Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Different Ending

Until very recently I could think of only two possible endings to resolving my estrangement from my family.

  Sitting in therapy year after year, I put a huge effort into doubting my memories. Out of a need for my family's love and acceptance and out of loyalty to them, I defended them, and kept myself stuck.

 I was hoping and praying that I would come to discover that they were right and I was wrong.  I was hoping that my therapists would help me figure out that I am indeed mistaken, crazy or evil.  I was hoping my therapists would be able to help me understand how this whole nightmare was a mistake.  I was not really a victim of incest in my Torah family.  I was not really molested by  my grandfather, a Rosh Yeshiva in his Yeshiva.  It was not possible.  I would apologize to my family for my  insanity, for my chutzpah for imagining such a crazy thing, and presto, I would have them back.

After all, that's what my family and the rabbonim promised me.  If I would just stop talking about this, If I would stop saying that my father and my grandfather sexually abused me, I would have them back.

In the second imagined scenario, I learned to trust myself and my memories.  I realized that no one in their right mind would want to remember and experience the things that I remember and experienced.  No one asks for the kind of shame, pain, fear, loneliness, and rejection that I had to deal with.   I imagined that eventually I would somehow be able to prove to my family that my memories are true.  Eventually, they would understand that we all need help.  My family would believe me, embrace, accept, and support me.  We would all go to therapy together, just as I asked and needed them to do all along.

In both imagined scenarios, I had my family to help me.
I could not begin to imagine it any other way.
I just couldn't give up the dream of having a family.
My family, who I loved and needed.

 Neither fantasy turned out to be true.

 In spite of trying desperately for years to convince myself and my therapist otherwise, I now know I am not a bad person.  I am not an inventor of stories, of false memories, not a dreamer of hurtful fantasies, not an accuser of innocents.  I am human, limited, maker of mistakes, lover of people, determined, and very honest with myself.
Where I once only knew that I was not bad or crazy, I now accept it on a deep emotional level.  I gave it a really good effort, being bad and crazy, and it simply didn't pan out.

I now know that my family is not going to believe me, embrace me, nor offer me the acceptance and support I crave.
Where I once only knew this I now accept it on a deep emotional level.

The reality I am living is neither better nor worse than my fantasies.

 The difference though, is that it is real.

What actually is happening, is that I am learning to embrace and accept myself and my family as we are, and to offer myself the unconditional love, support, acceptance, and validation, that no one in my family can offer me.

I am learning to accept the loss of the family of my fantasy, and accept the family that I have.  Each person in my huge family is an individual. Each one with their own story, their own challenges, their own struggles, their own pain.

  I learned in Bais Yaakov that HaShem doesn't give us any challenge that we can't overcome. I believe it because I experience it every day.  I'm learning that I'm OK.  I can handle this.  I have HaShem always, helping me, loving me, supporting me, holding me, healing me.

 And I have myself always.   I pray every day for the wisdom and strength to love and accept myself the way HaShem loves and accepts me.  The way I, and every person, deserves to be loved and accepted;  Fully and unconditionally.

This was not an easy prayer to believe at first.  I want to invite you, my readers to try saying this tefillah for yourself:

"HaShem, please help me to love and accept myself the way You love and accept me.  The way I deserve to be loved and accepted; Fully and unconditionally."

How does that feel?  Do you believe it?
Not believing it does not make in untrue.

The more I said this prayer, the more I felt Hashem's love, and what followed was this:  I now pray every day that HaShem give me the wisdom and strength to love and accept my family, the way HaShem loves and accepts them. The way they deserve to be loved and accepted; Fully and unconditionally.

 Loving and accepting does NOT mean loving and accepting hurtful behavior.

 It means loving their inherent goodness, their humanity, and accepting their limitations.   Although, they won't speak with me,  I have my family of origin always within me.  I love them.  My siblings are not bad people.  They are doing what they need to do to survive,  just as I am.

For my family survival means denying my truth, refusing to revisit the past, and treating me like I'm dead.

For me, survival is remembering and speaking my truth, trying to help others heal, and living a happy fulfilling life in spite of my family's rejection.

I could easily have gotten stuck in the past.  Sometimes, I did get stuck for a time in the pain, the shame, the rage, that comes from abuse.

But always, with Hashem's help I got out of the rut and kept moving.  I am so grateful.   I truly feel and know that I have been very blessed.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

CHOICE THEORY

A few years ago, my dear childhood friend Chana Hartman (White) introduced me to Choice Theory.

  Chana and I have known each other since the third grade in Bais Yaakov of Baltimore.  Chana is a soul sister.  She lives in Jerusalem with her huge, amazing, family. She has thirteen children. (at last count)  We have spent Shabbos and had Chol Hamoed outings with her family over the years, and she has been to our house for a Shabbos or two as well.  I find Chana incredibly inspiring.

 Yes, I am a big fan of Chana, and of Choice Theory.   Choice Theory teaches how to build strong, loving, and successful relationships.  Chana uses choice theory with her teenagers.

 According to Choice Theory, the seven deadly habits that destroy relationships are:  criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and rewarding to control.  

We all resort to the deadly habits at times, when we are unhappy or scared.

The seven helping habits that build relationships are:  caring, trusting, listening, supporting, negotiating, befriending, and encouraging.  

I am quoting from the Choice Theory book For Parents and Teenagers (William Glasser, Harper Collins 2002.)

"If you look around at your family and friends, you will see that the happiest people are the ones who don't pretend to know what's right for others and don't try to control anyone but themselves.  You will further see that the people who are the most miserable are those who are always trying to control others.  Even if they have a lot of power, the constant resistance of the weaker people they are trying to dominate deprives them of happiness... (p.16)

...The only way we can satisfy our needs for both love and power is to gain the respect, trust, and love of the people in our lives.  If we try to control them, we may maintain their love but we will never gain their respect or trust.  When we are respected, trusted, and loved, we feel powerful:  we neither need nor want anyone to fear us." (p.18)

I've read a lot about choice theory, especially in relation to education. (There are Choice Theory schools in the U.S.)  The goal is to replace the deadly habits with the helping habits.  As with any habit we struggle with, this is a lot easier said then done.   We live in an "external control" society.  Most of us can admit  (if we are honest with ourselves) that we believe deep down that we must control others in order to be happy.

 William Glasser (the founder of Choice Theory)  points out, that there is one close relationship,where we are unlikely to use the seven deadly habits.  We don't use the deadly habits with our long term friends.  The reason for this is simple.  If we did, then they wouldn't be our friends anymore.

 So why do we allow ourselves to treat our loved ones in ways we would never treat a good friend?  Why do we undermine our relationships with our loved ones?
Maybe, because we never learned a better way.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Hidden Holocaust


Those of us who live rich spiritual lives recognize that sometimes Hashem (God) brings us challenges in order to remind us in profound, and sometimes painful, ways that any control we think we have is an illusion.   We are sometimes faced with a situation where we are confronted with and forced to face this truth.  We can not escape the reality that we control nothing but our own thoughts, actions, and reactions to what we were given.  We are challenged to respond to these situations and to grow from them.
If we don't grow from them, they can easily destroy us.

For example, my friend Chana's entire apartment burned down, less than a year ago.  Thank God, everyone got out safely.  She and her family were left homeless and peniless.

But not for long.

The community's response is as incredible and inspiring as it should be coming from a community that prides itself as being a place of chesed, and kindness.   (Maybe you saw the article about the Hartmans' fire and the community response in Mishpacha Magazine)

The Hartmens spent a Shabbos with us a few months after the fire and Chana described the grueling physical and emotional work of going back into the burnt appartment day after day to sort through the charred rubble.  She had no choice but to see if there was anything to salvage.  It was dirty backbreaking work. There was very little left.
  Most of the apartment had to be stripped and rebuilt from scratch.

I can't help but relate Chana's fire, to the fire of incest, and child sexual abuse that I survived.
The damage incest and sexual abuse causes to a child's mind and self are profound and not always salvageable.  Some of what is left after incest is burnt beyond recognition, and must be discarded, and rebuilt anew from scratch.

Like with any loss, there is a grieving process.  The charred rubble of a damaged self must be sorted through. This is emotionally and physically grueling, dirty work.  I had to go back into a burnt and damaged self,  day after day, and year after year, to pick through the remains and decide what was possible to salvage, and what had to be thrown away or rebuilt.

There was not much left to salvage.  But I was lucky not to have to do it alone.  I had excellent therapists who reminded me that there was always hope for rebuilding. And where there is hope, there is the possibility of healing.

If only we can learn to understand, as a community, the horror, shock, and pain, that incest, and sexual abuse survivors go through.  If only we can learn to hold this pain, as we do with those who suffer other unimaginable losses.  The pain of incest in our community is still hidden by shame and fear.

 I believe I was given a mission.  One that I didn't volunteer for, and never would have signed up for.
 I have no control over what happened to me.
  I have no control over my family's and community's glaring lack of help and support when I disclosed my pain twenty years ago, and to this day.
 Hashem (God) had plans for me.  Hashem saved me from suicide and took care of me directly, and through open miracles.

  I see my mission as one of educating my community.  Incest and child sexual abuse is, I believe, the hidden Holocaust of our times. Through my own healing, I know that we can heal ourselves, as individuals, as families, and as a community.

 The first step is to acknowledge that incest exists and talk about it openly.  We have made progress in the area of facing child sexual abuse in our community in recent years. Today we can talk about the abuse that happens in our schools.  We acknowledge that abuse is rampant, but that our schools are not the main problem.  The main problem is in our homes.  And yet, we do not discuss the problem openly.  It is too frightening.  Too close to home.

 I see a future where we learn to treat incest survivors, and survivors of any kind of abuse, just as we do those whose entire physical property has been destroyed in a fire.  I see a future where we will embrace survivors, help them, and support them in every way we can think of.  We will set up funds to meet survivors' needs for therapy and support.

We will no longer add to the trauma and perpetuation of abuse, by blaming, shaming, and stigmatizing survivors of child sexual abuse in our community.
There are way too many of us.

 If you are not a survivor yourself, I promise you there is more than one in your family, in your shul, and in your community.

And likely they are very much alone and in pain.

I believe we all have a responsibility here.
We have a lot of work to do.


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Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Post by a Gentleman over Seventy years of age

I'm not a victim or survivor.  Yet, the effects of incest have invaded my life for almost 25 years.

You see, I am the husband of a victim of incest. Although I suspicioned it for many years it has only been recently that full knowledge came to me although through ways I regret.

It was my wife's father who was the perpetrator although she has not acknowledged this unless on some level with her therapist.

We are currently in couples therapy as well as our own individual therapy.

What brought us to couples therapy is the result of my becoming aware of her sexual activity outside of our marriage which I have found out goes back to at least 2011.

Our marriage, and her suffering, has fit the classic symptoms almost from the beginning.  I have now learned how it manifested itself even before our coming together.

Although I wasn't able to understand the root of her behavior until recently, she had gone through severe anxiety, extreme panic, depression, seven years of active alcoholism, and now my discovery only over the last six months of sexual promiscuity throughout our marriage, and before.

Right now I have no idea if our marriage will survive yet I steadfastly stand by her side to help and support in any way I can.

Over the last year, and most recently the last ten months, as I discovered the depth of the damage I began reading every technical writing on this subject that I could find.

I don't consider myself an expert. I don't have degrees in any form of medicine as well as psychotherapy.  What I do, as importantly, have is that I have lived and experienced the long term effects of incest whether I knew the reasons or now having learned them.

I fell completely in love with my wife from the moment I met her almost 25 years ago.

That love and passion still exists within me while residing with all of the confusion, pain, hurt, effects on my own self esteem to name a few.

I don't know if she has brought the issue into her therapy but, at least with me, continues denial of the crime her father committed as well as any promiscuity.

With all of my pain and suffering (aside from hers) the only real help I have received was when I found Genendy and "Genendy Speaks".

Even though we are separated by 10,000 miles our relationship has grown through emails, and more importantly, long telephone conversations.  She had become not only my friend but the little sis I never had and I, hopefully, the big bro she lost through her families actions.

If not for Genendy I'm not sure what I would be doing today to help myself and the tragedy that has not only embedded in out marriage but been carried by my wife from the very beginning of her life.

Had she taken a different path, similar to the one written by a previous blogger the world would not have the courageous and outspoken person advocating for all women affected by the crime of, especially, paternal incest.

And I would not have the love, support, and understanding of the pain I will now carry for the rest of my life.

Gen, don't give up. The women who suffer, most of whom live in the wilderness of silence, would lose the voice that needs to be heard.  Heard not only in the Jewish community but every country, city, village or hovel in the world.

I remain anonymous only to protect the privacy of my wife and those who would be deeply hurt by what their father did to their sister, mother, aunt or cousin.

It is she who needs to gain the power and strength of Genendy to speak out for herself and the other victims and survivors who for the most part live in the hell of silence.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Real Reason I Lost My Family

Until recently the two words Connected and Safe were mutually exclusive to my traumatized mind and heart. For as long as I could remember, I either felt safe and alone, or connected and hurt.

I never stopped longing to connect with my family of origin.  But connection came at the heavy cost of feeling scared and hurt by them, and disconnected from my self.
The reality of feeling either connected and hurt, or safe and alone, affected all of my closest relationships, especially my relationship with myself.

When I connected with myself I experienced unbearable fear, shame, and pain.  I would be aware of what happened to me, know the unspeakable sexual violations of my father and my grandfather, and I would want to die.
 I would connect to the knowledge that my family, every single one of them, heard what I said, saw my pain, and  instead of helping me, turned their backs and walked away from me.
 The reality was unbearable.

 When it became too much to bear, I disconnected, dissociated, from myself and joined my family again in my mind.  In order to reconnect with my family,  I had to accept how they see me.   I had to believe that I was bad, sick, crazy, lying.   I had to cut off important parts of me in order to exist among them.  I had to butcher myself, pick and choose only the parts of myself that are permitted by my family.  I always felt vaguely lost, confused, and hurt as a result.  Parts of me were missing.  I did not feel real.
 I had a family, but I had no self.

Connecting with my husband and children was scary.  The closer they needed to come to me, the more I expected to get hurt.  I could connect only in small doses.  I would quickly become overwhelmed and have to leave, emotionally or physically.  Sometimes both.  My physical and emotional absences took their toll on my husband and children.

 I remember watching a three-year-old , wondering at her ability to feel safe and connected.  How is it that this very young child knew how to do something that I was just learning about at the age of forty?

 Where and how did she learn this?
  Where do any of us learn to feel safe, connected, and real?

 As babies we learn, when caregivers respond to our cries, that we are real.  Through consistent love and care, we connect with our parents and feel safe.  Any kind of abuse and neglect can interrupt this important learning.  The sexual abuse I endured as a child destroyed my ability to form normal healthy relationships.  The experience ripped holes in my body and  soul.
Physical holes.
Spiritual holes.
 I had repair work to do if I wanted to be a whole person.  For my sake and for the sake of my family, I had to learn to feel safe, real, and connected.

This became my new mantra:

I want to feel safe.
I want to feel real.
I want to heal.

Feeling safe, connected, real, and healing, means staying connected to all of myself.  It means experiencing the fear, the shame, the pain inside.  Knowing and accepting where these feelings are coming from, without walking away from myself, like my family does.  It means embracing myself even though my family can't.
 It means saying goodbye to my family.
It means a lot of sadness.

I lost my family because I broke the rules by owning the pain that my family says is not real.
I lost my family because I broke the rules by owning the abuse that my family says never happened.
I lost my family because I broke the rules by speaking the horrible words that go with my very real, horrible, experiences.

The reality is excruciatingly painful.
By allowing myself to know what happened to me in my family, and what is still happening to me today, I lose them all.
I have to find the courage every day, to sit with the pain and the horror of it all.
I have to grieve my lost family, and my lost self.
My self I can recover.
My family, I have no control over.