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.