Sunday, May 17, 2015

Is It Always True: Mitzvah L'sapper?

Recently a close friend, who also happens to be a therapist, asked me an important question about recovery from trauma.  

She asked about Holocaust survivors, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, many who moved on and created new lives for themselves without talking much about the traumas of the past.  
 In many cases silence, avoidance, and “forgetting” (repression) is precisely how Holocaust Survivors survived and thrived, post World War Two.

My friend also mentioned Vietnam war veterans who also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They were encouraged to seek therapy and talk of the traumas of war and
many of them ended up committing suicide.

My friend asked, Is it always true, “Mitzvah L’sapper??

We know that in treating trauma we must be very careful in how we do it. 

When the trauma is still raw and painful, when we still feel like a victim, talking about the trauma can be re-traumatizing, for ourselves and those around us. 

For a survivor of ongoing abuse, a trained trauma therapist is vital in healing the long-term effects..  Cathartic quick fix therapies, just don’t work long term in healing trauma.  

The saying, “slower is faster” is absolutely true when processing traumatic memory.  

First and foremost, we must have safety in order to do the work.  Feeling safe is a prerequisite to processing trauma.  
In my expeirence growing up in my litvish, yeshivish family, we never got to the point where we could feel safe in the post Holocaust world. 

 I was told more than once as a child, that the Holocaust could happen again, any day, in America, and that I shouldn’t feel safe or think I could ever trust a non Jew.  

“Today he will be your best friend and tomorrow he will kill you” is the message I grew up with.  

This fearful message is a denial of Hashem’s close presence and influence in our lives. 
I am not blaming victims for their fears. It is simply the reality, that victimization causes fear and denial.  
Fear and denial block us from connecting with ourselves and from feeling God's presence.
 Hashem does not want us to live in fear.  There is no mitzvah to be a victim.

 The ability to contain the memories and feelings, to keep from becoming overwhelmed and flooded,  as well as the ability to stay grounded in  the present, are also necessary prerequisites to trauma work.  

These are learned skills which take practice over time, and are easier said than done. 

A support system of close nurturing people who can help us hold the memories, as we remember and process them, is also vital.

Then, and only then, can we visit the trauma in very small pieces always returning to safety, grounding, containment, and nurturing, before we tackle the next piece.  

When we sit at lail  haseder we are touching our past and our present in the same moment.  
We are at the point where we can hold our past proudly.  We were slaves, but now we are free.  We know that without our past, without Hashem, we would not be the incredible, indestructible nation that we are today.  Our past becomes our strength, and no longer a gaping wound. 

Our past formed us into who we are.  
My past formed me into who I am.

I was a victim of child sexual abuse. I was shamed and humiliated. But now I am free and proud of how I came out of that situation, and of the person I am today.
My survival was and is a miracle.
I could not have done it without Hashem's help.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Guest Post by Genendy's Husband on, Barry Freudel

I don't now why I want to write this about Freundel. To heal my own poisoned sense of Judaism, or to help the case.
Maybe to clear my own name. Maybe to confess.

I knew Freundel very well for many years. I always knew him, in his own weird way, to be very sensitive and extremely ethical.

I was Barry Freundel's personal computer tech some time ago, maybe 15 years.

I volunteered. I wanted to help him out with one of the few ways I could, with my computer skills. Contribute to the community and his work.
He had several computers. He needed things like upgrades, and backups, sometimes installing a new computer.
One time I was doing something or another, and discovered dozens of bookmarks in his AOL browser for porn sites.
I paused and thought. Was it him or someone else who had access to the computer? It wasn't the first time I'd discovered
something like that on someone's computer. There were times at work too. It was very unlikely to be someone else's.
He made no attempt to hide them.

I don't remember if it was then, but I think it was sometime later, I discovered an archive of porn videos on a computer of his.
I didn't examine the whole archive, but what I saw looked like garden variety light porn, and not illegal.
At that point I knew it had to be his. 

At the time, I was involved with another community and Rabbi for spiritual matters, but I still considered him a friend and someone to 
talk to about Judaism and answer questions. He had never been the type to be an example of a pious individual.
So I wasn't crushed and without a spiritual guide like I could have been.
He had a certain irreverence toward Judaism which was kind of refreshing. He was deeply analytical, but not spiritual.
When he prayed, he did so with no feeling behind it as far as I could tell.
At least he didn't put on heirs. Nobody's perfect, anyway.

I thought for a while about what to do. I figured my choices were:

Confront him? That would be awkward as hell and I didn't feel I was up to it. I still viewed him as far superior and stronger than I.
That might be a bad idea. He would get angry and I would freeze up.

Tell someone else? That would be worse.

Tell Sharon? It was better she didn't know. I would surely lose their friendship.

None of those choices were likely to get him to stop. At work, I would have considered it a breach of ethics if I had discovered something on a personal computer.
A work computer was something else. But even with those, I had access to everything and saw many things that were company secrets which my ethics said I had to forget.

Do nothing?

I figured, well he's a friend and a source of a particular type of advice. A lot of people succumb to this thing. I should just feel bad for him that 
he was snared by it. I could still be his friend. But it was disappointing. So I did nothing. I told nobody.

One time I was in his office, I saw that a bunch of computer cables were deliberately cut.
He told me he thought a child visiting had done it. I didn't believe that. I didn't believe him. 
 I figured he or maybe someone else became desperate and took out their frustration.

As time went by,he still asked me for help. I tried to get out of doing anything more on the computers. But some things I had set up and I was really the only one around who could
fix it. He practically begged me. He was really stuck.

I came over and told him I needed certain data disks to do the job he wanted. He then said something to the effect of "Ok, but you have to realize that a lot of these are other people's. They give stuff to me all the time. I don't know everything that's on it. There could be pornography for all I know."

My immediate thought was how insulting this was to my intelligence and how easily he thought he had cleared any possibility of suspicion with such a bad lie,
to a computer expert. I guess over the years he kept on thinking it was very easy to fool people. He had always been aloof. Brilliant, but aloof. I was pretty irritated. I was not going to spend my time helping him back up his porn collection. I saw him less after that, but kept in touch. I never helped him again.

I don't know now if I should have done something different. Maybe he was once an ordinary porn junkie and became something much worse, and it could have been stopped.

But a lot of things he did started to make more sense. Standing above and behind brides at weddings 'to make sure the groom was not assisted when putting the veil on'.
He went into the women's section on Simcha Torah to give every woman a misha berach. And how he railed against the degeneration of American morals.

I wonder sometimes if something he did, was halachically justified, or something he made up to gain access. Now, I regularly question myself when I do something that is according to his 'minhag'. It's distracting in shul. It's like my experience has been poisoned.

-Genendy's Husband.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

...From Egypt, to the Desert, to Israel...From Trauma Victim, to Surviving, to Thriving!

...From Egypt, to the Desert, to Israel...
From Trauma Victim, to Surviving, to Thriving!

As a nation we are trauma survivors. 
Hashem shows us through the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim how trauma affects us, as individuals and as a nation. 

 We are commanded to remember every day that we were slaves in Egypt.  Hashem knows, that when we don't remember, acknowledge, and talk about our traumas, we are doomed to repeat them.
As victims, we tend to minimize, rationalize, forget, deny...and then repeat.
Therefore, we are commanded by the Torah to remember, to discuss, and to own our trauma, to own our past and , to own our recovery.  We are commanded to acknowledge that it is Hashem who walks us out of an abusive situation, into the desert of recovery.
Therapy after trauma takes a long time.
As a nation it took us forty years.
Recovery is full of mistakes, and acting out, and consequences.  We complained, we whined, we wanted to go back to Mitzrayim, because at least it was familiar.
At least there, we knew what to expect.
In Mitzrayim, among our abusers, we had an identity. 
 We were slaves.
 In the aftermath we rejected the truth in front of our eyes and worshiped a golden calf.  We denied and ignored reality.
  As victims, we were so busy defending against real and imagined threats we could not introspect.  We could not look at our world honestly.  Victims can not acknowledge any weakness, lest it be taken advantage of by real and perceived perpetrators.
As trauma victims leaving Mitzrayim we struggled to make sense of what happened to us.  We forgot and we still forget, that we are being held by God.  We deny that our every need was, and still is, being cared for.
God understood, and understands that trauma survivors, as individuals and as a nation, are needy, immature, and confused.  We are struggling for a sense of identity.  Who are we, if not victims?  What happened to us?  Was it really so bad?  Maybe abuse was better than this lonely and confusing desert of recovery.
Mitzvah L'saper. 
 God wants us to talk about it. 
 Even if talking exposes our family's and communities, mistakes and embarrasses us. 
Surviving and getting to Israel took a lot longer than we thought it would. Trust was a major issue.  We struggled to trust Moshe and even to trust God. 
Yet, we survived the years in the dessert as difficult as they were.
We did get to Eretz Yisrael.
But It was not without tremendous struggle and tremendous loss. Many didn't make it.
Without God, we could never have survived.  It was God, who took us out, who saved us, and loved us unconditionally as we healed as a nation.
It is God, in every generation who takes us out of abusive situations, who loves us unconditionally, in spite of our mistakes, and who holds us, and provides for our every need, as we wander sometimes for years on end in the confusing, hot, and lonely desert of recovery.
Mitzvah L'saper.  Talking about Trauma is the secret of our survival as individuals and as a nation,
 then, now, and always.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

...All I Need To Survive

Sometimes God takes away everything that we think we need in order to survive...
Our safety,
Our home,
Our family,
Our mind, 
Our body,
Our community...

I know what it is like to lose everything, because it happened to me. 

 I was molested by my father and grandfather and other men in my grand-father's yeshiva, many years ago.  My story is still being denied and covered up by my community. 
 My father still works with children every day.

And yet, I am OK.  
When I lost everything, and everyone I loved, I was left facing a painful and beautiful truth about life:
There is only one thing we REALLY need to survive. 
It is our eternal soul, and our connection with God. 
Nothing can take this away, not even death.
My heart broke, when I heard about seven siblings who died in a fire this past Shabbos.
Some part of me wonders if the surviving sibling feels at times as I do. 
 I wonder if she wishes, as I sometimes do, she would have died in that fire too.
  Sometimes the thought of dying is less painful than surviving and being so hurt and alone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How Many Child Molesters Does it Take to Change A Lightbulb?

Q. How many child molesters does it take to change a light-bulb?

A. None.

Child molesters are not capable of changing anything.

It's up to the rest of us!

Monday, March 2, 2015

My Father, TATTY

A friend sent me this photo of my father (left) at the recent annual banquet of Torah Institute, where he is the principal, and it triggered me.

Especially when I showed it to my daughter and told her it was her grandfather.
She said, "He looks like a really nice guy....He looks so loving..."  

Yes, he does look like a nice guy,  and in some ways he really is a nice guy.

  But he isn't what he looks like. 
 A part of him is broken and empty.
  Just like me.

 This man who looks so loving, has a daughter who he treats as if she is dead. 
That daughter is me. 
I remember him raping me when I was two, three, and four-years-old. He needs me to keep it a secret so he can keep impressing and fooling the people around him.  

This is a man who is not capable of real love and intimacy, because he has never experienced it.  
This man in the photo, 
he is my father.

He caused me so much pain I almost died. 
This man gave me life and almost destroyed me.  
This man who I love, and miss and hate, all with equal depth. 
I want to pound him with desperate two-year-old fists, shriek at him, and beg him to please, please, please, Tatty, 
Please be the safe father I needed you to be.  
 Please, Tatty, don't be the man who hurt me so badly that I was bleeding.  Please, Tatty, don't be the man who lay on me and cut off my breath and was so heavy I thought I would die.  
Tatty, please don't be my father. 
 Be anyone else.  
Not my father.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

THE GIFT OF TRAUMA (Trigger Warning)

Life is a gift. And I am so blessed.
 It is Tu B'shvat today. The new year for the trees, and growth begins.  There is a God in this world, and He is good. I am eternally grateful to Hashem for bringing me to this day and to this moment in my life.  Shehecheyanu, vikiymanu, vehigiyanu, lazman hazeh.
Evil exists, and pain and suffering are a reality that we all face at times.  But pain and suffering, awful as they feel, are not inherently bad. They just are. How we choose to think about pain is what makes all the difference.

I have had some excruciatingly, hauntingly, devastatingly painful life experiences. Experiences that I believed would destroy me, and indeed almost did.
One of the most awful feelings, in the realm of feeling possibilities, is of a child who is trapped, being violated and hurt by her father, the very person who is supposed to be protecting her. Being completely dependent on the mercy of a father, who at times treats you with love, but at times also wants to hurt you sexually, is one of (if not) the most confusing, shaming, and traumatic experiences a child can have.  As a child, I prayed for death as a release.  At the same time, I knew, that death would bring me closer to Hashem.
And I did not want to be closer to Hashem.
 As a child, I believed that Hashem was a child molester just like my father.

I am lying in bed in a room that I share with my sisters in our little white house on Paul street. I am very young, three or four.  My father comes into my room and lies on my bed.  I stare at the red and white checkered curtains. I am trapped. A familiar numbness creeps into my mind.  The numbness will dull the terror.  It will dull the pain and shame, just enough so that I can get through this one more time. I am not real. 
I can not be real.
Tatty, NO!! Don't hurt me!! He rolls partially on top of me. I can't breathe. I can't move. Something is poking at me. I can't see what it is.  It's cutting me. He's too heavy. I am going to die. I want to die. I have to die. ...Something is in my mouth cutting off my breath. Tatty, NO! Tatty, I need you!
 ...I want to fly up to the sky.  But not too high in the sky.  I don't want to be too close to Hashem.  Hashem is probably like my Tatty and likes to touch and hurt little girls.   I know that Hashem sees everything.  I don't know why He lets Tatty hurt me. Maybe He likes to watch.  Maybe He knows that I deserve to be hurt.  
My throat hurts when I think about how Hashem lets me get hurt, and watches.   I wonder if I could be dead and still stay far away from Hashem. I wish someone could make it better.  Maybe magic will make the bad parts of me disappear and then Tatty won't hurt me any more.  I don't want Tatty to hurt me.  I don't want him to go away, either.  I'm so scared.  I wish I was a different girl. Then, maybe, I could be safe.  I want to fly to the clouds in between the sky and Hashem, where there are no people.  ...I can crawl inside a fluffy cloud and feel safe for a few minutes.  I don't have to be me up here.  I can pretend I'm good and pretend I'm safe.  No one can bother me or fight with me.  No one can touch me or hurt me.  I can turn into a cloud and float away...  Far, far away…

At times, my life felt hopeless. Not having a family who loves me or accepts me, at times, feels devastating.  Yet, I know on a deep neshama level, that it is not really awful. I did not lose my family, or anything else that is truly important.  My separation from my family for the past fifteen years is a gift. A chance for me to heal and grow and develop into the person I am supposed to be. My family is always with me in my heart, and I will always love them.  I know that at the right time we will see each other again.
After a very long, and at times excruciating, healing process, I now know that everything that I went through ultimately happened for a good purpose.  Hashem gave me everything I need in order to heal from the horrific experience of child sexual abuse.

 He also gave me a mission. 
It's has not been an easy mission, and not one I would have voluntarily signed up for. I have been put here on earth not only to heal myself, but to help others heal as well.
Life is a classroom and there is no learning like the learning that comes from experience. I know I received the best training Hashem has to offer in order to complete my mission here.

A personal encounter with evil evokes three possible responses.  One can be consumed by it.  One can avoid and deny it.  Or, one can fight it.  I have lived through all three responses.
 I went through child sexual abuse, it's over, and I am called upon to fight the evil of child sexual abuse in our community.  In order to do that effectively, Hashem knew that I must understand it intimately and personally.

When I climb above denial, hate, and fear, and stand on top of evil's head and look down upon its bent neck, I see it for what it really is.  Evil is a tool that God put on this earth for us to fight.  Evil is created by God, and is a reality only in the lower worlds.  If there would be no evil there would be no world, no life on this earth, and no free will. Hate and fear, which is the essence of evil, will never be as strong or as enduring as truth and love, which are eternal.  In the end, truth and love always win.  The fabric of our neshama is made of truth and love.

If you have encountered evil personally, and been badly hurt by it, I know from experience that it is possible to go through it and come out the other side whole.  You need and deserve a lot of time and support, but you CAN heal.  You have no idea how powerful you are!

I recently received this e-mail from a frum survivor who I have come to know well through e-mail. Knowing that my journey can inspire others gives me the strength to continue my difficult mission:

"Hashem has given you amazing strength. I know some of your family but such strength I have never seen. The cries I have heard in the past from similar stories are of those who want to get back at their fathers or hate them. That's what gets me about you. You brought yourself from pain to compassion. I DONT KNOW WHAT COMPASSION IS. I'm kinda getting frustrated with myself right now. But I'm not giving up. I really feel with you I'm in good hands and have a Derech ahead of me."

I answered this man that I am a firm believer in the power of prayer.  I have used prayer to change in ways that felt impossible.   If you want the strength to change, to heal, ask Hashem for that strength.  Beg for it, cry for it, and demand it!  Then, expect it.
It will come.  
Hashem gave you the challenges.  Hashem loves you fully and unconditionally.  He wants you to turn to Him for help...Because the truth is you can't do it alone.  You need Hashem's help.  I Pray that God lead you to a place inside where you can love and accept yourself unconditionally, just the way He loves and accepts you.  When you can love and accept yourself unconditionally, when you can accept that you are a limited human, and that you will make mistakes, and that you will always get up and try again... When you know that you have all the unconditional love and support that you need from God, When you understand that Hashem does not want perfection from you, only honesty,
...Then you will know that you have healed.