Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How Do I Survive Without My Family?

Part Six of "Ten Things I Needed To Learn In Order To Heal."

It's hard living without my family.  Without roots.  Especially when holidays roll around.  
It's so hard to come to terms with the truth of what my family wants.  It is unspoken, yet the deadly message is communicated so clearly. They don't allow me into their lives. My reality is not real to them. My history is not shared by them. I do not exist to them, as I know myself to exist. My pain is not real to them. Neither are my memories.

If I were dead, they would have the last word in this world. Obviously, I was disturbed. Unstable. An anomaly. Not like the rest of the family.

They ask me questions that they don't want to know the answers to. Why are you the only one who remembers this? Why didn't we see anything? Why didn't you tell anyone? Why did your story change? It is unlikely that they ever will be able to consider all of the possible answers to their rhetorical questions.  What I must do in order to survive and live my life, is precisely what they must avoid in order survive and live theirs.

I believed that I had to kill myself to protect my family. A part of me believed that If I was a good loyal daughter, granddaughter, and sister, I would sacrifice my life for the family. For the kavod of my grandfather.  For Hashem and the Torah.  I prefer to live, but there was, and still is, no way for me to live without letting light shine on this dark dank moldy secret. The more that they try to keep the incest in the dark unremembered parts of our collective past, the more light I need to shine in order to see the truth of what is really there. 

I realize that I had no choice but to choose between myself and my family. Every day that I live, I choose again. Every day that I choose to live and to exist without my family is painful. At times the grief can feel as raw as twenty years ago. Every day that I choose life I lose them again and I cry. I always want them back. I miss my older sisters the most. At the same time, I understand so well their need to deny. I am one of them. I grew up thinking just as they do. Like we were all taught to think. At times, I join them in the familiar comfort of denial to calm the painful empty longing, and feel a part of them again. "Nothing happened to me. Incest could not have possibly happened in our family. In other families, yes, of course, but not ours.  I am bad, insane, or at best mistaken. My family is right to excommunicate me. I am the family shame.  If they get rid of me the family will be fine.  They must love me from a distance lest I destroy them."

I hope that someday they will be able to accept my need for truth. I hope some day they will accept my choice to live and to heal. As painful as it is to them. As hurtful as it is to our family history and kavod.  I live.  I speak.  I shine a brilliant light.  It glitters and hurts the eyes and the heart.  It cries for what I needed to be and never was. I needed a family that could hear my pain.

 But the truth is, it was harder living with their constant denial and rejection than managing on my own.   I am fortunate to have a loving husband, children, in laws, and some amazing close friends.  My family by choice replaces my family of origin.  One (among many) good things about making Aliyah, is that lots of others are here without close family. I don't get alot of questions about my family like I would in the States.

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."