Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mitzvah L'sapper, Telling my Children.

Each of my children, has at one time or another asked why they have never met their grandparents.
 I have told them that my family doesn’t want to see me.
"Does that mean they don't want to see us either?"  They wondered.  What did we do?"

 I've answered as honestly and vaguely as I can.
 I have told them that maybe someday they will meet their grandparents.  I have told them my family doesn't want to see me because they are angry with me, and it has absolutely nothing to do with them.
I explained that someone in the family, isn't safe with children.
My family is angry with me for talking about it publicly, and they cut me off.
They want to pretend that it didn't happen.

My children know about my activism. They have been told many times that when it comes to children's safety there are no secrets.  They know that I helped start a child safety organization in our neighborhood.
I hoped this answer would somehow make sense to them.

The older my children get, the more relevant it seems, to tell them the truth.
 I have a public blog, and more importantly, I know that if we are to heal as  individuals, as family and community, sexual abuse is not, and can not be a secret.

 At the same time, I want to protect my children from my pain and trauma.
I don't want them to feel burdened or frightened by my past.

I decided this Pesach, that I was ready to say something to my children from a place of strength.
What could be a better time than at the seder, when it is a mitzvah to talk about our national trauma and redemption?
When we are supposed to feel as if we personally were redeemed.
I was personally redeemed.
The story of YetziasMitzrayim is my own story.
I have come from avdus leceherus.

I begin the discussion with a question and a story.

"Why do we thank Hashem for taking us out of Mitzrayim when he is the one who put us there in the first place?"
One child guesses that Hashem was testing us.

"A little girl is chasing her ball into the street as a car is about to speed past.  Just as she is about to step off the curb, she trips. The little girl is crying and bleeding.
But, her parents are so grateful!
 So relieved!  They thank and praise Hashem.
The little girl is angry.
Can't her parents see that she is hurt and bleeding?
How can they be so happy when she is hurt? 

The toddler has no ability to see the bigger picture and understand the disaster that almost took place.

We too, do not always see the bigger picture and understand why painful things happen to us."
But we know that everything Hashem does is ultimately good.

My children are listening.

"I had a very challenging childhood."  I continue calmly, as if recounting the time I broke my leg when I was twelve.
 "I was sexually abused by my father and my grandfather and it made me feel very bad about myself. At one point, I didn't think I would ever be able to get married or have children.
And now, look at us here at our Seder!
  I am married, and I have you wonderful children!  As far as I know, I am the only one of my immediate family who has the zechus of living in Eretz Yisrael.  Hashem saved me, and not only am I OK, but I now help other people who have been through similar experiences."

As I speak, my oldest son, a teenager, puts his hand on my back.
My daughter, seven, bounces up and down on the couch.  Her mind, I think, is on the afikomen wish list I helped her write earlier.
My middle son, soon to be Bar Mitzvah asks, "What is sexual abuse?"

 "Sexual abuse is when someone with more power than you forces you to do something with your body that you don't want to."
"Well, you force me to wash the dishes all the time!"  He smiles triumphantly.
"I mean, if someone forces you to do something sexual with your body."
"Oh."
"Do you see the difference?"
"Yeah."

The conversation moves on, but I stay in the moment savoring my freedom.
Freedom from shame and silence.
 Freedom from self hatred.
Freedom from my past which is, in this moment in the past, where it belongs.



Friday, July 15, 2016

All Who Go do not Return By: Shulem Deen (a review)

Shulem Deen, your story, really touches me.  I am in the middle of reading it right now and I find it strong, brave, and heartbreaking, all at the same time.  Your book and your message are so important.
They are also very personal.
The world I grew up in, similar and yet different than the one you did, also tried to destroy my soul.
 I grew up litvish, yeshivish and was molested in a yeshiva by a rosh yeshiva (my grandfather) and his talmidim (one who was my father).
  I have experienced excruciating pain, anger, sadness, but I am fortunate that I have never lost my faith.
 I am angry and sad for you that your faith, your spirituality was stolen from you.  And they were.  You (and I )were raised in a cult, a well meaning cult, but a cult nonetheless.  The damage and pain our upbringing caused and is causing must be exposed.

To me, faith is not a matter of belief.  It is a matter of experiencing and staying in touch with reality.  When we see the truth that is in front of our faces, nothing can take that away.  I know God/Reality exists because I exist.  I know I was born, not because I remember the event, but because I am here.  I know God is, more real and powerful than anything I can imagine, because Love and Truth/Intelligence are more real and powerful than anything I can imagine.

God, in my experience, is Love and Truth/Intelligence, with capital letters.

I see Love and Truth in front of my eyes every single day, in each simple event and interaction and breath I take.
I read your book, and I see you as a messenger of God, simply because you are a  messenger of Love and Truth.
Your children have no idea what a gem of a father they have, and I truly believe that your father is proud to have a son like you, who has more integrity than most people on this earth. I hope and pray for you that someday your children's eyes are opened and they reconnect with you and the love that you have waiting for them.
With love and hope,
Genendy

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Can Love be Taught?

My daughter, seven, once found me crying in my bed and wanted to know why I was sad.  I told her I missed my mother.  She hugged me, "So, why don't you go see her?"
"Because she doesn’t want to see me."
"Why not?"

I had to think for a minute.

"She doesn't know how to love me."  I said finally.
"Well, let's show her how. We can teach her."
"How can we teach someone to love?"
"By loving them!"
I laughed through my tears.
"Don't cry."  My little girl wiped my face with her hand.
"It's good for me to cry," I said.  "When you miss someone you love, it's normal to cry."
"Well, can you come make me some food while you're crying, then? I'm hungry."

Another time, my daughter told me,

 "I'm so lucky I picked you and Dad to be my parents.  I just knew you would be kind and loving."
"I try my best to be kind and loving.  I don't know if I always am."
"You are." (Is it legal to remind her that she said this in five years, when she's a teenager??)
I mused aloud,
"So, if you think we choose our parents, why do you think I picked my parents?"
She tilts her head to the side, thinking...
"Maybe you wanted to give them a chance."
"Hmmm...,
 "Or, " I suggest,
 "Maybe like you said, sometimes it's the children who teach the parents how to love."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Jump

It took eight long years to trust my therapist enough to begin healing.

Every time I entered her office, I was triggered and on guard.
Week after week, year after year, I struggled to stay present in the therapy room and not dissociate or walk out.
I kept going back, because I knew the problem was with me and not her.
I knew that I was scared and unable to trust.

I do trust my therapist now.  She has been there with me through so much.
Yet, allowing myself the level of vulnerability that it takes to work on the trauma and shame of my early childhood experiences still feels like jumping off an elevated speeding train.
Onto the roof of a tall building...
And across a three foot gap.
Gasp!
As I fly through the air, I see the bodies below of those who didn't make it.
Although shaken and slightly nauseous, so far I have landed safely.

Will I ever experience the thrill and confidence of knowing that this weekly jump can be safe and fun?  Will I ever know that it is really truly safe to jump, though right now it feels like I am taking my very life into my hands?
This is my work of healing.
When I trust and connect with my therapist, I am not alone with the experience of abuse and trauma as I was as a young child.

Each week I face a moment of panic.
Can I jump fast enough to break through the terror?
Can I jump far enough to make it across the gap?
And will she catch me?

Will she really catch me,
Again?