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.