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.  

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Embracing RAGE

WARNING! This post is graphic and potentially triggering. 

I dedicate this essay to all survivors who were sexually abused by a religious person they trusted. I would not be religious today if I hadn't written it.
Embrace your rage!  
Don't be afraid of it! 
The spiritual abuse, and damage we suffered is profound, but it IS possible to heal.  
Writing this essay helped me heal my relationship with the Torah and with my dead grandfather. I am surprised to be able to say, that I am no longer angry with him. Although he died many years ago, I feel him with me, encouraging and supporting me in my work.

I was seven. My sister was eight. We went to the yeshiva for shacharis with Tatty. Zaidy liked it when we came. After davening, he took us into his office. He put his hands under my clothes. His finger hurt me and I looked at him shocked.
“Don't look at me.” he said. “Look at the sefarim.”

I looked at the glass doors, behind them rows of meshnayos, shas, some of them too heavy to lift. I made my mind leave the rosh yeshiva's office so I wouldn't feel or know about his finger.

If I would have looked into his eyes, would he have seen my terror, my pain?
Would I have seen any shame or guilt in his?
But I was taught to listen, and so I looked at the sefarim, not at Zaidy. 
After he was done he asked,
“Do I need to get married again?”
He told us that he loved one of us more than the other. I knew it was my sister he loved more. 
Then, he took us to the toy store and told me to pick out a toy. Any toy.
My sister doesn't remember any of this.

She is the lucky one.

Black waves of rage
engulf me in a flood of intense fury,
crushing me,
drowning me.
I scream
a silent cry of despair
fists clenched
mind inflamed
a tense helpless agony
burns inside.
I know I can not escape it.

I dive head first
into the raging violence
against the terrible pressure
I pound, kick and
fight my way
through the terrifying anger
to the feelings beneath.

I lie exhausted
at the bottom.
My face is wet and
I'm shaking
and feeling
pain,grief, sadness, and hurt,
I had so carefully buried
deep under this turbulent sea of anger
I finally found the courage
to embrace.

I am an adult now.  
My grandfather is long dead. 
 It's time to face the anger that keeps me separated from my community.  I love, hate, and fear the community I grew up in, all at the same time.
Evil and holiness intertwined in my childhood in a knot almost too difficult to unravel.
As a child I couldn’t fight back, and I buried the rage. Now, an adult, I take myself back in time, feel the feelings, and to heal myself.
I never have to go far to find the parts of me that were hurt.  They are right behind my eyes,stuck at the age the abuse happened.
I visualize taking the younger part of me by the hand, and bringing her back to the yeshiva, into the office full of sefarim.  Back into the holy territory where she was violated.
She is not scared, because I'm with her.
She is enraged.
Zaidy sits on his rocking chair. A sefer Torah wrapped in a talis is on the shelf behind him. My young self opens one of the glass doors and takes out a tome of shas. She staggers under it's weight. It is Meseches Makos.
She is not scared. She knows I am now an adult, and I will protect her. She knows that he can not hurt her anymore.
She lifts the book and smashes the glass in the shelves. She snatches the sefarim throws them at Zaidy and onto the floor. She is furious. She opens the holy books and rips out the pages, crumples them up and throws them, stamps on them, stuffs them into his open shocked mouth.
Glass fragments and aleph bais rain down.  
I let her do this. 
She needs to do this.

She uses a sefer as a rock to smash his head again and again. He sits clutching the arms of the rocker.
We are both awed by the depth of her rage.
She takes a broken piece of glass and uses it like a knife to cut off the finger that hurt her. He starts to rise. I warn him with my eyes.

Touch her and you're finished. 

He sits back down.
She pulls down the sefer Torah wrapped in a talis on top of the shelf behind him. She unwraps it and pulls it open. Using a piece of broken glass as a knife she cuts a long piece; Long as an adult scarf.
Holding Parshas Vayerah she climbs up on his chair, wraps the Torah portion around Zaidy’s neck and squeezes it tightly. As tightly as she can.
Forgive me Hashem; please understand me. 
 I have to let her do this.

Zaidy’s face turns blue, scared eyes popping out on top of the words, “Sedom.” He stares pop-eyed at the words hanging down in front of his face. He stops breathing to Parshas Vayerah. 
 Strangled by the Torah and the child who he violated together in his office.
She looks at me.
“Are you done?”
She goes over to his shtender and pushes it over. It falls onto his face knocking out his front teeth.
We survey the damage in silence.
The blood. The broken glass. The torn sefarim.  The wounded Torah. The dead rosh yeshiva.
We are satisfied. 
I take her hand and we leave together.

We both needed to do this.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Favorite Parsha

 This past week's parsha, (parshat Vayigash) is my favorite.  One of the things I must do in order to heal my relationship with Torah, is to claim it as my own.  I have to find myself in the Torah, and find the Torah inside myself.    
I find myself in the story of Yosef and his brothers.  Like Yosef I have eleven siblings.  None of them have spoken to me in well over a decade.  I was not invited to their weddings. 

The ending of Parshat Vayigash gives me hope.  God must have caused this pain for a good reason.  I have heard from many survivors that my writing gives them hope.  Hope is the food of survival.  

Like Yosef,
I have eleven brothers.
They never wanted to hear what I had to say.
They called me a liar.
A dreamer.
They believed I was a threat to our family.
A threat to their destiny.
When I was young, "they threw me into a pit full of
snakes and scorpions."
Then they sold me down to Egypt."
They lied about what happened to me.
For many years, I suffered.
 with the help of God
through miracles
I thrived.

I am still  in exile.
It's been many years since I was sold.
It's been many years since I saw my brothers.
There is a famine in the world.
People are coming to me for food.

I am preparing  food for my brothers as well.
They may need to eat at some point
and I, with the help of God, 
have food.