Monday, April 7, 2014

How do I separate abuse and my family from Torah? (Part five of, "Ten Things I Needed To Learn In Order To Heal.")

I was abused on holy territory. In a yeshiva, by a rabbi and rabbinical students.

 I had to allow myself to reject Judaism for a time, in order to separate Torah from abuse. 

I used to wear a pin, "I was not created in YOUR image of God."    

  I needed distance, and I gave myself the space that I needed.  Afterwards, I spent a lot of time with frum (religious) families that were nothing like mine. 

I began to realize that many of my family's beliefs and behaviors had nothing to do with Torah and everything to do with trauma.

 I began to be aware of the multi-generational trauma and how it impacted my family and my life.  Cutting me off is one example of how cruel our behavior can become, if we hide and deny pain.

I came back to a Torah lifestyle, by finding myself in the Torah, and the Torah in myself. 

We have only to look at the Torah to know that covering up mistakes, even by our most revered leaders, is not the Torah way.  

 I found myself in the story of Tamar who was raped by her brother Amnon. (Shmuel Bet 13)
Tamar did not keep it a secret. 
 The Torah does not keep Tamar's rape a secret.

  I found myself in the story of Yosef and his brothers.

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 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.

I found myself and my family in the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim.  

As a nation, we were born through trauma.  We were slaves in Egypt. 

 We are all trauma survivors. 

God shows us in the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, what to expect in the aftermath of  trauma, and how to deal with any traumatic situation that we will encounter in our future.

And there have been a lot of them. 

We are commanded to remember every day that we were slaves in Egypt.  Hashem knows that when we don't remember, acknowledge, process and talk about our traumas then 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 own our trauma, to own our past and , to own our recovery.  We are commanded to acknowledge just Who it is who walks us out of an abusive situation, into the desert of therapy.

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, and 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, that we could not introspect.  
We could not look at our world honestly. 

My family can not look at their world honestly.  
A  daughter and sister is treated as dead because she remembers being a victim of incest. 
 What a painful reality.

 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 victims, 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 mistakes and embarrasses us. 
 For example, out there in the desert Moshe hit the rock and didn't talk to it.  And he didn't make it to Israel because of this. We can learn from this to talk to even the most stubborn and hard among us.
Don't hit the rock.
Talk to it.
Engage in a dialogue.
Violence will not get us where we want to go.

We are commanded by God to never forget that we were slaves.  We were victims of trauma.
And to know that now we are survivors.

We survived the years in the desert, as difficult as they were.
We did eventually get to Eretz Yisrael.
It was not without struggle and tremendous loss.
 Many didn't make it.

Trust was, and is, a major issue with survivors.  We struggled to trust the people there to help us, and even to trust God. The Golden Calf is a good example of this.

Every year on Pesach, we we are commanded to spend an entire evening talking about our trauma and survival, and acknowledging with our entire being, that it was indeed miraculous
and that it had nothing to do with us.

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.  Hashem 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.  
Pesach is coming! 

Talking about our trauma is the secret of our survival; as individuals and as a nation,  then, now, and always.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

How Do I Learn to Love and Accept Myself, When Incest Taught Me To Hate Myself?

Part 4 of, "10 Things I Needed To Learn In Order To Heal."

 I had to develop a healthy inner parent to counteract all the unhealthy, destructive, messages I received as a child, (and I am still receiving them.)  Messages that I am shameful, defective, and I would be better off dead.

I had to become the loving nurturing parent I never had.  This was no easy feat, as my role models were more than lacking.   

By developing, and listening to an inner nurturing adult voice, I am able to reject my parents' and family's negative views of me as false, and accepted the Torah and God's view of me as truth.  I know that my family blames me and hates me.  I know that God loves and accepts me fully and unconditionally.  

Eating disorders, skewed body image, self-hatred, rage, and confusion around sexuality, are common symptoms that incest and child sexual abuse survivors have to deal with. 

 The following piece (written a number of years ago)  illustrates how I used my mature adult "parent" voice to help heal the young parts of me that were so hurt.  

  The intense feelings that I express are a normal response to the abnormal trauma and pain I experienced.

Wounded Monster

Wounded Monster howls at the rain and wind. His tears are faster than the rain. His anger is stronger than the strong wind.

Wounded Monster sits naked on the toilet, fat spilling over the sides, fur matted and tangled with blood and dirt and tears.
He looks down at his throbbing wounded heart where a gaping hole is red, bloody and raw.
It is just too empty and too painful.
Wounded monster stumbles on flat wide hairy feet into the kitchen and grabs food to stuff into the hole.

 Maybe it will feel better.
He just feels fatter and uglier and more monstrous. 

He howls in pain and loneliness and rage. He howls at the moon and the sky, the wind and rain. He howls at the empty hole in his center, and at the empty sky.

 He swings his huge fat hairy arms in desperate angry circles knocking down people, even children, who dare to come too close. He howls in terror at the people and the children, and pulls the fur out of his skin one hair at time. He bites his hands. He shrieks. He screams piercing screams. He rocks on all fours, and rattles the bars of his home-like cage.

An adult woman, short but capable, approaches Wounded Monster.
She stares into his red eyes. Her brown eyes are calm and steady, soothing and firm.
 She is not scared of him. 
He growls, spits blood, and throws dirt in her direction. He knows he stinks and that should keep her away. He swings his hairy arms at her and kicks his hairy ugly feet at her face. 

You are not so scary.”  She says.

He bares his sharp brown teeth and growls a low threatening growl. Why won't she leave me like the others?
 She seems to read his mind.

You are living in my house so I am responsible for you.”  She says.

She reaches out a hand and he snaps at it.

I can help you feel better.”

He does want to feel better.

Come with me.”

Keeping a careful distance he follows. He is curious. She leads him to the bathroom and runs the water in the tub. She holds up a bottle.

This is a special remedy to cure Wounded Monsters.”

She adds it to the water. The water turns purple. Wounded Monster cocks his head and drools. He hates baths. He won't get in.
But he does want to feel better.

Again she seems to read his mind.

You will feel better."  She tells him.  "I am here to help you. I am a certified Wounded Monster Healer.” 

He dips a black hairy toe into the purple water. He feels a bit calmer already. He climbs in and sits. He growls at his ugly body. 
Fat, hairy, dirty, smelly, stinky, shameful. 

Your OK just the way you are,” the certified Monster Healer assures him.

He spits at her. He hates people. 
She smiles back. 
His fur is starting to soften in the water, to melt and disintegrate and fall off along with the blood and grime. Underneath is smooth skin of a little girl. She looks about ten. She tries to hide her body.  She bites her hand.

Your OK just the way you are";  The woman repeats, as she
 pulls the plug and wraps a towel around her.

You are not a monster. You're a little girl who is sad and hurt.”

The girl is crying. “I'm all alone.”

I know. Me too, but I'm here with you. We're together.”

I hate my body” the girl says, “It's gross.”

The woman nods knowingly, “I'm also uncomfortable with my body, but guess what? We are both female and this is the way female bodies are. Every female has a body like this.”

I HATE it!”

I know.” The woman soothes.

I hate being female.”

I know.”

...And this hole in me...I'm so sad. I lost my entire family.”

Yes you did.”

I lost my mother and my father. I lost my sisters.  I loved them. I lost all of my brothers. I loved them too.   But worst of all, I lost myself.  I'm not even sure who I am. 

My father abused and molested me and then stopped. I missed it. I hated being invisible. I hated being molested. I couldn't exist either way. “

I understand...You are a part of me.  Sometimes I feel your feelings.”

The girl continues as if she hasn't heard. “I loved all of them. I lost them. I'm so sad. I can't stop crying.”

I'm crying too”; The woman says. "It is a huge gaping hole inside of me too. Nothing can fill it. Nothing can fix it. It's where they used to be...My family and myself.”

So, who are we then?” The girl asks.

We are what's left. The pieces that are left. You are a part of me that got stuck at a young age.  You waited in trauma for me to grow up, and come back to help you heal.  

You wear a monster costume, but you are not a monster.  You are a hurt little girl holding a lot of shame that is not yours.  
You did nothing wrong.
You were violated and betrayed...You can give the shame back to the ones who wounded you, and told you it was your fault. 
I am an adult now. 
 I will keep you safe. 
I will help you and all of the hurt parts of me heal." 

Monday, March 31, 2014

How Do I Connect Safely With Myself and Others After Being Taught That Connection Means Hurt?

Part 3 of "10 Things I Needed To Learn In Order To Heal."

This is a very hard piece of work, and is something I am still working on in my relationship with my therapist.  

Connection with important people in my life, who in the end hurt me terribly, people I depended on for survival and support, was extremely painful.  I still have trouble trusting my therapist after eight years of working together.  

She is a frum (religious) woman.  This is a problem, but it is also

  a relationship, which for me, has the greatest potential for healing.  It challenges past negative experiences and the beliefs I constructed from them.

My therapist represents my mother, and the first two therapists I saw from ages eighteen to twenty-two.  They were both frum women in Baltimore.  

I didn't choose either of them, and they were both a disaster.  

The first therapist, Aviva Weisbord, was seeing me as a favor to my father.  

The second therapist abandoned me after I accidentally found out personal information about her, that she couldn't deal with.  I worked for a kosher diet program where she was a member.  I was handed her application to file and read that like me, she had issues with food.  When I told her, she left me without a therapist, living on my own, with no support. 
 I attempted suicide.

My current therapist also represents an older family friend from that same time period.  

Faigy (not her real name) was my only supportive friend for a time, and my one connection to sanity.  She and her husband and children lived in our neighborhood.

Faigy told me that my brother molested her daughter. My brother was fourteen at the time, and forced Faigy's six year old daughter to expose herself to him.  He threatened to hurt her if she wouldn't listen. 

I told my therapist at the time, (the second one), who told me that my brother had sexually abused and she was obligated to report the incident to the police.

  I begged her not to.  

My family already saw me as a betrayal and danger to them, because I shared that my father molested me. 
They said it wasn't true.  They said It was impossible.  
I knew things would only get worse between us if they thought I reported my brother, as well.  

My therapist and I agreed that she would consult with her rabbi about what to do. 
She asked Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, who told her that she had to make the report about my brother.  Faigy and her husband refused to press charges, so there was no investigation. Nothing came of it, except further blame and rejection by my family. 

 "How could you report your own brother?!"

Rabbi Goldberger knew me and trusted me.  I babysat for his children regularly at the time.

Rabbi Goldberger had no trouble believing that my uncle, who was living in our house at the time, (also accused of child molestation) was a child molester.  
He told me that he would never let my uncle into his house.  
I told him about my father, but he allowed my parents to come to his home to speak with him privately about me.  

When I asked him not to let my parents into his house, because if he did I couldn't continue to feel safe there; Rabbi G. became angry and defensive. 

He told me I couldn't tell him who he was, and was not, allowed to let into his home.  

I stopped going there to babysit.  
It just wasn't a safe place anymore.

One horrible day, Faigy called me over to her house because she had to tell me something very important. 

 Faigy said that she couldn't believe me anymore. She couldn't face seeing my father every day and know that he was a child molester.  She had been facing some personal challenges at the time, and she told me that she thought Hashem was punishing her for believing and supporting me.

I had been living in Faigy's home.  It was my only safe place left, and she and her husband told me that I would have to leave.  

I was twenty years old and knew nothing.  I tried to find a shelter to go to.
I couldn't continue to live at home and face my father, who had molested me and told me I was not allowed to see my therapist anymore because she was convincing me of things that never happened.  
No one, including Rabbi Goldberger,  would help me or believe me. 

Twenty one years later I still shake when I remember how badly the abandonment and rejections hurt.  
The trauma and pain of those relationships are still fresh. 

Faigy still has no ability to deal with what happened between us.  She, like my family,
says she doesn't remember my trauma.  
My reality does not exist for her.

 In order for there to be a relationship, we have to be able to hold the other person's reality, even, and especially, if it is different than our own.

Faigy can't do this.  
My mother certainly can't do this.
My first therapists couldn't do this. 
Rabbi Goldberger couldn't do this.

As long as this is true, there is no way for me to heal my relationship with these people. 

 And yet, I can heal the damage that these relationships caused me.

 So many in positions of authority failed to help and support me when I needed them to. 

 I'm thinking about all of my teachers in Bais Yaakov who knew I was troubled but didn't do anything because of the family I come from.

Other people's limitations have hurt me terribly. I was re-traumatized over and over again, when speaking my truth and trying to get help.  
Denial is very strong.
Trusting people today is never simple.

By developing long term relationships with safe healthy people, I am slowly  learning that connection does not always have to mean abandonment, rejection, and hurt.

 I am learning what healthy relationships are.  

In all relationships, there are conflicts and disagreements. 

 In healthy relationships, we find ways of staying connected and communicating, in spite of our differences.  And we find ways to repair and reconnect, when there is a break.  

And there is always a break.  It's part of being human and being in a relationship.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How Do I Learn To Trust Myself After Being Taught Not To?

Part 2 of  "10 Things I Needed  To Learn In Order To Heal"

I remember walking around the house as a ten year old wondering if I was mentally retarded. 

 How would I know if I was?  

What if I was too retarded to understand that something was seriously wrong with me, and no one would tell me the truth? 

I knew there was something wrong with me, and no one was talking about it.

I was told I could not trust my own eyes, my own perceptions.  

I was told that because I was a girl and didn't "learn" I could know and decide nothing on my own.  
This was under the guise of religion, but used in my family as a control tactic.  As a way to make me submissive.  To take away any ability to think for myself, or to make any kind of decision on my own. 

 I am NOT referring to halachic decisions.   

I am referring to decisions about how to feel and how to think, and basic needs like having glasses when I needed them.
  I was told I did not need glasses, even when the eye doctor insisted that I did.

I was told I would have to trust that my parents knew better, and listen to my parents, who would tell me what to do until I married.  After I married, I would listen to my husband.
I had no sense of who I was and what was real and not real about me.

  I didn't get enough honest feedback, or validation, to know these things. 

 I had to figure it all out on my own.

 I was trapped by my parents views, needs, and beliefs about me. 
 It took twenty years in therapy to sort through the piles of confusion. 
 Truth mixed with lies.  
Lies mixed with truth.  
Who is this person named Genendy?  
Did she ever truly exist outside of her parents minds?  
How could my whole huge family lie about me?  

I learned that I was just as capable of lying about myself in order to stay connected with my family. 

 I could deny my reality just as well as they could.  

Telling the truth is much more painful and lonely. 

 Trusting my memories, feelings, and experiences was much more painful than not being real, and walking around in a cloud of confusion.  

The more I learned to know and trust myself, the more denying my reality in order to stay connected to my family, was no longer an option I could live with.  Art therapy and Journaling helped me tremendously with this.

The more I trusted myself and my memories, the more I healed. 

 The more I trusted myself the more I felt safe, connected, present, and whole.  


Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Are Healthy Emotional Boundaries?

Part 1 of "10 things I Needed To Learn In Order To Heal"

Many families do not have healthy emotional boundaries, or even a basic understanding of what they are.

I first encountered the idea of healthy emotional boundaries, as a young adult, in the classroom of a trauma disorders program. 

 Ideally, we learn healthy physical and emotional boundaries as babies and children through interactions with parents and caregivers.  I learned them as an adult, written on a blackboard in a classroom.
I copied them down in my journal:

I can say no, if something feels wrong or disrespectful to me.

I can ask for what I need and want, without guilt or shame.

I can have and express my own individual feelings and opinions.

I can express my individual likes and dislikes.

I may not experience something exactly the way you do, and that's OK;  It doesn't mean I am bad or that something is wrong with me.

I can take responsibility for my own actions.

I am allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

I can express strong negative feelings in respectful and appropriate ways.

I am allowed to accept and express healthy love and affection without feelings of shame or guilt.

Incest is not likely to happen in families with healthy emotional boundaries. 

I was taught from a very young age, that I was not allowed to say no to a parent or any adult in authority.   I was not allowed to have needs.  My needs were only what my parents decided I needed.   I was not allowed to feel angry or sad.  Strong negative feelings were not acceptable, nor considered relevant to my life.   I was taught to view the world the way my parents did.  I was not allowed my own thoughts and opinions.  My parents always knew best and they told me how to think and feel.  Expressing and accepting normal love and affection was suspect and confusing.

Healthy boundaries are one thing to learn about cognitively, and completely another to apply and integrate emotionally.  Certainly as a child, and even as an adult, I was not allowed to express my feelings or thoughts about being sexually abused as a child.
 I was not permitted to know that it happened.

I learned at a very young age that my role was to submit to the desires of another, more powerful, person.

In my family, the boundaries and rules around sexuality, and contact with the opposite gender were unnecessarily rigid in some areas.  While in others, where they should have been present, were non-existent.  

As a young child, I remember my grandfather's anger when my ten month old cousin toddled into the Bais Medrish in a diaper and underwear.  Modesty had been breached! 
 Yet, I often saw him in his underwear, which were white boxers.

Boys and girls in my family were not allowed to play together with unrelated children of the opposite sex from the age of nine.  We had a "boys side" and a "girls side" of the table for Shabbos meals.

We had a strange family custom that started when I was young and continued until I left home.  My siblings and I bathed in our underwear because of "modesty."  As an older teen I bathed my two year old brother in his underwear.

It took years of practice, of trial and error, of sometimes overly rigid, or overly fluid boundaries, until I slowly began learning the delicate balance within myself.  It took a lot of listening to myself and validating my own experiences. 

Art therapy and journaling helped me a lot. 

 And I am always still learning.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ten Things I Needed To Learn In Order To Heal

I put together this list of ten things I needed to learn in order to heal.  

I want to explain the impact of child sexual abuse on a child's mind and soul, and the intensive work that it takes to heal.  Therapy typically takes a long time and costs a lot of money.
I can't emphasize enough that my survival and healing only happened because Hashem allowed and facilitated it.  There is really only one thing that I did that adequately explains how I survived, healed, and continue to heal.  

That one thing is prayer. 

 From the age of nineteen, when I first understood the tremendous challenge that I was faced with, I davened.  And I didn't just ask for help.  I screamed.  I cried. I demanded from Hashem that He either remove me from the world, or help me understand why He had allowed this to happen to me and to show me how to live with it.  I will write a little bit about how I learned each one of these ten things in my next ten posts:

1.  I had to learn what healthy emotional boundaries are.

2.  I had to learn to trust myself when I had been taught not to.

3.  I had to learn to connect safely with myself and others after learning as a very young child that connection means hurt.

4.  I had to learn how to love and accept myself after incest taught me to hate myself.

5.  I had to learn to separate my experiences and my family from the Torah.

6.  I had to learn to survive and thrive without the love and acceptance of my family.

7.  I had to come to terms with how Hashem could let this happen.

8.  I had to come to believe that I could get married and have a family.

9.  I had to learn what normal adult sexual intimacy is.

10.  I had to learn to find meaning in a lot of loss and pain.

A Historic Event

Last week I attended the first Jewish International Conference on Children's Safety in Jerusalem.  The conference was the brainchild of founder and CEO of Magen Bet Shemesh, David Morris, and was sponsored by the Haruv institute.

  Jewish professionals and activists from Argentina, Australia, Switzerland, South Africa, the United States, England, Israel, and France attended the conference.

  Attendees shared resources and ideas on prevention, awareness, and what to do about the problem of perpetrators walking free in our communities.

 As an incest survivor, it was tremendously healing to meet an international group of Jews as dedicated as I am to stamping out child sexual abuse from our communities.  I was proud and grateful to attend this event.