safe by being the one who was abused, I had often stepped forward for punches and slaps, kicks and sexual fondling to protect my siblings from the same. Even in this marriage I had performed uncomfortable acts and daily sexual favors to ensure that my man was happy and no problems could evolve. So when she uttered meekly those frightened little words and I saw the ceiling break open over me and my world of beliefs crumble and bury me in a pile of suffocating rubble, I did what I knew I should do. Not what I wanted to do. Years of abuse had shown me how to handle that type of choice, it was the first time it had been a gift.
So in the millisecond it took to turn and face her, with an iron will and herculean effort I purposely formed a more nurturing belief: I am wrong, she isn't safe. I chose for her something that had never been chosen for me: believe in your child.
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I have no idea when my story began but I know when it fell apart and when I initiated its repair. My husband had been arrested and the social service people had insisted my daughter and I attend counseling. I had always hated group counseling, mainly because whenever I was in a set up like that I ended up running the group, helping everyone else and having no time for me. This group was no exception. My daughter was in one room and I in the other. She was listening to her peers avoid revealing their truths and squirming with discomfort while I was listening to women whine and cry about themselves, rather than their children.
There were eighteen of us gathered around a circular table. Everyone wanted to share and I heard a theme emerge, a clue, a possible answer to the unthinkable that had happened in my child's life. Every one of these women whose children had been molested were talking about themselves, their pasts and their own stories of molestation and rape. As they vomited tale upon tale of the abuse they grew up in the fog began to clear and life finally made sense. The commonness of our mutual pasts was a Eureka moment for me. I pointed it out to everyone. "We have all been abused repeatedly by different members of our families. We see ourselves as victims and believe we are the only ones. So we think our children are safe, or abusers themselves, because we have the role of victim." They all looked at me as if I was crazy, and maybe I was. But that didn't stop me from talking, "Look, we all learned from the movies not to become abusers ourselves but no one told us we would attract abusers. The problem starts with us. We have to heal." No one listened. They weren't ready. They didn't want to give up the role of victim (some were even angry at their children for replacing them) and take on the role of being complicit. They wanted to suffer more. I didn't. I left.
I have no idea when my story began but I know when it fell apart, when I initiated its repair, and how I got help. I left that group counseling with the awareness that everything I had grown up believing was tainted, and that there was no way for me to understand what healthy looked like unless I surrounded myself with healthy people. But I also knew I wouldn't be able to recognize healthy people because my vision was tainted. It was a loop of crazy making impossibility. I was suddenly wrapped with fear. How could I raise my children out of their problems (I had adopted four who were abused and special needs, and because even being a sibling of someone who was molested is a form of being molested both of my biological children had just been effected by my husbands actions) if I didn't even know what healthy looked like? I had always believed my husband was totally safe for my children. Better than that even, I had believed he was good for them. Obviously I was wrong, maybe about everything. Except this: I was the right one to be their mother. I was certain of that, because I would find the answer, somehow. It was my fear of making it worse by not knowing that gave me the idea. After all,since I had no concept of safe, I should go somewhere safe. I called social services, said we were in danger and asked for a shelter.
It was there, inside those walls of safety and organized lessons on the signs of abuse,that I came to understand The Nest.
I have no idea where my story began because people who live in a nest have no vision of what it is like outside of their horizon " or rather " beyond the edges of the nest.
It turns out that the law of attraction is operating everywhere, and that when you live in abuse it is supported by like thinkers, feelers, wishers, and dreamers. And since you are a child you are the product of the cult within which you are raised. It is easier to see yourself as bad than to see everyone you ever loved as being somehow supportive of the pain being inflicted upon you, them, and each other. Many of us in the nest look for outside information and find it in movies and books. Unfortunately, a nest is a messy story line, too hard to portray in anything less than a mini series. So to make the telling easier, truth is ironed away and simplicity of focus makes the movie or book part of your torment, your proof. The movies support the idea that you are bad and it's all your fault, because no movie or book says EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN YOUR LIFE IS ABUSIVE! Yet, since that is what you're seeing you know you must be wrong, and that it's your fault somehow, your craziness that is making it so. To make matters worse I was diagnosable as Schizophrenic, Asperger's, clinically depressed, personality disordered etc. depending on who you asked. So my vision of life was skewed at the outset. Fortunately, I took no medicines so my ability to learn to see better stayed clear.
Once I found myself and my six children at a woman's shelter learning what healthy was, learning that we needed to leave the nest, sever all connections with the people in my past, learning that most likely all my relationships were part of the problem and that there were tell tale signs and definitions of abuse I could educate us on, I knew what to do. Finally it wasn't my fault, at least not unless I returned to the nest. So again, I left, everything.
In that moment that separates the mothers from the meekers, I accepted that I may never have a normal rest of my life, but my children could. "The circle stops here." I was determined.
I began by talking, to everyone. I even took the subject on stage and wrote comedy bits intended to enlighten while laughing. The audience mostly just squirmed in embarrassment. I separated my daughters from their boyfriends, often. I started to speak out within my inner circle searching for inappropriate reactions, and finding them, often. I put controls on my first husband and fought to oversee his haphazard visitations with his daughters. He had barely listened when I told him what my present husband had done and I feared they were cut from the same cloth.
As being around me became a safe haven other peoples abused children flocked to be nurtured under my wings. Nine runaway teenagers came and went through their time of crisis. I kept two. I was now the newly made aware single parent of eight: two biological, six adopted, five disabled, all abused. In an attempt to understand and grow more and more aware, more and more nurturing, I searched and searched my memories trying to comprehend how so many kindnesses could be clothed in cruelty. One memory at a time I separated them into their various camps, day after day, realization after realization, determined not to lose sight of good while running from evil.
I spent many hours investigating and analyzing the difference between cults and communes, aware that we must be one of them given the vehemence with which my children defended me and I protected them. It was messy. My children acted out on their childhoods and we straightened the story one crisis at a time, one cognitive challenge at a time, one meal at a time. I tried and tried and tried to discover what a healthy mate would be like, and again and again and again found myself uncertain of the ability to know. It was an unanswerable loop: I had thought my husband safe, he wasn't, so my instincts were suspect. If I fell in love with a mate I thought them abusive because - according to my new understanding - they wouldn't be attracted to me (nor I to them) if they weren't. So as a solution to the dilemma I picked people I didn't love hoping to learn to love them, thinking them something good, believing they must be because I didn't want them. But there was an immense hole in that logic: After all I didn't want them.
There was no litmus test, no way to be sure if I was attracting from inside the nest or out of it. I couldn't risk living with any of them, though I married a few for a day or two, I kept them all away. So for the most part I went without help.
That is a circle I still spin at the center of; alone, but happy. Somehow in all this mess I figured out how to like me. So, though I am alone, I am in good company. And I am thankful to the journey for all the ground I have covered and the wisdom I have gained. For the gift of going from timid wife to tough babe to iron willed yet feather gentle mom.
I changed our history one page at a time and then decided to change others people's possibilities. I started to speak to extended family, siblings and friends. My cousin told me our grandpa had molested her, I wasn't the only one. My sister shared her memories of our dad, I wasn't the only one. My friend spoke of our history teacher and gym coach, I wasn't the only one. My aunt spoke of my dying uncle, and apologized. I couldn't forgive her for not stopping him, I had never known she was complicit so hadn't judged her in the first place. My revelations led to other revelations and we all shared a sisterhood of scars, until I wrote about it in my first book
. Then suddenly none of them shared the same memories. POOF! They were gone in a puff of truth.
I thought they scurried into themselves because they didn't want any one to look at them the way they looked at me. I had shared my insides in the book. Not the stories of what others did to me so much as the tortured mind of someone seeking to survive and finding twisted ghosts inside her head, all while trying to raise a crazy brood of eight. I had shared the journey of learning to love with purity by loving for a living that way. I could understand their fear of public association with me. After all, it wasn't them who wished to slice themselves open.
I thought if I had told the story more as a story, rather than an unearthing, they would have been comfortable with the truth. I was wrong. I know because I told a different story in my next book and the results were the same. I told the story of my son's molestation by his teaching assistant. I told the story to help others who were being blamed by the authorities to hide the horror of what someone supported by the educational system had done to them. My friend and I had walked and talked for hours on the subject. She believed telling the story would hurt me professionally due to the temptation of others to want to stay away from anything messy. I said that being a rich professional wasn't my motivation: Changing history by telling history was. She shared that her sister wanted to speak out about their childhood neighbor but that her family was in politics and that would be wrong. I said not supporting her sister might be more wrong.
A couple of years later her sister became clinically depressed, agoraphobic and addicted to prescription meds and alcohol. My friend ended up raising her niece.
The irony of all the controversy is that every time I speak, or write, or craft art on the subject of disclosure, those who are most obviously offended are the same ones who later call or email to secretly ask for help. Today I help many people. I work worldwide bringing information and healing to the behaviorally challenged. We keep it confidential so their stories are never told and people continue to be deluded and hurt. They remain attracters of abuse by the absence of healing that these lies of omission create. Nobody wants to shine a light on the nest because almost everybody (our loved ones included) lives somewhere inside it. The biggest secret seldom told is that for the few who do venture beyond the horizon to discover that the world isn't flat, it turns out that there is something in the beyond, something beautiful. It turns out that the nest is encircled by the gravity light, golden rings of sanity and emotional freedom. And it is good.
I invite you to stand up rather than shrink away and hide, because the truth really is what set me free. How can I want anything less for you?