Thursday, March 24, 2016

I AM... A Purim Poem

I am a Woman
I am a Jew
I am an Israeli

I am a hated woman
The Jews are a hated nation
Israel is a hated country.

Of course not everyone hates me, or the Jews, or Israel.

But plenty of people who can make a difference
In my world,
In our world
Do hate.

We are hated because we are a reminder of a truth that you don't want to see.
We are hated because we have been chosen for a mission.
We are hated because no matter what you do to us  
We survive and overcome.

Unlike you we are not confused.
We know who we are.  
We know that none of the lies you tell the world about us are true.

You say we are evil.
That we want power and control.
That we want to hurt you.
And you try to prove it by twisting reality.

You have always tried to weaken us to feel better about yourself.
You have tried to destroy us.
But you did not and will not succeed.

We have our own country now.
Our own identity.
And nothing you say or do can change the fact that we exist.
And that you need us.

Perhaps that is why you hate us so much.
Because you know
Deep down you really do
Need us.
We hold the truth for you.
A truth that you can not yet carry.

Some of you see us as victims.
Some see us as perpetrators.
We are neither.

We have been victimized.  
And we have been self destructive.  

We are criticized
As a woman,
A nation,
A country.
Everyone has an opinion about us that they know is
The Truth.

But that is not why you hate us.

You hate us because we are who we are.
You hate us because we can't be anyone else
You hate us because we exist.
And we will ALWAYS exist.
Because God wants us here.
And God is in charge of the world.

Not you.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

False Memories

Memory is a funny thing.

Why I or anyone else would lie about something as painful and shameful as childhood sexual abuse is a valid question to ask.
Long term memory is composed of experiences that are significant to us. If an experience is not significant, it does not get filed in our long term memory.

Traumatic memory is different.

When we experience an event that feels life threatening, all of our senses are activated. Our survival instinct, a fight or flight response, is activated. Traumatic memories are stored in a different part of the brain than regular memory. They are stored in the part of the brain where feelings are stored along with images and sensations they evoke. Traumatic memories are often dissociated or repressed especially when their is no way to process them in the present. When trauma can not be processed, due to lack of validation, support, or time, they cannot be filed in a meaningful context along with other long term memories.

These unprocessed traumatic memories often come up years later as post-traumatic stress symptoms. As in my case, one can feel like the experience of trauma is happening in the moment, even if it took place thirty years earlier.

My parents have accused me of having "False Memory Syndrome."

After researching FMSF (the False Memory Syndrome Foundation) here is what I know:
There never was an accepted diagnosis of “false memory syndrome”  There is no such diagnosis in the latest DSMF, the diagnostic manual for mental illnesses.  Every practicing trauma therapist who I asked told me that FMS is a term founded by parents who were themselves accused of incest. The abuse in their case was later corroborated by relatives!

One of the founders of the "false memory syndrome" foundation was a writer for a pedophilia magazine.  He was quoted as saying that pedophilia is a  “responsible loving choice.”

 I desperately want to have false memory syndrome.
 It would be far less painful than reality.
 I tried it on for years.  I tried to convince my therapists that my family is right.
 If anyone in my family can convince me that my memories are fabricated I would be so relieved.
I would appologize for my unintentional mistake.
And I would have a family again.

 The truth is that my father is the one with false memories.

My family's current behavior speaks volumes and validates my memories.  If my father is innocent then why is my entire family so afraid of what I know, that they have to kill me off?
 If I am indeed mistaken, or have "false memories", then what would stop them from trying to talk this through with me, and go to therapy with me as I ask?  Why won't they discuss the past with me, or even entertain the idea that my memories may not be false?
In my experience, not one person in my family can sit with the idea that maybe I really was molested by my father and grandfather. Not for a minute.

The FMSF sues therapists for implanting false memories in their patients through hypnosis.
 This doesn't apply to me at all.
  I was never convinced by a therapist that I was abused, nor hypnotized by anyone to  help me "remember" being abused.  I always knew I had been hurt, although I repressed and dissociated
 the details.  I didn't have any words to go along with the experience, so I couldn't talk about it until I learned the 'language' of sexual abuse at age 19.  As a child, I didn't have the strength to survive and think about what was being done to me, so repressed it.  I pushed it deep down and pretended it was someone else who it happened to.
 Someone very bad.
This is a common response of traumatized children.

I haven't heard about FMSF in a long time.
But I hear about incest, dissociation, and trauma disorders, often.  I hear about court cases that were won on the basis of recovered memories.   The false memory movement seems to have petered out, as we learn more and more about traumatic memory and how it is processed. Traumatic memory is processed differently and more accurately then regular memory.

There are several famous memory studies claiming to prove that false memories can be easily implanted.
I have looked at this research and, although interesting, I, along with trauma experts, do not believe the results apply to memories of childhood sexual abuse.

 One study involved adults who were convinced that they had been lost in a shopping mall as  children. A "memory" was planted. Many of them actually believed that they had been lost in a mall when in fact, according to their parents, they hadn’t been.

Feeling lost, being lost, is a common childhood experience.

Comparing being lost in a mall, to being sexually violated by someone you trust and depend on for survival, is like comparing a distant cousin’s death, with a parent’s death.

Most children have no concept of what it feels like to be sexually violated by a trusted family member, or friend. It is not an experience easily contrived or imagined.
There is simply nothing else quite as shameful and terrifying.
It is mind shattering.

There is another study on memory that, in my opinion, is also wrongly applied to child sexual abuse.

Witnesses were shown a clip of a real car accident. They were asked many questions. 
What was the direction the cars slid in? 
What were the colors of the cars involved? 
Where were the bystanders?

One witness swore the car was blue, another said it was red.
One said the car slid to the right, one said to the left. One witness believed blood was pouring from the victim's head. Another said, no, it was actually coming from the victim's mouth.
The researchers agenda was to prove that traumatic memory can be faulty. 
The conclusion to this study was that traumatic memory is not necessarily credible.

A vitally significant detail about this study was glossed over.
This important detail actually validates traumatic memory.

None of the witnesses claimed that they witnessed an earthquake or an armed robbery.
All agreed that it was a car accident.
All agreed that victims were hurt and there was blood. The important details were remembered accurately.
The details that were insignificant to them were forgotten.

I was very a young victim, and I doubt if every detail of what I remember is objectively accurate.  
But I know that I was molested repeatedly by my father and grandfather, and others. 
Everything about my life, and my healing process validates these experiences.
No one in my family is willing to try to help me sort out my memories. 
I did the best I could to get as close to the truth as I can on my own.

I have an aunt who stayed in touch with me over the years, although she doesn’t believe me that I was sexually abused.
When I told this aunt that I was molested by her father, my grandfather. She asked, “Where?”
“In his office.” I replied.
“That’s impossible.” She said. “Do you remember what the door looked like?”
“No.” I really didn’t.
“The door was transparent glass. Someone could have seen it from the dining room. If you can’t remember the door how can you trust your memory of being abused?”

How can I trust my memories of being abused?!

Because the door’s significance paled, next to the experience of my trusted grandfather’s fingers in my underwear.
Perhaps the glass door became entirely insignificant when it didn’t protect me.

It was early in the morning, right after shacharis (morning prayers) and no one was in the dining room at the time.
I don’t remember the date, or what I was wearing either.
Does that mean it didn’t  happen?
Does my aunt think I WANT to remember this?

No matter what I say, my family will find a way to discount, minimize, rationalize, and deny my experience.
That is what they need to do in order to survive.

This is what families of incest do, with barely a single exception.

My family can not go to a place where they can consider the possibility of their trusted father and grandfather, their rebbe, a talmid chacham, molesting someone they love.

I get it. 
I really do.
 But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Grandfather's Yeshiva (Trigger Warning!)

Note: These are subjective memories of experiences during my early childhood in my grandfather's yeshiva in Vineland New Jersey.  I have written them as I experienced them, through the eyes of the young child who I was.

The bais medrish is where the aron kodesh is.
It is where Zaidy, the uncles, and the bochurim learn Torah all the time unless they are davening.  
Girls are not allowed to go into the bais medrish
I’m a girl.  
I am not supposed to talk to the bochurim.
Bochurim don’t look at girls, or talk to girls, except for sometimes, when Tatty and Zaidy aren’t with me.
I stand outside the door to watch the bochurim dance on Simchas Torah.
I watch the men moving in a circle of black and white.
Everyone is squeezed together, touching.
The black shoes stomp.
One foot forward, then one foot back.

Stomp, STOMP. Stomp, STOMP!

Some of the men’s eyes are squeezed shut, some are open wide.  The open eyes are smiling.
Their song is shaking the floor. 
Shaking inside me:

“Emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes atah hu rishoin! Emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes ata hu acharoin!”
(“Truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth!...Truth is the first thing! Truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth!...Truth is the last thing!”)

I hope the men won’t stomp a hole right through the floor and fall down to the cellar.
The ladies and girls throw candy at the men, and the boys run and catch them.
Uncle Moishe* catches some for me.
Yeshiva has a family side, and a Yeshiva side.
The Carpet Room is on the family side.
The Carpet Room doesn’t have carpet.
It used to have carpet, that’s why we call it the Carpet Room. 
The carpet came off before I was born.  
The couches in the Carpet Room are covered with dark red plastic. 
Smooth, hard and cold. 
I have to go through the family dining room, and the Carpet Room to go upstairs.

The stairs squeak when I climb them.
In the morning, when I wake up in Yeshiva, I walk down carefully so the stairs don’t make so much noise, because people are sleeping.
Omi, Zaidy’s mother, lives in Yeshiva, too.
She has her own living room and bedroom upstairs. There is a glass fish tank in her bedroom, with colored stones on the bottom, but no fish in it.  

No one is allowed to bother Omi.

I stay far away from Omi's and Zaidy's rooms.
I walk past the bathroom and through the door at the end of the hall, to the stairs going up to the third floor on the family side.
The door to the Yeshiva side, where the bochurim’s bedrooms are, is open again.
Mommy said it is supposed to be locked.  
There are two black dumbells on the floor just inside the door. One of the bochurim is hiding them on the family side, so Zaidy won’t know they’re his.

I peek in, but I don’t go in there.
I am not allowed to go in there by myself.
Only when Tatty takes me.

Tatty takes me in there sometimes and leaves me with the bochurim.
They give Tatty money, and I have to do what they say.
It hurts my bottom.
I push my head hard into the wall so I won’t feel anything.
Then I forget what happened.

I tell myself nothing happened.
Nothing real, anyway.
I just know that I’m bad.

There are more stairs on the bochurim's side, going up to the bochurim’s third floor.
We sleep up there sometimes on Shabbos, and also during the week when the Tantas and Uncles are watching us and there are no extra beds.
One time, Zaidy took me upstairs, to the bathroom with him and my sister, Hadassa*.  The bathroom with the big bathtub that has animal feet.  He left the door open and we could hear and see him use the toilet.

I looked at Hadassa and then quickly looked away.
She looked away too.
We know we are not supposed to watch people going to the bathroom.

Today, It's just me and Tatty.

Tatty wants to show me the matzah on the third floor on the Yeshiva side.
The children are not allowed up here alone because we might touch the matzah, and it could break.
The matzah is spread out on brown paper on the bed and Tatty holds up a matzah to the light. 
“ Isn't it beautiful?” He says. 
 “The matzah this year is pure gold.”

He puts me up on the bed next to the matzah and starts to take off my clothes.
My stomach hurts.
I know that this happened before, and I remember how much it's going to hurt.
I push my head into the wall and my eyes stare and stare at the black inside my head. My mind feels fuzzy and far away.  From far away in my head, I know that Tatty is angry with me because I'm too small.
He has to cut me.
It's sharp.
It's my fault.
Is the matzah cutting me?
I think I'm bleeding.

What is happening to me?
Is Tatty real? 
Am I real?
Did I hurt myself?

Something hurts bad. Tatty is talking,
“Get dressed and come down stairs.” He walks out.
No Tatty, no! don’t go away! I need you!

I can't move.
But I have to move or I'll get in trouble.
I need Mommy, but I can't let her see what happened.  
No one can know how bad I am.

I am moving even though it hurts.
I am walking down the hall to the stairs.
I am still staring and staring.
My eyes don't want to move.
Uncle Moishe comes up and sees me walking down the hall.
He is upset that I am up here by myself with the matzah.
He tells me to go downstairs right now.

Don’t I understand what I was told? Why am I not listening?

I don’t know.
I guess I didn't listen.
I guess I hurt myself.
I guess I did something very bad on Erev Pesach.

I wish I could be dead and never have a body. 
 I want to squeeze my neck so hard I'll be dead.
I want to smash my head so hard I'll be dead. 
I wish I was never alive. 
I wish someone would kill me already. 
But I am scared to die because Hashem will hurt me worse.  
It's so scary to be hurt and bad. 
My throat hurts from being sad.

* Not their real names